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Water: Descaling Your Espresso Machine

Learn how to properly and safely descale your espresso machine.

Espresso machines are simple and yet incredibly complex (see our blog post on how espresso machines work). Because of that people make all kinds of claims about the best way to X and the most efficient way to Y. While, generally speaking, the prevailing content you'll find is good, we recommend you be wary on one topic - espresso machine descaling. Some simpler items like drip coffee makers or automatic "espresso makers" can be descaled by adding water and a chemical solution to the tank then blasting it through the machine. This is not recommended for the espresso machines Clive carries. Here's why:

Flow Restrictors:

Espresso machines build 9 bar pressure and provide the perfect amount of water flow to create delicious espresso. To make that a reality the machines need to have flow restrictors, tiny holes(sub 1 millimeter), to slow down the flow of the water blasting through the system so that the espresso grounds don't hit a wall of water during the infusion process. When descaling espresso machines it is very possible to send chunks of scale build-up into these flow restrictors that will clog up the flow path of water. 

Delicate Components:

Espresso machines utilize a range of mechanical, electrical, and electromechanical components whose constituent parts often don't hold up well to the chemicals in most descaling solutions. There are also many components that utilize pliable materials like rubber, silicone, teflon, etc. to form water tight seals inside the espresso machine. The high acidity of descaling solution can cause these materials to degrade, swell, or harden, causing both obstruction and leaks.  

Incorrect Doses of Descaler:

Descaling solutions are acid on the PH scale and are meant to pull the scale build from the walls of the espresso machine. What we tend to see is a treatment that is much too harsh for the machine. In the descaling process customers end up introducing too much acidic content to the machine and ruin things like vibratory pumps, probes in boilers and check valves - the opposite of the intended outcome of descaling.

What Clive Recommends:

We recommend adopting the proverb "If it ain't broke we don't need to fix it" in regards to descaling. Instead of preventative descaling, verify that your water quality is at a constant ~50ppm hardness and your water composition doesn't include high concentrations of scaling minerals. This way you mitigate the amount scale that is building your machine. If a specific component does need to be descaled to resolve a particular issue, refer to our knowledge base or reach out to our tech team for guidance on best practices for disassembling and cleaning. Only soak 100% metallic parts in descaling solution, in a container separate from the whole system.

As always, if you have any questions about the best way to take care of your machine whether regarding descaling or general use you can always reach out to us at