We clean our coffee machines much less often than we should. But we get it: Just the thought of cleaning makes your body feel heavy, and you’re overtaken with an urge to do just about anything else – just not cleaning.
So it’s no surprise that a recent study found that over 50% of coffee makers had mold and yeast inside. Away from sunlight and nourished by the constant supply of water, heat, and steam, mold thrives.
When we aren’t careful about cleaning and maintaining our espresso machines, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. Not just these bacterial growths -which are not to be taken lightly, either- but we also risk things like:
- Escale: Tap water contains a wide variety of minerals. Over time, deposits will form on the inside of your machine. Anything that water touches, particularly the water tank, is at risk. This is why you should descale your machine regularly. It is also important to note that using a water filter helps trap these minerals, making descaling a less frequent need.
- Coffee flavor: An unclean machine will directly affect the taste of your coffee. Most commonly, you might find yourself wondering why you keep pulling over-extracted shots. The answer is that you haven’t been taking care of your machine. Rinsing or using a descaling tablet is not enough: You have to take your espresso machine apart and clean things yourself, by hand.
Fortunately, all of this is easily prevented by implementing into your life a short cleaning routine that’ll keep your machine clean and safe from bacteria, escale, and everything else. That’s why cleaning and maintaining an espresso machine are the same thing: All maintenance issues can ultimately be traced back to poor hygiene.
We’ve compiled a guide that anyone can follow easily, even you espresso-rookies! This guide is designed to keep most semi or fully automatic espresso machines clean and in good condition with minimal effort. Let’s dive right in.
Routinely cleaning your espresso machine
It’s important that we get out of the way the most difficult part first because, well, it’s not really that difficult: it just feels that way. In reality, routine cleaning is incredibly simple and easy. The part that is difficult is actually doing it.
As they say, “90 percent of success is just showing up” – this applies here, too.
For daily cleaning, you’ll be focusing on 5 different things: Surfaces, water tank, steam wand, groupheads/portafilters, and keeping everything dry.
Self-explanatory, isn’t it? The job here is to make sure every single inch of your espresso machine’s surface is clean.
You must be meticulous about this: Even if it looks clean, clean it. You never know when you might be missing oils stuck onto the surface of the machine, or coffee particles.
This is how you should take care of surfaces:
- Wipe down with a dry, clean rag.
- Locate specific spots that look dirty as you wipe down.
- Use (very little) soap and water to clean these spots, then wipe them dry immediately afterward. Remember there’s places that are always gonna need cleaning, like the drip tray.
Ideally, you’ll be using two separate rags exclusively for this purpose. It’s also worth mentioning that whatever soap you use should be both subtle when it comes to aroma and potent when it comes to getting rid of fat and oils in general.
Many baristas use a special solution for cleaning espresso machine parts; this can be used here, too. If you’re not a fan of soap at all, we recommend water with vinegar.
As we said in the beginning of the article, bacteria likes to hang out in this particular part of coffee machines. But what about all that heat, you might say: That’s actually beneficial to these bacteria.
Before being heated up, the water in your espresso machine sits in the water tank. To get from the water tank to the boiler -which is where it is heated- it has to go first through a tube, into the pump, through another tube, and only then it reaches the boiler. And even then, some bacteria may survive this.
As for the bacteria which are found in the water tank, warm temperatures provide them with great conditions for growing. We need to keep the water tank as clean as possible.
- If your water tank is removable, it’s quite simple. Take it out, clean it thoroughly with water and vinegar, then rinse and place it back once it’s dry.
- If you don’t have a removable water tank, then it is imperative that you empty and dry it every night to prevent bacterial growth. It’s also helpful to prepare a mix of water and just a few drops of descaling fluid and run it once a week.
Whether removable or not, the most important part here is to make sure it is empty and dry, and not letting it sit with water overnight.
This will be the dirtiest part of any espresso machine, as it is constantly in contact with milk.
While the steam wand is purged and wiped down after each use (or at least it should be), that does not mean that it is completely clean. In fact, we need to take extra care when cleaning the steam wand, as it will always be the part of your espresso machine most exposed to foreign substances (as in, different types of milk).
How to clean your steam wand:
- Fill a milk pitcher with soap and water.
- Use the steam wand to “steam” the soap water: Make sure you submerge it all the way.
- Once it’s too hot, remove the pitcher and wipe down the steam wand with a wet cloth to get all the soap out.
- Purge and wipe until dry.
*If your steam wand is removable or has any removable parts, then washing them separately, under the sink, is the best option possible.
Portafilters are very easy to clean. They don’t really get dirty anyway, so most people rinse them and that’s about it.
While this isn’t wrong, it isn’t perfect either. Sure, the basket will do just fine with just a rinse. But the rest of the portafilter -the handle in particular- does need a bit more than just a rinse.
Wash each portafilter under the sink. If you don’t want to use soap, use hot water and then wipe them down after.
It’s a bit more complicated with groupheads. While you can wipe or brush the grouphead superficially, you’ll need to unscrew and get in there every once in a while – at least once a month.
But this part isn’t really that necessary. If you don’t let any portafilter locked on overnight as all that passes through the grouphead is hot water and isn’t a place where bacteria would survive.
Keeping everything dry
Once all the other four steps are complete, all that’s left is for us to make absolutely sure that everything is completely dry.
There isn’t any science to this step: Just make sure everything is dry. Mold, bacteria, and yeast will have no opportunity to grow as long as there is no water.
You may skip one or two steps once in a while. But this is the most important one, the one step that you have to make sure that you get done.
That was much easier than you expected, wasn’t it?
We hope that this guide helps you in creating your own routine to keep your machine running in optimal condition.