Avoiding the buildup - How to effectively clean & maintain your espresso machine
Image by @Crew via Unsplash
One of the most important things you should do with your espresso machine is regularly clean it, a task that is often overlooked and undervalued. Although this may not be the most fun part of using your equipment, regular maintenance does play a vital role in the taste and quality of the coffee that you make with your machine.
Having a dirty coffee machine affects the brewing process and the machine’s functionality, which can lead to serving less than optimal coffee and potentially even suffering machine failure.
We'd like to share a guide to running an effective cleaning routine in this article, bearing in mind that your routine should be customised to the equipment you own, and the amount of coffee that you’re making. We also recommend consulting the manufacturer's guidelines for your equipment. Although the approach to cleaning and maintenance will be similar for most machinery, you’ll want to make sure that what you’re doing is in line with your particular machine’s manufacturer’s recommendations.
Why clean your espresso machine?
There are many reasons that it’s important to keep any coffee equipment, especially espresso equipment, clean. We’d like to think that these are obvious, or at least well understood, but they are important enough to list and elaborate on. Here are the most important ones.
If you don’t regularly clean and maintain your machine, it can break; it’s that simple. Coffee, milk and even tap water create all kinds of residue, and that residue can create blockages. Blockages in turn can create further damage that can be expensive to repair. If you want your machine to last a long time, then following guidelines like the ones later in this article will help you protect your investment. Even if the machine doesn’t sustain any significant damage (that can take time), you’ll find that it will work better and more consistently when it’s clean.
Even if the longevity of your equipment doesn’t motivate you to roll up your sleeves, there is perhaps an even more important reason to make sure that your equipment is clean: A dirty espresso machine makes bad coffee. Of course, this is a matter of degrees, and you may not be able to taste the difference after just one missed cleaning step, but over time, the dirtier your equipment is, the worse your coffee will taste.
Coffee contains oils that accumulate and go rancid over time. This alone can give the coffee a dirty aftertaste. Add in the fact that coffee grounds can also get stuck, and even combine with these rancid oils, and you have a recipe for ruining even the most promising extractions. A consistent cleaning schedule ensures that you avoid these pitfalls and produce the same quality every time you brew.
This may feel like a less important point, but it’s one worth considering. We human beings are visual creatures, and an espresso machine that looks clean and shiny is probably going to fire up that coffee craving a lot more than a grubby-looking one. Perhaps at home, this doesn’t matter, but in the cafe, where you’re trying to sell coffee, you need to make sure that your equipment looks the part.
Setting up a coffee equipment cleaning routine
The key to success with the cleaning of your coffee equipment is setting up a routine. Put it in your calendar, set up a reminder, and do whatever you need to do to ensure that your cleaning is planned for. Leaving it till you think of it is a recipe for procrastination and less than optimal coffee.
How often you should do each type of cleaning will vary depending on how you use your equipment. We have included advice for both home and commercial cleaning below. However, it’s ultimately the volume of coffee that you’re making that will determine the frequency with which you need to carry out these tasks, so you may need to customise these recommendations based on your particular situation.
Cleaning your coffee equipment at home
Image by @Johannes Hofmann via Unsplash
A home barista makes much less coffee than a barista working in a cafe, which means the maintenance requirements will differ. Nevertheless, having an effective and consistent cleaning routine is still vital. Your schedule as a home barista can be adjusted to your coffee usage.
For a typical low volume usage of 1-4 cups a day, we recommend standard daily cleaning and a weekly “deep” clean schedule.
A daily cleaning routine should include:
- Flushing the group head after every extraction to force water through the shower screen to remove any grounds that may be stuck.
- Wiping your portafilter with a cloth after each session to make sure it's dry for your next extraction.
- Wiping down your steam wand after every use and purging to remove any milk residue.
- Scrubbing in and around the group head with a group head brush to remove any coffee grounds that may be left, after a brewing session is finished (however many cups you make)
If you make significantly more coffee than the average home user, your daily routine may need to look more like the commercial one described below. Otherwise, your weekly “deep” clean should look very similar to the end-of-day commercial routine described below in the commercial section.
Cleaning commercial coffee equipment
Although there is a fair bit of cleaning that needs to be done after the shift is finished (outlined below), a good approach to adopt as a professional barista is to clean as you work. This is particularly helpful in busy cafes, where leaving everything to build up till the end of the day (pun intended) may not be a good idea.
Daily - during the shift
Flush, rinse & scrub your group head
- Flush your group head and let the water run through the shower screen between each espresso shot to remove the coffee grounds stuck in the filter screen. You want to make sure that you are not brewing over old coffee.
- Scrub the shower screen and around the rubber seal of the group head with your group head brush every hour or so.
- Perform a clean water backflush every hour or so; you can do this for 5 seconds. Water will circulate back to the group head to loosen old grounds.
Keep your portafilter clean
- Wipe your portafilter with a dry cloth after every extraction. Ensure that it is clean and dry, with no coffee oil or ground coffee stuck to it, before your next shot.
- Separate the basket and portafilter, and let the water run through both parts to remove the build-up formed in the portafilter. You can do this after a couple of shots, or when the cafe gets quiet.
- Disassemble the portafilter and soak the parts in hot water with espresso machine detergent for 15 minutes, then rinse and wipe the parts dry. This will remove any oils and dirt stuck in and around the portafilter. You can only do this when the cafe is quiet but it is worth doing occasionally if you can find the time.
Keep your steam wand free of milk residue
- Wipe down your steam wand with a milk cloth immediately after each use, before the milk fully hardens. Purge the steam wand to prevent build-up and bacteria in and around the steam wand.
Use clean cloths
Clean barista cloth
- Use different cloths for each cleaning task around the machine; you can use a colour coordination method to ensure that there is no mixup. You particularly want to keep milk and coffee cloths separate, for hygiene reasons.
- Ensure that the cloths you use around your machine are always fresh and clean; you can do so by swapping them out as needed during the day.
Daily - at the end of the day
Backflush your group head
Flushing a grouphead
- Use a blind basket or blind disk to perform a full backflush:
- Pour a scoop of espresso machine cleaning powder into the basket.
- Start the brew cycle for 10 seconds and turn it off for 10 seconds
- Repeat this cycle 5 times
- Run the brewing cycle with just water, and scrub the group head with a group head brush.
- Remove the shower screen from the machine and soak it in warm water with your basket and portafilter for an hour. Make sure to rinse them thoroughly afterward. To remove your shower screen:
- Central screw group head: Undo the central screw in the center of the shower screen with a compatible screwdriver or tool, this will help loosen it. After you have loosened the screw, your shower screen should naturally fall out.
- E61 group head: Take a flat head screwdriver and meet it up with the ridge of the shower screen. Start pivoting the edge and lever it down, the shower screen should start to loosen. Once you have levered around the ring of the shower screen, you should be able to remove the shower screen easily.
- Wipe inside the group head and around the gasket to remove oils and old coffee grounds that might be stuck.
Thoroughly clean your steam wand
- Create a cleaning solution using a milk system cleaner.
- Soak the steam wand in the solution for about 20 minutes.
- Rinse the steam wand with clean water and wipe it down with cleaning wipes or a cloth.
- Purge by opening the steam valve to release any residue from the cleaning solution.
Clean & empty your drip tray
Espresso machine drip tray
- Remove the drip tray from the machine and empty the contents.
- Thoroughly wash the drip tray with hot water and soap, scrubbing all the dirt from the tray.
- Wipe it dry and insert it back into the machine
Polish your machine
- Wipe the surface of the espresso machine with a cloth or dedicated equipment cleaning wipes
- Consider using an antibacterial solution to remove stains and disinfect the surface. You want the surface of the machine to be free of germs and look good!
Clean & empty your grinder
- Empty your bean hopper and wipe it with a cloth; make sure it is dry before filling it with fresh beans. It will prevent your hopper from being stained by the coffee oil, which can ruin good coffee.
- Add grinder cleaning tablets to an empty grinder, and grind the whole tablets through. Then add some old coffee to remove any tablet residue that may be left.
Descale your machine*
- Create a 50/50 water and powder solution.
- Run the cleaning solution through the machine until you pull a cup of water and allow the mixer to go through the pipes and boiler.
- Shut down the equipment for about an hour, giving the solution time to remove the limescale.
- Run about a quarter of the reservoir through the brew head and the steam wand, then shut the machine off for the next 20 minutes.
- Finally, run the rest of the reservoir through the equipment; repeat the same process with clean water through the brew head and the steam wand. Your espresso machine should be free from limescale.
*Descaling is actually only necessary when there is limescale present. You may need to consult a professional technician to determine if this is the case. You also should consult your particular machine's guidelines on whether descaling is recommended. For some espresso machines, we would recommend that a professional technician performs all of these steps. Descaling may or may not be required regularly, depending on the quality of your water and the nature of your equipment.
Recommended products to use
We've listed essential cleaning supplies that are effective in machine maintenance; each component has its designated cleaning products.
Portafilter & group head
- Caffenu Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder - It works well as a back flush for your espresso machine group head or to soak removable parts such as portafilters, filter baskets, or shower screens.
- Caffenu Universal Coffee Machine Cleaning Tablets - Caffenu Universal tablets are an eco-friendly cleaning option; they are incredibly versatile, practical, and effective cleaning products for any espresso machine.
- Urnex Cafiza 2 Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder - Urnex powder can be included in your daily routine for the backflush process, soaking removable parts like portafilters, filter baskets & shower screens when soaked in water.
- Puly Caff Plus Coffee Equipment Cleaning Powder - It is a trusted brand when it comes to cleaning group heads and other accessories like your baskets, cups and jugs.
- Caffenu Universal Coffee Machine Milk System Cleaner - You can use it to soak the steam wand or milk frothing heads with certain types of machines
- Urnex Rinza Milk Frother Cleaning Tablet - Given milk's tendency to go rancid and the popularity of milky beverages, this makes an effective cleaning regimen for all parts of your equipment that come into contact with milk particularly important. Urnex Rinza Tablets have been designed specifically with milk cleaning in mind.
- Urnex Grindz Grinder Cleaner Tablets - The Urnex grinder tablet is designed to help you clean your grinder regularly.
- Urnex Cafe Wipz Equipment Cleaning Wipes - Urnex cleaning wipes are perfect for quick cleaning or tidying up your equipment and counter surfaces.
- Urnex Dezcal Descaling Powder - Dezcal is specially formulated to remove lime from your coffee equipment, like an espresso machine.
- Caffenu Eco Liquid Descaler - Caffenu is a proudly South African brand and has formulated this environmentally friendly, mild descaling product for use with coffee machines, as well as kettles and urns.
- Urnex Espresso Cleaning Kit - This bundle is perfect for your espresso group heads, steam wands, and grinder maintenance.
- Cafelat Microfibre Cloths - Cafelat Microfibre cloths are great for keeping your workspace clean while on the go. These cloths are not only good for coffee bars but would also make a great addition to your home coffee station.
- Microfibre Barista Cloth With Belt Clip - These handy microfibre cloths, ideally designed to clean milk residue, coffee grounds and general coffee mess, clip to your belt, meaning they're always accessible.
Cleaning an espresso machine is crucial for both the home barista and the commercial user. Maintaining your machine is as important as any other step in the brewing process, even though it is not the most exciting of tasks. We would love to hear about your daily habits and how you ensure your machine is in good condition. Please also let us know in the comments if you think that we’ve left out any steps in the cleaning process. Please share this with fellow baristas who might appreciate it!