As much fun and worthwhile manual coffee brewing methods can be it’s hard to resist the convenience of an automatic coffee machine. It’s especially alluring if you’re one of those folks who needs coffee to make your coffee. If you’re one of those types, then you know exactly what I mean. Automatic machines are great, often coming with timers so that your coffee is ready and waiting for you the moment you wake up. It’s a wonderful arrangement, until your coffee starts tasting off, or until you’re faced with the horror of your machine not brewing at all!
That’s where descaling comes in. I’ll admit, I haven’t been very good about this for many years. I think because coffee machines are automatic we take them for granted in a way. We expect them to just work and don’t expect to have to put any extra effort in. That effort does take away a bit of that coveted convenience. I’ve recently found out how important descaling is. There’s nothing like a broken coffee machine and having to face the error of your ways!
About a year ago I bought a new coffee machine. I loved it, all sorts of cool features and brew methods. I won’t name names, but let’s just say it’s one that has a clean light that NEVER goes off. The machine was great, although I do believe this particular one is very sensitive as far as coffee machines go. Well the clean light was a constant, so I took care to clean the machine at regular intervals. I did slack at times, that’s just my nature, but comparatively I cleaned this machine about 10x more often than I’d ever bothered to clean a machine before. Inevitably my machine quit on me, I felt betrayed. After all the extra cleanings, care and attention this wasn’t supposed to happen!
I spent days researching and running cycle after cycle of vinegar through the machine. No matter what I did nothing seemed to do the trick. After going as far as to take the machine apart and mess with the electronic components I finally had to admit defeat. I threw in the towel, but I hate mysteries. I still wanted to know what happened and why my machine had such an early demise. Through my research I found my two main culprits, hard water and vinegar.
Vinegar has been my go to coffee machine cleaner for years. It’s the first and most frequent suggestion that comes up on any google search about cleaning coffee makers. You almost get the impression that commercial descaling solution is only for those fancy high-end espresso machines. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m sure vinegar could be sufficient if you don’t have hard water and have a pretty low maintenance machine but to ensure the best taste I would recommend descaling solution with what I know now.
The reason coffee machines need regular cleanings is due to mineral deposits in our water that build up to form limescale. The limescale that forms is a whiteish chalky deposit that hardens onto the internal parts of your machine, restricting water flow. Vinegar does a decent job of removing it, but in my opinion is doesn’t do enough. I discovered when cleaning my machine over and over again that huge chunks of deposits started getting pushed out. It was actually kinda gross. I’ve learned that the reason my machine likely broke was because the vinegar wasn’t quite strong enough to remove the deposits, so they built up more and more. When I ran multiple clean cycles I was able to finally loosen some of the limescale, but in such large chunks that they only served to clog up the machine further, leading to it’s demise. (The below picture isn’t as bad as what I pulled out of the machine earlier, but didn’t think to snap a photo).
I used to have the impression that commercial descaling solution would be expensive. Luckily that impression was incorrect. A quick amazon search will find enough solution to cover 4 cleaning cycles for less than 15 bucks (there may be cheaper ones also). That’s a 3-6 month supply, depending on how often you clean your machine or how hard your water is. I’ve also found the commercial descalers don’t leave a weird taste, as vinegar can. Still make sure to rinse it throughly of course.
Our coffee machines are modern marvels that create the fuel that powers us through our day. It’s easy to forget that they need some TLC every now and again. Whether you have a high end fancy machine or a more economical option cleaning remains important to achieve optimal performance, flavor and longevity. Here’s to a long and flavorful life for your coffee makers, Skål!