What Can You Use To Descale An Espresso Machine (A Quick Guide)

Last Updated on October 21, 2021 by John Moretti

Descaling an espresso machine is the single most important maintenance task to prolong the lifespan of the machine and keep it running correctly. However, this process is often overlooked, leading to many broken espresso machines. This problem has many espresso machine owners wondering what they can use to descale their machine.

It is always best to use the descaling product recommended by the machine manufacturer. Otherwise, using a product that uses Citric, Lactic, or Sulfamic acid is best. Home-made descaling products should be made with a product such as Citric acid powder, and not with vinegar, as many believe.

Descaling an espresso machine is a simple process, but neglecting it will lead to malfunctions and cause the machine to operate at less-than-ideal levels. The best way to maintain your espresso machine is to run a descaling cycle every so often. Let’s discuss what can be used to effectively descale an espresso machine.

What Is The Best Descaling Product For An Espresso Machine?

Descaling an espresso machine is vital for keeping the machine working correctly, but there are so many descaling products available on the market. Which is the best to use?

The truth is, it is always best to use the descaling produce recommended by the manufacturer of the espresso machine. This will ensure that the descaling product that you use will not cause any damage to the machine, and it will not void the manufacturer’s warranty.

The most effective descaling products for espresso machines are those that will quickly and effectively break down and dissolve scale from the internal workings of the machine.

The best products to use are those that contain Citric acid, Lactic acid, or Sulfamic acid. All of these compounds are proven to work well for descaling and will not cause any harm to most espresso machine models.

The other machines to be careful with are the fully automatic type of espresso machines. These machines use a thermoblock boiler system that is susceptible to damage when exposed to citric acid. 

The descaling product that you use should be strong enough to sufficiently descale your espresso machine in one descaling cycle. If the process must be repeated many times before the machine is not clear of scale build-up, then the product that you are using to clean the machine is probably not the best one for the job.

If the product you are using does effectively descale the machine in one descale cycle, and it causes no damage to the machine itself, then stick with it. It is probably one of the best options for your machine.

Does Vinegar Work For Descaling?

vinegar

When the topic of descaling an espresso machine comes up, there is always someone who insists that the best descaling product to use is some kind of vinegar.

This is a very common misconception. White vinegar is acidic, it is not nearly caustic enough to properly break downscale, and the type of acid present in vinegar is not the correct compound to dissolve the minerals that remain when the scale is broken down within the machine.

Vinegar is, on some level, an acid, but it is not the right type of acid for this purpose.

As well as not being an effective acid for descaling an espresso, vinegar is very likely to leave behind residue and flavor. This will leave your espresso tasting of vinegar, which is not at all an appealing prospect.

Large build-up of scale within an espresso machine is rigid, but it is also very porous. This allows the vinegar to soak deeply into the material and remain there without dissolving or dislodging the scale at all.

This leaves behind a lump of scale within the machine that is soaked with vinegar. All of that vinegar flavor will be carried through the water from the machine and into your next shot of espresso, completely ruining it.

All the while, the vinegar has been entirely unsuccessful at removing the scale from within the machine.

Vinegar does not work to descale an espresso machine, regardless of what the stores say. This liquid should never be used to clean a coffee machine of scale.

Are The Retail Products Worthwhile?

If vinegar is such a bad product for descaling an espresso machine, does that mean that the retail espresso machine descaling products are better than all home-made solutions?

The commercial and retail products that are available on the market today for descaling espresso machines are designed to effectively resolve this issue without causing any damage to the machine and without compromising the taste and experience of the coffee that is brewed with the machine.

These products are well worthwhile, and they are very effective for descaling any espresso machine.

Some argue that these products are expensive, and home-made options such as using vinegar are significantly cheaper.

This is not true. There are several commercial espresso machine descaling products available that only cost about a penny more than vinegar does per milliliter.

This means that not only do off-the-shelf products work more effectively than home-made products, they are essentially the same price.

Home Made Espresso Machine Descaling Solution

If commercial descaling products really are not an option for you, there are some home-made descaling solutions that will work to clean the internal working of an espresso machine without damaging it and which involve no use of vinegar whatsoever.

The best home-made descaling solution in most instances and for most types of espresso machines is a solution of powered Citric acid in water.

This solution is very effective for breaking downscale and removing it from an espresso machine without damaging it, except in the instance of a machine with a thermoblock boiler.

The best ratio to use for the solution is 2 tablespoons of citric acid powder for every 1 liter (about 33.8oz) of water.

The concentration of Citric acid on the solution may be increased in the case of very severe scale build-up, but the concentration should never be increased too much or risk damaging the machine internally.

Summary

Descaling is a vital part of maintaining an espresso machine. Scale build-up can cause severe damage to a machine of this type and cause the machine to not function as it should.

Descaling an espresso machine is simple to do with the correcting descaling product. It is always best to use the products recommended by the manufacturer of the espresso machine that you use, but if there is none specified, most of these products are quite similar and will work as well as each other.

Avoid using vinegar unless you enjoy vinegar in your coffee, and if you have to make your own descaling solution, Citric acid in water is an excellent option.