Make it Shine: How to Clean an Espresso Machine

Last Updated on August 10, 2021

Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen

Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research, he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.

Espresso machines help start the day by providing a much-needed caffeine hit in its purest form. To keep your morning espresso high quality, you’ve got to dedicate time to cleaning the machine properly regularly

As all baristas in coffee shops are familiar with, you’ll need to carefully backflush the machine regularly to give it a proper deep clean.

What Tools Do You Need?

Before you learn the step-by-step process for backflushing and descaling your espresso machine, you’ll need to ensure you have the proper products on hand. Set up a workspace that is clear of other kitchen equipment or devices and ensure all your tools and cleaning products are within accessible reach. 

To clean your espresso machine properly, you’ll need the following tools:

  1. Portafilter (with solid basket)
  2. Espresso brush 
  3. Espresso Machine Cleaner (tablets, liquid, or powder)
  4. Fresh water

What Is Backflushing?

Backflushing is the process commonly used to clean espresso machines in professional coffee shops. It refers to sealing the machine’s group head and using pressurized hot water to flush the system. The water is pushed through the brew circuit and out of the release valve to clean out coffee oil and debris buildup. 

In your home, you should be backflushing your espresso machine with fresh water daily to clean out debris and residue. Roughly every other week, you should take the time to backflush using a designated espresso machine detergent.

Step-By-Step Cleaning Your Espresso Machine 

cleaning portafilter

Now it’s time to learn how to clean an espresso machine. To clean your espresso machine like a pro, you’ll need to assemble the proper tools and equipment. Once you’ve got those together, you can begin the backflushing process. The procedure is the same whether you’re using water or a cleaning solution; it just adds an extra step to flush with the chemical solution. 

Perform the cleaning ritual at the end of each day to prevent buildup. Fortunately, it’s a quick and straightforward process. 

1. Run Water

The first step in cleaning your espresso machine is to run fresh water through it.

2. Use an Espresso Brush to Scrub the Base

With the water running, use your espresso brush to gently scrub at the screen where the portafilter fixes to the machine. This cleans any debris off the base and prepares it for the rest of the backflushing process. 

3. Remove the Screen

For a deep clean, get a screwdriver and remove the screen from the group head so you can wipe it down and scrub it with the brush on all sides. 

4. Insert Portafilter 

Instead of the regular basket you’d use, which has holes in it for the espresso to drip through, replace the basket in the portafilter with a solid one. If you’re doing a deep clean, add a dime-size amount of detergent powder inside the filter basket during this step.

If you have a liquid detergent, you’ll add it to the water reservoir. 

5. Activate the Brewing Cycle 

Activate the brewing cycle on the espresso machine and put the portafilter in place. Run the machine for roughly five seconds, then stop. 

6. Dump Out Dirty Water and Repeat

Remove the portafilter and dump out the dirty water in the basket. You’ll repeat step four between five to ten times. 

7. Run the Water and Move the Portafilter Side-to-Side

When you’ve repeated the rinsing and dumping cycle five to ten times, you can run the water and wiggle the portafilter around. This pressure and friction cleans the group head and around the edges. 

8. If You Used Detergent, Repeat with Water

If you used detergent for this cleaning process, you’ll want to add another step at the end where you rerun the espresso machine, activating the brewing cycle and letting just water run through. 

Repeat steps four and five until the water is coming out clean with no traces of detergent. For good measure, you can do one test espresso shot which you throw away to ensure that all the detergent is flushed from the system.

9. Wipe Exterior Clean 

When you’re done, give the exterior a thorough wiping with a clean rag to ensure all chemical residue is gone, and the machine is sparkling.

Removing Scale Buildup 

If you want to know how to clean your espresso machine even more deeply, consider descaling. If the water you use with your espresso machine has a high mineral content, there can be lime buildup inside the machine from multiple uses. To keep your espresso machine running right for years, you should descale it once annually. 

Dissolve Your Descaler in Water

Start by dissolving your descaler in water to create a solution. Then, let the solution sit in the machine for twenty minutes or more. 

Run the Descaling Solution Through the Machine 

Next, turn on the espresso machine and pour a half cup of the solution through the portafilter.

Turn Off 

Shut the machine back off and let it sit again for roughly fifteen to twenty minutes so that the solution can work on the lime buildup. 

Continuing Flushing 

Add the remainder of the solution (another half or quarter cup) and flush it through the espresso machine. 


Finish off by flushing out the espresso machine with fresh, clean water. Continue rinsing until there appears to be no residual descaler. 

Wipe Dry 

Using a clean rag or cloth, wipe the exterior of the machine dry. 

Just like that, you’re covered for another trip around the sun.

Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen

Final Thoughts: Cleaning an Espresso Machine

After walking through the steps of backflushing and descaling your espresso machine once, the process will become second nature to you. Luckily, descaling only needs to be performed about once a year, so you won’t need to commit that to memory as quickly as a regular clean. 

Read Also: How to use an espresso machine.