Descaling is a necessary process for coffee brewers. Whether you use an espresso machine, an Aeropress, a Moka pot, or a coffee pod system, you’ll sooner or later need to “descale” it.
This is because hard water, commonly found in our homes, over time causes the creation of limescale whenever it is heated, like when brewing coffee. The limescale attaches to minerals present in the water and deposits itself inside the equipment.
This makes the equipment opaque, stained, and even risks clogging it. It will influence the taste of your coffee, and not in a positive way.
A descaling solution is what is used to remove this limescale and return the kettles, boilers, pots, and machines to their original state, clean and functional.
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Descaling agents are typically acidic compounds that are able to dissolve the limescale, which is made of calcium or magnesium carbonate, and thus remove it. They vary, as there are commercial descalers and others that are homemade. Different descaling solutions will have different effectiveness and uses.
Some descaling solutions you will already have at home. These are the natural descalers that are found in food and liquids that we commonly used and consumed.
Naturally present in the common lemon/lime juice, citric acid is a potent descaler. It has an advantage over many other natural descaling solutions in that it has no bad smell and is extremely easy to find.
Lemon juice is extremely acidic, providing descaling power as good as vinegar. The disadvantage is that the aroma of lemons tends to remain for a long time, if not properly washed, multiple times. Usually, ⅓ lemon juice and ⅔ water solution are used to descale, with more than 1 run if needed.
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An alternative to removing limescale with a descaling solution is to prevent it from appearing at all. For this, water softening pellets, one of which is Morton Salt, are effective in softening the water before use.
They reduce the calcium and magnesium content in the water, which is what causes the limescale in the first place. Water softening pellets can be very economical and easy to use, but one has to remember to buy enough for all the water consumption of the household, which may increase the time and costs involved.
A very common descaling solution at home is baking soda. Easily available at supermarkets, baking soda is a great solution to remove any stain on your coffee equipment.
It is also great for dissolving the limescale with ease. It has the advantage of not leaving any odor. It is also cheap and not much is needed to use it as a natural descaling solution. Usually, a few tablespoons dissolved into water are enough to make a perfect descaler.
Another natural descaler found in any household, vinegar is known for being one of the best natural cleaners in existence. It is capable of removing stains and limescale as well but may need a few cycles of vinegar with water solution to be able to assert its full effectiveness.
The advantage is that it is extremely cheap and acidic, making it a powerful descaler. As with lemon juice, it will leave some odor and needs then to be thoroughly washed away.
Commercial Descalers vs Homemade Descalers
Commercial descalers are chemical compounds specifically made to remove limescale in a quick and efficient way. Most of them contain one or more kinds of acid. Most of them are the same that are contained in the natural descalers we discussed above. Bleaching agents to help remove stains are usually added too and the whole solution is then dissolved into water.
Commercial descaling solutions are thus not that different from homemade ones. They are generally speaking more expensive but more effective, but your mileage can greatly vary here.
If the limescale and stains to remove aren’t thick or very old, a homemade solution will probably be sufficient.
It won’t hurt to try and if the equipment you’re cleaning comes out perfectly, you have saved some money. Otherwise, if the limescale is old or quite thick, a commercial descaling solution will provide a higher chance to descale it, with little to no effort on your part.
Descaling a Nespresso
Descaling a Nespresso machine is a process that should be done every few months, depending on how hard the water used in the machine is.
Make sure the capsule container is empty. Place a large container, preferably the same size as the water tank, under the coffee outlet. Put the descaling solution into the water tank and mix.
Then depending on the model of the Nespresso machine, the actual proceedings are slightly different. Expect to press multiple buttons in a specific order to repeatedly flush the interior of the machine with the descaling solution.
A few times hot water will pass through the machine, in order to clean any trace of the descaler. After the whole descaling process is completed, a button combination will be necessary to exit the descaling mode. Check out this article for more information on Nespresso Machines
Leave the machine to dry for a few minutes before brewing coffee with it again!
Descaling a Keurig
To descale a Keurig machine, the process isn’t much different. First empty the reservoir. Then pour the descaling solution into it. Next fill the reservoir with clean water.
Place a container, a large mug will do, under the coffee outlet. Brew a 10oz. sized cup and discard it.
Repeat this step until the light signaling to add more water comes on. Let the machine sit for about 30 minutes. Rinse the reservoir and fill it with clean water. Brew at least 12 times with just water in order to thoroughly clean the machine of any residual cleansing solution.
As with Nespresso machines, any Keurig machine should be descaled every few months at most. Check out this article for more information on Keurigs!
Descaling your coffee equipment is a step often neglected. Wrongly though. The accumulation of limescale around the tubes and containers where you brew your coffee over time negatively affects the taste of the coffee, making the equipment more prone to break and essentially shorten its lifespan.
Especially those living in areas with very hard water should descale every 2-3 months and everybody should every 6 months, at most. Using filtered water helps to slow down the accumulation of limescale, but it is not sufficient to not descale at all. Descaling is an important act of maintenance in any equipment that makes use of hot water to maintain its efficiency and durability.
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