Descaling

I need to descale my espresso machine. What’s next?

Well, first, and most importantly it depends on the type of espresso machine you have.

This article will focus on home espresso machines. Commercial espresso machines (or machines that are plumbed in) never need descaling. We know that you are using filtered water and are keeping up with filter changes, so the chances that something else will fail on the machine is greater than an issue caused by scaling. For more information on water filtration click here.

If your espresso machine has a screen that displays a message that says something like “Descale Now”, then it is perfectly fine to do what it ask. Consult your machine user manual for the proper descaling procedure

Liquid Espresso Machine Descaler

In general, there are several different types of espresso machines that exist. They operate on the same premise that a quality espresso shot is dispensed at 9 bars of pressure (130.5psi). The difference, when it comes to descaling, lies in how the hot water is created and how it is dispensed internally.

TypeImageDescriptionBoiler SizeDescale?
Fully-Automatic (Super Auto)The water in this style machine is typically heated on demand. This means that the cold inlet water is routed through a heated metal block that has a maze style path with a diameter roughly the size of a sewing needle. You could imagine how quickly bad water could clog these up! These machines will need to be descaled and usually will display a message when it is time to descale.On-Demand
Pro-SumerNormally, purified drinking water is put in a reservoir tank and when the machine calls for water, it is gravity fed to the pump and dispensing commences. If the steam boiler calls for water, it will continually fill the boiler until it reaches a certain level and is satisfied. Whether a single or double boiler, these machines do NOT need to be descaled. If you would like to read our humble opinion on why this is, then read on. ~ 1 liter
Semi-AutomaticSimilar to a pro-sumer espresso machine, water is added into a reservoir tank and is pulled out of the tank when the user activates the pump. One of the main differences in these machines vs the pro-sumer machines is that these require the user to manually fill the boil for proper use. The pro-sumer machines will keep the steam boiler full automatically. In this style machine, usually the steam boiler shares the same space as the hot water boiler. In the pro-sumer machines, there is usually a heat exchanger in the steam tank to heat the group head dispensing water.
These machines can usually be descaled without any issues, but feel free to read our humble opinion on why these probably do not need a descaling.
~ 1 cup
ManualThese fun machines accept a pour of water directly into the boiler. By unscrewing the cap to put water in, you can actually inspect the heating element to see if there is scale building up. The best thing about these is that usually there are no small orifices to get clogged up, so these can take some serious usage before descaling is needed.~ 4 cupsMaybe? Ok, NO.

Our humble opinion on why you should never descale your espresso machine (unless it ask you to).

A descaling procedure involves putting acid (most commonly citric acid) in the water supply reservoir and filling the boiler. This means that your pump is ready to go through a work out and your machine is going to hate you.

There are at least 3 problems that arise when you do this.

  • the descaling solution does its job and dislodges chunks of particulate that is then sent downstream in efforts to be pushed out of the tiny group head or hot water wand orifices. This one speaks for itself.
  • the acid solution is corrosive and wears things like gaskets and o-rings.
  • secondly it takes forever to actually flush your boiler out after you have filled it with acid.
  • keep in mind that most pro-sumer espresso machines utilize a heat exhanger inside the steam boiler. So, if your steam boiler is already full of water, then you would just be pushing descaling solution through the heat exchanger and out the group head.

    Still Interested? Keep reading.

Let’s keep things simple and assume that the magic number is 1.
– The espresso machine boiler takes about 1 L of water.
– A powdered descaling solution packet of 30 grams is mixed properly with 1 liter of water – The main pump will operate at 1 liter per minute (1 L/min).

Let’s assume you have Pro-Sumer style machine.

The instructions would probably say to fill your water tank reservoir with the said 1 liter of acid solution and pump all of it through until empty. Let it set a while. Fill water tank reservoir with 1 liter of clean water. Flush.


Bring in the Math. Please be warned this is not for critical application and is just for fun. We have been known to make errors in our collegiate exams, rendering pages and pages of calculations useless. Whoa!!

In a few ways, this is a perfect scenario of a Differential Equations mixing tank problem. Let’s see how long it takes to completely flush out the boiler that is full of descaling solution

Note: For the math below, we are going to skip the step of pre-mixing the acid solution in the water reservoir with the current water contents of the boiler.
We will do that math in a little bit to see what amount of acid is actually in there to start when adding descaling solution to a boiler already full of water. For this math experiment, we are just going to assume that the boiler is empty and we just filled it with 1L of our descaling solution. In our case, it was 1 liter of water mixed with one 30g powdered descaling packet.

How to find the amount of solution A (acid) in the tank at any time, and after a specific amount of time has passed.

We will start with the mixing problem formula (da/dt​​=C​1​​r​1​​−C​2​​r​2​​) and just plug things in.

C1 = 0 kg/L since no acid is being added to the boiler. We are flushing it out with clean water.
r1 = 1L/min is the rate at which our clean water is flowing into the boiler to flush it out.
C2 = a/(1+t) kg/L because we do not know how much acid is leaving the tank, but we know how much acid solution we started with.
r2 = 1L/min because the water leaves the boiler at the same rate the machine is pumping.

After this math, the differential equation is simplified to:

a = C/1+t

So if we have:

C = .03kg because that is how much acid powder we had in our packet.
t = 1… for one minute.
a = .015kg or 1.5 grams.

This math works out. In 1 minute of pumping, the acidic descaling solution concentration is cut in half. This also means that if we went with one 30g packet of descaling powder mixed in 1 L of water and then added this to an already full boiler of water, we would end up with half of the concentration of the original acidic descaling solution. Is it being effective at all at this point? Probably not.

What happens if we let the pump run continuously for say 5 minutes pumping fresh water (that’s 5 liters) in the boiler in order to get rid of the acidic descaling solution. How much acid powder still remains?

C= .03kg because that is how much acid powder we had in our packet.
t = 5 … for 5 minutes
a = .005 or .5 grams.

So after stressing the pump out by running 5 liters of water through the machine, you still have a 1 liter boiler with water that has .5 grams of acid in it. How does your shot taste?

Coffee gear!

updated 3/31/21
Hopefully, after looking over some of these machines, you will come away with the answer to the question, “Which HOME espresso machine should I buy?“. This list is in no particular order and is more of a guide to the different types of home espresso machines that are on the market. If you are an experienced espresso drinker, we will try and highlight a few different features of machines that might help in a future machine purchase if necessary.

For ease of nomenclature, we will consider roughly 3 types of espresso machines: Manual, Semi-Automatic and Automatic.

  • Manual – The beans are ground and loaded in the portafilter by you (the user). The pressure created to dispense a quality shot comes from the force of the user. Meaning you literally have to move a lever up and down to get espresso to come out of the machine. Professional or commercial lever style espresso machines use a giant spring to assist in the lever pull pressure creation.
  • Semi-Automatic – The beans are ground and loaded in the portafilter by the user. Then, instead of pulling a lever, the user toggles a switch that activates a mechanical pump to instantaneously deliver 9 bars of hot water through the ground coffee in the portafilter.
  • Automatic or Fully-Automatic or Super-Automatic or even Super Duper Espress-o-MaticRelax. Push a button. Walk away. Really, the only manual thing about these machines is the cleaning and up-keep. Once the user pushes a button, the machine takes over and will grind the beans and dispense an espresso shot. Whether it will froth milk automatically at your desired level or talk to your toaster is all in the fine details.

The most important thing in choosing an espresso machine is making sure it has all the features you are looking for.


Of course it has to look good on your counter, then after that, make sure it will do what you need it to do. If you have a family of 7, morning milk based espresso drinkers, you might need to choose a Super-Automatic that has a milk jug style attachment on it as opposed to a frothing wand. Maybe your flying solo on your coffee mission and want to dive into the intricacies of every coffee bean varietal known to man. A manual machine or semi-auto would be more your speed.

Whether you pay $500 or $15,000, an espresso machine is designed to deliver 9 bars (130.5psi) of hot water dispensing pressure.

After the machine list, there are some common espresso machine tools, accessories and cleaners that we find useful.

All of the links on this page should properly go to a corresponding Amazon product page. We tried to include as many Prime options as possible.


Rancilio Silvia (Semi-Auto)
The Miss Silvia has been around for quite some time. It has gone several small revisions, but remains our favorite entry level machine for home espresso. If you want to step it up a notch look for a Silvia with a PID installed.

This will need an espresso grinder.

Rancilio Silvia Home Espresso Machine
Rancilio Silvia

Bezzera BZ10 (Semi-Auto)
A base model in the Prosumer price range. This is as real to a home espresso machine as you will find. Also good for very small cafes where espresso is not their main focus.

Not many Prosumer style espresso machines are found on Amazon. Most manufacturers already have seller arrangements from Italy (where most quality home espresso machines are made) to USA.

You will have better luck and plenty of reviews with companies like Espresso Outlet, Whole Latte Love or Seattle Coffee Gear.

Good espresso machines are those that are user friendly, safe design, have quality boilers or heat exchangers, sturdy and replaceable parts, heats up very fast and are easy to clean. -Ben

This will need an espresso grinder.


Quick Mill Anita EVO (Semi-Auto)
Just another quick example of a good quality home espresso machine. 😉

This model has the traditional e61 lever group head. It’s design has been around since the 1960’s and still going strong today.

This will need an espresso grinder.

Quick Mill Anita EVO

Quick Mill Vetrano

Quick Mill Vetrano (Semi-Auto)
Probably the most expensive on the list. This would be for the home user that drinks espresso all day or for a small cafe.

Also a traditional e61 lever group head.

Espresso machines with e61 lever group heads and that are plumbed in are great because you can open the lever dispense valve just a little bit and let city water pressure pre-infuse your puck for a few seconds before opening the lever all the way and activating the pump to reach the desired 9 bar.

This will also need a quality espresso grinder.


Gaggia Classic (Semi-Auto)
Another machine that has been around for quite some time. We think the best thing about this machine is that the boiler heating elements are on the outside of the boiler housing. Meaning the heating element itself never comes in contact with water.

This will need an espresso grinder.

Gaggia Classic

DeLonghi Magnifica

DeLonghi Magnifica (Fully-Automatic)
The base model of the Magnifica line. It has been around for quite some time and is a soldier in the game of fully automatic home espresso machines. At a lower entry cost this machine is a little larger and little louder than its more expensive relatives.


DeLonghi Magnifca XS (Fully-Auto)
Probably our favorite of the Magnifica line. It has a smaller footprint than the base model and is a little more quiet during operation.

DeLonghi Magnifica XS Home Espresso Machine
DeLonghi Magnfica XS

DeLonghi Magnifica S

DeLonghi Magnifica S (Fully-Auto)
This is one of our in-house machines. We have a hard time not pushing the go button on this thing. Although we would rather froth milk on a machine worth more than a small sedan, the convenience of a consistently good fully-auto espresso shot is worth its weight in gold.


La Pavoni PC-16 (Manual)
Another oldie, but goodie. La Pavoni has manufactured the lever group Europiccola and Professional models for a long time now, and many changes and upgrades have occurred.

The lever pull machine literally gives you all the control. Lift the lever up to fill the chamber with hot water and then pull the lever down to dispense espresso. Not only is this machine fun, but it is quite stylish on the counter.

This will need and espresso grinder.

La Pavoni PC-16 Home Lever Pull Espresso Machine
La Pavoni PC-16


Breville Barista

Breville Barista Express / Pro
This is a popular home espresso machine line. It seems to have good reviews on Amazon. We have even had good tasting espresso from one.

One problem is we cannot find parts for them.

Also, there are a lot of small plastic components on the inside and after several years of sitting next to a hot boiler things seem to clog, crack, or fail.

As most machines would have pros and cons, we find these to have many CONS and would advise NOT TO BUY.

For a machine with a built-in grinder and small countertop footprint, see the La Pavoni Napolitana below.


La Pavoni Napolitana
Another hybrid style where the grinder is in the machine, but you still have to use a portafilter. We prefer a separate grinder setup, but clearly this would take up less counter space.

With parts readily available, we have seen these small machines take some wear.

Since there is no circuit board, this espresso machine is less “sophisticated” than the Breville Barista, but it still produces 9 bars of hot water to deliver a quality espresso shot.

We do not consider this espresso machine to be in the prosumer line, so probably not good for a small cafe. Just a good simple home espresso machine.

La Pavoni Napolitana

DeLonghi La Specialista
DeLonghi La Specialista

DeLonghi La Specialista
Wow! What a sharp looking system! This would be a direct competitor to Breville Barista machines. We have yet to have one in for service, but once we do, this post will be updated.


Accessories

Espresso Tamper
There are all kinds of different tampers available. The most common size is 58mm. Traditionally, tampers have a smooth flat base, but now you can find some that convexed or grooved. This one seems like a nice traditional tamper.

Espresso Distributor / Tamper
After grinding the coffee beans into the portafilter, a espresso distributor helps level and distribute the grinds evenly and tamps at the same time.

Tamper Mat
These are nice because it has a little groove so the portafilter won’t slip.

Tamper Stand
Simple Tamper storage. Keeps the bottom of your tamper smooth and free of scuffs and scratches. There are many variations of a tamper stand. We like this one because it is compact and it serves the purpose for a reasonable price.

Portafilter Stand
Holds your espresso portafilter on a scale so that you can easily weigh the coffee dose. Very nice!

Milk Frother
Some fully-automatic machines require a jug of milk in order to make a latte. It turns out to be a hassle and a waste. This is perfect for the user that likes a little frothed milk. Or a lot of frothed milk. Check out the best milk residue cleaner.

Steaming Pitcher Rinser
Probably more for the cafe setup, but these are great for rinsing your steaming pitchers after you froth milk. If you do not want to cut a hole in your there is a countertop version. There is even one for under the counter.

Cleaners

Descaling Solution
Typically used in fully-automatic machines. A Citric Acid Cleaner That Is Odorless And Safe For the Environment. We also like Puly.

Coffee Cleaner
An industry standard for cleaning coffee residue. Used in machines that utilize a 3-way valve for back flushing and cleaning the group head. We have also had good experience with Puly Caff.

Milk Frother Cleaner
You should always purge and wipe down the steam wand after every use, but in case you forgot. A excellent cleaner for nasty milk residue. We have also had good experience with Urnex Rinza.

Tools

Group Head Cleaning Brush
Great for cleaning the group head of a traditional espresso machine that uses a portafilter. Has a pre-measured scoop on the handle for the right amount of cleaner. Not for fully-automatic machines.

X-ACTO Knife
The best way to remove a stuck group head gasket is to slice through it carefully with a sharp x-acto knife and then pry it out with a small-screwdriver or with a hook from the hook and pick set below.

Hook and Pick Set
Do you like to keep up with your own group head maintenance. The hook is nice to get stubborn gaskets out. This set is also nice.

Magnetic Retrieval Tool
Not really necessary on this list, but they come in handy in a lost screw situation from time to time.

Flashlight
We have used this flashlight for quite some time now and it has been quite reliable.

110v to 220v Step-Up Transformer
Good for when you purchased your machine outside the United States and need to go from 110v to 220v.





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Water Filtration

Ideal water for espresso has a TDS (total dissolved solids) of 90-150 ppm, with no extraneous odors or flavors that would interfere with taste, but still has enough TDS that the minerals in the coffee are able to help do the work of extraction.

Do not use Reverse Osmosis (RO) water.  Water below 50ppm TDS or 1.5 grains hardness for coffee of any form is considered too soft and interferes with the brewing process and distorts the taste.

All espresso machines require some amount of dissolved minerals to function, and to make coffee taste great.


Espresso Machines with a Water Reservoir

There are 3 main types of water you can buy at the grocery store.

Distilled Water: This is essentially RO water. It has NO minerals in it and is not for espresso machines.

Purified Drinking Water: This is it! This is what you need! This water has been filtered and all the bad stuff removed. If your home machine has a reservoir that needs to be filled….this is the good water to purchase and use.


Already good tasting, St. Louis tap water through a Brita Filter is just fine.

There are even pump options out there if you need a large amount of water and your machine is plumbed in.


Spring Water: This water taste great, but is NOT for espresso machines. The reason this water taste good is that it supposedly comes from the Earth.  While this water makes it purification journey through the natural filters in the ground it picks up higher doses of various minerals. These minerals might taste great, but they are way out of range for an espresso machine.

There are other “waters” out there….Seltzer water, Tonic Water, Rain Water, etc., but no.

Espresso Machines that are Plumbed in

If your machine is plumbed in, you need a water filter. Here are just a few.

St. Louis Metro has pretty good water!

With the properly sized filter in place and changed out at least once a year, your machine should age nicely without any costly blockage repairs.

Pentair Everpure ESO 6
The ESO has a fixed blend of about 40% of filtered water.  This means that along with removing the bad chemicals all together it filters 40% of the mineral content out of the water provided to it.
With the hardness level that St. Louis Metro has this filter should be changed out around the 600 gallon usage range or to be safe, at least once a year for the average home machine. The ESO 6 filter can use the QL2 or the  QL3 Filter Head . It is 23.75″ H x 5.6″ W x 4″ D.

ESO6 Filter with QL2 Head w/ Gauge

ESO6 Cartridge Replacement

Pentair Everpure ESO 7
The bigger version of the ESO 6 filter. Same function just a couple hundred gallon larger usage range and taller dimensions. The ESO 7 filter can use the QL2 or the  QL3 Filter Head .  It is 27.5″ H x 5.6″ W x 4″ D.


Claris S Complete Filter

Pentair Everpure Claris S
With the addition of a water softening component, this filter has an adjustable blend feature that allows the customization of how much mineral content you want in the product water. The S has a rated capacity of around 600 gallons. The Claris S filter can use the Gen 2 filter head.

The Everpure Claris system was designed to allow the user to control the relative water softness of his or her water supply by adjusting the level of its exposure to a bed of hydrogenated resin – an alternative to traditional salted resin – effectively putting the user in control of the alkalinity and mineral content of the water.

Pentair Everpure Claris M
There are a total of 6 different Claris sizes that keep going in size and capacity. The M is the next step up with a rated filtering capacity of about 1,000 gallons. The Claris series can use the Gen 2 filter head.

Pentair Everpure Claris L

Pentair Everpure Claris XL


Keep in mind that you should size your filter by the amount of water used within 6 months to 1 year. All filters should be changed at least once a year.

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Which espresso machine models do you work on?
Mostly all of them. We have been servicing commercial cafe machines for over 15 years and with the advancing quality of home espresso machines we have started to service many of them as well. The most common brands we service are listed on the home page, but if you’ve got a machine that isn’t on that list (and isn’t on our “brands we don’t work on” list below), drop us a line and we’ll let you know how we can help.

Which models and brands do you not work on?
– Jura. The manufacturer does not provide parts or support to independent service centers. Your only option is to contact Jura directly for service.


– Breville, unfortunately. Although we’d like to service this line at some point, we just haven’t got into them yet.

– The Saeco Odea and Talea series and the nearly identical Gaggia Platinum series. We find them to be extremely fragile machines with a short life expectancy due to insurmountable design flaws. In our long history servicing these machines, we’ve found it’s just best to replace them with a more reliable model rather than to spend the money to repair them.

– Krups, Kitchenaid, Mr. Coffee, Melitta, Espressione, Capresso, Cuisinart and Bene, to name but a few. These small, semi-automatic machines usually sell for $75-200 new, so it’s difficult to make a repair cost-effective compared to the cost of replacing the machine. These brands are also difficult, if not impossible, to find parts for, so repair is often not even an option.

Can I talk directly to a technician?
YES, absolutely. We’re a small shop. We’ve always got time to talk tech with our customers. Let us know the best time to call you.

How long does it take to repair my home espresso machine?
This varies widely depending on what exactly your machine needs are, parts availability and shipping options. Average repair time is approx 1 week and 2 weeks if parts need to be ordered.

How much does it cost to repair my machine?
Costs vary widely depending on the the make and model of the machine as well as it’s age and condition. Repair costs for most home super-automatic machines range from $135 – $350. We are always happy to provide a free assessment and quote for repair once we’ve taken a good look at your machine.

Is my machine even worth repairing?
Usually, yes. It’s rare for the repair estimate to come even close to the cost of replacing the machine with a comparable model. Most machines that we see just need a good professional overhaul, and then they’re ready to provide many more years of service. The exception is entry-level models that cost $50-150 new; these machines often only last a few years and the cost to replace any parts on them is usually close to, if not more than the replacement cost.

What if my machine isn’t worth repairing?
We’ll never recommend a repair on a machine that we don’t think has plenty of life left in it, and occasionally a repair exceeds the replacement cost of the machine and it makes more sense to just buy a new one. In those cases we can give your machine back to you or recycle it, and you won’t owe us anything.

Do you offer free estimates?
Yes we do. We can usually ballpark a repair cost just from hearing what’s wrong with the machine, and once we get it on the bench and inspected we’ll have an exact quote for you to consider. It’s rare for a repair to exceed this quoted cost.

I live in St. Louis, do I need to filter my water?
We think St. Louis metro area has pretty good tasting water.  Why? Because it has minerals in it that provide good flavor. It also has other stuff in it like Chlorine. Click Here for a longer article about espresso machine water and St. Louis water.

What home machine should I buy?
This is somewhat of a difficult question to answer. A lot depends on your consumption level, but most importantly, how does it look on your counter? Have a look at our lead technicians post on various home espresso machines.