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5 simple tips for home baristas to keep your espresso machine clean

A little filtered water goes a long way

A barista wipes an espresso machine after a day of work. Credit: Getty Images / Jun

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As most habitual coffee lovers know, espresso machines for the home can be an investment. Even though a quality machine may cost you hundreds of dollars up front, you’ll make that money back in no time with what you would’ve spent a few times a day at a café.

An espresso machine produces a velvety, creamy coffee by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans under very high pressure. This complicated system involves an equally complicated amount of hardware. The daily wear and tear of coffee grime, when gone uncleaned or ignored, throws a wrench in the middle of this process.

Over time, build-up not only impacts the flavor of your espresso, but it also poses a dangerous risk to your health. Bacteria thrives in damp environments, particularly in coffee makers that have gone uncleaned.

With so many complicated parts, espresso machines require regular maintenance, and for the novice, it can be intimidating. But, once you have a few tools and a little bit of patience, it’s not hard to keep your espresso machine up, running, and pulling tasty coffee.

Here’s how to keep your espresso machine as clean as it can be.

1. Create and maintain a cleaning schedule

A Breville espresso machine sits on a counter.
Credit: Breville

It's important to create and maintain a cleaning schedule for your espresso machine.

Most cafés pull hundreds of espresso shots every day. Accordingly, commercial espresso machines require multiple daily cleanings and regular servicing every six months. The espresso machine you have in your home doesn’t require such care, but it does need to be cleaned with some frequency. A rule of thumb is to clean your machine once per week at the most, but a deeper cleaning may be needed monthly.

2. Wipe the machine and its parts down in between daily uses

Pulling espresso shots is messy business. My Breville Barista Express is fantastic, but it’s still easy to spill coffee grounds when you finish grinding. And, like with any machine, grime and residue sticks around once you’re finished working.

With a clean cloth or paper towel, wipe down the surface of your espresso machine. This includes the face, the portafilter (where the espresso is held), the grind doser, the group head (where the espresso is poured), and the drip tray. If you use your wand to steam milk, make sure you wipe down any excess milk residue.

3. Always purge your steam wand before and after use

A person steams hot milk for an espresso with a steam wand.
Credit: Getty Images / wakila

Make sure to wipe down any excess milk residue and purge your steam wand.

You may not think to purge your steam wand of milk before and after use, but it’s an important step. Purging the wand—or in other words, allowing it to run steam for a few seconds—expels any milk residue trapped inside. It’s also a good way of “preheating” the wand for use. Think of this as a warmup for the big action ahead.

Of course, do the same at every use. As a former commercial café barista, I promise you that fresh milk is much easier and far less gross to clean up than old, dried, stinky milk.

4. Use clean, filtered water when making espresso

The quality of your water impacts the taste of your coffee—after all, espresso is almost completely water flavored by coffee grounds.

Use clean and filtered water exclusively in your machine. If you don’t make espresso daily, make sure you rotate the water on a regular basis and rinse out the tank to rid it of any harmful bacteria. This is especially easy when your machine has a detachable water tank.

If your tap water, like mine, has an abundance of minerals, it’s best to filter it before using it in the machine. Minerals in water will eventually cause a limescale build-up (a chalk-like formation more common in faucets and drains) in the espresso machine.

While filtering your water is the best way to avoid this nasty mess, if it’s already too late for you, you can attempt descaling your machine using white vinegar and citric acid.

5. Deep clean once per week

(left) a Breville espresso machine. (right) a head cleaning brush used to clean an espresso machine.
Credit: Reviewed / Christopher Whitbeck

Make sure to deep clean your machine once a week.

This is where a handy group head cleaning brush comes into play. This tool is made specifically at an angle that allows you to scrub inside the group head, where the espresso pour takes place. Using the brush, scrub the inside of this part and anywhere else where espresso residue may linger inside the machine.

Next, you’ll need espresso machine detergent. Run a small amount—one tablespoon at the most—through your machine using its blind filter basket for about 10 seconds on and 10 seconds off. Repeat this a few times and then leave the blind filter in your group head for about five minutes. This process is called backwashing and will clean deep inside your machine and eat away at any mineral build-up.

You’ll also need to soak your machine’s steam wand in a mixture of one tablespoon detergent and one cup of hot water. Remove the wand tip when you do so to assure your detergent can clean everything properly.

Do this same step with any other removable parts, including your portafilter and baskets. Allow these to sit overnight, and they should come clean by your first coffee craving in the morning.

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