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How do I descale my espresso machine?

Postby piedviper on Sat Jun 17, 2006 3:02 pm

I have a Rancilio Silvia that I clean/backflush regularly. I want to descale the machine, but don't know how to do it. Any help from this forum would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
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Postby cannonfodder on Sat Jun 17, 2006 3:12 pm

Take a look at Teme's Water, Scaling and Descaling with HX machines thread. Whether the machine is a single boiler or HX, the process is essentially the same. Just take you time and remember to thoroughly flush the system after descaling. My procedure, flush until I think it is good to go, then flush once more.
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Postby HB on Sat Jun 17, 2006 3:12 pm

There's also Section 4, Water Treatment and Preventive Descaling for Espresso Machines in Jim's Insanely Long Water FAQ. Below is the relevant excerpt:

Preventive Descaling

Descaling Solution - Generally, a flush through descaler uses about .5 to .75 fluid ounces (1 to 1.5 tablespoons, or 8 to 12 grams) of citric or tartaric (grape) acid powder dissolved in 1 liter of water. This is a 2.25% to 3.5% solution, equivalent to 33% to 50% dilute lemon juice. Cleancaf and other coffee manufacturers' descalers use this formula. Theoretically, these amounts will dissolve about 12 to 18 grams of scale per liter, but that would require leaving the solution in for several days; in practice, it is used for an hour or two to dissolve up to 5 grams of scale.

The formula is mild enough to be harmless to espresso machine components, but it will come out of brass or copper machines with a slight greenish tinge. This comes from milligram levels of dissolved copper and is no cause for alarm.

Five pound bags of citric or tartaric acid cost about $10 at home brewers' or soapmakers' supply stores. This is roughly a 20 year supply.

Descaling Intervals - Know the hardness of the water you're using, and how much you use the machine. Descale when accumulations are between 2.5 and 5 grams. More often is a waste of time, less often may result in scale build up. Check out section 1.7 for instructions on determining your set up's scaling rate.

Single Boiler Machines
For single boiler machines, preventive descaling is no problem, just follow the instructions given by the manufacturer. In general, this involves filling the boiler, letting the solution work for about ten minutes, and replacing it by running it out of the steam wand under pump pressure. This procedure is repeated three to five times, until about a liter of descaler is used up. Then the machine is flushed with water until any taste is gone.


Or if you prefer, my own...

Descaling espresso machines in a nutshell:

Preventative descaling of a single boiler (Rancilio Silvia et al) is trivial - fill the boiler with descaler (or CleanCaf), let it sit a spell, flush the boiler a few times with fresh water. Descaling an HX - not the steam boiler - is even easier. Fill the HX with descaler (citric acid), let it sit a spell, flush a few times with fresh water. Since the HX has less volume then the boiler, it fills and flushes in a jiffy.

Preventative descaling of the steam boiler is a pain because not all machines include a drain tap (e.g., like the Cimbali Junior), forcing you to use the water tap as the drain. The manufacturer does this to save costs. BTW, it's not absolutely necessary to force overfilling by disconnecting the auto-refill. You could also tilt the machine slightly and the autofill should kick in long enough to cover the scale line.

Choosing not to do preventative descaling is unwise. Ask any vendor what is the most common cause of espresso machine failure, commercial or otherwise - they'll all say "scale". If you want to keep your HX espresso machine running well and not spend a lot of time on maintenance, at least run descaler through the HX. It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes once a month.
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Postby nicfortin on Tue Dec 05, 2006 8:13 pm

Ok copy all that thanks :)
BUT do you leave the machine ON (heating) for a single boiler?

First time I do it, before I use to bring my Saeco to the dealer for an "annual clean-up" ;-)

Thanks

There is so much infos on this site, I'm overwhelm! And it is good! :)

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Postby HB on Tue Dec 05, 2006 10:17 pm

Yes, the boiler needs to be hot for the descaler to work well. Whole Latte Love even has a demonstration how to descale video for the Rancilio Silvia. The instructions in the video apply to your Saeco. The only comment I would add is that you should not run vibe pumps continuously for more than 1 minute (most need 1 minute rest for every 1 minute of continuous operation to avoid overheating).
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Postby nicfortin on Wed Dec 06, 2006 1:11 am

Thanks!
It's done! Was easy and cheap too!

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Postby ChrisC on Tue Nov 13, 2007 7:22 pm

My second instance of thread necromancy in one day... Ah well, at least I'm using the search feature, right?

I will finally be getting around to descaling my machine for the first time after 11 months of ownership (I know, I feel terrible already), using Dezcal that I finally got around to ordering. :-) It's a Silvia, and I make 10 or less doubles a week. I use only water from my Brita filter, no water softener (until now) and water in Montreal is I believe about 7 grains (water report here).

Question is, considering that our water is kind of hard, and it's been a while, should I leave the descaler in the boiler for longer periods of time, or run two packages of descaler through, or anything like that?

And seeing as I don't think my Silvia has a chromed GH interior (I'm thinking of Jim's warning in the thread about descaling HXs), can anyone think of any reason I shouldn't do my regular backflushing and removal and cleaning of dispersion screen, etc., with JoeGlo right afterwards? Is it unnecessary, because the descaler cleans this too?

Come to think of it, is it better to remove the dispersion screen and that big chunk of brass under it during this process, in case any chunks of scale come out? (I know I'd have to be aware of the crotch-directed water jets if I did, though.)

Thanks to everyone in advance for their help!

Chris
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Postby jesawdy on Tue Nov 13, 2007 10:54 pm

ChrisC wrote:Question is, considering that our water is kind of hard, and it's been a while, should I leave the descaler in the boiler for longer periods of time, or run two packages of descaler through, or anything like that?

And seeing as I don't think my Silvia has a chromed GH interior (I'm thinking of Jim's warning in the thread about descaling HXs), can anyone think of any reason I shouldn't do my regular backflushing and removal and cleaning of dispersion screen, etc., with JoeGlo right afterwards? Is it unnecessary, because the descaler cleans this too?

Come to think of it, is it better to remove the dispersion screen and that big chunk of brass under it during this process, in case any chunks of scale come out? (I know I'd have to be aware of the crotch-directed water jets if I did, though.)

I think you'd be fine with a one packet treatment.... let it get hot and sit. Fill, sit, fill, sit, rinse, rinse. Take some breaks allowing the vibe pump to rest when you fill/flush it out. If you're concerned, just move up the next descale treatment a bit sooner.

Personally, I'd backflush first to remove any coffee oils/debris and expose any scale in the grouphead to allow the descaler to work better. I do remove and soak the screen and jet breaker in cleaner and then descaler, but not a necessary step for descaling. The Dezcal appears to have no detergent (MSDS), unlike CleanCaf (MSDS). That's probably a good thing, I'm not sure I want detergent in my boiler.
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Postby ChrisC on Wed Nov 14, 2007 2:25 pm

Thanks Jeff! Do you replace the screen and jet breaker before running the descaler through the machine, or do you leave them soaking while you do that? I'm not sure what to expect in terms of the scale coming out -- is it completely dissolved in the descaler? Is it a fine powder, or even small chunks, which could get caught in the inside of the screen if it's left on?

Thanks again,
Chris
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Postby jesawdy on Wed Nov 14, 2007 11:09 pm

ChrisC wrote:Thanks Jeff! Do you replace the screen and jet breaker before running the descaler through the machine, or do you leave them soaking while you do that? I'm not sure what to expect in terms of the scale coming out -- is it completely dissolved in the descaler? Is it a fine powder, or even small chunks, which could get caught in the inside of the screen if it's left on?

Chris- I've never done it with the screen/jet breaker out, but I never had any significant scale in Silvia. That said, since you are aware of the inherent risk of getting squirted by scalding water, you could leave them out, and flush though the PF and a basket and see if you catch any "chunks". (On any machine that I have worked on that had significant scale, I had taken it apart and soaked the bits in a heated citric solution bath and repeated until it was all dissolved or picked/flaked off and reassembled.)
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