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How to Backflush an Espresso Machine

Espresso can be an expensive and time-consuming hobby. First, there’s the money spent on the machine, coffee grinders, and coffee beans. Then there are the hours spent dialing in the perfect grind size, coffee dose, and shot timing. So why not spend an extra 5 minutes protecting your investment and ensuring your coffee always tastes great?

That’s backflushing for you. It’s quick, easy, and inexpensive, and there’s no reason not to do it. Keep reading to learn how to backflush your espresso machine.

What You Need

  • A backflush disc
  • Backflushing detergent

At A Glance

Time:

5 – 10 minues

Extra notes:

  • Backflushing disc is also known as a blind filter or blank basket, this should be included with your espresso machine. It will either be a stainless steel or rubber disc designed to fit snugly in the portafilter.
  • Some brands sell or require special cleaning tablets. But buying a jar of powder backflushing detergent is usually more affordable.
  • Don’t be tempted to use anything not specifically designed for espresso machines. It might be less expensive, but it can permanently damage your machine.

How to Backflush Espresso Machine

Backflushing allows you to clean the inside of your espresso maker without having to open it up and take it apart. It flushes cleaning solution through the shower screen, group head, and three-way valve to remove built-up deposits of coffee grounds and oils. 

Note that you can only backflush espresso machines with a three-way valve. Those without typically have a different cleaning method dictated in the user manual.

If you don’t backflush regularly, the coffee deposits become stale and rancid, adding off-flavors when you’re drinking espresso (1). Additionally, coffee particles can cause clogs in the shower screen, which will impact water flow and cause uneven extraction (2).

setting up your portafilter for backflushing

Are you now convinced of the importance of backflushing when using an espresso machine? Good. Now let’s walk through how to do it.

1. Prepare your espresso machine

Ensure that the water reservoir is full and the drip tray is empty. Depending on the size of your drip tray, you may need to empty it periodically as you backflush, so keep an eye on it.

Some espresso machines have automatic cleaning cycles, in which case you follow the instructions in the manual to prepare the machine.

Pro tip: With any espresso machine, always remove the portafilter right after pulling a shot and turn the pump on for a few seconds to rinse the shower screen with hot water. This simple step keeps everything as clean as possible in between backflushes.

2. Prepare the portafilter

Pop the filter basket out of the portafilter and replace it with a metal or rubber disc. Add either one cleaning tablet or ½ teaspoon of backflushing detergent to the top of the disc, and lock the portafilter into place as though you were going to pull a shot.

Pro tip: With any espresso machine, always remove the portafilter right after pulling a shot and turn the pump on for a few seconds to rinse the shower screen with hot water. This simple step keeps everything as clean as possible in between backflushes.

3. Perform the backflush

Activate the brew cycle as though you were pulling a shot of espresso, using either the brew button or lever. Water will be pumped against the blind basket, and pressure will begin to build. If you have a brew pressure gauge, you can watch the increasing pressure there.

Listen carefully. After about 15 or 20 seconds, the machine will go quiet, indicating that the pressure built up to the full. Turn off the pump, and the three-way valve will blow the cleaner through the group head, releasing it into the tray where you’ll see soapy water emerge.

Repeat this process 5 to 10 times until the water released into the tray no longer looks frothy. The rancid coffee oils are now removed from the machine’s internals.

Many automatic and super-automatic espresso machines come pre-programmed with cleaning cycles – for example, Breville and Jura machines. Check your user’s manual, and if your machine has an automatic cleaning cycle, follow the manufacturer’s guidance.

Pro tip: To clean the filter baskets while you backflush the machine, let them soak in a solution of 1 teaspoon of detergent powder in 1 liter of water.

4. Make sure the machine is free of cleaner

No one wants a soapy taste to their espresso, so this step is crucial. 

Remove the portafilter from the brew group head, and give it and the blind basket a good rinse in filtered water. Then set up to backflush again, but don’t use any detergent. Backflush twice more using only water.

Take the portafilter out again and run the pump for a few seconds to flush water through the system. Empty and clean the drip tray.

Pro tip: To be 100% sure there are no off-flavors in your next drink, pull and discard a shot of espresso before preparing and enjoying your next brew.

Final Thoughts

Backflushing an espresso machine is one of the easiest and quickest forms of maintenance. Once you’ve done it a time or two, you’ll probably be able to do it faster than you can read this article. And the results speak for themselves. Your machine will last longer, and the quality of your espresso will improve. Hard to argue with that!

FAQs

You should backflush your espresso maker with a cleaning solution approximately once every 200 shots pulled. Many machines have a built-in counter to monitor this; some even alert you automatically. Or you can make a reasonable estimate based on your daily consumption.

You should perform a water backflush more often, especially if you’re a heavy user. We recommend two to four times a month.

Descaling is a type of espresso-machine cleaning that removes deposits of scale from the machine’s internal plumbing. You can do it with either a descaling solution or vinegar. The procedure is the same for both. However, you do not need to perform it as often as backflushing, and if you use filtered water, you may not need to do it at all. 

We have a guide on how to descale an espresso machine that you can use on appliance-grade models. You can also descale a coffee machine. And however, prosumer and professional espresso machines need to be descaled by an expert technician.

Backflushing commercial espresso machines or prosumer-type models is an exact process, and it again involves running a brew cycle using a blind filter and cleaning detergent. The only difference is that commercial espresso machines get much more use – you can easily pull more than 200 shots a day in a busy cafe – so they are cleaned more often (3).

  1. Sainsbury, B. (2021, September 29). How to drink coffee like a true Italian. Retrieved from https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/how-to-drink-coffee-like-a-true-italian
  2. Aloe, R.M. (2021, September 24). Shower Screens for Espresso. Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/shower-screens-for-espresso-e56357f083b6
  3. Jay, T. (2015, November 9). High-Volume Baristas: 5 Things You Need To Know. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/11/5-things-about-high-volume-baristas/
Julia Bobak
I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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