A coffee machine is like a car. Every 12 months or 15,000 miles you need to service your car or things will start to go wrong. All coffee makers are the same regardless of the type, they need to be maintained to stay in good condition. Knowing how to clean and maintain your coffee machine is crucial to achieving consistently high-quality coffee.
My home gets cleaned thoroughly once a week but it tends to be focussed only on the things that are visible to the naked eye.
Cleaning my home includes cleaning my coffee machine which gets a good wipe down after every couple of uses because I can see loose coffee grounds lingering on the machine or on the worksurface.
I make sure the exterior of the coffee maker is always looking good by giving it a quick blast with a cleaning spray and a wipe down with a piece of kitchen roll does the job in seconds.
Job done right? Well actually no. By only cleaning the outside of your coffee machine it is being severely neglected and left without maintenance for long enough you will start to get bad tasting coffee and it will eventually damage the machine.
My house is pretty clean but when I opened the cupboard in my kitchen where we store all the food that doesn’t need to go in the fridge and I grabbed the honey I found that the bottom of the jar was stuck to the shelve because some honey had escaped from the jar and trickled down the side.
I got out a cloth and wiped down the part of the shelve that had some honey on it and it was at that point I realised that all the shelves inside my cupboard needed some attention!
On closer inspection, there was a bit of sugar and some crushed peppercorns and some grains of salt. Once I gave it some thought I realised that it had probably been a good couple of months since I cleaned the inside of my cupboards.
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” was applied to my cupboards. Not intentionally, it’s just that I wasn’t looking on a daily basis at the inside of my cupboards.
You can’t see the inside of your coffee machine but if you could then you would definitely give it a bit more regular care and attention.
If you leave your coffee machine for a couple of months without cleaning the inside then it’s going to look a lot like the inside of your cupboards that have been left longer than they should have, but worse.
If you look after the internal parts then you will likely get many years of happy use but left without any love or care and you are looking at expensive professional service repairs or even worse it may be consigned to coffee machine heaven.
Everyone has incredibly busy life’s and if you have to put something off until next week or next month then cleaning the coffee machine is going to come pretty close to the top of the “I’ll do it next week” list.
Because you can’t see it you can’t be bothered but it’s actually really simple to do and won’t take up more than about 15 minutes of your time maximum.
This guide is specifically for coffee machines that you plug into the wall and covers the following types of machines:
- Espresso machines
- Bean to cup coffee machines
- Filter coffee machines
- Nespresso machines
- Dolce Gusto machines
- Tassimo machines
These are all machines that have hidden internal parts that need attention on a reasonably regular basis.
If you make your coffee with a cafetière or you use a stovetop coffee maker then all of the parts are visible. A good clean with soap and water will do the job on those and no further treatment is required.
How often should you clean and descale a coffee machine?
Different manufacturers will give you slightly different advice. Some recommend monthly, some every couple of months and sometimes even longer.
A lot of the time when you set up a new coffee machine you will be asked by the machine to set the water hardness where you live and that will determine how often you need to clean the internal parts of your machine using a cleaning solution.
If you live in a hard water area then you will need to clean your machine more often than if you live in a soft water area.
When you set the water hardness level on your coffee machine all that does is count a set number of times you make a coffee and then a warning light will come on to let you know it’s time to run a cleaning cycle.
Personally, I don’t bother with that as it doesn’t actually reflect how badly your machine needs cleaning, it just guesses based on what you told it from a water hardness perspective.
It also depends on the type of water you are using. If you are using tap water then it will need cleaning more often than if you are using bottled water or filtered water.
I prefer to use cheap bottled spring water with my coffee machine because it keeps the machine cleaner for longer and the coffee tastes better as well.
This article explains in detail the best water to use in your coffee machine and why:
Because there are so many different factors when it comes to cleaning a coffee machine, no machine can detect when it actually needs cleaning based on how bad the limescale build-up is so the best thing to do is clean it once a month and that takes all the guesswork out of the equation.
Whether the warning light comes on or not, I clean my machine monthly.
Coffee maker cleaner or Vinegar?
You can choose to buy expensive cleaning solution from the manufacturer of your coffee machine or you can choose an equally effective method at a fraction of the price.
For example, Nespresso charge £7 for a “Descaling kit” that contains two sachets of liquid to descale your coffee machine.
Alternatively, Tesco sells a bottle of white vinegar for about £0.40.
They both do the same thing. One is marketing from the company that makes the machine and they put a huge mark up on and the other is just plain old white vinegar that acts as a brilliant cleaning agent for coffee machines.
How do I know that white vinegar works really well for descaling coffee machines?
Firstly, I have been using it myself on my Sage Barista Express for about a year once a month and it does a great job.
Secondly, this is not just my recommendation but Sage themselves recommend cleaning with vinegar
White vinegar is not going to damage the internal parts of any coffee machine so save yourself some money and clean your coffee machine with a white vinegar solution as described below.
How to clean your coffee machine with white vinegar
It is a super simple process. First of all, you need to fill the water container of your coffee machine with your cleaning solution.
When I say “cleaning solution” I mean 50% water and 50% white vinegar.
And just to be absolutely clear you don’t want to be using white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, malt vinegar or anything like that, just plain old “cheap as chips” white vinegar.
My coffee machine’s water container holds 2 litres of water so I add two 500ml bottles of white vinegar first and then 1 litre of water.
I add the vinegar first so that when the water gets added on top it mixes well.
Then you simply run a cleaning cycle to pull the vinegar and water solution through the coffee machine and into a container that you place under the coffee outlet.
Each machine is different when it comes to initiating the cleaning cycle but its never more than just one or two buttons that need to be pressed.
Once you do it once you won’t forget. On my machine I just press and hold one button and it starts a continuous process of pulling the solution out of the water tank, through the coffee machine and into the container under the coffee outlet. When I let go of the button it stops.
Some machines run and stop the cycle automatically once it’s been started.
If you have a steam wand or a hot water option on your machine make sure you turn the steam on for a while and also run some water through the hot water outlet as well.
These use separate pipes inside the machine and you don’t want to leave these uncleaned or they will eventually clog up.
Once the water tank is empty do the exact same thing again twice but this time just with water.
I always run it through twice more with just water to make absolutely sure that the vinegar is completely gone.
I like vinegar but I don’t like coffee flavoured vinegar.
It sounds like a bit of a faff but once you have worked out the buttons to press on the coffee machine to get it going then the whole thing should take no more than about 15 minutes and will cost you about 80p.
A small price to pay to keep your coffee machine in tip-top condition.