"Descaling" vs. descaling

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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Marshall

#1: Post by Marshall »

While my GS/3 was being serviced yesterday (La Marzocco GS/3 Service in Los Angeles), my machine tech inspected for scale and thankfully found very little. But, I asked him what he thought about a regular boiler descaling routine, with so many people reporting problems of scale flakes floating into unwanted places in the machine plumbing.

He was not enthusiastic about the practice. He said that a real descaling involved dismantling the machine and soaking every single plumbing part in descaler for as long and for as many times as necessary. They do this at their shop and sometimes need up to three weeks for a proper job. Just a thought.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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Randy G.

#2: Post by Randy G. »

So a gentleman who makes a living doing expensive repairs on machines advocates that you not do regular maintenance at home to prevent problems. Rather, he advises sending the machine in to him for expensive disassembly and a soaking, possibly over a period of weeks. Presumably his major descaling would be done on a "regular" basis depending on the scaling propensity of your water and frequency of use.

No, don't worry about your cholesterol and HDL/LDL levels. We can always put in a stint or do a bypass.

Am I missing something here, or in both cases, is it time for a second opinion?
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Marshall (original poster)

#3: Post by Marshall (original poster) »

I think you missed the point, Randy, which was that descaling is a bigger proposition than just running descaler through your boiler. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone to do it is beside the point.
Marshall
Los Angeles

ira
Supporter ♡

#4: Post by ira »

I think it depends on the condition of the machine. I just finished descaling my 2 group lever that was in really nice shape on the outside but it took so much longer than I ever imagined. One pipe took over a day in a pot on the stove to descale. I'm sure I could have done it faster with the perfect setup, a big plastic tub with a recirculating heater to keep the solution moving and hoses to force hot solution through the pipes.

On a home machine with light scale I would assume that just throwing a bit of citric acid or Calcinet in the boiler if you notice scale starting to build, heating it up for 1/2 an hour and pulling 20 or 30 shots and then draining and flushing it would be plenty fine.

In the end, I think the one I did took so long because the scale got covered up with something that the acid didn't attack and it was only able to get to the scale from the edges. On the pieces where I could just see white scale the 200 degree Calcinet solution took it off in a few minutes. Can algae grow inside boilers?

Ira

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another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

I live in Chicago, with mildly hard water, and have "descaled" home espresso machines for about 25 years ( I have also "decaled" pots, pan and kettles, shower heads, etc for that long). For the first 13, it was simple home machines. Twelve years ago, I switched to a pourover HX, and wondered whether I could descale it in roughly the same way. The dealers said no, since you can flush the group and HX by filling the tank and running the pump, but not the boiler. So I figured out a way of flushing the boiler and posted my results in the water FAQ. Others have much improved on the procedures, and extended them to other variations of espresso machine.

In "descaling," the "descaler" goes wherever the "water and scaling minerals" go. It follows that if the contact time is long enough, the procedure will work to dissolve the scale. This logic has been upheld by the experience of the thousands of amateurs who regularly "descale" their machines.

There are gotchas. On some machines, parts of the water path scale preferentially, for reasons I'd love to know but don't. The mushroom on the E61 group is an example. Because of this, even regular and timely descaling sometimes dislodges larger flakes of scale that wash downstream, can get stuck, and have to be dealt with. In addition, the procedure requires opening the machine up, and the most efficient methods require opening boiler drains or fixtures at the top and temporarily shorting out boiler fill sensors. You are doing this while sloshing water and descaler around. Therefore people sometimes get problems with GFI plugs, steam leaks, boiler fill levels they have to trouble shoot and fix.

The trauma and stress these untoward events will cause depends on how comfortable people are with DIY home repair. I'm lousy at DIY home repair, but enjoy solving problems with creative tinkering, so this is OK for me. It's up to each person to make that judgment. But the procedures themselves are effective.
Jim Schulman

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Randy G.

#6: Post by Randy G. »

If a machine is fed decent water and a preventative descaling is done on an effective schedule to match the rate of scaling in the machine, then a full teardown will likely never be required. Can every home user descale their home machine? No. Is it possible to do so in a way that, for most machines at home, even pro-sumer machines, so that they never need a teardown? Yes. After three years of service I once again inspected the mushroom of my VBM DD. In terms of scale, it looks new- not a speck. A couple of small specks of the corrosion we often see on these parts, but that's it. The machine has never had descaler run through it. There are always extremes.

We all remember one person who vehemently stated, over and over, "NEVER BACKFLUSH A SILVIA." At that time I stated my opinion that a person who makes money repairing espresso machines who recommends never doing a maintenance task that prevent a repair bills could not be trusted. I stand by that.

Many of us will remember some images from Barry Jerrett showing commercial boilers that looked like they had been filled with concrete. That would definitely require a trip to the shop, or possibly the recycler. But I consider that an extreme example, and one of neglect on a grand scale. tee hee.
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