7 reasons why you should descale your coffee machine

Owning your own coffee machine comes with certain responsibilities. If you want to make sure you can hang onto it for as long as possible, descaling is one such responsibility.

Not only can descaling your coffee machine extend its life, but it can also save you time and money.

Personally, I hate unnecessary waste and the idea of not looking after my things with the mindset of “I can just buy another one”. There’s far too much unnecessary waste in the world and there’d be a whole lot less if everyone made the effort to take better care of their things.

Descaling definitely ticks that box, so I came up with 7 reasons why you should descale your coffee machine.

But first, what is descaling and why is it even important?

Disclosure: Some of these links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost, I earn a commission if you buy which helps to maintain this website.

What is descaling?

Descaling is the process of removing limescale, an often white, chalky deposit of mostly calcium carbonate.

Limescale can begin to build up around the metal parts of your coffee machine that have been in contact with hot water, such as the boiler. This is due to the minerals found inside water and limescale deposits can build up and put extra strain on your coffee machine.

What does descaling do?

Descaling removes limescale through use of an acidic descaling solution. Descaling a coffee machine is done by running the descaling solution through the machine.

When the descaling solution reacts with the limescale it produces carbon dioxide gas and a soluble salt, removing the scale, which helps restore your coffee machine to optimum performance.

Now onto the 7 reasons why you should descale your coffee machine.

7 reasons why you should descale your coffee machine

  1. Extend the life of your coffee machine

    Not descaling your machine can lead to a build-up of limescale. This build-up will put extra strain on your machine to do its job.

    It’s inevitable that this extra strain will result in parts of your machine wearing out over time, that may not have otherwise. How much time? Who can say exactly, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to find out.

  2. Improve the quality of your coffee

    The quality of your coffee is sure to be affected. Limescale can limit the water from being heated to the required temperature for extracting the most from your beans.

    You’ll be missing out on all those glorious flavours ending up in your cup…. What a waste…

    I don’t know about you, but taste for me is something that I’m not willing to compromise. I don’t even want to think about this any more.

  3. Reduce the time it takes to make your coffee

    If your machine needs a descale, it’s definitely going to take longer to make your morning cuppa. If you’re like most people, you probably value every second of your morning before you need to rush out the door to get to work.

    Having to wait longer than you could or should for your coffee is not something you want, as time is invaluable and something you can never recover.

    Sure, it may not seem like much, but when you add up all that extra time over the space of a week, month, or year, it’ll make you think again.

  4. Avoid using more electricity than necessary

    Be aware that your coffee machine could use more electricity if it’s not able to operate efficiently.

    Think of it like riding your bike when the weather is calm, compared to riding your bike when it’s windy. When it’s windy, you can still get to where you’re going, but you’ll use a lot more energy to get there.

    It’s the same with a coffee machine that has a heavy limescale build-up. It will still make your coffee, but it’ll use more power to do it.

    Did you like my analogy? I thought of it all by myself.

  5. Reduce the amount of noise made by your coffee machine

    With limescale build-up, you can expect your coffee machine to rattle a lot more than it would normally.

    This is again due to the extra energy that is required to make your coffee causing parts that wouldn’t regularly move and vibrate to do so.

    Coffee machines are often noisy enough. You don’t need extra noise.

  6. You’ll save money

    By regularly descaling your coffee machine, you’ll save money by not having to pay for repairs caused by limescale.

    If your machine breaks down as a result of limescale build-up, depending on your machine, you’ll likely need to fork out some serious cash, or even replace your whole machine if it can’t be repaired.

    Not much fun.

  7. You’ll be happier

    Let’s face it, when things go smoothly, there’s less noise around you, your morning coffee tastes great, you’ve got more money in your pocket and you’ve got more time up your sleeve, how could you not feel happier?

So now that you know why you should descale your coffee machine, let’s take a look at the how.

Should you descale your coffee machine with vinegar?

Contrary to what you may have heard or read, it is not a good idea to descale your coffee maker with vinegar.

It does a poor job of removing the limescale, can leave your coffee machine with a vinegar odour and your coffee with a vinegar taste. Ughhhh!

I’ll pass on that one. Even though vinegar is acidic (acetic acid), citric acid and even lactic acid based descalers do a much better job.

Can you make your own descaler?

Yes you could make your own descaler at home with citric acid. But before using any descaler solution in your coffee machine, you should always check with the manufacturer first or see what the coffee machine instructions say.

Certain brands require you to use their own descaler and it’s possible to void your warranty if you use something else.

If it was me, while I could make my own descaler, I value my coffee machine enough to prefer to spend the money on a descaler product. The reason for this is that you’re less likely to do any damage to your coffee machine.

If anything happens to go wrong (probably unlikely), you might have some recourse with the maker of the descaler. Whereas if you use a home-made descaler solution, you’re on your own.

Now I’m not saying that a home-made descaler will do damage to your coffee machine. Chances are it won’t. But I prefer to take the safer option.

How do you know if your coffee machine needs descaling?

There’s a few signs to look out for that may signal your coffee machine needs to be descaled.

  1. Your coffee machine has slowed down and takes much longer to make a cup of coffee,
  2. Your coffee machine is making more noise or rattling more than usual,
  3. The temperature of your coffee has dropped noticeably,
  4. The crema on your coffee is looking dark and thin or flat, and
  5. The taste of your coffee is not as good as you remember it being before.

What’s the best descaler to use for your coffee machine?

To be honest, I don’t think there is a best descaler to use. Most descalers, if they mention that they’re suitable for use in coffee machines, will be fine.

One product that might be a bit too heavy-duty and should be avoided for descaling coffee machines is CLR (Calcium, Lime Rust).

It mentions on the product website that it’s suitable for descaling coffee machines, but in the FAQ section it gets a bit more specific and states “*Do not use CLR in coffee makers that hold water permanently. *CLR is not recommended for Gevalia, Keurig or Cuisinart coffee makers. *Do not use CLR in espresso machines”.

Drip coffee machines are apparently suitable.

There’s an abundance of descalers available on Amazon. Some of them are even brand or machine specific. Read the product descriptions and find one that’s right for you.

Just make sure it either contains citric or lactic acid, not acetic acid (vinegar). Also, make sure it’s actually a descaler.

Some of the products listed mention cleaning coffee oils and residue from your coffee machine, but don’t mention that they remove limescale. Don’t buy these to use as a descaler. They’re more of a general cleaner for your coffee machine.

If you’ve spent a bit of money on your coffee machine, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re using a quality product. You wouldn’t take your Audi to get serviced by a backyard mechanic, right? (Another analogy of mine. I’m on fire!)

As I mentioned above, if you’re unsure, check with the machine manufacturer. They’ll definitely know which products are ok and which aren’t for your specific machine.

How often should you descale your coffee machine?

How often you should descale varies based on how much you use it and the amount of minerals found in your water, particularly calcium and magnesium. This is referred to as the “hardness” of the water.

The harder the water, the more often you will need to descale your machine.

How can you check the hardness of your water?

There’s a couple of ways you can check the hardness of your water. You could purchase a water hardness test kit from Amazon.

There’s various products available, but test strips are the easiest.

All you need to do is take one of the test strips, dip it into a sample of your water for one second, leave the strip for a minute to measure the hardness (it changes colour based on the mineral levels in the water), and then compare your results with the results on the instructions or packaging.

This is going to be the most accurate way to check the hardness of your water.

The other way is to check directly with your local water supplier. They should have this information available to the public.

I checked the South East Water website and was able to find exactly what I needed. According to the South East Water website, “Hard water has a total hardness of greater than 200mg/L. Soft water has a total hardness of less than 60mg/L”.

When I then looked up my local area, I found these results:

Data from South East Water showing water hardness as 16mg/L (CaCo3)

 

Data from South East Water showing 16mg/L of CaCo3 in the Caulfield area.

So for me, according to South East Water’s definition of hard and soft water, my water is very soft.

So it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have to descale my coffee machine all that often, as it only occasionally gets used during the week (mainly on the weekends). Two or three times a year would likely be ok.

If you happen to live in an area that has hard water, depending how hard the water is, you could be required to descale as often as once every three weeks. Keep in mind though, that it also depends on how much you use the coffee machine.

To get a better idea how often you should descale based on your water hardness, take a look at the table under the heading “How often should I descale” on the Philips website.

They also recommend their own product, Saeco descaler (see below).

Saeco descaler for coffee machines
Click this image to see it on Amazon

How to descale your coffee machine

  1. The first step is to make the descaling solution. The exact ratio of water to descaler will likely vary depending on the product, so always follow the instructions found on the product you’ve bought.
  2. Pour the descaling solution into the water tank of your coffee machine. If it already has water in it, empty that first.
  3. Place a bowl or similar under the group head to catch all the descaling solution when you turn the machine on.
  4. Turn the machine on and let the descaling solution run through, making sure to also run some through the steam wand.
  5. Once finished, you can pour the descaling solution down the sink.
  6. Fill up your coffee machine water tank with some normal water and run all the water through the machine, remembering to also run some through the steam wand.
  7. Do this once or twice or until you can no longer notice the smell of the descaler.
  8. Most importantly, make yourself a delicious, fresh coffee after all your hard work!

How to descale a delonghi coffee machine

Some coffee machines have an exact procedure for descaling, including warning lights or messages that appear on a display panel to alert you when it’s time to descale.

Here’s a video showing how to descale the Delonghi Magnifica S ECAM22110SB, the most popular Delonghi fully automatic espresso coffee machine available on Amazon.

Delonghi recommend using their own brand descaler. You can find it on Amazon here.

A pack of Delonghi brand descaler, used to descale coffee machines
Click this image to see it on Amazon

It’s worth mentioning that you may be able to find a video on YouTube for your specific coffee machine.

Obviously there’s far too many coffee machines in existence for me to show videos of them all, so have a look for yourself and see what you can find.

Are coffee grounds compostable?

Ever since my family and I moved house about two years ago, I’ve become quite fanatical about composting. We probably would have had a compost before this, but we didn’t have an outdoor area to keep it.

I make every effort to put as much food as possible into the compost instead of throwing it out in the rubbish, and that includes coffee grounds. So in my experience, yes, coffee grounds are compostable.

You see, my mum loves gardening and so I grew up with a compost bin. Emptying the inside compost bin into the outside one was part of my regular chores, if I wanted to get my pocket money.

As a young kid, I believed that because we did it, everyone did it! Not the case at all. It seems like an incredible waste to throw out food scraps into the rubbish, to just end up in land-fill.

This led me to begin researching if there’s things that perhaps you shouldn’t be putting into the compost bin, or if there’s at least a right way and a wrong way.

Are coffee grounds bad for your compost?

According to the Gardening Australia website, it’s ok to add coffee grounds to your compost. It’s very important that the coffee grounds mix with other organic matter though, as they’re too acidic to just add straight to your garden.

This article also mentions Stuart Rodda who had great  improvements to their garden after beginning to use coffee in their compost.

Stuart receives used coffee grounds from a scheme in Melbourne called Reground that collects used coffee grounds from cafes around Melbourne specifically for composting. What a brilliant idea!

Another view from curiosity.com is that adding coffee grounds to your compost is the last thing you want to do.

This article touches on various reasons why this might not be a good idea and backs it up with references to research that’s been done on coffee.

One of the main points is that there is still caffeine left in used coffee grounds, which can be bad for bacteria. Bacteria that help your compost to break down.

In my personal experience, I haven’t noticed any decrease in the breakdown of my compost or lack of insects and things in it. It’s been business as usual in my compost.

Perhaps it’s because most of my coffee drinking happens at work during the week and not at home, so I’m not adding a lot of coffee to my compost.

I use my espresso machine at home or my AeroPress with a paper filter.

Paper filters are also fine to add to the compost, however they’re considered brown, not green compost.

Are coffee grounds brown or green compost?

Coffee grounds are considered green. This is because of their carbon nitrogen ratio, which is 20 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.

It’s important to balance your compost with green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) matter.

Read this article from The Compost Gardener for more info.

Coffee grounds and garden pests

I noticed that there’s also a lot of talk about coffee grounds being a bit of a deterrent for some insects, particularly snails and slugs.

While I would never add unused coffee grounds to my garden like some websites suggest (I couldn’t bring myself to use it for something other than drinking!), Gardening Australia again mentions adding used coffee grounds to your compost as being ok.

Not only that, but they even show you how to make an insecticide from coffee. Watch the video on the above link for full instructions.

Do you add coffee grounds to your compost?

What have been your results?

Let me know in the comments below.

Stay caffeinated!