How To Descale An Espresso Machine Like An Expert

Espresso machines are considered a long-term investment.

That’s why quality espresso machines (regardless of price) come with at least 3–5 years of life expectancy.

But, like all man-made products, espresso machines do also require maintenance. And descaling is one of the most important maintenance tasks for an espresso machine.

But what is descaling? Descaling is the process of cleaning up the built-up minerals on the inside of an espresso machine.

The problem is, descaling is a complex process, only if you know your machine very little.

This is why our article will not only show you how to descale an espresso machine like an expert but also share other crucial information relating to this issue.

So, let’s begin with the importance of descaling before anything.


Why It’s Important To Descale?

Regardless of hard or soft water, with time, your espresso machine will build up minerals inside of it and will start to deteriorate.

How do these minerals get built up? The water carries these minerals naturally. When water has a higher percentage of minerals, it’s labeled as hard water. And if it’s low, then it’s called soft water.

Once the minerals slowly start to build up inside of the machine, it affects the coffee quality and decays the machine itself.

Let’s see the ways limescale affects an espresso machine:

  • It stops water from reaching its optimal brewing temperature, which results in a low extraction yield.
  • It compromises the overall taste of the coffee by turning your extraction more acidic.
  • The limescale partially obstructs the machine’s tubes and inner parts, resulting in poor water and steam flow.
  • Scale build-up can also occur within the boiler, which will lead to poor detection of the level–overfilling and overflowing of the boiler.

How Frequently Should Descaling Take Place?

It hugely depends on the water quality of the area you live in.

If you’re in a hard-water region, it’s best to descale your machine monthly. Because hard water builds up limescale quicker.

If you live in a soft water area, then you should descale it every 3 or 4 months.


Descaling Essentials

Even though descaling is a difficult and time-consuming process, the core ingredient, in this case, the descaling solutions, is pretty well-defined and limited. So, it’s easy to find and apply.

You can select one of these three descaling solutions to put through your machine:

  • Citric Acid
  • White Vinegar
  • Commercial descaling tablets

Citric Acid

Citric acid is generally an organic compound found in citrus fruits such as lemons and limes.

Nowadays, it’s sold in a dry powder form and is often called “sour salt.”

It’s also used in cooking as a substitute for vinegar or lemon juice. As it’s pure acid, it can also be used as a descaler for coffee machines.

Descaling with citric acid is quite simple, and you can apply the ratio of one quart of water to 2 tablespoons of citric acid.

Vinegar

Plain old distilled white vinegar is also another safe and popular choice as a descaling agent.

The vinegar descaling solution for espresso machines works best in a 1:3 vinegar to water ratio.

If needed (for difficult limescale), you can even go up to a 1:1 vinegar to water ratio as well.

Commercially-Made Descaling Agent

There are many options in this category. So learn which one’s ideal for your machine and then purchase it.

These agents can be found in table form or liquid solution form.


Things To Check Before Descaling

Before descaling, please check your machine’s user manual. User manuals do give clear instructions on various precautions and what’s best for cleaning the machine.

Always test your water hardness level. Espresso machines do come with water hardness test strips. Some automatic espresso machines will do the testing by themselves.

Pick the best descaling agent suitable for your machine. Don’t try to cut corners on this issue.


Descaling An Automatic Espresso Machine

By design, automatic machines are the easiest to deal with, even when it comes to descaling them.

Now, there are 2 types of automatic machines: full-automatic and semi-automatic.

Full automatics have their own descaling cycle. All you have to do is press the descaling button when it’s needed. The espresso machine will guide you through the entire process.

The steps are shared between the machine and the owner if it is a semi-automatic machine. Regardless, all automatic machines divide up the descaling into 3 parts:

  1. The first part is where you put the descaling solution into the water reservoir and set up a bowl(s) underneath all the spouts.
  2. The 2nd stage is to tell the machine to begin the descaling. At this stage, it’ll descale the machine and all of its outlets (grouphead, steam wand, and hot water outlet). The used-up solution water will occasionally flow out of the outlets, which is why the bowl(s) are placed to collect it.
  3. The final stage will begin when the machine asks you to detach the water tank and refill it with clean water again. So, do it and reattach the tank. Now, the machine will clean all of its internals and the outlets to wash off the remaining descaling solution.
  4. You can repeat this step until the smell and taste of the descaling solution are completely gone.


Descaling Heat Exchange Boiler Espresso Machine

This guide will help you easily descale almost any machine with a heat exchange boiler. Here’s the step-by-step you need to follow:

  1. Turn on your machine and wait until it heats up to its operational pressure.
  2. Once it reaches its operational pressure, turn it off and carefully open the hot water valve.
  3. Discharge all the water from the heat exchanger and close the hot water valve.
  4. Prepare your descaling solution accordingly and pour it into the water tank.
  5. Switch on the machine and the boiler will fill up with the solution.
  6. Place the portafilter without a filter into the grouphead and lock it into place.
  7. Operate the brew group lever 3 times (every 30 seconds) to the lowest possible position after each operation to descale the expansion valve.
  8. Let the descaling solution work in the boiler for 20 minutes. After that, release the remaining descaling solution.
  9. Now, switch off the machine, remove the hot water dispenser, and open the hot water valve.
  10. Remove the water reservoir, clean it properly, and rinse it in warm water.
  11. Refill the tank with fresh water, reattach the tank, and switch on the machine.
  12. Let the boiler get refilled with clean water and operate the group lever 3 times again (30 seconds each time).
  13. Remove the portafilter and operate the grouphead lever once for 60 seconds to rinse the heat exchanger.
  14. To completely rinse the boiler, repeat the following steps 3 to 5 times.
  15. Turn the machine off and drain the boiler through the hot water spout.
  16. Refill the water tank for the last time before turning the machine back on.
  17. Let the machine reach its operating pressure before turning it off again.
  18. Open the hot water valve and drain the machine. You can repeat this multiple times to fully rinse the boiler.


Descaling Thermoblock Espresso Machine

Thermoblock machines are also known as single-boiler machines. Here are the step-by-step instructions for the procedure:

  1. Dissolve your selected descaling agent into a full water reservoir and let it dissolve completely.
  2. Now pour the descaling solution into your boiler. Run a cup of water out of your steam wand or hot water spout to pull the descaling solution into the boiler.
  3. Close the steam knob and turn off the machine to rest for 20 minutes to allow the descaling solution to work.
  4. After 20 minutes, turn on the machine and let 1/4 of the reservoir water flow out of the steam wand.
  5. Let another 1/4 of the water flow out of the brew head as well before turning off the machine for another 20 minutes.
  6. Flush out the remaining water through the brew-head and steam wand.
  7. Finish the process by running the reservoir with clean water through the machine.


FAQs

How do you descale an espresso machine naturally?

Using vinegar and water solution is the best natural method of descaling.

How often should you descale an espresso machine?

It solely depends on the water hardness level of your area. For hard-water, it’s every month. For soft-water, it’s every 3 months.

In place of the descaling solution, what can I use?

Citric acid and white vinegar are the ideal substitutes for the commercial descaling solution.

Is a descaling solution better than vinegar?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. Both vinegar and descaling solutions perform equally when it comes to descaling.

What happens if you don’t descale the espresso machine?

By not performing the descaling, you run the risk of decaying your machine’s internals as well as the taste of espresso.

Do I need to descale if I use filtered water?

No, you don’t have to. Lots of brands like Jura and Breville have their own filer set in the water tank. This eliminates the need for descaling.

Does descaling make coffee taste better?

Yes, it does. In fact, it not only makes the coffee taste better but also maintains the top-notch condition of the machine in the long run.


Conclusion

The descaling process is a must-do to ensure your machine’s full lifespan. No matter how many times you have to perform the cleaning, don’t try to cut corners with it.

You should also read your machine’s user manual to find out key tidbits for the descaling process. Most reputable brands do provide clear instructions on the descaling process of their machines.

Descaling is not only the insurer of your machine’s health but also helps you save a lot of money on repair costs that can stem from not doing the descaling in the first place.

We hope that the instructions were easy enough for you to perform on your own machine at home!

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