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One of the common regular maintenance items for an espresso machine is to descale it, to remove the buildup of minerals inside the machine (particularly the heating element).

  • How often should I do this?
  • What are the benefits of regular descaling?
  • What do I need to do this?
  • How do I actually go about descaling the machine?
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You can use a solution of citric acid and some espresso machine manufacturers will sell this specifically, you can use general purpose descaler, for which there should be instructions on how much to dilute it by.

Talking from experience it depends on how hard the water is where you live and you should really do it every month if it is a hard water area.

I also found that I need to remove the fine filter where the coffee is pumped out to remove the gasket seal and clean all of the above, I was lazy and neglected my Gaggia for about 6 months and after a couple years the solenoid pump died.

The less hassle method would be to use bottled soft mineral water. For instance I have started to only use this with my kettle and there is no limescale build up since switching 1 1/2 months ago, whilst before, using Brita filtered water would start to show limescale after a week and I'd need to descale after 3 weeks.

These are the instructions on my descaling solution for a coffee machine:

Add 100ml of solution to 500ml of water and add to water reservoir, turn on and run through the machine. Then run 2 full reservoirs of water before using again.

I remember with citric acid you had to pump it through and then leave for 30 minutes and then fully flush a few times.

Here is a youtube video from Gaggia about performing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SPkjWJzUJQ

The key thing here is that if you don't do it then limescale starts to form on the metal filter and gasket seals which will affect the flow rate. This isn't the worst bit though, like with any heating system that uses hard water, the hard limescale will inhibit the heating and pumping performance which can lead to a complete pump failure which is what happened to my machine, I recommend using citric acid (which is a weak acid and safe to consume in diluted form) and/or bottled mineral water.

  • You definitely have to be very careful with this. What's quite interesting is that using a water filter helps quite a lot. I've had my Classic for about 3 years and opened it up for the first time about 5 months ago and all it had was a very light layer of limescale (this is with very ocasional descaling - once every 6-10 months). I'm not saying don't descale, I'm just saying that if you know you are prone to being lazy at least filter/get bottled water for your machine. – Stefan Dorunga Jan 31 '15 at 9:48
  • @StefanDorunga I've lived in London and now in South England, the water here is very hard, I find that before I would need to descale my kettle every month, this was even using Brita filtered water. Now a kettle is used much more frequently than an espresso machine so it depends on frequency of usage and hardness of water so something like 1-3 months would be recommended I think. – EdChum Jan 31 '15 at 15:33
  • I've lived in Glasgow and London and I do agree that London has very hard water but my machine seems pretty ok. Maybe I'm underestimating what it's actually supposed to look like. – Stefan Dorunga Jan 31 '15 at 16:17
  • @StefanDorunga my old coffee machine was a Gaggia Paros and as I didn't descale too often then limescale would form between the fine metal filter where water was pumped out. This formed a nice off-white cake and sometimes was very dark where it had been cooked by the heat from the pump. I was very lazy but I should've descaled it at least every 3 months I think, your mileage may vary as they say. – EdChum Jan 31 '15 at 19:40

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