To get the best results from your coffee machine you need to make sure to descale it regularly. As Nespresso machines tend to be somewhat different from other coffee makers and have their own idiosyncrasies it may not be readily apparent how to go about the task.
Read on for our step-by-step guide to find out how to descale a Nespresso machine – as well as ways to clean and descale other types of coffee makers.
How to descale a Nespresso machine
Regardless of which Nespresso model you are using, the steps for descaling are very similar. Remember that to keep your machine in tip-top condition you should descale every other month. The cleaning process lasts 20 minutes (and will require your attention), so make sure you have enough time before you start. Here’s all you need to know to learn how to clean a Nespresso machine.
You will need:
How concerned are you about disinfecting while cleaning?
A descaling product (it's best to use a descaling product designed specifically for Nespresso)
A one litre container (that will fit under the spout)
1. Switch on your Nespresso.
2. Remove all the capsules from the pod bay and any used ones in the tray.
3. Empty the drip tray (and give it a wipe down while you’re at it).
4. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to correctly make up the descaling solution.
5. Pour this mixture into the water tank of your Nespresso.
6. Place a bowl or other container with a one-litre capacity beneath the coffee spout.
7. Set your Nespresso to begin its descaling programme – find the relevant way to start the descaling programme for your machine in our handy guide below.
8. When the mixture has finished running through your Nespresso, pour it back into the water tank.
9. Run the mixture through your Nespresso two further times.
10. Discard the mixture and clean the water tank.
11. Fill the water tank with clean water and load it into the machine.
12. Using the same guide below, press the relevant button(s) to start the cleaning cycle again (this step is important as it removes any traces of the descaling product).
13. Once the water has run through the machine, switch off the descaling programme in the same way as you switched it on.
A guide to Nespresso descaling programmes
Each different Nespresso machine can have its own way of doing things, so check the model you have and then see below to find out how to activate its descaling programme and start the cycle.
Citiz/Essenza/Pixie/Inissia: Hold down both buttons on the machine for three to five seconds until they blink at short intervals. Press the Lungo button to start.
U-machine: With the sliding door closed, hold down all three buttons together until the machine beeps. Open the sliding door, hold the buttons down for a further three seconds until the machine beeps again and the buttons flash. Close the sliding door to start the programme.
Lattissima: Attach the hot water tap and the descaling light will come on. Press the espresso button to start.
Maestria: As you turn on the machine hold down the espresso button until the middle light is a steady orange. Press the Lungo button to start.
Prodigio: With the machine on, hold down three coffee buttons for six seconds – the machine will beep and the buttons will blink. Make sure the slider is closed and then press any coffee button to start descaling.
Creatista: Rotate dial to select ‘maintenance’, then select descale. Follow on-screen prompts.
Expert: With machine off and slider closed, press the brewing button for six seconds (both dials will flash). On the recipe dial select Ristretto and press the brewing button (Ristretto icon will blink while you are in descale mode). To start the cycle, press the brewing button.
Vertuo: With the machine on and the lever in the ’unlocked’ position, hold the button for seven seconds until it blinks rapidly. Confirm descaling mode. To start descaling, turn the lever to the left to lock it and press the button.
KitchenAid: Turn the brew button to the left position and hold for six seconds until the light blinks. Then rotate the dial until the light blinks above the first right position. Press the brew button to start the cycle.
Atelier: Press the Lungo and Ristretto buttons for three seconds until they blink. To start the descaling cycle, press them both again.
Are you more of a tea drinker? We also have a guide on how to clean and descale a kettle.
Cleaning other kinds of coffeemakers
The combination of minerals in water and oil content in coffee means it's crucially important to both to clean and to descale a coffee maker in order to keep it in top working order.
You will need:
White distilled vinegar or lemon juice
Washing-up liquid and a sponge (if hand washing)
Cleaning a cafetière (French press)
A rinse may do if you’re in a hurry in the morning, but you’ll want to give your cafetière a thorough clean once a week to stop the build up of grime.
Get rid of any used coffee grounds (you could save them for the compost – we have tips here on how to make your own compost).
If there are stubborn grounds that won’t budge, use a wooden spoon to remove them (a metal one could scratch up the glass).
Start by stripping down your cafetière to its individual parts.
For most cafetières, all these parts can be put into the dishwasher.
If washing by hand, use a soft sponge and warm water to thoroughly clean each part of the cafetière.
If you wish, you can use washing-up liquid but always ensure you properly rinse the cafetière out in case there’s any residue soap that might spoil your coffee.
Cleaning a drip coffee maker
You’re probably rinsing the coffee pot every time you use it, but what about the rest of the machine? There are plenty of spots in the maker that yeast and mold find attractive, so make sure to give it a proper clean whenever possible.
Removable parts can be washed in warm water and they are generally dishwasher safe (though check your manufacturer’s instructions).
To descale the machine, empty the coffee pot and remove any coffee granules from the filter.
Fill the coffee-maker’s reservoir with a homemade descaling solution, mixing one part white distilled vinegar to two parts water.
Switch on the coffee maker as if making a cup of coffee.
Let the cycle run.
Allow the mixture to sit in the pot for around 15 minutes, before pouring away.
Brew two cycles in your coffee maker using just water. This will clean away any leftover taste from the vinegar.
Cleaning a one-cup coffee maker
Keeping your one-cup coffee maker clean requires a very similar method to that of a drip coffee maker.
Make a mixture of one part white distilled vinegar to two parts water.
Pour your mixture into the reservoir.
Brew a cup as normal.
Leave to sit for 15 minutes and then discard.
Brew two cycles using water only, allowing it to sit for 15 minutes between each cycle (if you there is still a vinegar smell, run another cycle with water to get rid of it).
Cleaning a pour over coffee maker
If you make your coffee using a pour over such as a Chemex or a V60, then maintenance is relatively easy. To keep the coffee maker spick and span, clean it every time you use it.
Remove filters and any sediment immediately after use, otherwise they may leave stains, or worse – your next cup of coffee may have a taint to it.
If you have a Chemex, remove the wooden handle (just untie the leather cord and it pops off).
As pour overs are generally made of glass, ceramic or plastic, you may be able to put it in the dishwasher (check the product instructions to make sure).
If hand washing, use warm water with a bit of washing-up liquid. If the coffee maker is beaker shaped, use a brush with soft bristles and a long handle to get in all the corners.
When drying, don’t leave the coffee maker flush to the surface as the lack of airflow can encourage condensation, smells and even mould. Lean it on a clean piece of cutlery so it tips.
Cleaning coffee equipment without using soap
Some coffee aficionados don’t ever like to use soap as it can leave an aroma that is hard to get rid of. Here’s the alternative method:
You will need
Ice (enough to fill your coffee maker)
A couple of lemon slices
125g of salt
Remove filter and any sediment.
Remove the wooden handle if using a Chemex.
Fill the beaker with ice and the lemon slices, then add in the salt.
Swirl around for a couple of minutes.
Dump it all out.
Rinse under running water.
Dry (as in step 5 above).
Cleaning an Aeropress
As the plunger-style coffee maker is made of plastic it is generally very easy to clean.
After using, remove the cap and eject the coffee grinds by pushing the plunger all the way down.
You can run the Aeropress through the dishwasher – but only on the top shelf.
However, you can just give it a simple rinse as the plunger (and the compression it creates) cleans out the chamber every time it is used.
Every few months remove the seal from the plunger and give it a good rinse in warm water and detergent.
Store your Aeropress with the plunger pushed all the way through – this helps retain the integrity of the seal so it will last longer.
How to descale a coffee machine
Coffee machines of all types need regular descaling to stop the build-up of minerals that interfere with its operation. We have three homemade methods for you to choose from.
The vinegar method
Create a mixture of half vinegar and half water.
Run this through the longest cycle available on your coffee machine.
Dispose of the solution.
Run 4-5 cycles with just water to fully remove the vinegar.
The lemon juice method
Mix together one part lemon juice with one part water.
Run the solution through the longest cycle on your coffee machine.
Dispose of solution.
Run two cycles using only water to remove the lemon taste.
The citric acid method
Make a solution with one part citric acid to twenty parts water.
Run through on the longest cycle on your coffee machine.
Dispose of the solution.
Run two water-only cycles to remove traces of the citric acid.
Your coffee machine cleaning questions answered
What's the difference between cleaning and descaling?
When you clean your coffee device you are removing built-up coffee oil residue. This is important to ensure that your coffee always tastes fresh.
Descaling removes the mineral build-up around the heating element of your coffee maker – if you don’t ever descale, the element won’t work efficiently and the water may struggle to reach optimum temperature. (Check our guide to learn about the mineral differences in hard and soft water.)
Can I use vinegar to descale a coffee machine?
Yes, it’s possible to use white distilled vinegar in a solution of water to descale a coffee machine – see above for our guide on how to do this.
However, make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure it’s okay to run a vinegar solution through the machine.
How do you clean a Nespresso machine without a descaling solution?
You can use a solution of white distilled vinegar and water. Follow the directions for the vinegar method above, but remember to remove any capsules from the Nespresso first.
Note, you will first want to check the manufacturer’s instructions whether running a vinegar solution through the machine will damage it or void any warranties.
How much descaler should I use in my Nespresso machine?
Each descaler product is different, so you will want to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Once you have the right mixture, follow the appropriate method above.
Accidentally spill some coffee while cleaning? Not to worry, head straight to our guide on how to remove coffee stains.