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How to Clean & Maintain Your Espresso Machine The Ultimate Guide

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Clean your espresso machine by rinsing the individual components and wiping down the device with a soft towel. To maintain your machine, descale it every 6 to 12 months or when your coffee tastes funny. Keep reading to learn more about cleaning your coffee machine.

how to clean maintain your espresso machine

I regularly clean my espresso machine, and since I’m passionate about coffee, I want to teach you how to clean them.

I’ll teach you how to clean all parts of your espresso machine, how to maintain your devices, and different types of cleaners to remember.

Here is an overview:

Let’s jump in.

Key Takeaways

  • Clean machine components with a mild, non-abrasive soap & microfiber rag.
  • Descale every 6 to 12 months.
  • If you live in an area with hard water, descale every few weeks.
  • Consider store-bought cleaners over DIY cleaners (e.g., vinegar) in many scenarios.

How to Clean a Home & Commercial Espresso Machine

  • What’s Required:
    • Microfiber rag
    • Mild, non-abrasive dishwasher detergent
    • Descaling solution
  • Time it Takes: 10–60 min.

Turn off and unplug your espresso machine before doing anything else. Afterward, remove your device’s portafilter, water reservoir, drip tray, and other removable components.

Once you set everything up, gather your cleaning items and follow these steps:

  1. Clean the portafilter, group head, & steam wand: Keep reading to find guides on those.
  2. Clean the water reservoir: Rinse the water reservoir with warm water.
    • If you live in an area with hard water, add a descaling solution to the water reservoir & run a cleaning cycle.
  3. Clean the drip tray: Rinse the drip tray with warm water.
    • If it’s dirty, use a mild dish soap to clean them.
  4. Wipe down espresso machine’s exterior: Use a damp microfiber cloth.
  5. Plug in espresso machine & turn it on: Ensure your device works

Use microfiber rags to avoid leaving marks or lint behind when cleaning the espresso machine’s body and components. It’ll also help polish everything for a fresh look. Opt for a non-abrasive and mild dish soap to avoid damaging your machine’s parts and components.

Many folks wonder how to clean Mr. Coffee, Breville, and De’Longhi machines; the process remains the same. Cleaning a Nespresso will require you to hand wash all removable components and use the self-cleaning mode to deal with the rest of the cleaning.

To deep clean your espresso machine, descale every few weeks if you live in an area with hard water. Otherwise, descale every 3 to 6 months. You’ll also want to use coffee oil removers to strip away any residual coffee oil.

The above sections weren’t clear on how to clean your portafilter, group head, or steam wand. However, I wanted to save those until now.

1. How to Clean an Espresso Machine Group Head

espresso machine group head

  • What’s Required:
    • Cleaning solution
    • Microfiber rag
    • Blind filter
  • Time it Takes: 10 min.

Remove the portafilter from your machine and detach the filter basket. From thereon, follow these steps:

  1. Clean the portafilter: See the next section to learn more.
  2. Follow one of these methods to clean the group head:
    • Blind filter & a cleaning solution:
      1. Attach the blind filter to the portafilter & then add a cleaning solution to the blind filter.
      2. Run a cleaning cycle with the blind filter in place.
      3. Check the blind filter, if tablet or cleaning solution hasn’t dissolved, run another cleaning cycle. Keep doing this until cleaning solution fully dissolves.
    • Vinegar: Fill the water reservoir with vinegar & run a cleaning cycle.
    • Descaling solution: Follow the instructions on the descaling solution carefully.
  3. Rinse the group head with warm water.
  4. Dry the group head: Use a clean microfiber rag.
  5. Reattach the filter basket to the portafilter: Afterward, reinsert the portafilter into the machine.

The group head is the part of an espresso machine that forces hot water through coffee grounds to create espresso. It’s also the espresso machine part where you’d insert the portafilter.

The group head is also responsible for maintaining the correct brewing temperature.

Hence, why it’s critical to keep clean.

But without a clean portafilter, you’ll still encounter issues brewing espresso.

2. How to Clean an Espresso Machine Portafilter

espresso machine portafilter 2

  • What’s Required:
    • Toothbrush
    • Microfiber rag
  • Time it Takes: 10–20 min.

With the portafilter removed, follow these steps:

  1. Rinse the portafilter & filter basket under warm water.
  2. Use a toothbrush to scrub the portafilter & filter basket, paying attention to any areas clogged with coffee grounds.
  3. Rinse the portafilter & filter basket again under warm water.
  4. Dry the portafilter & filter basket with a clean microfiber rag.
  5. Reattach the filter basket to the portafilter.
  6. Reinsert the portafilter into the machine.

A portafilter holds the filter basket and coffee grounds. It’s usually made of metal or plastic. The portafilter goes into the espresso machine’s group head.

The portafilter sits on the machine’s front and is held by a lever or knob.

Many machines have milk frothers, which need cleaning as well.

3. How to Clean Espresso Machine Milk Frother

  • What’s Required:
    • Toothbrush
    • All-purpose cleaner
    • Microfiber rag
  • Time it Takes: 10–20 min.

If you have a detachable milk frother, disassemble it and rinse all the parts in the sink. If you have milk caked onto any components, use a mild, non-abrasive detergent and a toothbrush to scrub it off.

Afterward, rinse all the parts and reassemble them.

Some espresso machines with milk frothers have dishwasher-safe milk reservoirs. If that’s the case, throw it in the dishwasher and let it ride. And many devices have automatic cleaning for their milk frothers.

Always run this before disassembling your machine. Doing so ensures you clean all the milk from the spout.

Still having trouble removing caked-on milk from your components? Get an all-purpose espresso maker cleaner and let the pieces soak in it. This process should make your pieces spotless.

And once everything’s clean, dry it with a microfiber rag.

4. How to Clean an Espresso Machine Steam Wand

espresso machine steam wand

  • What’s Required:
    • Mild, non-abrasive dish soap
    • Toothbrush
    • Microfiber rag
  • Time it Takes: 10–20 min.

Power off your machine and follow these steps to clean your steam wand:

  1. Remove the steam wand from the machine.
  2. Fill a cup with warm water & add a few drops of dish soap or all-purpose cleaner.
  3. Dip the steam wand into the soapy water & swirl it around.
  4. Use a toothbrush to scrub the steam wand, paying attention to any areas clogged with milk residue.
  5. Rinse the steam wand thoroughly with warm water.
  6. Dry the steam wand with a microfiber rag.
  7. Reattach the steam wand to the machine.

Once clean, power on your machine and test the steam wand to ensure it’s working.

To ensure your espresso maker runs in working order, you’ll need to descale it. We’ll cover that next.

How to Descale Your Espresso Machine

The following sections will explain how to descale home and commercial espresso machines. I’ll talk about how long it takes, required materials, and the steps needed to complete your task.

Descaling an espresso machine is the process of removing limescale buildup from the machine. Limescale is a white, chalky deposit that forms when hard water evaporates.

It can build up in the boiler, pipes, and other parts of the machine, and can cause a number of problems, including:

  • Reduced water flow
  • Reduced steam pressure
  • Impaired temperature control
  • Damage to the machine’s components
  • Poor-tasting espresso

Descale your espresso machine every 3 to 6 months. You can use a commercial descaling solution or a homemade solution of vinegar and water.

We’ll talk about both options.

1. Using a Descaling Solution

  • What’s Required:
    • Descaling solution
  • Time it Takes: 30–60 min.

Various descaling solutions will have different steps to follow. However, here’s what you’ll need to do in general:

  1. Fill the water reservoir with descaling solution according to the instructions on the descaling solution.
  2. Turn on the espresso machine & run a cleaning cycle.
  3. Let the descaling solution sit in the water reservoir for 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Run another cleaning cycle with descaling solution.
  5. Turn off the espresso machine & unplug it.
  6. Drain the water reservoir & rinse it with warm water.
  7. Fill the water reservoir with fresh water & run a cleaning cycle.

Read the descaling solution’s instruction manual and don’t rely on what a stranger on the internet said.

2. Using Vinegar

  • What’s Required:
    • Vinegar
  • Time it Takes: 30–60 min.

Using vinegar as an alternative to descaling solutions could save money and reduce stress in those who worry about chemicals getting into their drinks. It doesn’t matter whether you use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar to descale. However, the latter’s generally cheaper.

Here are the steps on how to do it:

  1. Add 2 parts water; 1 part vinegar to reservoir.
  2. Run a cleaning cycle.
  3. Let the vinegar sit in the water reservoir for 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Run another cleaning cycle with the vinegar.
  5. Drain the water reservoir & refill it with clean water.
  6. Run a cleaning cycle with clean water.

The downside to using vinegar over descaling solution is that you may find yourself left with a lingering vinegar smell. Consider that before choosing it over non-natural cleaning solutions.

How to Descale a Plumbed-in Espresso Machine

  • What’s Required:
    • Hose
    • Descaling solution
    • 5-gallon bucket—ideal size, but any size should do
  • Time it Takes: 30–60 min.

Plumbed-in espresso machines connect directly to water lines and don’t use water reservoirs. However, they’ll sometimes require descaling. For instance, if you don’t have filters connected to the plumbed-in water source.

Follow these steps to descale it:

  1. Locate the water line that connects to the espresso machine.
  2. Disconnect the water line from the espresso machine.
  3. Fill a bucket with descaling solution.
  4. Attach a hose to the end of the water line.
  5. Power on the cleaning cycle & let the descaling solution flow through the water line for 30 minutes to an hour.
  6. Disconnect the hose from the water line.
  7. Reconnect the water line to the espresso machine.
  8. Turn on the espresso machine & run a cleaning cycle to clean out any chemicals.

Connect your plumbed-in espresso machine to water softening filters (e.g., polyphosphate). Then you’ll, for the most part, eliminate the need to descale these types of machines.

How to Unclog Espresso Machines

  • Time it Takes: 10–20 min.

First, check the water filter. If your espresso machine has a water filter, ensure it is clean and in good condition. A clogged water filter can restrict water flow through the machine, leading to clogs.

Backflush the group head. Backflushing is cleaning the group head of an espresso machine by forcing water through it in the opposite direction of normal operation. This can help to remove coffee oils, milk residue, & other debris that can build up & cause clogs.

If you live in an area with hard water, descale your espresso machine regularly. Hard water can cause mineral deposits to build up inside the machine, which can restrict the flow of water & lead to clogs.

And clean the steam wand. The steam wand of an espresso machine can also become clogged with milk residue. To clean the steam wand, remove it from the device & soak it in a solution of warm water and dish soap. Then use a toothbrush to scrub the steam wand.

If you have tried all of these tips and your espresso machine is still clogged, you may need to call a professional technician to repair the device.

Tips for Cleaning Espresso Machines

Consider these tips when cleaning your espresso machine to prolong its life:

TipReasoning
Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleanersThese can damage the machine.
Turn off the espresso machine & unplug it before cleaning.Helps prevent machine damage & shocks.
Rinse machine after cleaning.Removes chemicals.
Use microfiber rag to clean machine.Prevents scratches & damage to parts.
Dry machine & components thoroughly.Prevents mold growth.
Store in a cool, dry place.Helps prevent mold growth.
Don’t get water inside the machine.Prevents electrical damage.
Descale every 6–12 months.Prevents mineral buildup.
Descale every few weeks if you live in an area w/ hard water.Prevents mineral buildup.

Different Types of Espresso Machine Cleaning Solutions

The following sections will cover these common espresso machine cleaning solutions:

  • Limescale: Removes limescale buildup.
  • Coffee oil removers: Removes coffee oil buildup.
  • All-purpose cleaners: Product that cleans all parts of espresso machines.
  • Backflush detergents: Cleans portafilter.

I’ll cover common cleaning products or chemicals under each category, how often you should use them, and other relevant information.

Let’s get to it.

1. Limescale Removers

A limescale remover for espresso machines is a chemical substance that removes limescale from the internal components.

Limescale is a white, chalky deposit that forms when hard water evaporates. It builds up on an espresso machine’s boiler, pipes, and other parts and can impair its performance.

Limescale removers for espresso machines typically contain acids, such as citric or lactic acid. These acids react with the limescale and break the chalky deposit into smaller particles you could rinse away.

The most common limescale removers include:

  • Descaler tablets: A convenient way to descale an espresso machine.
    • Add the tablets to the water reservoir & run the machine through a descaling cycle.
  • Descaler solution: A liquid that can be used to descale an espresso machine.
    • Mix the solution according to the instructions on the label & then run the machine through a descaling cycle.
  • Vinegar: A natural acid used to descale an espresso machine.
    • You must dilute the vinegar with water before using it, as it could damage the machine’s components.
  • Citric acid: Another natural acid that’s less harsh than vinegar.

Follow these tips when using limescale removers.

Some limescale removers aren’t safe for all types of espresso machines. Read the instructions on the label to ensure the limescale remover is compatible with your device. You may need a more potent remover if the limescale build-up is severe.

Start with a mild solution & then increase the strength if necessary.

If you live in an area with hard water, you may need to descale your espresso machine every few weeks or monthly.

Follow the instructions on the label of the limescale remover carefully. Wear gloves and eye protection when using limescale removers, as they irritate skin and eyes.

2. Coffee Oil Removers

Coffee oil removers are cleaning products that remove coffee oils from espresso machines and other brewing equipment.

Coffee oils can build up over time and cause many problems, including:

  • Reduced flavor: Coffee oils can coat the inside of espresso machines & other coffee brewing equipment, which can trap heat & prevent the coffee from extracting properly.
    • Could have a weaker, less flavorful cup of coffee.
  • Reduced crema: If coffee oils build up, they can prevent the crema from forming correctly.
  • Clogged nozzles: Coffee oils can also block the nozzles of espresso machines & other coffee brewing equipment.
    • Can prevent the coffee from flowing properly & can lead to uneven extraction.
  • Rancid odor: Coffee oils can eventually go rancid, giving your coffee an unpleasant odor.

Coffee oil removers typically contain solvents, such as ethyl acetate. This solvent helps to dissolve the coffee oils and remove them from the equipment. Coffee oil removers are available in various forms, including liquids, tablets, and powder.

To use a coffee oil remover, follow the instructions on the label. Most coffee oil removers require you to fill the water reservoir of your espresso machine with the remover solution and run the device through a cleaning cycle.

Use coffee oil removers regularly to prevent coffee oils from building up and causing problems. If you live in an area with hard water, use coffee oil removers more frequently because of mineral buildup.

3. All-purpose cleaners

All-purpose cleaners for espresso machines are used to clean all parts of an espresso machine, including the exterior, interior, and steam wand. They typically contain mild detergents and solvents that are safe for use on all surfaces of an espresso machine.

Some all-purpose cleaners for espresso machines also contain descaling agents, which can help to remove limescale buildup. Important if you live in an area with hard water.

Cafiza is a popular all-purpose cleaner for espresso machines. It uses mild detergents & solvents that are safe for use on all surfaces of an espresso machine. And it includes a descaling solution.

To use an all-purpose cleaner for espresso machines, follow the instructions on the label. Most all-purpose cleaners require you to soak components such as portafilters and filter baskets. Then use the rest to backflush your machine.

Use all-purpose cleaners regularly to prevent coffee oils, milk residue, and other debris from building up and causing problems with your espresso machine.

4. Backflush Detergents

Backflush detergent is a cleaning product designed for espresso machines. It removes coffee oils, milk residue, and other debris from the espresso machine’s group head.

The group head is part of the machine that makes the espresso, and it is vital to keep it clean to prevent the build-up of these substances. A build-up could affect the taste of the espresso and lead to machine malfunctions.

Backflush detergent typically contains detergents and solvents that are safe for espresso machines. It is available in various forms, including liquids, tablets, and powder.

Many people may suggest using backflush alternatives such as citric acid, but that won’t work. Citric acid is primarily for descaling, not backflushing. It can’t remove coffee oils as well as products like Cafiza.

FAQs for Cleaning Espresso Machines

Read on to find commonly asked questions about cleaning espresso machines.

What Is an Espresso Machine?

An espresso machine is a device that brews espresso by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee.

Why Is It Important to Clean Your Espresso Machine Regularly?

Regular cleaning of your espresso machine will help to prevent the build-up of coffee oils, milk residue, and other debris. All of which can affect the taste of your espresso and lead to machine malfunctions.

Conclusion

Cleaning your machine requires more than rinsing the water reservoir or steam wand. You must also clean your machine’s portafilter and the group head to prevent your coffee from tasting funky. And to maintain your machine, you must descale it every 6–12 months.

And every 3 months if you live in an area with hard water.

Check out our guide on cleaning regular coffee makers if you need to clean multiple machines.

Photo of author

Author

Tim Lee is, as you might have guessed the founder of TimsCoffee.com. He is a former barista and a professional web publisher. He has now combined his knowledge and expertise in both subjects to create TimsCoffee.com.
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