How to descale a coffee machine 

A good cup of coffee starts with a clean coffee machine.

There’s nothing quite like a good cup of coffee in the morning, but if your home brew hasn’t been tasting quite as good recently, your coffee machine may need a clean. 

Over time, hard water can build up on the internal components of your coffee machine, leading to decreased performance and a less than tasty cup of coffee.  

Descaling your coffee machine regularly will help to remove this build-up and keep it running smoothly. 

Descaling your coffee machine regularly will help improve taste and the performance of your machineCredit: Shutterstock / Tolikoff Photography
Descaling your coffee machine regularly will help improve taste and the performance of your machine

For Philip Sowels, Saga Exceptional’s Product Tester and in-house coffee guru, prevention is better than cure.  

“The secret is to use filtered or bottled water in the first place,” he says. “Scale is the death of most coffee machines.” 

Don’t worry, though, if you’ve neglected your coffee machine. Descaling is straightforward, meaning your normal tasty coffee will soon be back on the menu. 

The type of coffee machine you own – be it a filter coffee maker or espresso machine – will slightly affect how you descale it, but the same basic principles apply to all machines.  

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Summary

Project overview

Descaling your coffee machine should take no longer than half an hour to do, although most of this includes waiting time. To do the job, you’ll just need descaling solution, water and a bowl/jug.

30 mins
Low
£5 – £15

1. Find your descaler

Step away from the vinegar

While a quick online search shows that vinegar is an effective natural descaler, when it comes to cleaning coffee machines it’s best to avoid using this acidic liquid.

It’s certainly effective at getting rid of limescale, but it’s also corrosive, attacking parts of your machine that could lead to leaks. It also leaves an unpleasant taste and smell. 

Sowels concurs. “Don’t use vinegar,” he says. “Look instead for lactic acid-based descalers, as opposed to citric or vinegar ones.” 

Sowels recommends Puly Cleaner descaling powder, which he buys in boxes from Amazon. Puly produces a variety of cleaning products for coffee machines that are used by professional baristas, so you know you’re getting the good stuff. 

Featured product

Puly Descaler

RRP: £10.90

Puly Descaler

“Puly is suitable for brass, copper and stainless-steel boilers/parts, although it’s not suitable for aluminium thermoblocks,” he says. 

Most coffee machine brands also have their own descaling product for use in their machines – Nespresso and Miele, for example, both produce their own solutions – so if you want to err on the side of caution, go for these and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use. 

Signs your coffee machine needs descaling 

Each coffee machine varies when it comes to descaling, but these are general indicators that you need to give it a once over. 

  • Depending on your machine, a warning light or clean indicator light comes on 
  • Taking longer than usual to brew a cup of coffee 
  • A gurgling, loud popping or banging sound from the boiler or any other unusual noises while brewing 
  • Signs of limescale deposits 
  • The coffee doesn’t taste the same 

How often you descale your machine really depends on if you live in a hard or soft water area. Every three to four months is ideal if you use filtered water or live in a soft water area. For harder water areas, you may need to descale monthly to keep your machine running satisfactorily.

Sowels says a good way to see if it needs a descale is to check the scale build-up in your kettle – if you can see limescale swimming about, it’s time for a clean. 

2. Prepare your machine

Remove anything that shouldn’t be there

Before attempting to descale your machine, remove anything that might get in the way, such as water filters, coffee filters, any grounds or any used pods.  

Make sure any loose bits such as coffee pods are removed from the machine before you attempt to descaleCredit: Saga Exceptional
Make sure any loose bits such as coffee pods are removed from the machine before you attempt to descale

3. Add the descaler to your machine

Mix it up

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, prepare your descaling solution. If you’re using a powdered solution, mix it in until it dissolves completely. Pour this solution into the machine’s water tank and switch the machine on.  

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A jug is sat next to a coffee machine, which is full of descaling liquidCredit: Saga Exceptional
Mix up the descaler with water according to the instructions

4. Run your machine as usual

Make sure you have a bowl to catch the liquid

The next step is to run your machine as you normally would if making a cup of coffee. If your coffee is usually dispensed straight into a cup, remember to place something there to catch the discharged liquid.

It’s also best to keep your distance when the descaling solution is running through the machine as it can splash up when it comes out of the machine into the bowl. 

A bowl sits underneath a coffee machine catching descaling liquidCredit: Saga Exceptional
Add a bowl or jug to catch the discarded descaling solution

Some machines will have a special descaling mode, so double check your manual before you start. For example, for the Nespresso Citiz (pictured above), you’ll need to press both the ‘espresso’ and ‘lungo’ buttons at the same time to start the descale mode.

For espresso machines, you’ll want to run a cup of water out of your steam wand. Once that’s done, close the steam wand and then turn the machine off and let it sit there for around 20 minutes to allow the solution to work. If your steam wand needs extra descaling, mix up some solution and allow the wand to sit in it for 20 minutes. 

5. Run the machine again – and again

It’s time to rinse

Once the descaler has worked its magic, give the water tank a good wash. Then refill it and run your machine through again, making sure you catch any water if needed.  

Repeat the process again, replenishing the water each time. This will make sure it removes any traces of the descaling product.  

Remember to use fresh water when brewing your first cup of coffee post-descaling. 

When descaling your coffee machine, it’s a good idea to wear gloves in case you have a reaction to the descaling solutions.

6. Wipe your machine over

Show the rest of the machine some love

Once you’ve descaled your machine, it’s ready to go back into action. While descaling, it’s also a great time to give it a general clean. Run a damp microfibre cloth over the outside to remove any dirt or grease. 

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Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her

Updated:

Jayne is the Senior Editor for Home Tech. She cut her online journalism teeth 23 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars.

A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

Her passion for technology began at age 11 when she received a BBC Micro computer one Christmas and became obsessed with beating Chuckie Egg (if you know, you know) and writing simple computer programmes. As her family’s IT department, when she isn’t writing or geeking out about some new tech, she can be found on the floor of her son’s bedroom putting together his latest gaming set-up or helping her dad understand how cloud computing works. Jayne is determined to make technology accessible for everyone because she believes technology should enhance life, not hinder it.

Jayne lives in Kent with a shepsky, her husband and her son, who is attempting to teach her the ways of TikTok, Aston Villa and anime. A keen neurodivergent ally after her son was diagnosed as autistic five years ago, when Jayne does have some rare downtime she enjoys yoga, reading, going to musicals and attempting to emulate Beyonce (poorly) in street dance classes.

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