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How and When to Clean Your Espresso Machine

Espresso dripping into a cup on an espresso machine.

You’ve invested in a fancy espresso machine, and your daily coffee just got so much better. To keep it tasting amazing, though, you’ll need to keep your machine clean. Luckily, that’s pretty easy to do!

Cleaning an espresso machine does take a few more steps than the basic wash-and-dry process you might be used to for a drip coffee maker. However, it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think. All you need are a few basic products and a reliable cleaning schedule, and your espresso machine will keep churning out the perfect cuppas for years to come.

How Often Should You Clean Your Espresso Machine?

When it comes to cleaning your espresso machine, it’s important to consider two types of cleaning: maintenance and deep cleaning. Both are important for keeping your machine in great working order, taking care of the delicate parts, and ensuring that the espresso you brew is delicious every time.

In fact, poor cleaning habits can actually affect the espresso itself. Without a proper cleaning routine, espresso grounds can build up and cause your espresso shots to taste bitter and burnt.

To avoid this fate, regular cleaning is a must. A daily wipe-down of the main elements will help keep things moving along smoothly for the most part. To ensure that your machine stays in good shape and keeps turning out espresso just the way you like it, though, expect to deep clean your machine at least once a week.

How to Maintain an Espresso Machine

A silver home espresso machine; a close-up of a milk frother steaming milk in a silver cup

Just like any other appliance, keeping your espresso machine clean is a lot easier when you perform regular maintenance. You don’t have to do a deep clean or full “wash and flush” every day. However, there are a few small tasks you should perform after every use.

The following steps should be a regular part of your cleanup routine after each use of your espresso machine:

  1. Dump the grounds out of the basket after making each shot.
  2. Rinse out and dry the basket where the grounds were.
  3. Rinse the portafilter (the handled basket the grounds are in) for a few seconds and dry.
  4. Rinse and dry the metal or glass vessel into which the brewed espresso drips.
  5. Run steam through your milk wand for a few seconds, and then wipe it down with a damp towel.
  6. Wipe down the front of the machine.

Generally, it’s a good idea to just keep an eye on the main parts of your machine. Even a simple rinse-and-dry routine on the detachable parts can help you avoid the nasty buildup that can damage your machine—and give you nasty-tasting espresso.

How to Deep Clean an Espresso Machine

Two bottles of cleaning solution next to parts of an espresso machine

When it’s time to give your espresso machine a deeper clean, there are two processes you’ll want to keep in mind: backwashing (or backflushing) and descaling. Both are important steps for keeping your espresso machine clean, sparkling, and unclogged. Before you do anything else, make sure you’ve performed the basic maintenance steps we covered above on your machine.

On deep-clean day, start by gently scrubbing out the group head (where the espresso comes out) with a specialized brush. The bristles will gently clear out any residue that’s gotten stuck in the head from repeated use. You can also use it anywhere else on the machine you see any buildup.

Number-one Coffee Machine Brush

Designed to get into all those hard-to-reach places.

Next, it’s time to backwash. This process essentially involves running all of your machine’s parts through a specialized detergent, like Cafiza. It’s specifically formulated to break down the oils in coffee, so it’s perfect for the parts that actually touch the espresso grounds and liquid, but not for others, like the water reservoir.

Urnex Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder

Specially formulated to clean your espresso machine.

For these other removable parts, like the portafilter and basket, you can make a detergent solution of about 1 tablespoon of detergent per cup of hot water. Place these pieces in it and let them soak overnight.

To perform the backwashing process, follow these steps:

  1. Put 1 tablespoon of detergent through the machine in the blind filter basket (the one without the holes used specifically for cleaning).
  2. Run the machine for about 10 seconds on, and then 10 seconds off. Alternate this process a few times.
  3. Leave the detergent filter in the group head for about 4-5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the machine, and then rinse the blind filter basket thoroughly to remove the detergent residue.

The other deep-cleaning process is descaling. Whereas backwashing targets residue from the espresso itself, descaling is all about removing mineral deposits from water. If you use distilled or purified water, you might not have to worry about this as much.

If you use tap water or well water, they both have a higher mineral content, so you’ll want to descale your espresso machine from time to time. Once every month or two should be plenty, unless you use your machine several times a day and/or have particularly hard water.

While you can purchase a descaling product, you can also save some money and make your own. Just follow these steps:

  1. To make your own descaling solution, mix two parts vinegar with one part water.
  2. Fill the machine’s water reservoir with your descaling solution.
  3. Pull the liquid as if you were pulling espresso shots. Alternate a few ounces at a time through the group head and steam wand.
  4. Let the machine rest for 30-45 minutes, and then repeat.
  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until the reservoir is empty.
  6. Refill the reservoir with clean water, and then repeat the entire process to flush out all of the descaling solution.

Impresa Universal Descaling Solution

Removes the mineral buildup from inside your espresso machine.

A key component to incredible-tasting espresso is keeping your appliance clean. These steps walk you through both basic maintenance and deep cleaning, so your espresso machine will be able to give you that morning shot of caffeine for years to come.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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