Do you remember when you first bought your coffee machine? It was shiny and clean and it brewed a perfect tasting cup of coffee – much better than it does now. Now when you use it, it’s covered in scuffs and stains. Even after wiping it down there’s coffee gunk in all the corners, and the metal has gone from shiny to dull.
Sound familiar? If this is what the outside looks like after a clean, image how the inside looks when you’ve never ever cleaned it!
Café’s clean out their coffee machine thoroughly after every shift. So surely it isn’t too much to ask to clean you home coffee machine at least once every few months? However, a recent survey found that over 70% of coffee machine owners NEVER clean the inside of their machines.
That’s where a descaling solution comes in. By running the right cleaning chemicals through the pipework of your machine it gets rid of the buildup minerals such as magnesium and calcium. These minerals accumulate in the interiors of the coffee maker, blocking the pipes, ruining the element, and tainting the coffee. It’s also cleans out all the old coffee residue that’s built up over thousands of coffees.
What is a descaling solution, and what does it do?
Descaling solution removes the calcified buildup inside the pipework of the machine to ensure the machine doesn’t operate with technical issues. Cleaning with descaling solutions helps the machine to brew a fresh-tasting coffee for a more extended period. Most coffee makers should be cleaned every month using a descaling solution.
Typically, you would run your machine once using the descaling solution and then flush it twice with fresh water to rinse the descaler out. The whole process takes about 15 minutes and only needs to be done roughly every 3 months.
What happens if I don’t descale my machine?
The main risk of not descaling your coffee machine is for the narrow pipework to block and water not be able to flow through the machine. This can cause the pump to burn out if it’s not able to push water easily. The heating element can also burn out since the calcification acts like an insulator between the elements and the water which takes the heat away.
Scale also has a negative impact on taste. A machine full of scale will cause the water to flow slower, and the temperature to be wrong – yielding a coffee either under or over extracted.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to descale your coffee machine.
What to look for in a good descaling solution?
Most commercial descaling solutions are made from acid, combined which a PH buffer that helps protect the pipework in your machine. Typically, these are, but not limit to;
- Lactic acid
- Citric dcid
- Acetic acid
- Glycolic acid,
- Formic acid,
- Phosphoric acid
- Sulfamic acid
- Hydrochloric acid
Now some of these acids, whilst great at dissolving gunk off your coffee machine, aren’t really safe to handle or ingest. We recommend looking for a descaler that contains any of the following ingredients. In the required concentrations, these are safe to touch, and wont taint the taste of your coffee.
- Lactic acid
- Citric acid
- Acetic acid
The reaction that occurs is one of solvation, where the salt (in this case calcium) is dissolved in the acid. Here, the free hydrogen ions from the acid will bond to the oxygen in the metal carbonate molecule – creating carbon dioxide, water, and dissolving the metal into solution.
CaCO3(s) + 2H+(aq) → Ca2+(aq) + CO2(g) + H2O(l)
Scale is mostly Calcium (Ca) but will also likely contain Magnesium, Copper, Sodium, and Iron based on what’s prevalent in your town’s water supply.
What can you use instead of descaling solution? Can I make my own?
Absolutely, the key to correctly descaling is to use a solution that is acidic enough to dissolve the calcified deposits on the kettle, but soft enough not to damage any of the pipework or seals in the machine.
A mild acidic solution will do magic since calcium carbonate can easily dissolve in mild acids. Vinegar and citric acid are the best descaling solution substitutes that can effectively combat the limescale. What you do is to ensure the acids sit on the machine surface long enough to dissolve the minerals, and the magic will work.
- Using Vinegar – We recommend using 1 part white vingegar to 1 part distilled water.
Don’t use any flavoured vinegar or malt vinegar as this is full of other impurities that could gunk up your machine even more.
- Using Citric Acid – Mix 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of citric acid in a quart (1 liter) of warm water. Stir to dissolve the powder in the water. Add the solution to the water tank and start descaling according to the instructions, provided by your machine’s manufacturer.
- Using Lemon Juice – Don’t use lemon juice as this is full of other impurities and pulp that can block the pipework and are harder to get rid of than the scale itself!
Make sure to rinse the machine through well afterwards as these recipes (especially the vinegar) leave a strong smell and taste behind which might ruin the next cup of coffee.
What about buying ‘eco-friendly’ descaling products?
If you look for a descaler on Amazon for instance, you’ll be overwhelmed with different products to choose from. Some sachets, some in tablet form, and other marketed as ‘eco friendly’ alternatives.
So what are these eco alternatives? We’ll, unfortunately it’s mostly just sneaky marketing tactics. Most descaling products use food acids, and are therefore safe for the environment.
That being said, just because its eco doesn’t mean you’ll pay more for it. Our top pick from amazon that we recommend all our customers is the Delonghi eco caulk. This is made from 100% lactic acid, so it’s fully food safe ad ecofriendly, but it’s also strong enough to remove the toughest scale. It comes in a 16ounce bottle which is enough for 5 uses, and at ~15$ it’s also great value for money
The best descaling solution for Nespresso Machines
Nespresso sell small sachets of descaler alongside their machines at most appliance stores and online. Each sachet will have just enough solution for one descaling run.
They are sold in packs of two, and each pack will set you back $9 USD or $20 NZD – a bit extortionate for us New Zealand Nespresso drinkers!
We actually would strongly recommend the Nespresso product. Although on the expensive side, it is readily accessible, and available at the Nespresso online store, Nespresso Boutique, and all Nespresso appliance retailers we check with.
- Dose size – Each pack comes with two sachets, at one dose each.
- Price – At $5 per sachet this is rather expensive. You can buy identical products under a different brand name on amazon which yield a much cheaper price per dose.
- Accessibility – This product is easily accessible online and in store.
Note: Unfortunately, the plastic sachets are not biodegradable, and since each sachet is only one dose, this is another single use plastic packed product.
Once you’ve picked up your descaler, you can check out our guides on how to descale and clean your model of Nespresso machine below:
The best descaling solution for Caffitaly coffee machines
Caffitaly coffee have their own product – the “Caffitaly 250 ml descaler”. This solution comes premixed and ready to use.
We’re not a fan of this product for a couple of reasons.
- Dose size – We always recommend filling the entire water tank with solution to get the best clean. With this 250ml bottle you would need to buy 3 or 4 bottles to get the job done.
- Price – At roughly $10 per bottle, and given that one bottle is only one dose, this is one of the more expensive products available.
- Accessibility – This product is hard to come by, and in most cases will need to be bought direct form the Caffitaly website.
Most Caffitaly coffee machines feature the advanced automatic program to know when descaling is needed.
Once you’ve got your descaler, follow these steps to correctly descale your machine
You can read our full guide here on how to descale you Caffitaly coffee machine
The best descaling solution for Dolce gusto coffee machines.
Our pick for the best all-purpose descaling product
So what do we make from all this? All descaling solutions do the same thing. Though ingredients and packaging vary slightly lot from brand to brand, so does the price tag. Name brand coffee systems like Nespresso and Caffitaly use to their advantage to sell their own product at a premium price point.
We recommend using a generic product that is sold in bulk. Not only is this better value, but it’s better for the environment too as there is less plastic packing going to waste!
Our top pick from amazon that we recommend all our customers is the DeLonghi eco caulk. This is made from 100% lactic acid, so it’s fully food safe ad ecofriendly, but it’s also strong enough to remove the toughest scale. It comes in a 16ounce bottle which is enough for 5 uses, and at ~15$ it’s also great value for money
Frequently Asked Questions:
We get a lot of questions about the descaling process. Here’s some of the answers to these frequently asked questions.
How much descaling solution should I use in my machine?
Each descaling product comes at a different concentration, so you’ll need to read the instructions on the label to see how much to use, and how much water to add. In terms of the total amount of solution to mix up, we recommend making enough to completely fill the water tank on your machine.
How often do I need to descale my machine?
Nespresso recommends that you descale your machine every three months or 300 coffees – whichever comes first.
That means if you use your machine often you may need to descale more frequently. Some examples descaling frequencies are shown in the table below.
|Number of coffees per day||Recommended descaling frequency|
|1-2||Every 3 months|
|3-4||Every 3 months|
|5-8||Every 2 months|
Some machines, such as the dolce gusto machines and some Caffitaly machine, have a light that comes on when it’s time to descale.
Read the manual and see if your coffee machine has this feature.
Can you use vinegar instead of descaling solution?
Scientifically speaking, cleaning your Nespresso machine vinegar is almost exactly the same as with commercial descaler solution.
Unfortunately, we’ve found vinegar tends to peel off the scale build up in flakes which could clog your machine causing irreparable damage. We’ve heard of people having to throw out their Nespresso machine because of this and therefore recommend sticking with a product containing pure citric, lactic or acetic acid.
What is a descaling solution made of?
Descaling solution is generally an acidic chemical that is capable of dissolving mineral salts such as oxides and carbonates. Notable descaling agents include acetic acid, citric acid and lactic acid. These are all food safe chemicals, however citric and acetic acid do impart a more noticeable taste to the machine, thus lactic is typically preferred.
Can you make descaling solution?
You can make your own descaling solution using vinegar or citric acid, though we’d recommend using a commercial descaling product in a concentration that is proven not to damage your machine.
Can I use any descaler in my coffee machine?
Yes, you can use any brands descaler product in your coffee machine. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging to make sure you get the concentration.
What happens if you don’t descale your coffee machine?
Scale builds up inside the pipes restricting the flow of water. If this happens inside the thermoblock (Nespresso’s heating element) water won’t be able to reach its optimal brewing temperature. When this happens it’s impossible to extract the full flavor from the coffee pods and the flavour will become weak. Severe scale buildup can clog water flow completely, causing a machine to stop working.
Is descaling solution toxic?
Our Nespresso descaling solution is completely non-tox and ecofriendly. It’s made from lactic acid which is food safe in moderate doses. Other descaling solutions may use caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide which is highly toxic, so please check the label if unsure.
Can you descale with baking soda?
We don’t recommend using baking soda to descale your Nespresso machine.
Is descaler toxic?
This is a common question after just pouring corrosive chemicals though a machine you drink from. Is it poisonous if I drink the descaling solution by mistake?
The good news is that once diluted, these chemicals are perfectly harmless. Of course, make sure to rinse the machine thoroughly after descaling (we recommended rinsing twice through with fresh water each time).