FRCN Espresso "HOW TO" Pages
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2001, 2006 - All rights reserved

Descaling an Espresso Machine

WARNING: 1) read all instructions for your espresso machine to be sure that this procedure and the chemicals being used are safe for the machine. For example, some cleaners can damage machines that contain aluminum parts.2) Although citric acid, when in solution as outlined here, is inherently safe, there are safety procedures that should be followed. The powder is quite strong, and if gotten in an eye can possibly cause damage (and will cause severe, burning pain). You are responsible to use these instructions safely and carefully, using the necessary safety procedures. 3) Be aware that the cleaner that is used to cleanse the portafilter, brewhead and other brewing parts is VERY different from the cleaner to descale the machine. DO NOT CONFUSE them! I followed this procedure and it seemed to work for me. No warranty is stated or implied that it will work for you.

      If you are using water that contains minerals (and most water does) then there is going to be a build up of mineral deposits in the boiler of your espresso machine. The rate of build up depends on how often the machine is used, its design, and the hardness of the water, but if these deposits are not removed ocassionally the build-up can restrict or stop the flow of water, decrease the boiler's useable volume, or even cause heating element failure. A bit of maintenance can save the hassle and expense of repair as well as to help maintain the quality of your espresso. How often should this be done? Start by descaling about every 6 months or so, and adjust the frequency based on what you see in the flushed cleaner.

      You can use commercial descaler if you like, but plain citric acid works just fine in most cases. Citric acid powder is sold as a canning additive to keep fruit's color (I think), sold as "sour salt," and it can also be purchased at local beer and wine brewshops where it is used to sterilize and clean brewing vessels and equipment. The pure citric acid from the brewshop will have no additives like the canning preservatives and it will be less expensive as well. I got .27 lb. (100g.) for $1.86 (enough for about ten cleanings!).

1) Dissolve 10g of citric acid in a cup of hot water, then add cold water to increase the total quantity to one litre.
2) Remove the showerscreen and the water dispersion device if possible.
3) Remove and empty the machine's water reservoir and place it back in the machine. Carefully fill the reservoir with the cleaning solution you just made.
4) Run about 10 ounces (300ml) of water through the steam wand, then a few ounces through the brewhead, then turn OFF the machine. Allow the machine to sit for about 20 minutes. Running that much through assures that the water in the boiler has been replaced by the cleaning solution as well as making sure that the entire path that water takes through the machine has been flushed by the cleaning solution.
5) Turn it on again and repeat step 4. Repeat until the reservoir is empty or the solution is coming out clean. If the reservoir is empty and there are still signs of deposits in the water, refill the reservoir with cleaning solution and repeat the above steps.
6) When you are satisfied that the machine is clean, remove the reservoir, wash the reservoir with clean water and wipe off the hoses, and place the reservoir back in the machine.
7) Refill the reservoir with clean water and run the entire reservoir of clean water through the machine. Be sure to run some through the steam wand as well as through the group. When the reservoir is empty, refill it with clean water and repeat.
8) When you think you are done, pull some water through the machine (through the group and the steam wand), allow it to cool to room temperature, then taste it. Any hint of acidity means that you need to run more water through the machine. Repeat until the water is free form the acid taste (Don't worry- Kool Aid is citric acid powder, flavoring, and sweetner, so basically you are using unsweetened, unflavored Kool Aid to clean the machine. But be aware that the cleaner you mixed up is a lot stronger than Kool Aid). Be sure to cleanse the brewhead of cleaner before tasting or brewing or the first few shots will be decidedly sour.
9) Reassemble the machine and refill the water reservoir with clean water and you're ready to brew again.