Coffee Maker Care: How To Clean and Maintain Your Espresso Machine

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Published by: Chef Matty Riedel • Updated: October 26, 2023

If you love coffee, chances are you have your own espresso machine. But do you clean your machine, or do you simply assume it stays clean because it uses water and heat? This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not only can a dirty or poorly maintained machine affect the flavour of your favourite coffees, but it can also damage the machine's inner workings beyond repair. Not something any coffee aficionado wants!

Don’t panic if you’ve no idea where to start with keeping your coffee machine clean. Between your machine care booklet and our helpful advice, you’ll have everything you need.

Essentially, two overlapping elements are involved in proper espresso machine care: cleaning and maintenance/replacement of parts. 

If you employ the correct approaches to these elements, you can enjoy your machine for many more years to come. 

Let’s begin with how to clean your espresso machine properly.

Clean Your Espresso Machine Regularly

Thorough and frequent cleaning of your espresso machine will:

  • Eradicate harmful bacteria
  • Prevent the accumulation of lime scale and leftover product, which would clog up your machine 
  • Keep all parts running smoothly
  • Ensure that every cup tastes great

Proper cleaning starts with using the right cleaning products and includes daily and long-term cleaning habits.

Use The Right Cleaning Products

Before you clean your espresso machine, you must know which detergents and other cleaning products you should use and which you should avoid. 

natural cleaning products, lemons on a chopping board

This is because the wrong cleaning products can actually damage your machine, in addition to simply being ineffective. Therefore, you must consult your machine’s owner’s manual to identify safe and effective cleaning products to use in your espresso maker.

With a bit of research, you can also save yourself the unnecessary expense of buying products you don’t actually need. For example, if you don’t use hard water in your espresso machine, you may not need to use descaling products. For the environmentally conscious barista, a mixture of vinegar and water can often be used as an alternative to store-bought chemical detergents. 

Whatever products you use, always remember to rinse your machine well after cleaning. No one wants a freshly brewed cup of coffee that tastes like soap.

Follow A Daily Cleaning Routine

These are the practices you should follow throughout the day as you use your machine:

  • Before each use, flush the group head to eliminate residual oils and old coffee grounds, which could undesirably alter the espresso flavour.
  • Purge the steam wand before and after use to clear away product residue and exterminate bacteria.
  • Wipe down the steam wand after each use.
  • Replace cleaning cloths with fresh ones two to three times daily. Dirty cloths should be washed with hot water and strong detergent before they’re used again.

Additionally, you should get into the habit of completing the following tasks at the end of each day:

  • Soak the steam wand: Remove the wand tip and place it in a detergent and warm water solution. Leave to soak overnight or for at least 20 minutes.
  • Thoroughly clean and rinse the drip tray and portafilters.
  • Carefully clean the draining hose to prevent leftover grounds from clogging up either the hose or the drip tray lines.
  • Perform a full backflush. First, remove residual coffee grounds from the group head by scrubbing with a machine brush. Then remove the portafilter basket and replace it with the blind filter before running a brew cycle with coffee machine detergent. Repeat this process several times until the water runs clear. Give the filter basket a good wash while you’re at it, and switch it with the blind filter again once you’re done with the backflush.
  • After the backflush is complete, pull a few water-only shots to rinse away any remaining soap.

Decalcify Your Espresso Machine Every Two Months

This cleaning task generally only applies to machines in which hard water is used. Hard water is water that contains large amounts of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. Hard water that is heated up, as in kettles and espresso machines, forms limescale as it evaporates. Over time, limescale builds up, affecting water flavour and potentially causing irreparable damage.

espresso machine

To prevent this from happening, regularly check your espresso machine for limescale, which appears as a white, chalky residue inside the steam tank. Frequent cleaning can help combat this, but you should also have it professionally decalcified/descaled by the manufacturer or distributor every two months or so.

Drain Your Steam Tank Every Six Months

To further guard against limescale build-up, you should fully drain your steam tank at least once every six months.

Perform Regular Check-ups And Replace Parts When Needed

Another essential aspect of espresso machine care is regular and proper maintenance. For starters, frequently check your machine for any issues with its parts and deal with these as soon as possible before they can cause any damage. 

You can avoid the above issues from arising in the first place by following a consistent schedule for parts replacement. This will ensure that your espresso machine isn’t damaged by faulty parts and keeps brewing for as long as possible.

Your regular parts replacement schedule should run as follows:

Replace These Parts Every Couple Of Months

To prevent leakage between the group head and portafilter, replace the following components every few months:

  • Shower (dispersion) screens
  • Portafilter baskets

Replace These Parts Once A Year

Finally, for optimum espresso machine longevity, certain small parts should be replaced annually:

  • The brew actuator bearing
  • The steam and hot water valve/rings
  • The expansion valve
  • Shoulder bolt shims
  • The anti-suction valve
  • The waste pipe.

A Well-Cared-For Espresso Machine Lasts Longer

Every well-trained barista knows that machine maintenance is one of the key ingredients to a great-tasting cup of coffee. And, when you look after your machine, you’ll extend its lifespan dramatically, too, so you get better-tasting coffee for longer.

With this in mind, it’s fairly obvious that properly cleaning and maintaining your espresso machine is well worth the effort and expense. 

Chef and Restaurant Owner Matty Riedel
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