CoffeeFilter: Cheap descale/decalc solution for my coffee machine?
January 4, 2009 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Is there a cheaper alternative to the manufacturer-recommended descale solutions used to decalcify coffee/espresso machines????

I just got a nice fancy Delonghi full-automatic coffee/espresso machine for Christmas and i want to keep it running well forever, so that means faithfully descaling it. However those little bottles of "NOKALK" and similar products are expensive. I notice on the label that it says it contains "20-30% lactic acid" and some research on the web suggests that other descale solutions are primarily citric acid. That leads me to think i can use non-manufacturer (but food-grade) chemistry so long as i keep the ratios consistent. Is there a bulk source for the components i need to keep this machine reliably free of deposits that won't cost me an arm and a leg? Thanks in advance.
posted by monkeybutt to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by gjc at 5:44 PM on January 4, 2009

I use white vinegar. It was actually recommended in the user manual to my cheapo coffee maker.
posted by craichead at 5:51 PM on January 4, 2009

Vinegar is cheap and easy to find.

Citric acid (I buy a ton of it each year) can be found at any brew store, or if your going to buy more than 5 pounds at a time (it's cheap), and you don't have a brew store near you, then you might want to check Camden Grey. They sell in small amounts. I've used them for a lot of stuff, although I source my citric acid from a local chemical company. Considering the costs to ship weighty items, I would try to find a local source first.
posted by dejah420 at 5:51 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

About two or three years ago I spent about $10 on Dezcal descaler at Sweet Maria's. I expect my supply of the stuff to last another two or three years. I considered homebrewing up a descaler with acid but decided that I didn't want to risk damaging my machine.
posted by exogenous at 5:53 PM on January 4, 2009

I haven't tried it, but I wonder if generic brand denture tablets would work? I started to use them to clean my jewellery when I realised they are meant to clean tough things off hard surfaces without causing damage.

In my part of the world, a packet of tablets costs only a few bucks and lasts for months even with daily use.
posted by lottie at 5:57 PM on January 4, 2009

Lottie's suggestion is a pretty good one - we used denture cleaner to clean some bar items at the last coffee place I worked. I would just recommend dissolving the tablets thoroughly before you run them through the machine, and then making sure you do at least two rinses before you brew again.

In my home drip coffee maker, I use vinegar. I use baking soda to scrub out other coffee makers (such as my french press). I only use commercial descalers about once a year -- your needs may vary depending on local water hardness, etc.
posted by dryad at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2009

Vinegar to clean & then used distilled water. no more scale
posted by patnok at 6:44 PM on January 4, 2009

I will use white vinegar in a pinch for the removable parts of my Rancilio Silvia but prefer to use a gigantic jar of Joe Glo that I bought for $10ish a year or two ago, and like above, expect to last for another year or two. It's primarily for backflushing the machine, which I doubt you need or even can do, but as a general purpose cleaner it's great too.
posted by kcm at 6:46 PM on January 4, 2009

I use vinegar in my machine (also a Silvia). Denture tablets that are mint flavored are something I would strongly avoid putting through my coffee maker.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:42 PM on January 4, 2009

You need an acid to dissolve the scale. Vinegar is the cheapest and most commonly available acid. Some descalers use a slightly more aggressive acid (a concentrated citric acid is often the choice I think) than common household vinegar, but a couple of passes of vinegar will definitely do the trick. I used to live in an area with very hard water and vinegar always came through for me. I am not so sure that those more aggressive acids are very good for your appliances anyway. The big complaint against vinegar is that it leaves behind an aftertaste if not well rinsed. Run a few batches of plain water through the unit to get out the vinegar smell and taste. There is a product called CLR which works very well on toilets etc. when you have very hard water, but I bet that is too strong for a coffee maker.
posted by caddis at 8:32 PM on January 4, 2009

Nthing vinegar, though it takes a billion follow-ups of plain water (okay about 10) to get the smell/taste of vinegar out.

CLR does work, too, but not much more than vinegar.
posted by rokusan at 9:37 PM on January 4, 2009

Long-time Saeco & Jura-user here, let me be the one to rain on the vinegar parade. While it is fine to decalcify a regular coffee maker or electric kettle you shouldn't use it for a full-automatic machine. Vinegar is a really good way to ruin the gaskets inside and as it is really aggressive towards these and shortens their lifetime which will lead to leaks. Not even to mention the disgusting taste you won't get rid of that easily.

Citric acid and citric acid based products can be used, but only for models where no water-bearing parts are made of aluminium, citric acid is really bad for these. It's fine for machines with parts made of steel, like the DeLonghi 3xxx/4xxx and 6xxx series. Find out what materials are in your model, most forums about coffee-machines will have manufacturer specific FAQs or threads, where you should be able to find out.
Do, under no circumstances, put these dental tablets in your machine.

If you live in an area with hard water you might want to consider getting a carbon based waterfilter and only use filtered water in your machine. Note, that this will not substitute the descaling, but you'll need to do it less frequently. Most machines come with a test stripe to diagnose the water hardness and can be programmed to that level, so they notify you to descale at the right time after a certain volume of water used. The DeLonghis have these, you should set it up correctly, if you haven't already.

Another note on the DeLonghi (3xxx, 4xxx, 6xxx series): for reasons unknown, the DeLonghi engineers decided, that the regular descaling program of the machine will not descale the upper brewing unit, so you have to do that manually. Fill the tank with your descaling solution and press the rinse-button several times until the tank is empty, then repeat with a tank full of clear water.

DeLonghi (at least in Europe) sells Durgol under its own label, it is a sulfamic acid based solution and the most suggested descaling product in any coffee-related forum I read. If you don't want to buy the overpriced, DeLonghi labeled stuff - look for Durgol or products with similar ingredients. Durgol is also not that expensive if you buy it in larger quantities (I get mine from eBay or amazon marketplace usually). I've been using it in my machines for years and never had any issues with them.

I've seen my fair share of friends, colleagues and family who ruined their expensive full-automatic machines with wrong/infrequent/too-cheap-ass descaling, don't become one of these people who buy the most expensive coffee beans for their $1000 machine and then try to save 10 bucks a year on the maintenance.
posted by starzero at 1:50 AM on January 5, 2009

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