You’ve invested your time, energy, and money into owning an incredible espresso machine, and now it’s time to take care of it.
Properly maintaining your equipment is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the quality of your coffee drinks, as well as extending the lifetime of your device.
In addition to making sure that it appears to be clean on the outside, it is vital to employ a regular cleaning cycle that will keep your appliance in the best shape.
Why Cleaning is Essential
Coffee beans contain natural oils, which make your beverage taste fabulous but can also create buildup in different parts of the machine such as the portafilter, filter basket, water screen, grouphead, and more.
Over time, this buildup can be the culprit for unfavorable (i.e. sour, rancid, rotten) flavors coming out in your espresso.
You want your coffee to be as fresh tasting and flavorful as possible, without any nasty buildup. So what’s the key to removing this buildup?
Well, never allowing it to happen in the first place is the ideal situation. Following a regular cleaning schedule, based on how often you use the equipment, will prevent buildup and ensure that you can brew the best cup.
In addition, maintaining cleanliness of your appliances will keep your investment running properly for years to come, rather than breaking down and requiring costly repairs.
So what are the ideal steps for cleaning an espresso machine?
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After Each Use:
First of all, after each and every use it is necessary to purge and then wipe down your steam wand with a damp cloth.
You also need to wipe down the shower screen, but use a different cloth – the steam wand cloth will contain milk contaminants, which could be transferred to the screen.
Urnex Full Circle Espresso Machine Milk Cleaning Liquid available from Amazon
I recommend that you use the Full Circle Milk Wash to get the really crusty dairy products off the wand and I find the Cafelat Microfiber Towels to be perfect for this application. They come in four packs with two colors, so you can easily keep them separate.
These two steps should become such a habit that it is almost an involuntary reaction when making espresso.
After Each Brewing Session or Several Pulls:
After every brewing session, running a water shot through the machine will clear the oils.
In addition, for machines with a 3-way valve, make a clean water backflush after every 10 or so shots.
Obviously, at a busy cafe this will need to occur more often (could be once an hour or less) than for a home brewer (possibly once a week).
When you are finished up, you should clean any coffee gunk that has accumulated around the shower screen, group head threads (where the portafilter attaches), and the portafilter gasket.
To clean around the the group head, a specialized group head cleaning brush is highly recommended.
I suggest the Cafelat Group Head Brush as I find it is one of the better made products and replacement bristles are available.
Although designed for 58mm E61 Groups, it is possible to bend the brush in to fit into other sizes of groupheads.
Another alternative group head brush is the Pallo Coffeetool.
Designed for all group heads, extra brushes are also available for this device, and it includes and handy pick built into it to unclog plugged steam nozzles.
Using these brushes is simple – just insert the brush into the group head and scrub.
Weekly or Every Few Weeks:
Scheduled weekly cleanings should also include backflushing with a detergent specifically created for espresso machines, such as the Full Circle Equipment Wash or the Full Circle Tablets.
Using the amount of detergent recommended on the container, place cleaner into the backflush basket and place it into the portafilter.
Flush according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This will flush out the old essential oils, in order to maintain flavor and allow the valve to function properly.
Once the flush is completed, you may want to loosen the portafilter while still holding it in place, then engage the pump so that the blank filter basket flows over.
Gently swishing this cleaning water will help to release oils from the group head. Of course, this water is hot and should be monitored carefully to avoid burns.
The portafilter, blank basket and drip tray should now be cleaned of the gunk that has likely collected from the brewing process.
Once this is done, these items should be replaced in the machine and backflushed again with clean water in order to rinse away any leftover detergent.
Other weekly cleaning steps include soaking items such as the portafilter, steam tip and drip basket in water with a small amount of cleaner –but only the metal parts should be submerged. Soak for 30-60 minutes.
Use a gentle nylon scrubber to get into crevices where necessary.
Cleaning Inside the Grouphead:
Any appliance with a pressure release system, called a 3-way valve, will need to be cleaned about once a week or every few weeks, depending upon the frequency of brewing.
Cleaning the grouphead is a critical step in maintaining your brewing device.
In order to clean, you’ll need to use a screwdriver to remove the cover plate, as well as the next plate.
Various models will be configured in different ways, but typically there are two plates/screens that take the brunt of the oil and gunk buildup.
These will need to be removed and washed in the sink with dish soap. A gentle nylon scrub brush will also help the process.
Be careful not to use steel wool on brass as it will scratch and can leave its own residue behind. But also don’t use a brass cleaner on the brass plate. An old toothbrush works well on the edges of the plates, to get down into the ridges.
Prior to replacing the clean plates, scrub the inside of the grouphead mechanism with a nylon brush and water (no soap) to get the oils removed from there as well.
Replace the plates and screw tightly.
Perform several water backflushes and one test shot of espresso to “prime the pump” and prepare the appliance for use.
Quarterly (More or Less):
If you’re not using a water filter (and sometimes if you are), lime scale can build up in your reservoir and tank lines.
Urnex Full Circle Biodegradable Coffee and Espresso Equipment Descaling Powder available from Amazon
The rate with which this occurs depends heavily on how hard your water is, whether or not you are softening and filtering it, and how often you use your machine.
This can adversely affect the taste of your shots, and I’d highly recommend using Urnex Full Circle Biodegradable Coffee and Espresso Equipment Descaling Powder on an as-needed basis.
Bonus: You can use it to descale your regular coffeepot or to get the crud out of your French press as well.
Regular cleaning and maintenance is part of the privilege of owning an espresso machine. And you’ll want to stay on top of a regular cleaning schedule for small kitchen appliances and large appliances alike, to keep them in good working order.
If you care for your machine well, it will return the favor and care for you, by offering high quality shots and coffee beverages for a very long time.
About Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.