Yes, super-automatic espresso machines do have automated cleaning programs. No, you can't make do with only these programs. This is because residues – coffee fats, grounds residue and calcium – can often go unnoticed, especially in the heart of your machine.
Yes, super-automatic espresso machines do have automated cleaning programs. No, you can’t make do with only these programs. This is because residues – coffee fats, grounds residue and calcium – can often go unnoticed, especially in the heart of your machine.
You can reduce calcification by using a water filter. However, water will always contain a certain amount of calcium. The more often and longer you use your super-automatic machine, the more calcium will eventually build up. (The following video is only available in German.)
To guarantee that you keep your coffee machine fully functional – and thus retain the quality coffee taste – you must regularly clean the machine of contaminant particles. Automatic cleaning programs are only part of this process. Many models have integrated sensors that alert you when they need to be cleaned. They do this by flashing, beeping or even preventing the brewing process.
When you buy your super-automatic espresso machine, the manufacturer usually includes one to three cleaning tablets and descaling powder sachets. In the machine’s user manual, the manufacturer will also state that the product warranty will only be fully valid if you use original cleaners. The fact that these original cleaners cost 10 times as much as competitor products is, firstly, part of the marketing ploy and, secondly, often not disclosed.
The descaling agents and degreasers from Delonghi, Melitta and Krups do not clean any better than private label or no-name products just because they are more expensive.
Different Acid Bases
Of much greater importance than price is the cleaning agent’s acid base. Depending on the type of your super-automatic machine, an acid base can clean either too mildly or too aggressively. That’s why it makes sense to pay attention to the ingredients. Take a look at the cleaning samples supplied with the machine. There are descaling agents and cleaners that have a base of lactic acid, citric acid, surfactant, acetic acid, and more.
Yes, I think that the manufacturers’ prices for cleaning agents are overblown. However, it does make sense to at least utilize cleaners with the same ingredients – even if you buy cheaper alternatives. I think the same approach also applies to the cleaner’s physical form. Does the manufacturer supply tablets, powder sachets or a liquid cleaning solution? When buying cheaper cleaning agents, choose a product of the same form. This is because the sensors of your machine will react to tablets by initiating descaling, whereas liquid cleaning solutions will initiate a cleaning cycle.
The cleaning agent and descaling tablet samples included with your super-automatic machine can provide a good reference point for subsequent purchases. From my point of view, though, it is completely pointless to invest horrendous sums of money in cleaners simply to have the manufacturer’s name on the packaging.
How Do Different Cleaners Actually Work?
Most cleaning tablets and powders have an acid base. All acids break down calcium and fat residues, and the added water removes those particles. Among other reasons, that’s why you must also rinse the machine at least once more after cleaning with tablets and powders. This ensures that even the last of the contaminant particles are flushed out of the machine.
There are also slight differences between the acids.
Citrate, for example, is effective at dissolving calcium. When heated, however, citric acid readily forms waste breakdown products that can leave their own residues. Citric acid–based cleaners are thus only moderately suitable to use with super-automatic machines, especially those models when you have no influence over water heating. This is because citric acid should be used, at most, at lukewarm temperatures to prevent the formation of these breakdown products.
When used for cleaning purposes, acetic acid should not have a concentration higher than 25 percent. All acids cause irritation, especially when they are being produced chemically. However, in the case of highly concentrated acetic acid, even the vapor can burn the eyes, mucous membranes and skin. Not to mention bones. Nevertheless, seeing as we aren’t in a mafia film, we don’t need to worry about this type of acetic acid. Not when cleaning automatic coffee machines, anyway. However, because acetic acid of even lower concentration levels also attacks stainless steel and other metals, you should take care when cleaning with this agent.
Like acetic and citric acid, lactic acid also has antibacterial properties. That’s why it is so widely used in many dishwashing detergents, hand soaps and other cosmetics. Lactic acid can break down water-insoluble substances, such as fat and calcium deposits. This process then produces lactates (salts of lactic acid), which are water-soluble. Accordingly, lactic acid-based cleaning tablets for super-automatic machines are particularly effective. Don’t worry, you can still confidently clean your machine with lactic acid cleaner, even if you are lactose intolerant.
Besides lactic acid, surfactant-based detergents are the gentlest way to clean your super-automatic machines. Although surfactants tackle calcium build-up rather poorly, they attack the fats in coffee residues very well! This is because the chemical properties of surfactants make fats and other contaminant particles water-soluble. Thus, you can easily rinse out even coffee residues from deep inside your super-automatic machine.
What Cleaning Agent Is Suitable for Which Super-Automatic Machine?
The different acids that form the base of most cleaning agents react differently to certain materials. For example, some older coffee machines use aluminum parts. In this case, you should steer clear of citric acid–based cleaners. Acetic acid, on the other hand, doesn’t harm aluminum, so that should be your cleaner of choice.
As always, you should refer to the ingredient information on the machine’s descaling and cleaning samples as a guide for purchasing cheaper alternatives.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers don’t disclose the ingredients contained in their descaling agents on the packaging. Or they do so inadequately. I mentioned this problem in the above Coffeeness video on the subject (only available in German).
It can therefore be difficult, especially in the case of older models, to find out what kind of cleaner you should actually use.
If you own a much-loved older model, you can always try contacting the manufacturer directly to find out what cleaners you can confidently use. For the more recent model owners, I will try to close any information gaps with the following list.
I do want to say in advance that I take no responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of this list across all models and manufacturers. This list is an overview, a kind of orientation, so you can choose the correct acid variety and cleaning form (tablets or liquid) when reaching for no-name descaling agents.
|Super-Automatic Machine Manufacturer||Cleaning Base, As Per Manufacturer|
|Delonghi EcoDecalk Liquid Descaler||Lactic Acid|
|Delonghi Milk Clean Solution||Acetic Acid|
|Bosch* Descaling Tablets||Citric Acid|
|Bosch* Liquid Descaler||Sulfamidic and Phosphoric Acid|
|Bosch* Cleaning Tablets||Sodium Carbonate and Citric Acid |
|Jura Descaling Tablets||Maleic Acid|
|WMF Liquid Descaler||Sulfamidic Acid|
|WMF Cleaning Tablets||Sodium Carbonate and Citric Acid|
|WMF Milk Cleaner||Lactic Acid |
|Philips Saeco Liquid Descaler||Citric and Lactic Acid|
|Philips Saeco Coffee Oil Remover Tablets||Citric Acid|
|AEG Cleaning Tablets||Hydrogen Peroxide and Citric Acid|
|AEG Liquid Descaler ||Sulfamidic Acid|
|Melitta Cleaning Tablets||Sodium Carbonate and Citric Acid|
|Melitta Liquid Descaler||Citric and Lactic Acid|
|Melitta Descaling Powder||Citric Acid|
|Miele Cleaning Tablets||Sodium Salt of Iminodisuccinic Acid|
|Miele Descaling Tablets||Citric Acid|
|Miele Cleaning Agent for Milk Pipework||Sodium Citrate |
|Krups Cleaning Tablets||Sodium Carbonate|
|Krups Descaling Powder||Citric Acid|
* Please note: Bosch cleaning and descaling agents are also suitable for Siemens super-automatic machines due to the identical design of many models.
Final Notes About the List
As you can see, I orientated myself around manufacturers whose brands I have already conducted detailed super-automatic espresso machine reviews.
Having said that, this list is not exhaustive. To be on the safe side, always first read through the ingredients list on the original cleaner packaging before purchasing any cheap cleaning alternatives.