Here it comes. The part of self-made barista-hood that no one wants to think about. How do you clean an espresso machine? In this quick guide, I cover the common ways to clean most at-home espresso machines.
Certified professional baristas have to undergo an arduous process to clean commercial-grade espresso machines.
But most of us don't own professional-grade espresso machines. It's still true that you need clean your home espresso machine with care if you want it to last and pull the best coffee for you.
In this article, I share the common ways to clean home espresso machines and the steps you need to do it yourself.
Cleaning Espresso Machines
Home espresso machines are a coffee-lover commitment! Take care of your precious babies, they fuel your mornings and long nights, after all.
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You need to clean your espresso machine relatively frequently, every 3 months or so at minimum. The build-up of milk products and scale in the group head and the steam wand can be unsanitary and for those, you'll need to clean them with each espresso pull.
Cleaning the group head and portafilter will preserve your machine parts and gasket longer. Regular cleaning helps to keep your espresso machine descaled and will slow the process of aging for this super expensive, luxury equipment!
Why Clean Espresso Machines?
All machines that process food or beverage products must be cleaned often. This is because some diseases, such as hepatitis A or listeria, can pass through cross-contamination of food surfaces. Your espresso and coffee machines are no different. Refer to this CDC guide to better understand food-borne illnesses and how they pass in liquids.
Additionally, (and maybe more importantly), cleaning your espresso machine on a regular basis ensures the quality of the coffee. So, cleaning may be the most vital part of good barista practice!
Do you want more insights on good barista practice? Check out this barista training manual from Italian Aroma Coffee.
Steps For Correct Cleaning Technique Of Espresso Machines
Citing the Celcius Coffee Barista training guide, there are some prep steps to take before you clean your espresso machine.
- It is recommended that you wipe off all the services, handles, and countertops that your machine is in to rid it of germs.
- In general, you will also want to only use fresh-ground coffee grounds when using your machine. Using fresh products in your machine ensures the best quality of coffee, as well as the lowest likelihood that your machine will become cross-contaminated by old products.
- Also, for both quality and sanitary purposes, use only hot water and milk in your espresso machine creations.
- When you are finished with each espresso, the machine’s handles and the service cup should also be hot to the touch. A lesser temperature would imply a problem with the unit’s internal heating.
- It's also important to remove the filter baskets of all machines frequently. Remove the filter baskets from the espresso handles and soak them in hot, soapy water.
- You should always gently dry espresso machine parts after cleaning.
Cleaning Espresso Machine Milk Steamers
For milk steamer cleaning, stay alert. Milk products sometimes pass food-borne illnesses, so here, this is the most crucial part of the espresso machine cleaning process to get right.
After every use, emphasis on every, wipe the steam arms clean. Every couple of days, you should soak the steam arms in warm water. You will do this so you can remove built-up milk residue.
*Super Important Note!: You should never overnight soak steam arms when cleaning. The milk steam arms must be soaked for no more than 10 minutes in warm water. Doing anything else would result in possible damage to the machine.
Initial Steps to Clean Milk Steamers
- Remove the screw on steam arms. (It is important to check your espresso machine’s instruction manual the first few times to do this to ensure you are correctly removing the steam arms).
- Poke a small point such as a paperclip through the small holes of the steam arms that serve as the tube outlets. You’ll want to do this to clean away any blockages made by built-up milk residue.
Does your espresso machine not steam milk?
Group Head Back Flushing
Flushing the group head on your espresso machine is an everyday process. You need to do this to keep your machine in top form and give it the greatest longevity possible. Here are some steps to ensure you do it correctly:
- Scrub the group head with a clean brush. (I would rinse the brushes after every use as well).
- Pop-out the filter basket in the espresso handle.
- Replace the filter basket with a blank/blind disk.
- Place the handle in the group head.
- Allow water to flow through the group head.
- Rinse for 5 seconds.
- Stop the water flow. Rinse out the blank disk separately.
- Repeat until no more grounds appear from the group head.
How Often Do I Need To Flush My Espresso Machine?
The volume of drinks you create in one day will determine how many times you need to do this per day. Let’s say you have a home coffee bar or a small coffee shop and you make 50 cups each day. Then, you will need to do this twice daily at minimum, but ideally you would flush your group head before every espresso pull.
For a home barista who likely makes well under 50 espresso drinks each day, you can get away with doing this once daily.
Friendly note: remember to also rinse and clean your water reservoir periodically. Rinsing the water reservoir will clean away any harmful bacteria that builds up over time. You will want to remove all detachable parts from your espresso maker and repeat a close rinsing to clear away mineral deposits, the limescale, hard water building and even bits of cleaning solution that remain within the coffee maker.
Group Head Backflushing with Head Shampoo
Every once in a while you will need to use cleaner for your espresso machine and its group head. Thankfully, there is a shampoo for the group head that suits the machine perfectly and does not cross with the coffee products.
You’ll need to use select group head shampoos to flush away excess coffee oils that are left behind after grinding.
Steps For Using Group Head Shampoos
- Scrub the group head with a clean brush. Run it around the group head to rid the body of coffee grind residues.
- Place ¼ teaspoons of head clean shampoo into your blank/blind disk.
- Put the coffee handle into the machine and start the water flow as if you were making coffee.
- Flow water through it until you see soap froth. Some machines have an internal control for the soap, so you may not see the soap froth. That’s fine.
- Repeat the water flush several times.
- Run the continuous flow button on the machine until you see froth.
- Repeat this process for each of the group heads.
The shampooing process needs to be repeated every second day if you make over 150 coffees per day (for a self-made coffee bar) or even every day if you can. If you make 100 or less each day, then you should shampoo twice each week at minimum.
How To Use Vinegar To Clean Your Espresso Machine
You have to be careful when using vinegar and other alternative home products when cleaning an espresso machine. The problem is mostly that some types of espresso machines are finickier that others and depending on the type of espresso machine, using a vinegar solution can ruin the boiler head, and more.
Make sure to always check your manufacturer's instructions before using an alternative product to descale, flush and clean your home espresso machine.
The good thing about vinegar is that it's nontoxic and you'll have to worry less about chemicals in your coffee.
Cleaning Your Espresso Machine With Vinegar (Step-by-Step)
- You'll need a squirt bottle. In your bottle, mix 1 part vinegar with 1 part water.
- Spray the outside of your espresso machine, let sit for 30 seconds, and wipe clean and dry in a circular motion with a soft washcloth.
- Next, add 1 part vinegar and 1 part water mixture to your espresso machine reservoir.
- Brew as though you were making a regular cup of coffee, but without coffee grinds.
- Empty your espresso machine reservoir and rinse thoroughly. Fill with fresh water.
- Run the espresso machine several times with just water (2-3 times).
- Wash the filter basket thoroughly with soapy water and dry thoroughly by hand.
- Allow your espresso machine to rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Your espresso machine is now flushed and ready to pull fresh, smooth espresso!
How To Use Cafiza Powder To Clean Your Espresso Machine
To use cafiza powder, you will dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of cafiza in the portafilter with water, and run the espresso machine flushing cycle.
Also friendly note: The use of cafiza powder may not be enough for a deep clean. Also use a clean towel, warm water to gently pry limescale deposits from all espresso machine parts externally.
Rinse thoroughly, especially through the portafilter baskets where powder particles could become lodged.
IMPORTANT: Grime and residue cleaner together make a nasty combination and can be dangerous. Wear gloves. Avoid touching your eyes and skin during an espresso machine cleaning process where you're using residue cleaners.
A clean espresso machine is a long-living espresso machine.
Your investment in good cleaning materials is just the first step in keeping your espresso machine running longer. You also need to apply these steps day after day.
The more you practice with cleaning techniques, the better speed you will develop. After a while, this will feel more like another part of the coffee creation process and less like a daily chore you need to do.
Every espresso machine is different. Check out the espresso machines category here on my site to get a feel for the nuances between different models and to get more info on espresso!