Cleaning your espresso machine with regularity and thoroughness is fundamental to producing quality and consistent espresso. Knowing what tasks to do, how often and with what tools and products isn’t an exact science, but there are certainly some best practices to follow.
Why to Clean your Espresso Machine
Keeping your espresso machine in good working order and keeping your espresso station clean and tidy is essential for three main reasons;
Let’s look at these in more detail.
Oil build up
Roasting coffee brings oils out of the coffee in a chemical reaction known as the Maillard process, it’s these oils that give coffee its aroma and contributes to it’s flavour profile. The oily-ness of the coffee is a positive thing, but can result in a build up in the espresso machine portafilter, grouphead, showerscreen, basically anywhere your coffee touches will have a build-up of coffee oils that need cleaning. A build-up of oils can cause a burnt bitterness in the flavour and ruin the taste of a coffee.
Old Leftover Coffee Grounds
Coffee grounds, as you’ll know if you like to use ground coffee, or grind your own, get everywhere, and this is the same for in the espresso machine. Fine coffee grinds work their way in all sorts of places within the coffee machine and where they go in, they can also dislodge and come out, we want to avoid this as much as possible.
They’re Minerals, Marie
All untreated tap water has minerals in it, but these are different depending on where we are. We optimise the minerals in the water we use in the espresso machine based on how hard our water is, as the minerals and ions in the water have an affect on the taste of our coffee, but these can also build up over time. Descaling is required semi-regularly as these can affect the longevity of your espresso machine.
Things get dirty over time, it’s to be expected, but if you want to show your customers you follow good hygiene standards, (like our 5 out of 5) then you need to have processes in place to clean to prevent the build-up of bacteria and mould, which thrive in warm and moist environments found around espresso machines.
When to Clean Your Espresso Machine
We break down our routine into tasks that we will carry out with differing regularity and even though these are a thorough set of cleaning tasks because we are in a commercial environment, these will still apply to your home barista setup even if you are making just one or two coffees a day.
Tasks after every shot
After you’ve made an espresso either at home or in a commercial setting, these tasks should be carried out even before you’ve enjoyed your coffee.
- Empty the portafilter and use a brush or microfibre towel to remove any leftover grinds from the basket
- If you made a milk drink, purge and wipe down the steam wand
- Microfibre cloth the grouphead to remove excess coffee grounds
- Clean any spillages
Multiple daily tasks
If you run a high traffic coffee shop then these are the tasks that shouldn’t be left until the end of the day but instead should be carried out throughout the day. How many times will be dependent on your particular shop.
- Shops will want to backflush individual groups periodically throughout the day
- Spouted portafilters may need cleaning on rotation every 1 - 2 hours as oils build up between the basket and spout (another advantage of bottomless portafilters)
- Remove the shower screen and clean with the basket and portafilter
- Clean around the grouphead with a hard bristle brush
- Empty the knock out drawer
End of the day tasks
These tasks should be performed once a day without fail to ensure prevention of buildup of oils and grime around the coffee machine.
- Remove and clean the drip tray
- Backflush the machine according to your espresso machine manufacturers guidelines to clean the solenoid and pipes inside the espresso machine
- Wipe down the entire machine including behind the drip tray and on the cup warmer on top of the machine
- Use hard bristle brushes to clean up inside the group heads
- Empty the knock out drawer of used coffee pucks into a compostable bag
- Clean the knock out drawer
- Remove the portafilter baskets, the shower screen and place all of them into a cleaning solution such as Cafiza
- Empty any remaining coffee beans from the grinder back into wherever you store your beans.
- Grind through any remaining beans in the bean chute and vacuum out any remaining grounds.
If you have a high traffic coffee shop then these tasks should be more frequent, or if you have a home espresso machine, as long as you are keeping to most of the daily tasks, then these following tasks can be less frequent than weekly:
- Remove panels on the coffee machine where coffee can ingress.
- Deep clean steam wands by removing the head and ensuring any grim is removed from the threads
- Descale the machine. Descaling involves removing mineral deposits that build up over time from hard water. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for descaling, as it can vary depending on the machine. Descaling should be done every 3-6 months, depending on the frequency of use and the hardness of the water.
- Remove burrs from your grinder and ensure sharpness and uniformity, clean with a plastic bristle brush to remove the build up of oils and caked in coffee grounds.
Irregular tasks, checks and ongoing maintenance
After some time making coffee, you’ll start to get a feel of when these need addressing, but it’ll usually be obvious with poor performance, leaking or some other fluctuations in temperature or quality. The trick is to replace them before they need replacing as there could be other issues caused by them.
- Descale the machine by following the manufacturer's instructions for using a descaling solution. Run the solution through the machine and then rinse thoroughly with hot water.
- Replace the group head gasket and shower screen if needed by removing the old ones and replacing them with new ones:
- Monitor the temperature and pressure of the machine regularly to ensure they are within the correct range for your machine.
- Check the water filter and replace it as needed. Depending on the hardness of your water, the water filter will need replacing every 3000 or so litres of water ran through it
- Check the burrs on your grinder and clean or replace them as needed.
Why to Clean your Espresso Machine
As we've discussed earlier, oils pick up absolutely everywhere, and below are some examples of what our portafilter looked like after 3 hours of working. the spouted portafilter obviously has a lot more space to collect the oils, but is important for single shot espressos. The bottomless portafilter has a lot less surface area to catch any coffee oils, which is why I personally prefer to use a bottomless portafilter whenever possible. Just another advantage.
Best Espresso Machine Cleaning Equipment
There are some essential tools and cleaners that you should invest in for your home espresso station and even more so if you are running a coffee shop as many of them have been specially formulated to break down the oils in the coffee that get everywhere.
These come in all shapes and sizes, the darker ones hide the coffee stains, which is perfect for day to day use.
A blank basket is essential for backflushing your machine and cleaning the internal pipework and solenoid.
There are other cleaners available, but Cafiza is the best cleaning solution for removing coffee oils that build up on machines and portafilters.
Cheaper alternatives to clean your espresso machine with
Maintaining your espresso machine is of utmost importance, but if you are at home and you don't mind using a slightly inferior product to clean your cheap espresso machine with, then by all means, there are some alternatives that you can use in place of the specialist cleaners listed above.
- Instead of espresso machine cleaner, you can use a solution of hot water and white vinegar.
- Instead of a backflush disk or blind filter, you can use an old portafilter with no basket.
- Instead of descaling solution, you can use a solution of hot water and citric acid.
What are the best Espresso Machine Cleaner Brands
There are a variety of espresso machine cleaners available on the market, and if you have an expensive machine, or are running a coffee shop, then you may want to consider using specifically designed industry espresso machine cleaners. Here are some of the most popular options:
Cafiza - This is the most popular cleaner used by many coffee shops and is designed to remove coffee oils and residue. It is formulated to dissolve quickly and rinse easily, leaving no harmful residues and is what we use in our coffee shop every day.
Urnex - Another popular cleaner used by many coffee shops, Urnex is also designed to remove coffee oils and residue. It is available in different strengths to accommodate various types of machines and cleaning needs.
Puly Caff - This is a cleaner that is designed to remove coffee oils and mineral deposits from hard water. It is also effective at removing milk residue from steam wands and Puly is the go to for their grinder salts.
Dezcal - This is a descaling solution that is designed to remove mineral deposits from hard water. It is effective at removing limescale buildup and is biodegradable.
Durgol - This is another descaling solution that is effective at removing mineral deposits from hard water. It is formulated to work quickly and effectively, and it is safe to use on aluminium and stainless steel.
It's important to note that not all cleaners are suitable for all espresso machines, and it's essential to follow the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations for cleaning your machine. Additionally, some cleaners may be more aggressive than others, and it's essential to take care when using them and ensure that they are thoroughly rinsed from the machine after use to prevent any harmful residue from being left behind and be careful of your own exposure to these chemicals.
Espresso Machine Cleaning FAQ
Why do I need to clean my espresso machine?
To prevent oil build-up, old leftover grounds, mineral build-ups, and maintain good hygiene standards.
What happens if I don’t clean my espresso machine?
Coffee will start to taste bitter, or be inconsistent in timing as shots are pulled. There may be leaks around the gasket and at worst, could completely break the pumps or machine.
When should I clean my coffee machine?
There are tasks that should be carried out instantly after every shot, daily at the end of the day, weekly and those that are more irregular and require checking and maintaining.
What equipment do I need to clean my espresso machine?
Clean cloths, espresso machine cleaner, backflush disks or blind filter, and descaling solution.