How To Descale An Espresso Machine

by Véronique Raymond
espresso machine components

Owning a coffee maker of any kind is an incredible convenience, and it saves both money and time when it comes to your daily caffeine fix. However, every once in a while, you’ll need to put in some manual labour to descale the machine and keep it functioning properly. If this is a new term for you, don’t worry. We’ll get into all the details about what descaling is, why it needs to be done, and how to accomplish this task like an expert.


What Is Descaling?

Descaling is a process that removes the build up of limescale from your coffee maker’s heating element. If you are using any form of hard water (tap water, bottled water, etc.) to make your coffee, it is a certain eventuality that your coffee maker will start to accumulate minerals in undesired places. Descaling your machine is the process of removing that limescale from the metal element and restoring full functionality. Unless you use purified water for every brew, this is a chore you’ll have to be committed to performing on a regular basis.


Why Do Coffee Machines Need To Be Descaled?

You may be wondering why a buildup of minerals in your coffee maker is such a big deal. It actually has a pretty significant impact on the functionality and efficiency of the machine as well as an affect on the quality of your coffee.

One of the most impactful effects of a heating element being coated in calcium and limescale buildup is that these mineral deposits effectively insulate the heating element. This means that the machine will not be able to heat the water as effectively. If the water is unable to reach the proper brewing temperature, it will not be able to extract all of the flavour or potency from the coffee grounds and will produce a pretty weak cup of coffee with a dissatisfactory coffee taste. The temperature of your coffee will also likely not be up to your standards, as piping hot is the ideal.

When it comes to the effects on the machine itself, there a few that you should be aware of so you can spot problems and know why they are occurring. When mineral deposits affect the ability of the machine to heat the water, the machine has to work harder to attempt to reach that optimal hot water temperature; this draws excess energy and power. In combination with disrupted water flow in the water reservoir and this higher electricity consumption, it is probable that the machine will start to rattle while brewing, and your brew time will also begin to get longer as well.

Espresso Machine

What Descaling Solution Should You Use For Your Coffee Maker?

The type of descaling solution you are going to use to clean your coffee maker is really the only important decision you need to make for the process. There are a number of DIY solutions and commercial solutions available for purchase, so you have enough options to find one that feels right for you.

Homemade Solutions

One of the most popular DIY descaling solutions is simply a dilution of citric acid. Citric acid dissolves limescale quite easily, so it is one of the most effective options for coffee makers of all kinds. It is safe for all components and doesn’t have a smell or taste that will linger too long. Simply combine 2 tablespoons of citric acid with 4 cups of fresh water and let it sit in the water tank.

A lemon juice dilution is another option, but it won’t be as effective as the citric acid, especially if you are dealing with the buildup from hard water rather than soft water since there will be a lot more mineral deposition to remove.

Some people choose to use a dilution of white vinegar for the descaling process, but we do not recommend this option. Vinegar can become corrosive and damage your machine, and the odour/taste will linger for a long time even after flushing the machine with water. No one wants a vinegar-flavored coffee, so it is best to avoid this solution in favor of the others mentioned.

One thing to note is that you shouldn’t use a homemade solution if your machine is under warranty coverage still; there is the potential to cause damage to the machine with DIY descaling solutions and doing so can forfeit your warranty.

Commercial Solutions

Commercial cleaning solutions for your coffee maker are a great idea if your machine is still under warranty and if you want to be extra careful about what is going into the machine. Most coffee machine manufacturers will offer a brand specific cleaning solution available in tablet form or in liquid form. They will also come with their own set of instructions to follow to ensure you experience the best results. These descaling agents should be all natural and appropriate for your specific machine. Not all descaling products should be used for all types of coffee machines; boiler espresso machines, semi-automatic espresso machines, heat exchange espresso machines, and all other types of coffee machines and espresso makers will have their own unique inner workings and components, so when choosing a commercially available solution to use for each descaling cycle, it is important to make an informed decision.


How Often Should You Descale Your Espresso Machine?

On average, the typical espresso machine (and any other type of coffee maker) should be descaled at a maximum of 3-4 months. Maintaining this schedule will prevent the mineral buildup from reaching harmful levels and affecting the functionality of your machine. If you don’t use water put through a water filter, or you drink an excessive amount of coffee, it is a good idea to increase the descaling frequency to once or even twice each month.

Espresso Machine

The Best Way To Descale An Espresso Machine: A Step-By-Step Guide

Now that it is finally time to descale your espresso maker, you may be at a loss as to what you should actually be doing.

  1. Decide on a Descaling Agent. Your first step is to make a decision about what product you’d like to use to descale your machine. Commercial solutions and homemade solutions can be equally as effective, and you can change your mind next cycle if you don’t like the results the first time around.
  2. Prepare the Descaling Agent. Some descaling agents will require some extra steps. Commercial solutions will have their own set of instructions, so now is the time to follow those. If you are using a homemade solution, you’ll need to mix/dilute the substance in clean water in the appropriate ratio.
  3. Fill the Reservoir. The next step is to add your descaling solution to the water reservoir the same way you would if you were adding pure water to make coffee. This allows the solution to move through every component of your machine where minerals may have built up over time. If you have a steam wand attached to your espresso maker, you should also run the descaling solution through that component as well.
  4. Rinse. Now that your cleaning solution has run all the way through the machine and removed all of the gunk and caked on mineral deposits, it is time to rinse the cleaning solution out of the machine. We recommend you rinse twice, just to make sure there isn’t anything left over in the machine. To do this, just fill the reservoir with warm water and let it run through normally.
  5. Observe (and Smell!) the Results. After the rinse is done, you need to double check that your machine is ready to make espresso again. There are two main ways to do this. First, take a close look at the water from your second rinse. If it appears cloudy at all, you’ll have to start the descaling process over from the very beginning. If you have perfectly clear water, that is part one accomplished. The next part is to do a sniff test. Smell the water and try to detect any traces of your cleaning agent. If it smells anything like lemon, vinegar, citric acid, or your commercial solution, you should perform another rinse and repeat until the water smells like plain old water.


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