Steam wand cleaning

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?

#1: Post by framey »

I believe there is a knack to using search functions on web forums, I haven't got that knack :(

I did look, but failed to find a comprehensive guide ie for dummies, that covered safe and effective steam wand cleaning and maintenance. My search began due to the occasional small chunk of crud blocking one, or both of the holes in the tip of my steam wand. The crud is firm and grey to brown in colour. I purge and wipe the wand religiously but I've read that milk suck can be hard to avoid. What I'm hoping to ascertain is the best procedure for cleaning a steam wand.

-Can you use backflush cleaner in a milk jug to submerge and soak the wand?
-If so, should the machine be turned off and cold?
-Should the cleaning solution be hot, warm, or cold?
-Are there likely complications with the ball joint assembly? ie is that area susceptible to holding afore mentioned crud?

I guess I'm living in fear of cleaning solution being sucked into the boiler...

Either a link to a post that covers the questions at hand or advice from my forum breatherin would be much appreciated.


#2: Post by bobcraige »

To avoid the build up in the first place, always wipe the wand immediately after use with a wet cloth. Next, open the valve and blow steam through it to purge the nozzle before it has a chance to harden. If you still manage to clog the holes, use a needle or a straightened paper clip to open them. Make sure whatever tool you use is not to big for the holes so you do not damage the tip. The Pallo espresso cleaning brush has a pin on the end for this purpose. though the needle or paper clip should work just as well.
Bob Craige


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#3: Post by HB »

framey wrote:I did look, but failed to find a comprehensive guide ie for dummies, that covered safe and effective steam wand cleaning and maintenance. My search began due to the occasional small chunk of crud blocking one, or both of the holes in the tip of my steam wand. The crud is firm and grey to brown in colour.
The article Espresso Machine Cleaning: Why, How, and When offers some advice:
cannonfodder wrote:Take the clean wet dishrag and wipe the exterior down. If you have a steam wand brush, clean the inside of the steaming wand (though if you need to use such a device, it indicates you are not purging and cleaning your wand well enough after each use). Unscrew the tip from the steam wand, dip the brush in an appropriate cleanser and run it up the steam tube.

Note: Most backflush detergents are quite toxic and not suited for this task. I recommend clean water. Urnex does make a product specifically designed to clean steam wands called Rinza, and PuroCaf has their own dairy cleanser as well. Both of these products work very well and are highly recommended for soaking the wand and tip.

Remember to purge the steam wand after cleaning by opening the steam valve and venting it into an appropriate container for about thirty seconds.
Honestly I have never seen the sort of buildup you describe on my home equipment (I see it frequently at cafes that will go unnamed). My guess is that you're dipping the wand into the milk too deeply / too long before opening the steam valve and not withdrawing it while there's still some steam pressure.
Dan Kehn

framey (original poster)

#4: Post by framey (original poster) »

As mentioned in my original post, the wand is cleaned and purged religiously so advice about making sure I clean the wand, whilst well intentioned, is redundant. I realise any build up is perhaps a sign I could do better, but if wiping, purging, wiping then purging is insufficient then someone let me know.

I read the article from cannonfodder but other than wiping and purging nothing too detailed there. The tip about not using backflush detergent was useful.

I guess information about avoiding sucking anything into the boiler is something I'd like to know. ie Do you clean steam wands with the machine on and hot, or off and cold?

The other suggestion I've received is that washers/seals in the steam valve can disintegrate sending the occasional chunk of crud hurtling down the steam wand. The likelihood of such a breakdown in a non commercial environment was considered unlikely though.

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#5: Post by HB »

framey wrote:Do you clean steam wands with the machine on and hot, or off and cold?
On and hot.

My primary goal is to keep milk out of the wand in the first place, hence my suggestion to pay attention to the outward steam pressure when immersing and withdrawing the tip. A few wisps of steam escaping makes some "soap bubbles", but they burst on the first thunk.

If you're still seeing evidence of buildup, I wonder if indeed some gunk from inside the boiler is being ejected out the wand (scale? plumbing thread compound?) Do you regularly descale and flush down the boiler? When you descale, do you run solution out the steam wand and the water tap? Grasping at straws, I know...
Dan Kehn

framey (original poster)

#6: Post by framey (original poster) »

I could be guilty of lingering briefly when positioning the hot wand into the cold milk... but we are talking 1 to 2 seconds tops.
As I finish steaming and remove the wand it is usually still expelling a whisp of steam. This is mainly due to the smaller holes on the the 2 hole tip providing back pressure, so exiting the steamed milk shouldn't be a problem.

Thanks for the on and hot info.

Doubting scale build up from boiler but...

With my switching steam tips a few times lately, I'm wondering it it could be some errant teflon tape. I'll make it my mission tomorrow to find a rubber o-ring thing.

Since paying the wand some attention the day before starting this thread I have had no problems with blockages. Touch wood :D

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#7: Post by cannonfodder »

After steaming and pouring, I rinse my pitcher, fill it with cold water, dunk the wand in it for a few seconds and then open the steam valve. Think of it as a power purge. You have to use cold water. I once used some water from the group. It took about 4 seconds to flash boil and spew scalding water up out of the pitcher and onto my hand, kind of stung.

While I do not normally use backflush detergent on the entire wand, once a week when I flush the machine and soak my baskets, I will take the steam tip off of the machine and soak it as well. If you think you have buildup in the steam wand, you can take the wand off of the machine and soak it in backflush detergent, then use something like a Steamy Wanda to scrub out the tube. Or if you are a hunter, use a 9mm nylon bore brush. Rinse and reinstall. I find a paperclip is best for cleaning out the steam tip holes. It will not break like a toothpick. Give the tip a soak, poke out the obstruction, soak it some more, poke it again to make sure, rinse and go.

I use Joe Glo to backflush, it also does a very good job on milk protein.
Dave Stephens

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Sponsored by ECM Manufacture
framey (original poster)

#8: Post by framey (original poster) »

Thanks Dave,

I've got a feeling that a Steamy Wanda and some Joe Glo will be my next coffee related purchase. I don't think Joe Glo is sold in Australia? I'll get in contact with espressoparts.

Hmm I may just have to get an Espressocraft and or HB tamper as well :D

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#9: Post by Worldman »

whoa...steam wand cleaning, you say? I have been into espresso for the past almost 30 years and have had my own machine(s) at home and in the office for >20 years. Of course, these were mostly Gaggia Coffee plus the occasional La Pavoni piston machine and even one La Cimbali Jr and my current Expobar OC. All that I have EVER done for steam wand cleaning is to wipe the wand with a cold wetted cloth whist emitting steam therefrom immediately after frothing milk.

As far as sucking milk into the boiler, I suppose it is theoretically possible...I just don't see how it is accomplished. not the boiler ALWAYS under positive pressure in relationship to atmosphere? Just how is the milk sucked into the wand?

Len <------ not form a parallel universe

framey (original poster)

#10: Post by framey (original poster) »

I think I may have read of instances where people have left the steam wand submerged in a jug of chemical cleaner overnight. I'm presuming problems may occur if the machine is turned off after submerging the wand. As the boiler cools there is a contraction of sorts. This contraction leads to suction. Thus boiler contamination...

I think this makes some sense, but corrections are more than welcome.

Apparently I'm the only person ever to have anything other than steam attempt to exit the steam wand on their machine... Just don't mention it to the companies that sell brushes and cleaning agents specifically designed for cleaning steam wands. While you're at it let Stephen Vick and Kyle Larson know that their excellent article on espresso machine maintenance, from Barista Magazine (April/May 2006, pg56), needn't have included the paragraphs on steam wand cleaning.

Don't mean to be snide, I just fail to see how 30 years without incident all thanks to a damp cloth, inform the subject at hand. There seem to be plenty of posts and articles about cleaning everything from polished stainless, to water reservoirs. I was looking for something published, or first hand experience of a cleaning method that is safe and effective for steam wands. The article I have since found in the Barista Magazine is the most comprehensive so far.