Descaling: Why Cleaning Your Coffee Machine Is Important

You just bought a coffee machine. It’s new and shiny, and makes you perfect coffee every day. You wipe clean each time you use it, but then you realise its interior needs some attention, too.

You wonder, when was the last time you descaled your coffee machine?

What is descaling?

Besides filtered water, the minerals in water deposits limescale inside a coffee machine. Photo from Rawpixel

Although water is essential for the perfect cup of coffee, it’s a menace to coffee machines.

Besides purified water, if other forms of water (e.g. filtered, tap, mineral, bottled) are used for your coffee machine, there is a high chance that your coffee machine interior needs cleaning.

This is due to the build-up of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which accumulate along the makeup of the machine’s heating element.

By definition, descaling is a metal cleaning process that removes the buildup of limescale; a hard, off-white, chalky deposit that can impair the operation of various components.

In the presence of heat, thick layers of oxide are formed on metal and hence, the reason for limescale being found in the boiler compartment of a coffee machine.

What happens if I don’t descale?

Descaling regularly prevents clogging and ensures a smooth and consistent flow. Photo from Blake Richard Verdoorn

Although calcium and limescale are non-toxic, leaving these residues unattended can affect the quality of your coffee. How?

Firstly, the layers of limescale can insulate water from the heat source. If water is unable to reach the optimal temperature for brewing, extracting the full flavour of your coffee beans will be futile. In addition, your coffee won’t be hot enough to enjoy.

Once the boiler heating capacity is compromised, the machine is forced to work harder, resulting in increased electricity consumption.

A malfunctioning machine will start to rattle and brewing time gets prolonged as the limescale buildup can cause disrupted water flow.

These issues in heating, clogging, and flavour abstraction lower the quality of your brew and can ultimately cause the breakdown of your coffee machine.

Don’t overlook the descaling process as it performs the removal of this mineral buildup.

How to descale

If it’s been a while since you last descaled your coffee machine (or if you just realised it’s something you have to do), here are some tips on how to begin.

Note: Always read your machine care manual beforehand.

Homemade descaler

Generally speaking, if your machine’s manual does not mention a specific descaler, it is safe to use a DIY solution.

An easy way to remove limescale at home is to use citric acid as it is a powerful aid in decomposing limescale. Simply fill up the reservoir with the ideal acid-water ratio of 2 tablespoons:4 cups. Then, “flush” the machine with water at least twice to remove residue.

Although some sources suggest using white vinegar, we strongly recommend against it.

Vinegar contains large amounts of acetic acid which is an aggressive chemical substance that can be corrosive. Moreover, the vinegar smell and taste will linger if not rinsed off properly.

Brand-specific descaler

The De’Longhi EcoDecalk uses 100% natural ingredients, making it safe to use and is gentle on your coffee machine components. Photo from De’Longhi EcoDecalk DLSC200

Most coffee machine manufacturers sell their branded descalers or would recommend a specific descaler suitable for your machine.

Manufacturers often advise against using third-party brands or homemade descalers especially during the initial warranty period on your machine. This is because using a recommended descaler reduces the chances of introducing harmful acids that can corrode your machine as well as forfeit your warranty. Always ensure that your descaler is non-toxic and residue-free.

Often, these descalers come in liquid or tablet form. For a reliable starter, the De’Longhi EcoDeCalk Natural Descaler can be widely purchased from participating retailers, both in-stores and online.

Whether yours is the Dedica, the Icona or the Prima Donna, the natural descaler will work with your coffee machine.

For every machine, the descaling process varies. Always follow the instructions provided in the manual guide provided by the manufacturer.

Ideally, repeat this deep cleaning process every 3 to 4 months to prevent pesky buildup, so that your brew stays fresh and intense.