Cleaning any coffee machine is an integral part of its maintenance and keeping everything in working order, and even if yours has a special self-cleaning button which does 90% of the work on your behalf, there are still some extra bits to do periodically.
One vital stage in the cleaning process is descaling a bean to cup machine. Even though this doesn’t need to be done quite as often as cleaning the milk wand, for instance, it negatively affects the inner mechanics if left too long.
Why is it important?
- It will keep everything working better. You don’t want to turn your expensive bean to cup machine on one day to find the water isn’t coming through and you need to call out a costly engineer to fix it, or worse still, realize it needs replacing after just one year of faithful service when it should have lasted ten. Coffee machines should be operating at a profit after a few months, not costing you the earth
- Your coffee will taste the best it can be. Unfiltered water doesn’t taste as great as filtered, and water that has picked up a load of limescale as it has traveled through your machine will result in a sub-par brew. Even if it was filtered to start with
How to descale your coffee machine
Firstly, we should mention that you should always follow the instructions relating to your device, as no two are the same. From De’Longhi and Melitta to Jura and Sage, they all do the same job but have different processes.
Should you think your bean to cup coffee machine needs descaling, follow this guide to get it back in working order:
- Make sure it is turned off, then remove the water tank, rinse it out and refill it with the required amount of freshwater
- Add your descaling tablet/liquid to the recommended dose. Wait for this to fully dissolve, then pop the tank back in place and turn the machine on
- If yours has a descaling programme, select this and let it do its job
- If not, select the necessary settings as though you were making a coffee, but just without adding the coffee grounds. Allow the descaler to work through the pipes
- Wait about ten minutes, and then prepare another ‘cup’. Repeat until the water tank is empty
- Take out the water tank again, rinse and fill full of water. Make another cup of coffee with the plain water, and repeat until it is empty again
How often should I clean my bean to cup machine?
If you have a very fancy high-end model, it may tell you when it needs descaling with a flashing light signal. Some won’t operate any more until this is done.
If you don’t have this luxury, the usual recommendation is after every 200-300 cups of coffee. Obviously, nobody expects you to keep a tally chart, but keeping a general tab on things is a good idea. So if it makes ten cups a day, you will need to do it every three weeks to a month at the very least.
This may have to increase further if you live in a hard water area full of minerals and limescale.
Which products should I use to clean a coffee machine?
Every manufacturer and machine has a different method of descaling and engineer guidelines. Always follow the instructions in the user manual as to the best way to do it all.
Likewise, every manufacturer usually has their own descaling products available, such as tablets and liquids. This is because the chemical concentration of each product needs to be very important. Some pipes won’t be able to handle high doses, and some will require the highest possible dose.
Never go against advice and use products that aren’t recommended. You could damage the coffee machine, or invalidate your warranty/insurance.
Can I just use vinegar in descaling a bean to cup machine?
Historically used to combat limescale, you may think it is sufficient enough to clean your bean to cup coffee machine. Most people use it in their kettles, after all. But you are wrong.
Vinegar is very acidic, so can damage some metals and rubber seals throughout the appliance. It is also likely that your appliance could pick up the taste of vinegar, affecting your future brews.
There is also no product within the vinegar which will act as a surfactant, to release the bond between the pipes and the remaining coffee residues. It isn’t just limescale that descaling can get rid of. Dedicated descalers are still acidic (just like vinegar) but made from food-grade ingredients and are more gentle.
How can I prevent limescale in the first place?
You can’t prevent it as such, but you can make little changes to slow down its build up.
- Use filtered water rather than tap. Don’t just rely on the filter inside your bean to cup machine. Tap water contains levels of calcium and other minerals, which creates the limescale in the first place. If you live in a hard water area, this is particularly important. We have talked about the importance of water in coffee making previously
- Descale regularly. Would you rather leave the descaling to every six months to save a bit of money on the dedicated products, or every two months which is slightly more expensive but ultimately results in a quicker, more effective descaling process?
The truth is, descaling tablets are relatively inexpensive. If you have forked out on a coffee machine, you can probably cope with the costs of the descaler.
Doing the process regularly could prolong the life of your machine, which could save you money in the long run anyway.
Getting really underwhelming coffee from your machine? Do check it isn’t something else before you start descaling, such as using the wrong beans or grind setting.
If yours is beyond saving, or if you are thinking of getting a new one and are just reading up on the care before you jump in, our guide to the best bean to cup coffee machines should help you out.
If you’re looking to buy a new bean-to-cup coffee machine that is convenient to clean and maintain, you may find our unbiased Beko Bean-to-Cup Coffee Machine Review a useful read.
Dan is a former competition barista and has been honing his knowledge of coffee for over two decades.
He has worked in coffee farms in Peru, as well as roasters in Australia. He now trains new baristas and hosts cupping experiences in Austin.