How to Descale an Espresso Machine (Tips to Be a Pro)
Is the care and well-being of your espresso machine important to you?
It should be.
Remember what that beautiful machine brings to your life each day – the lovely, rich, liquid gold jolt of caffeinated delight.
I have hard water in my neck of the woods and I drink A LOT of coffee – so I do this a couple of times a month.
Limescale can clog up your machine and cause serious damage. Not to mention it can affect the taste of your coffee.
No matter what your water is like (and even if you used bottled water), it is a good idea to descale your espresso machine on a regular basis.
This is a proactive step to keep your machine healthy and happy – which translates to keeping you (and other family members) cheerful because your machine works well and your coffee tastes great.
Read on to learn how to descale an espresso machine.
What You’ll Need to Descale Your Espresso Machine
Choose one of these three cleaners to put through your machine:
- Citric Acid
- White Vinegar
- A commercial descaling product
Before you decide on an approach, please check your owner’s manual to see if there are any restrictions or if they recommend another method.
If you want to know more about your water, you can test it to see what minerals (and how much of them!) are in it.
If minerals are high, it is a sign to descale your espresso machine more often. You can find a water testing kit here:
Every machine is different and every water source is different; however, the overall process is the same.
Let’s go through the hows and whys of each of the descaling cleaners here – so you can make an informed decision as to what is right for you.
Citric acid vs. vinegar vs. a commercially-produced descaling product is a personal choice.
Citric acid is found naturally in citrus fruits such as lemons and limes.
It is sold in a dry powdered form markets and grocery stores, and is often called "sour salt" because of its physical resemblance to table salt.
It is used in culinary applications, as an alternative to vinegar or lemon juice, where a pure acid is needed.
This is why it is used as a descaler for coffee machines.
You can find this in health food stores, in some grocery stores or on Amazon.com here.
You might be worried about how to clean espresso machine with citric acid. Don’t be - it’s quite simple.
A popular citric acid descaler recipe has a citric acid descaling ratio of one quart of water to two tablespoons of citric acid.
However, you should know that there are citric acid descaler pros and cons.
You can combat this by using different products and rotating them in a cycle, or by using a citric acid descaling solution three times out of four and using a commercial product that fourth time.
Plain old white vinegar can also be used for descaling.
The vinegar descaling solution for espresso machines that appears to work best is a ratio of 25% vinegar to 75% water.
Commercially-Made Descaling Product
If you choose to go this way, make sure that it will work for your espresso machine AND that it says that it is 100% natural.
This one is a good choice for most machines:
Lemon juice is another solution I often hear about.
It might work for some… one of the challenges is that it doesn’t always work work well for hard water – and vinegar and citric acid are cheaper.
You can also choose to approach descaling coffee machine with vinegar and then cycle in commercial descaling product every three or four cleanings.
Step-By-Step – How to Descale Your Espresso Machine
There are a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of different espresso machines in the world.
Pro Tip: It must feel that you are hearing an echo of this one statement over and over in this article, but it is important: please check your owner’s manual to see the specific instructions for your machine.
It may be that you have an automatic cleaning and descaling cycle.
If you do, then you get to do a little happy dance. If not, you’ll need to do it manually.
Step # 1: Decide On What You Will Use to Descale
It’s up to you what you use. Citric acid, vinegar and lemon juice are all all-natural.
Any commercially-made descaling products – powders, tablets etc. – that you decide to use should clearly state that they are all-natural as well. Most are.
At some point, you will get into a routine with this and have a “go-to” descaling recipe or product that you like and that works.
It may be that you choose to go the espresso machine descaler homemade route with vinegar or citric acid, or you might purchase a descaling product.
Or rotate them through on a monthly basis.
Whatever works for your machine.
Here's an example on how to clean the espresso machine with vinegar:
Step # 2: Mix It Up
Depending on what type of product you decide to use – a homemade solution or a commercially made product – there might be an additional step.
If you’re using citric acid, you need to mix up the powder with water; if you’re using vinegar, you dilute it in water – and for a commercial product, please follow the directions.
I love breaking rules, but not when it comes to the wellbeing of the most important machine in my kitchen.
Step # 3: Espresso Machine Descaler Rinse
While each machine is different, the overall process is the same.
In this step, you fill up your reservoir with your cleaning solution (the mixture with the water) – just as if you were making coffee.
It runs through your boiler and out through the machine. You will want to run this through your steam wand too.
Think of this cleaning solution as a much-needed medicine for your machine.
It runs through your espresso maker, cleaning away gunk and other bits and pieces that come from the minerals and other elements in your water.
This process dissolves those things as it goes – so that it doesn’t sit there and build up, clogging the pipes.
If you deal with hard water where you live and are concerned about it, you can run this process twice, back-to-back, just to be sure you got all the gunk.
Now, sometimes what happens is that in the middle of a descaling process, you are hit with the NEED for an espresso.
We’ve all been there. Seriously.
Even with your machine in the middle of this cleaning process, you can make yourself a double shot - without an espresso machine.
Click here to learn how to do this. It’s a real McGyver move to be able to make espresso without an espresso machine.
Step # 4: The Rinse Rinse
After you have done your descaling rinse, fill up your reservoir ONLY with water this time and do it all over again.
Nope, this is not a joke.
You need to rinse out the rinse.
Your espresso machine (and the coffee you make post-descale process) will benefit from rinsing after the descaling process, no matter what option you use.
This is done to be sure that all of the citric acid, vinegar or other commercially-made descaling product has been flushed out of your machine.
You don’t want your morning espresso tasting like vinegar or citric acid or some other descaling product.
That would just be wrong.
And sad. So very sad.
Step # 5: Take a Big Sniff
When you feel that you are done with the rinse rinse, take a big sniff of the water that has come out and make sure that it only smells like water.
Not vinegar or citric acid or anything else.
If you get a whiff of that – run the rinse rinse again.
And – if it looks the least bit cloudy, it is recommended that you start the ENTIRE process all over.
You want to see clear water so you know there won’t be any descaling product flavor lingering about.
Once the water is clear and it smells like, well… water, you are good to make coffee again!
One of the things you can do to keep yourself caffeinated throughout this process - it takes about 20 minutes all in - is to have some chocolate covered coffee beans around.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Click here to learn how to make these.
The Last Step - Make Yourself An Espresso
When you are all done, it’s time to reward yourself with an espresso!
After all, you took the time to care for your espresso machine, now it’s time for it to return the favor.
And after all that, perhaps a coffee liqueur might be order. You can find recipes here.
Well, what did you think? Was this helpful? Please let us know in the comments.
And if you have any buddies who want to know how to descale their machine but are unsure, please share!