How often should you descale a coffee machine?

Are you guilty of neglecting your coffee maker? Even the biggest coffee lovers forget to take the time to wash it out properly. You may have a carafe that’s stained with coffee oils at the very least, and at the very worst, you may have mold and mildew brewing in your machine. Those things can leave you with a bitter brew, not to mention expose you to dangers.

Don’t feel too badly though. Sometimes, we all get busy or we think our spouse has cleaned it out. It’s time to take matters into your own hands and clean your coffee maker. But cleaning isn’t the only thing you need to do.

While each day, you should do a minimal cleaning of the coffee carafe and the basket, you should make time to clean the inside of the machine. Even if you do though, perhaps you’re only running water through it to clean it out. That’s not going to cut it when it comes to cutting limescale away.

See, every time you make a pot of coffee, limescale builds up inside of it. This isn’t toxic, but it can clog up everything inside and make your coffee machine less efficient. You need to descale it frequently to prevent this from happening and get better coffee, not to mention prolong the life of your machine.

If you truly love coffee, there is nothing worse than starting your morning off with a coffee maker that breaks on you. With no time to stop at a café on your way to the office, you may have to suffer through the sludge that’s in your breakroom. Good coffee sets the tone for the day. Even if the rest of your day is the kind that makes you want to crawl into a hole and never come out, you can at least say you had good coffee.

How often should you descale a coffee machine though? It depends a bit on how often you use it. If you’re like me and can’t go without your daily morning coffee, you should clean it every 2 months with a descaling solution. But if you’re really only a weekend coffee brewer, you can get away with doing it less often.

To find out more about this and how to effectively descale your coffee maker, keep reading!

What is “scale” or “limescale?”

Limescale, sometimes called ‘scale,’ is what is leftover from heated water. If you use hard water, it is brimming with very high levels of both calcium and magnesium salts. Heat that in your coffee machine and those break down and form into that solid limescale. It affects every part of the machine that carries water. The boiler is the most impacted part of it. When water sits in there for a while too, it can suffer more limescale buildup.

As mentioned, limescale is not toxic, but when it solidifies inside the intricate parts of your coffee maker, it can slow down the brewing process, leading to less efficient heating. It also ruins the taste of your coffee. Even if you use soft water, you’ll have to remove limescale at some point. It just takes longer for the mineral deposits to build up.

How often should you descale your coffee maker?

If you have a coffee machine with all the bells and whistles, you’ll likely have an automatic notification that alerts you as to when you should perform the descaling process. But if you don’t, you should plan to do it around every 200 to 300 cups of coffee.

That interval is a rough estimate for those of you that religiously use your coffee maker to brew your morning cup need to do it more often while those that run it when guests come here and there can wait a bit longer. Another consideration is the water type. The harder the water, the more often you’ll need to plan a descaling.

Typically, this will mean you should plan on descaling your machine at least once every 2 months, or 6 times per year. If you use a water filter, you won’t need to descale it quite so often, but you will need to do so at regular intervals.

This is all generic advice though as you might have a coffee maker different from your neighbor’s. You should always check the manual to see what the manufacturer advises about descaling and the frequency for which you should carry it out. If you can’t find where you’ve put your manual (don’t worry…most people can’t!) then you can look up your model coffee maker online.

Why Do Coffee Machines Need Descaling?

Your coffee machine has many parts that make it work. Without boring you with the absurdities, you can remove some of those parts and wash them daily on typical models. The basket and the carafe are common removable parts on a regular coffee machine. More advanced models may have more parts to take out.

They only really need a bit of warm, soapy water and to air dry in a well-ventilated place. But what of those parts deep inside the machine? You can’t exactly remove them, so how do you clean them?

While yes, you can run water through without coffee here and there to help clean out old flavors, you’re going to want to descale it. The purpose is to get deep buildup off of those inner parts. When limescale accumulates, it’s not toxic but it really does gum up the works for your machine.

When you have hot water that is pressurized moving through the machine in a part you can’t remove, you’ve got to descale it. You can minimize how often you have to do this by using purified water. Mineral water and tap water are big no-no’s in the coffee brewing world. Tap water is rather obvious for why you shouldn’t use it but anything that isn’t purified or filtered is going to cause buildup of limescale.

Even if you do use the right water, it’s important to descale your machine every now and again to freshen it up.

Limescale is hard and white. You may find it accumulates in your shower or tub too. You don’t want that building up inside your coffee machine. And no, you can’t use marbles to get it out. That’s an old wives’ tale that isn’t hygienic.

If you don’t want to do this type of cleaning, then make sure you use purified water to make your coffee from now on, after cleaning your machine of course. You’ll want to start fresh. Besides, purified water will give you the best-tasting coffee out there.

How to descale your coffee machine

For those of you with a notification alert on your coffee machine, all you need to do is pay attention to when it tells you to descale the machine. If you don’t have that luxury, simply keep tabs on how often you’ve brewed from your machine, or make a point to do it every 2 months.

What’s wrong? Had your coffee maker for a while and never descaled it? Not to worry. You can start now. The following steps will help you descale your coffee maker, though if you’ve never done it on a machine you’ve had for over a year or more, you should repeat this process a few times to ensure you get all the limescale buildup out of there.

  1. Make sure your coffee machine is off and unplugged.
  2. If the water tank is removable, take it out and rinse it. Then refill it with water. If it isn’t removable, add water to it. Once water is inside, add a descaling tablet or descaling solution to the water. The packaging will tell you how much to use or you can consult the product manual for your coffee maker, you can also read this article I wrote on how much descaling solution you should use.
  3. Once the descaling tablets dissolve, you can plug in the machine and turn it on.
  4. Next, if you have a fancy model, you may even have an automatic descaling option. If you do, you can simply select it and let your coffee machine do its thing. If you don’t have this option on your coffee maker, you’ll need to follow the next few steps.
  5. After the descaling cycle has gone through, you’ll want to run the coffee maker as you normally would to make coffee though just using that descaling solution.
  6. Allow it to work, letting it sit halfway through the brewing. Shut it off and let it be for 30 minutes.
  7. Resume brewing until all of the water has brewed through.
  8. Rinse it out by brewing with purified water again once or twice after to ensure the descaling solution is completely gone.
  9. Pro tip: That’s all there is to it though if you’re using a descaling tablet, you don’t want to mix it separately before putting it into the water tank. The descaler is designed to foam up so it will get into every crevice inside your machine to remove stubborn limescale and give you a better-performing machine, and tastier coffee too!

What can I use to descale my coffee machine?

In many cases, vinegar is often recommended. It is a natural and acidic solution that can remove limescale. However there are certain brands that only recommend using that brand’s specific descaler. Philips is one of them. It is important that you follow what your manufacturer states for descaling so as not to compromise your coffee machine.

Why is Philips so strict about the vinegar? It’s because Philips uses a solution that is composed of citric acid and milk acid. It recommends this combination as the most effective for descaling your machine.

Additionally, vinegar leaves behind a strong and sour odor. You have to rinse your machine multiple times to get rid of the scent. Vinegar and coffee is not a winning combination. If you do go ahead with vinegar for the descaling, be prepared to rinse run your machine 3 to 4 times afterward to rid it of the smell.

Philips recommends its own descaler or the one by Saeco because it runs through your machine faster. But in addition to this, Philips or not, you should never use descaling agents that have mineral acids. Anything with sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and sulfamic acid can ruin the tubing and piping inside your coffee machine.

But wait…you heard vinegar is safe for use in coffee makers! It is, though it is best for pump-less filter coffee machines. These styles have thicker pipes that work well with vinegar. Again, the strong odor comes into play so be aware of that and prepared to run it through with purified water multiple times before brewing coffee in there. Or choose the branded descaling solutions to get the job done faster.

What effect does descaling have on my coffee machine?

When you don’t descale your coffee machine, limescale builds up inside. And while limescale itself won’t poison you or anything, it will restrict the water flow inside the machine. This makes it harder to heat. So the amount of coffee that comes out of your machine will start reducing. The temperature of your coffee may be impacted too. All you need to do to fix it is descale it.

By descaling regularly, you’ll have an efficient coffee maker and better coffee. Plus, you won’t have to worry about replacing your coffee machine so soon.

Even espresso will thank you for doing a descaling. The crema on top of your espresso should have a thick and smooth texture. But one early way to note when you should get ready to descale your machine is that the crema layer looks more like a thin foam. With espresso in particular, that limescale buildup reduces the flow and pressure and that just ruins your espresso. Keep it restaurant and café-perfect by descaling it!

Conclusion

How often you descale your coffee machine depends on the machine, how often you use it, and the type of water you use in it. All told, it could be every 2 months that you’ll need to use a descaling solution to clean out your machine.

It’s important to consult your coffee maker’s particular instructions first. Some models are fancier than others and have special requirements. The good news is that many of those upscale models will also tell you when it’s time to do that descaling. This takes the guesswork out of it.

If you don’t descale your coffee maker, it won’t kill you, but it will eventually kill your machine. All that limescale restricts the effectiveness of the brewing process and keeps your coffee from getting hot enough. Plus, your coffee won’t taste as good. Take the time to descale your coffee maker and you’ll notice it runs better and lasts longer. Your reward is an even tastier cup of coffee with every brew!

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