How to descale a coffee machine

How to Descale a Coffee Machine and What Should You Know Before Doing It?

If you asked true experts what the most common reason behind various coffee machine malfunctions is, all of them would probably answer in unison that it’s definitely limescale. The harm that it causes to coffee machine components is often irreversible. Whenever a client buys a new coffee brewing appliance from us, we try our best to explain to him or her how proper maintenance of a coffee machine should be performed and what actions should be taken in order to enjoy delicious coffee for as long as possible.

The mention of coffee flavour is no accident here: if you brew coffee in a machine that hasn’t been descaled properly, it loses most of its valuable characteristics (the water simply can’t soak through the coffee and absorb the flavours hidden in it) — not to mention that preparing coffee in such conditions is extremely difficult and problematic.

Our clients often remind us that coffee machines are covered by a 24-month manufacturer’s warranty and that any malfunctions should be sorted out free of charge during this period. However, the warranty covering electrical appliances, including coffee machines, is only valid if the appliance is used according to the user manual and maintained based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. During diagnostics, it isn’t difficult at all to determine whether the maintenance instructions have been adhered to: if the machine’s components are affected by limescale, this damage can be seen straight away. If limescale is indeed the reason behind the malfunction of a coffee machine, the manufacturer isn’t at fault here, so the customers must cover the costs of such repair themselves. 

In addition to a detailed explanation as to why descaling your coffee machine regularly is so important, this article includes useful information on the key principles of this procedure, the products best suited for it and the most common descaling mistakes. You’ll receive valuable advice that will help you extend the service life of your coffee machine and you’ll also find out how to perform cleaning procedures more easily, quickly and, in some cases, even less often. 

What is limescale and why is it so harmful to household appliances? 

What is limescale

If we were to look at limescale from the standpoint of a chemist, we’d have to admit that it’s nothing more than a mixture of magnesium and calcium salts. It’s the amount of this compound in your water that can help you find out if the water you use is hard or soft. If one litre of water contains no more than 20 mg of these salts, such water is called “soft”, while “hard” water is characterised by 80120 mg of salts per one litre. How can these salts damage your coffee machine, you wonder?

Well, if it isn’t descaled regularly, the machine’s water outlets start narrowing, so your coffee is dispensed more slowly — or, alternatively, the water might fail to pass through the outlets properly and then keep on dripping even once the preparation is finished (by the way, these are the first signs of a coffee machine that desperately needs to be descaled!). Moreover, if large amounts of limescale accumulate on the internal components of your coffee machine, this might cause it to overheat — such damage often can’t be reversed. 

It might seem rather strange: we, people, need these nutrients in our bodies. We deliberately choose foods that are rich in magnesium and calcium, or we take food supplements to strengthen our nervous system and help our hearts out. This is probably why some people believe that limescale isn’t harmful at all.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the operation of a human body and that of an electrical appliance, the principles behind these two mechanisms are radically different. Our bodies tend to absorb calcium and magnesium, yet metal, plastic and other surfaces simply allow them to accumulate. This feature of accumulation is the root of most problems faced by those who don’t take action to prevent or remove limescale deposits. 

How often should your coffee machine be descaled? 

How often should your coffee machine be descaled? 

To answer this question, you must first of all find out how hard your water is. Luckily, this doesn’t mean that you have to take a water sample to a special lab or perform complex tests by yourself. Coffee machine stores always have special litmus tests in their assortment: all you have to do is put a strip in the water, hold it there for a couple of minutes and you’ll instantly know the hardness of your water.

When switched on for the first time, most coffee machines will ask you to identify the level of water hardness — they use this information to determine the required descaling frequency. The harder your water is and the more you use your coffee machine, the more frequently you’ll have to descale it. The descaling procedure must be performed as soon as the coffee machine prompts you to do so. 

Water filters as the best means of fighting limescale 

Water filters

The most effective method of fighting limescale is preventing it from accumulating in the first place.  A water filter does just that: the limescale simply can’t seep through it. In addition, water filters help balance the composition of water, so that when it flows through the coffee, it can absorb all of the coffee’s finest features. 

Most coffee drinkers forget to consider the fact that coffee brewed with the help of hard water is often weak and lacking in aroma. This is because hard water is already saturated with various nutrients, so it’s incapable of absorbing anything else. If your house is equipped with a water softener system, it would be a good idea to make sure that your water isn’t too soft. That’s also a possibility! Extremely soft water can make your coffee more bitter and acidic — such acidity has nothing to do with the fruitiness that is naturally detected in high-quality coffee and valued by the lovers of this drink.

Sometimes all you have to do to radically change the taste of your coffee is adjust the level of minerals and calcium found in it! The easiest way to do that is by simply using special water filters. Keep in mind that in a lot of cases, a coffee machine will regularly prompt you to perform the descaling procedure even if you’re using a filter. This is done for the purposes of prevention and the frequency with which you have to descale your coffee machine still radically decreases.

Coffee machine descaling procedure

Coffee machine descaling procedure

Bean-to-cup coffee machines are equipped with an automated descaling program. It’s worth noting, however, that the more advanced the coffee machine is, the more easily and quickly can this program be performed. The key descaling principles employed by appliances of this kind are more or less the same though: first of all, a special descaling tablet must be dissolved in the required amount of water poured into the water tank, or some descaling liquid must be poured into the tank and diluted accordingly. Following the start of the descaling procedure, this mixture of water and a special coffee machine descaler is used to fill up the machine’s water system — the water is released through the coffee spouts in certain intervals. Once all of the mixture has been dispensed, the water tank must be washed thoroughly and filled up with clean water. This water is then used to rinse the water system once again.  

Coffee machine descaling products

Coffee machine descaling products

To descale your machine properly, you must use special descaling products designed for the maintenance of coffee machines. Such products can safely come into contact with foodstuffs: even if some coffee machine descaler is left in the water system, it causes no harm to the human body and doesn’t affect the flavour of your coffee. Moreover, the chemical composition of these products is suited perfectly for the duration of a coffee machine descaling program. The correct concentration of descaling substances is absolutely vital here.

You should never use homemade, natural vinegar or citric acid mixtures when descaling your coffee machine. Cleaning products designed for dishwashers, washing machines and other household appliances should also be avoided at all costs — they’re less soluble and suited for longer descaling cycles, so limescale may not be removed effectively over the duration of the coffee machine descaling program. Furthermore, these products aren’t allowed to come into contact with food. 

The most common coffee machine descaling mistakes 

The most common coffee machine descaling mistakes

  1. Incorrect frequency. As we’ve mentioned already, once you purchase a coffee machine, you should perform a special water hardness test. This also applies if you’ve moved to a new house or flat. When preparing food, you might not notice that you’re doing so with the help of hard water — but your coffee machine definitely will. The results of the water hardness test must then be used to select the correct level of water hardness in your coffee machine, which will, in its turn, be used to automatically set the required descaling frequency. However, a lot of people forget to do that or simply don’t know that selecting the correct water hardness is an absolute necessity. The factory settings of most coffee machines tend to include the hardest setting available — which is why our clients are often surprised to find their machine asking them to descale it after a couple of weeks even though they’ve been using soft water all along. It’s important to remember that your coffee machine can’t detect the hardness of your water automatically. It simply picks the required descaling frequency based on the level of water hardness that’s been selected. Also, we often encounter cases where our clients are absolutely sure that the water used by them is of an extremely high quality (the quality of your water has nothing to do with its hardness or softness, by the way), so they choose the softest setting available without performing a test. The majority of such clients are then bound to feel surprised or disappointed once the service technician lets them know that their coffee machine is filled with limescale. 
  2. Unsuitable descaling products. It’s definitely true that vinegar and citric acid can be used to get rid of limescale deposits found on various surfaces — however, if you use these substances at an incorrect concentration, they can do more harm than good. Depending on the coffee machine model, the descaling cycle can last anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. This duration is relatively short, so if you choose a concentration that is too weak, it simply won’t manage to remove all of the limescale deposits. As the entire water system is located inside the coffee machine, coffee drinkers don’t even have a chance to notice these deposits most of the time. On the other hand, if your chosen concentration is too strong, some parts of your coffee machine — particularly its tubes — might be affected by the acid, which may then lead to you having to replace them. Moreover, if the system isn’t rinsed properly, all of these substances will eventually find their way into your coffee. We’ve heard more than one client complaining about the taste of acid in their coffee following the use of such homemade descaling products. If you want to avoid this and still resort to homemade solutions, you’ll have to rinse your coffee machine multiple times to get rid of all the vinegar or citric acid.
  3. Ignoring the user manual. Sometimes all that’s needed to do something properly is not much at all: we must simply find  the required section in the user manual and follow the steps recommended by the manufacturer. The descaling procedure of some coffee machines is extremely simple: you’ll only have to perform it once or twice to figure it all out. When descaling some of the simpler, less automated machines though, more thorough attention and a higher number of steps performed consecutively are often needed: you have to watch out for the flashing light, rotate the steam valve at the right time and so on.  Only by descaling your coffee machine properly will you enable it to keep on brewing delicious coffee for you day in and day out. 

What can you do to ensure that your coffee machine has to be descaled as rarely as possible? 

  1. Use water that is soft enough, i.e., install a water softener system in your house or insert a filter in your coffee machine. Soft water will allow you to decrease the frequency with which you need to descale the machine.
  2. If your coffee machine is often in use all day, turn off the automatic shutdown function or select the highest available interval for it. Every time you turn on the machine, its system gets filled up with water, and when you turn it off, it’s automatically rinsed. Remember that the required descaling frequency depends on the total amount of water used by the machine — this number includes every rinsing and filling up of the system. If your coffee machine often prompts you to descale it, even though the number of coffee portions brewed in it isn’t that high, this might be the reason behind it.
  3. If you want to delay the next descaling procedure for as long as possible or even get rid of the need to descale your machine altogether, replacing water filters regularly can definitely help. The exact frequency with which you’ll have to descale your appliance when using a filter depends on the manufacturer of your coffee machine. There are some models that allow you to forget all about the descaling procedure as long as you replace the filter immediately after the machine prompts you to do so. Other coffee machines will require you to descale them once 8 filters have been replaced in a row. All in all, using a water filter is an excellent way not only to prevent limescale, but also to spend less of your time maintaining your coffee machine. Keep in mind though that it’s always recommended to choose a filter that’s been produced by the manufacturer of your coffee machine. And, of course, don’t forget to remove the filter before starting the descaling procedure! 

Descaling procedures of different coffee machine brands

We believe that a coffee machine should serve its owner — not the other way round. Clients often ask us which coffee machine is the easiest to maintain. We’ve already mentioned (and it should come as no surprise) that the more advanced the coffee machine is and the higher the class it belongs to, the easier it is to maintain: all of the maintenance programs integrated in such machines are fully automated, which means that all you have to do is follow the instructions displayed on the colour screen of the appliance. If you tend to brew lots of coffee daily, this is the kind of machine that we recommend purchasing — more coffee portions equals higher descaling frequency, so it’s important for you to be able to perform this procedure as conveniently as possible.

On the other hand, descaling a coffee machine is no rocket science: if you’re familiar with the key nuances of this process, you can maintain your coffee machine easily and quickly. Below, we explore the nuances characterising the descaling procedures of coffee machines produced by different manufacturers. 

Descaling of De’Longhi coffee machines

The Italian brand De’Longhi produces some of the most popular bean-to-cup coffee machines on the market. Like all bean-to-cup appliances, these are equipped with automatic descaling programs. Depending on the chosen model, the descaling procedure might be a bit more complex (if the machine doesn’t have a text display and icons have to be followed instead) or it can be extremely simple (if the appliance is equipped with a colour text display). In the former case, all you have to do is read the user manual and perform the steps described in it one after the other. We know full well though that reading through the manual can be a bit of a bore sometimes, not to mention that the instructions may be far from clear too, so we’ve filmed the descaling procedure of one of the most popular De’Longhi models of all time, the ECAM 22.110, for you.

What should you know about the descaling of De’Longhi coffee machines? 

  • Before starting the descaling procedure, remove the De’Longhi water filter (if you’re using one) 
  • For the procedure, make sure to mix the water and the coffee machine descaler using the proportions indicated in the user manual of your machine 
  • Don’t forget to measure the hardness of your water using a test strip, as well as to select the right level of water hardness in your coffee machine 
  • Regular use of a water filter will allow you to significantly reduce the frequency with which the descaling procedure must be performed

Descaling of Philips/Saeco coffee machines

The coffee machines produced by two other well-known brands Philips and Saeco are also characterised by an extremely simple descaling procedure. What makes these appliances unique is the fact that if you use special AquaClean water filters and replace them regularly (once in around 3 months), the descaling procedure will only have to be performed once every 5000 cups.

As we’ve  mentioned already in the beginning of this post, a water filter not only protects your coffee machine from limescale, but also balances the flavour of water so that it’s suited perfectly for brewing coffee. Once the time to perform the descaling program ultimately rolls around, you’ll be able to do that with ease. 

If you don’t believe us, watch our video about the descaling of one of the world’s most popular coffee machines, Saeco Xelsis.

What should you know about the descaling of Philips/Saeco coffee machines? 

  • Before starting the descaling procedure, remove the water filter (if you’re using one) 
  • Don’t forget to measure the hardness of your water using a test strip, as well as to select the right level of water hardness in your coffee machine 
  • If you use special AquaClean water filters and replace them regularly (once in around 3 months), the descaling procedure will only have to be performed once every 5000 cups 
  • It’s a good idea to always have a spare water filter with you: otherwise, if you fail to replace the filter on time (as soon as the machine prompts you to do so), the appliance will enter the descaling mode and will automatically ask you to perform the descaling procedure, which you’ll then have to do

Descaling of Melitta coffee machines

The bean-to-cup coffee machines produced by the German brand Melitta have already earned the reputation of appliances that are particularly reliable. German quality, precision, accuracy and clarity are reflected not only in the menus of these coffee machines, but also in their simple, clear maintenance programs.

If your coffee machine has a display with icons, you’ll have to follow the user manual (the instructions there are very straightforward though!), while the owners of appliances with text displays will be able to see all instructions on the screen and perform the necessary steps one after the other.

Take a look at the descaling procedure of Melitta Barista, one of the most popular models produced by this manufacturer:

What should you know about the descaling of Melitta coffee machines? 

  • Before starting the descaling procedure, remove the Melitta water filter (if you’re using one) 
  • Don’t forget to measure the hardness of your water using a test strip, as well as to select the right level of water hardness in your coffee machine 
  • Regular use of a water filter will allow you to significantly reduce the frequency with which the descaling procedure must be performed

Descaling of Siemens coffee machines

People often say that what the modern man lacks the most is time. When creating the maintenance programs of Siemens coffee machines, this brand has certainly kept that in mind.

Bean-to-cup coffee machines are equipped with maintenance programs of two types: descaling and cleaning. The cleaning program is a separate procedure that is used to remove all of the coffee oils and residues from the appliance’s brewing system. This process employs special cleaning tablets, which are put into the ground coffee container or straight into the coffee brewing unit.

All Siemens coffee machines are equipped with both of these programs. However, if you’re looking to save some time, you can choose the combined Calc&Clean program — it’ll allow you to perform the descaling and cleaning programs at the same time! 

Here’s a video showing how to perform the combined Calc&Clean program in a Siemens coffee machine: 

What should you know about the descaling of Siemens coffee machines? 

  • Before starting the descaling procedure, remove the Siemens water filter (if you’re using one) 
  • Don’t forget to measure the hardness of your water using a test strip, as well as to select the right level of water hardness in your coffee machine 
  • Regular use of a water filter will allow you to significantly reduce the frequency with which the descaling procedure must be performed
  • Keep in mind that Siemens coffee machines enable you to perform the descaling and cleaning procedures simultaneously, hence allowing you to save some precious time 

Do capsule coffee machines have to be descaled?

Capsule coffee machines are designed for those lovers of coffee who want to enjoy delicious drinks quickly and easily, don’t have much space in their kitchen and dream about spending as little time as possible maintaining their appliance. If emptying the coffee grounds container sounds like too time-consuming a task for you, you should definitely give capsule coffee machines a try! Because these appliances are so small and simple, you might get the wrong impression that they don’t require any maintenance at all. However, these machines are equipped with a water system, and the latter is definitely susceptible to limescale deposits. As a result, capsule coffee machines must be regularly descaled.  

Descaling of Nespresso coffee machines

Nespresso is one of the world’s most well-known coffee capsule systems. With their modern design, compactness, minimalist operation and simple maintenance, the machines produced by this manufacturer are sure to impress. Nespresso appliances aren’t equipped with screens, so they’re operated with the help of buttons or touch-sensitive icons. In some models, all you need to do to start the descaling procedure is activate a special descaling button/icon, while other models might require you to press a certain combination of several buttons.

If you’re wondering how to descale Nespresso machine models, you can watch a video showing you how to descale Nespresso Citiz, one of the most popular appliances of this kind:

What should you know about the descaling of Nespresso coffee machines? 

  • The frequency with which the procedure of descaling Nespresso machine models must be performed depends on the hardness of your water, as well as on how often you use the appliance. Even if you’re using soft water, you should still perform the descaling procedure at least once every 3 months or as soon as you notice that the water is being dispensed more slowly than usual
  • Before you start the descaling procedure, don’t forget to empty the box for used capsules, as well as the drip tray of the appliance. You should also make sure that there’s no capsule in the capsule holder
  • Keep in mind that you shouldn’t pour out the liquid used for the first cycle immediately after it’s been finished — you’ll need to pour it back into the water tank later on (see the video) 
  • As there’s no option of using a water filter in Nespresso coffee machines, we highly recommend using filtered water (not only because of limescale, but also because it’ll improve the flavour of your coffee!) 

Descaling of Dolce Gusto coffee machines

The Dolce Gusto coffee capsule system is also extremely popular. Without a shadow of a doubt, the main and pretty much the only — reason behind various malfunctions of these coffee machines is limescale deposits. Just like in the case of capsule coffee machines produced by Nespresso, the compactness and simplicity of these appliances might make it seem like they don’t need to be descaled at all. The descaling procedure of Dolce Gusto machines is, in fact, similar to that of Nespresso. However, to ensure that everything is done correctly, you’ll need to carefully follow and properly perform each of the steps involved in this process. We know that some user manuals can be rather confusing, so we’ve listened to the needs of our clients and provided them with a video detailing the descaling procedures of the most popular Dolce Gusto models. 

What should you know about the descaling of Dolce Gusto coffee machines? 

  • The frequency with which you’ll have to descale your Dolce Gusto coffee machine depends on the hardness of your water, as well as on how often you use the appliance to brew coffee. Even if you’re using soft water, you should still perform the descaling procedure at least once every 3 months or as soon as you notice that the water is being dispensed more slowly than usual
  • Before you start the descaling procedure, make sure that there’s no capsule in the capsule holder
  • Before you start descaling a Dolce Gusto capsule coffee machine, replace the capsule holder with a holder designed specially for the descaling procedure. Also, don’t throw this holder out afterwards it can be used multiple times
  • As there’s no option of using a water filter in Dolce Gusto coffee machines, we highly recommend using filtered water (not only because of limescale, but also because it’ll improve the flavour of your coffee!)

What should you know about the descaling of coffee machines?

As we’ve mentioned at the start of this article, limescale deposits are the arch-enemy of all coffee machines, as well as the main reason behind their malfunctions. Every service technician will tell you that properly-maintained machines tend to serve their owners much longer, while also requiring less investments when it comes to their repair. 

It’s extremely important to always descale your coffee machine on time, as soon as the appliance prompts you to do so or as often as the manufacturer recommends. These recommendations usually indicate a period no longer than 23 months. 

Water hardness tests are also vital, so if you’ve purchased a new coffee machine or moved to a new house, test your water immediately. Water hardness test strips can cost as little as several pounds, while using them will allow you to rest assured knowing that the right cleaning parameters have been selected in your coffee machine, hence protecting it from possible damage. 

Water filters are excellent means of preventing limescale from accumulating in the first place: not only do they soften your water, but they also balance its composition so that it’s perfect for brewing coffee. Moreover, if you replace these filters on time, you’ll be able to significantly delay the next descaling procedure.

You can find all of the necessary descaling steps in the user manual, so in order to ensure that this procedure is performed properly, we encourage you to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Choosing the right descaling products is no less important, as the success of this procedure often depends on the concentration of cleaning substances in the product. 

You can find all the necessary coffee machine maintenance products in the Coffee Friend e-shop. However, if you’re still unsure which products to purchase or how to perform a maintenance procedure correctly, our consultants are always ready to hear you out and provide you with valuable advice — or even film an informative video!