If you want to keep your machine in top condition the single most important thing you can do is descale it regularly.
When water is heated up the solid particles in the water separate and form over the heating element and inside the coffee maker.
In hard water areas this can happen at an alarmingly quick rate.
As the chalky deposits build up they will insulate the heating element causing inefficient heating and potentially overheating it. Eventually the water channels will be completely blocked and you’re looking at dismantling the machine and a full repair bill.
So how often should you descale your espresso maker? This is dealt with in our espresso descaling article the focus of this article is to look at the descaling solutions around.
Home made descalers lemon juice or vinegar?
Dissolving the scale in kettles and the like is often done with vinegar or lemon juice and Acetic acid is quite good at dissolving scale and the added bonus is that it is naturally occurring.
However in a coffee maker the acids in these liquids will dissolve the rubber seals and erode the plastics. Plus you have a problem with after taste which lingers in the machine after many rinses.
Commercially available descalers come in two types…
Espresso machine descaling solutions
These do not just contain a scale dissolver they will also contain detergents and other favourable items to remove the coffee residues from inside the machine.
Each manufacturer recommends their own descaler but actually there is little to choose between them. As long as the descaler is designed for an espresso machine it should work fine.
General use descaling fluid for kettles, dishwashers, washing machines and coffee makers.
These are not designed for espresso machines and while some may be friendly to plastics and rubber (especially those for washing machine and dishwasher usage) we would not recommend using them.
Strong and fast or weak and slow
Should you run a strong mixture of descaler through the machine quickly or use a weaker solution over a longer time?
In our experience time is more important than strength. If the water is coming out of the machine with white bubbles there is still scale inside the machine so run it until the water is coming through clear. Lots of short bursts over around 20 minutes.
Go by the strength of descaler to water recommended on the packet, there is no hard and fast rule as to how to mix them as they are all different.