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How To Descale a Coffee Machine

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Dean Cartwright

26th Sep 2021

5 minutes for reading

If your espresso machine has been serving you well for five years or more, chances are there will be some significant limescale build up inside – especially in hard water areas

The team at Cartwright Coffee offer a thorough descaling service. This article takes you through our descaling process and also explains how limescale can affect your machine and your business.

The importance of descaling your espresso machine

Limescale can build up wherever water is flowing through your coffee machine. You will often find it caking up the heating elements and this will eventually cause overheating and damage. Particles of scale can also break off and clog up sensitive machine components. Have you ever had to replace a solenoid valve in an old machine because of a problem with water flow? There is a chance that this could have been simply due to flakes of limescale inside the valve mechanism.

By descaling before the build up gets too severe, you will be giving your coffee machine a new lease of life. How long? I would say that you’re looking at an extra two to five years of life. Once the machine has been descaled, it will also run more efficiently, converting more energy into useful heat and allowing water to flow smoothly through the system.

The cost of descaling a coffee machine can range from a few hundred to over a thousand pounds. This is a good investment when you weigh it up against having to buy a new machine in a couple of years time.

How long does it take to descale a commercial machine?

The length of time it takes to descale an espresso machine will depend upon a few factors. How much scaling is present? How many boilers are there? How easy is it to get at and remove the boilers? Do we need to replace the element?

As an example, a few days after writing a blog on the best commercial coffee machines, we were fortunate enough to have a La Marzocco Strada coffee machine come into our warehouse. The particular model contained an individual boiler for each of the group heads. Everything considered, this machine would probably require three days’ work for a full descale – possibly an entire week.

A simpler machine might only take one or two days so it is difficult to give any accurate information on timescales or prices in an article like this. If your machine is showing any of the symptoms mentioned above or if the water coming off your boiler is cloudy, I recommend contacting us for more machine-specific information.

5 Steps to Descaling a Coffee Machine

First, I should make it clear that descaling is something that has to be done at our warehouse. We can come to your premises and pick up the machine or you can bring it to us. Again, we can discuss the best course of action on an individual basis.

Step 1: Initial checks

Before we start taking your machine apart, we like to make sure that is working as expected. This will highlight any repairs that you may need or give you peace of mind, depending on the outcome of the tests.

Our team will check the following:

  • Are the boilers coming up to the correct temperature to create enough pressure?
  • Are the group heads working?
  • Is hot water coming out of the valve?
  • Are your steam wands working?
  • Are there any blockages?
  • Is the boiler filling?
  • Are the displays working?

Our preliminary checks also protect us because if your machine fails any of the above, we will know there was a pre-existing issue.

Step 2: Find and remove boiler/s

Once we know the coffee machine is in good working order, we can start to break it down to access and remove the boilers. There is a lot of variety in coffee machine design and this will impact on how long this part of the process takes. In some models (such as the La Marzocco Strada I mentioned earlier), this step alone could take our team a day’s work.

Step 3: Descale boilers

Descaling the boiler consists of completely submerging it in a tank of acidic fluid. If the scaling is particularly bad, we may need to repeat this part of the process.

Step 4: Replace element (if necessary)

As explained above, limescale build up on the heating element can damage it and it may need replacing completely. If this is the case with your machine, we will replace the element for you. We always replace the element gaskets in any case.

Step 5: Refit boiler/s

The final step is to refit the boiler, put your machine back together and check everything is working as expected.

If you are concerned about limescale build up inside your coffee machine, it is better to act early rather than wait for components to break down. Visit our Commercial Coffee Machine Servicing page and drop us a message.