How to clean a coffee machine – for great-tasting brews every time

Discover how to clean a coffee machine whether it’s a barista, capsule or filter type

Swan SK22110BLN, Retro Pump Espresso Coffee Machine on a wooden countertop with breakfast items
(Image credit: Swan)

If you brew a cup of java at home, knowing how to clean a coffee machine is essential. For brews that taste consistently good and a machine that lasts, regular cleaning is a must.

Whichever is the best coffee machine for you – barista-style, pod, or filter – there’s a cleaning and maintenance regime you should follow so it keeps delivering your favourite drinks.

Sounds like hard work? It really isn’t, and our step-by-step guide will prove that it’s a simple procedure. As for how often to do the job, how to descale and what to do if you want to deep clean your capsule machine, filter coffee machine, or barista coffee machine, the answers are right here along with tips from the experts.

How to clean a coffee machine

The answer to how to clean a coffee machine correctly depends on its type. However, there are steps you need to follow that each have in common. 

You will need:

1. Wipe the machine

The first stage in how to clean a coffee machine is to use a clean damp cloth to wipe the outside of the machine. Wipe the coffee outlet, too, and the hot plate if yours is a filter coffee machine – but wait for it to cool down first.

2. Wash parts

Wash parts according to the type of machine you own. For a pod coffee machine, this can include the drip tray and capsule holder; for an espresso machine, the water tank, drip tray and grid; for a barista coffee machine, the bean container, water tank, drip tray, filter baskets and the portafilter; and, for a filter coffee machine, all the removable parts.

Note that some parts are dishwashable, while others may need to be washed by hand. Always check the instructions that came with your coffee machine.

3. Clean the steam wand

Want to know how to clean a coffee machine with a steam wand? The steam wand should be cleaned immediately after use. A shot of steam will remove any remaining milk and the wand’s exterior can be wiped with a clean damp cloth. The end may also be removable for rinsing and unblocking, depending on the particular model.

‘Milk can clog the nozzle and can lead to bacteria build-up if not cleaned,’ says Sertan Djelal, owner of The Proper Coffee Co. ‘Make it a habit to wipe the nozzle after every use and run steam through to clear and sanitise.’

Cleaning a coffee machine according to type

As we mentioned, how to clean a coffee machine is particular to the type. 

Pod coffee machines are the most straightforward to clean because of their design. Apart from following the steps above, check the manual that came with it, or find it online, and look for any manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning your capsule machine internally.

If you own an espresso machine, the head which dispenses water into the coffee should be cleaned as stated in the manual. The filter holder (portafilter) and the filter basket can become blocked by ground coffee, and a pin can be used to remedy this – one may be supplied with the machine.

Owner of a bean-to-cup machine? Many will prompt you to clean and descale, as necessary based on usage, as well as rinsing themselves automatically.

For a filter coffee machine check the instructions to find out if the machine has a cleaning cycle and what this needs – a vinegar solution followed by cycles with clean water may be recommended, for instance. Otherwise, follow the descaling process (see below) recommended in the manual to keep the inside of a filter coffee machine in good shape. 

How often should a coffee machine be cleaned?

The answer to the question of how often a coffee machine should be cleaned is frequently, but this isn’t an onerous procedure, according to Nick Small, small appliances expert at AO. ‘We recommend giving your machine a quick once over after every single use, wiping down the drip tray as well as the spout your coffee comes from,’ he says. 

‘A regular full wipe down is always nice, too, in case of any splashes from coffee or food you’ve cooked in the kitchen, especially if it is placed near the hob.’

Consider how much you use the machine, too. ‘Different types of coffee machines (pod, espresso, filter, bean-to-cup, etc) have different cleaning intervals and requirements, however, they are almost always based on volume,’ explains Sertan Djelal.

‘For espresso, bean-to-cup and filter coffee machines which use either coffee grounds or beans and low to mid-usage of up to 10 cups a day, clean the brew group at least once a week to clear coffee grounds that can clog the machine. Left coffee also allows bacteria to grow in the machine. Spent coffee and water chambers should also be emptied/cleaned regularly.

 ‘For mid to high usage of 10 plus cups a day, ideally clean the brew group and chambers daily to remove coffee remnants.’

How do you deep clean a coffee machine?

Always check your machine’s instructions, but these steps from Rosanna Nibbs, co-founder of Piqant will help you give your coffee machine a deep clean: 

  • If you have a filter coffee machine, pour excess coffee into the bin and rinse the pot under warm water to get rid of any old grains. 
  • Then descale the coffee machine using a descaling product or white vinegar, and clean according to the manufacturer’s instructions and run the water three times.
  • If you have an espresso machine with accessories, remove them and rinse. 
  • After that, do the process that you do in your daily routine and then repeat one more time with Cafiza. This is a mix of sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate to clean your machine. A lot of coffee shops use this product. 
  • Put 3g on your portafilter and flow for five times each time for 10 seconds. 
  • Take out the portafilter and run the water again 10 times each time. 
  • If your espresso machine has a steam wand or milk frother, use a microfibre towel to wipe off any dried milk. Run clean water a couple of times through the wand steamer to clean the inside of the pipe.

How to descale a coffee machine

Removing the limescale from a coffee maker – in other words descaling it – is important to stop it leaking or getting blocked. More sophisticated machines might warn you when this task is due, but whether the machine has an indicator or not, it does need descaling regularly. The more you use the machine, and the harder the water where you live, the more frequently it will need descaling.

If your machine were to stop working completely, or become noisy, or fail to make coffees as well as it did before, this is the first job to tackle, too.

What can I use to descale a coffee machine?

You can use a descaling product to remove the limescale from your coffee machine, and you might even be able to use vinegar.

Always check the manual – or search online if you haven’t hung on to it – because if you use a non-approved descaler you could invalidate the warranty on your machine. ‘I’d suggest using the descaling product recommended by the manufacturer,’ says Rosanna Nibbs. ‘It would have been tested in the machine and will likely have the best results.’

Otherwise, you can buy descalers online or in supermarkets. 

Bear in mind that some descalers are designed for all types of coffee machine, but others are specific to a particular type, for example pod coffee machines, so check the descaler description as well as your coffee machine manual. Some of our favourites are below.

  • With a five-star rating and plenty of rave reviews for its results, Home Master Kettle Descaler does the business. You can use it on metal or plastic designs. Just boil half a kettle full of water, unplug, drop the sachet in and leave for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Ivitro CalSolve Kettle Descaler is also five-star solution according to its users, as well as the team at Real Homes. You’ll get 40 doses in the pack, so you can keep on descaling at low cost. All you need to do? Dissolve the powder in hot water and the limescale will vamoose. Oh, and it’s not smelly either.
  • After an eco-friendly solution? Ecozone Kettle & Iron Descaler is made with 100% citric acid. It takes half an hour to do its work, so you won’t be waiting long for a fur-free appliance. Oh, and it’ll sort out the iron for you, too.

How much vinegar do you use to clean a coffee maker?

Want to use vinegar for cleaning? Check the instructions for your machine: some allow vinegar to be used, while others say it could damage the machine.

If vinegar is ruled in, you can run a cycle using a vinegar solution according to the guidelines. Be aware that you’ll need to repeat the process with water afterwards – more than once – to rinse the machine.

Note that you definitely shouldn’t use bleach to descale your coffee maker.

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.

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