One of the best things you can do for an espresso machine is most commonly forgotten. It is very important to decalcify your espresso machine on a regular basis. The decalcification process applies only to home units and super automatics. Do not decalcify a machine with a commercial/heat exchanger style boiler. Due to its design and size, it is difficult to remove the decalcification solution from it without taking it apart. These machines are to be backflushed only. There is a list of machines below to let you know which process and which cleaning product you should use.
So, with that in mind you are probably wondering a couple things:
- What is Decalcifying?
- What is the difference between decalcifying and cleaning?
- What if I, or my machine, have a water filter?
- Why Decalcify?
- When should I decalcify?
- What do I use?
You will find the answer to all of these questions in this article below. We will have more detailed descriptions on cleaning and maintaining espresso machines in the future as well.
What is Decalcifying?
In the dictionary, decalcify means the removal or loss of calcium or calcium deposits. As a note, decalcifying and descaling are terms used interchangeably and mean the same thing. When you decalcify your machine, you are removing the calcium and mineral build up that happens in the boiler, brew group, frothing wand, and other related parts. If it is not done on a regular basis, these parts of the machine may fail. Warranty does not cover parts that fail due to lack of maintenance. On the positive side, decalcifying your machine will minimize the problems and will help maintain the durability of your machine. Just like your car, your espresso machine must be maintained to enhance its chances that it will run properly and live a long and happy life.
What is the difference between Decalcifying and Cleaning?
These are two very different processes. Decalcifying is removing minerals from the inside of the boiler and the interconnecting tubing. Cleaning is removing the old coffee and coffee oils from the machine. Both are very important but very different and use different cleaning products and techniques.What if I, or my machine, have a water filter?
The Jura and Capresso super automatic machines come with a Claris water filter. As long as you replace the filter after 50 liters of water have run through the machine, or two months, which ever comes first, you will not have to decalcify. If you go longer than this, then you should decalcify it to remove any minerals that have built up after the filter has worn out. Put in a new filter and replace it on the timetable described above. If you have a reverse osmosis filter, or use distilled water, you will not have to decalcify. The minerals are already removed from the water. Bottled water may or may not have a low mineral content, you will have to check the bottle.
Well, ask yourself this question: Would I continually disregard the check engine light in my car? Hopefully you said no and would drive right down to the dealer to take care of it. Bypassing the decalcification process on an espresso machine would be like ignoring that check engine light. When minerals build up in the espresso machine, it can affect the taste of your espresso and your ability to froth milk. It does this by clogging the small water lines and valves, restricting the water flow necessary for proper operation. The minerals will also degrade the integrity of the boiler, decreasing its capacity and jeopardizing your warranty as mentioned above.
When do I Decalcify?
There are two different kinds of machines. There are those that perform decalcification automatically, and those that must be done manually. It is important to remember that water hardness does play a role in how often you decalcify. You may want to test your water hardness with a water hardness test strip. Some super automatic machines come with them but you can get one from a pool supply store. Most test strips have four different squares at the bottom. You hold the top of the strip while putting the bottom in the water until it changes color. If the bottom one or two blocks change color, your water is soft and decalcification should be done every 3 to 4 months. If three or four of the blocks change color, you have fairly hard water. The best thing to do would be to either purchase bottled water, or get a water filter. If you do not do those things, you will need to decalcify about every 2 months. If you don’t want to bother to test your water just decalcify every two to three months and you will probably be fine. Most super automatic machines that have digital displays perform the decalcification function for you automatically. On those displays, you will also see a message or an indicator light to remind you to decalcify the machine. If your machine is like this, you will need to refer to the “Descaling” section of your owner’s manual and follow the directions. You will need to use the cleaner they recommend or see the chart below for the recommended product. The whole process will take about 45 minutes. When you are done with the decalcification process, you will need to remove the reservoir and rinse it thoroughly. Run a reservoir of fresh water through the machine to rinse out the decalcifier.
If your espresso machine does not have this automatic decalcifying option, you will have to find a way to remind yourself to decalcify your machine. You will need to find out how hard your water is, and then make a note to remind yourself. When it is time to decalcify, you will also want to refer to your owner’s manual for complete instructions. Instructions for cleaning will also be included with most cleaning products. After completing the whole process, rinse the water reservoir and run a reservoir of fresh water through the machine.
The point I am trying to make is that you MUST decalcify & clean your espresso machine.
Mark it on your calendar or wherever you need to, but just don’t forget. As always, if you need any help with this, or have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
What do I use?
Machines that can be decalcified and products used:
- Urnex Cleancaf: Gaggia Machines, FrancisFrancis!, Solis Machines & the Rancilio Silvia
- Capresso Durgol: Capresso Machines
- Jura Decalcification Tablets: Jura Machines
Krups Machines: Call Krups 800.526.5377
Machines that cannot be decalcified and should be back flushed with Urnex Espresso Machine cleaner:
- Pasquini Livia 90/Livia 90 Auto
- Rancilio S24
- Expobar Machines