When it comes to suffering home espresso machines, our repair technicians have seen it all. From clogged brew screens to burnt out heating elements, there are a variety of ways people unintentionally use and abuse their machines. The unfortunate part is, many of these issues could have been prevented, had the owners known about them and completed some simple espresso machine maintenance. Just following a few easy steps could have saved the owners a lot of money and time away from their precious machine. Of course, just as many homeowners don’t expect some of the worst disasters (such as burst plumbing or leaking roofs) to happen to them, many espresso machine owners hope that they will be able to avoid common problems as well.
The reality is that even if you have a top of the line machine, wear and tear from frequent use will require that you give it a little extra TLC from time to time. Usually this involves giving the machine a weekly cleaning and doing an annual tune-up. If you don’t follow these tips, it is likely that eventually you will encounter a few problems. Costly repairs or replacements are not myths, and they can happen to you.
Still not convinced? Check out what happened to the heating element and boiler inside a Nuova Simonelli Oscar when the steam wand wasn’t removed from the milk frothing pitcher when the machine was turned off and properly cleaned.
All of the brown clumpy stuff coating the walls of this boiler is milk that got sucked inside it due to the steam wand not being removed from the milk frothing pitcher and opened up after each use; it baked and rotted! The two brown strands hanging off of the white and metal valve are also strands of milk, and should not be there.
As you can see, the boiler on the left overheated, blackened and even cracked due to the milk buildup inside. The boiler on the right is what a normal, or “healthy,” boiler should look like – nice and clean.
The heating element for this machine, on the left, has also gotten burnt out, blackened and corroded. Again, the heating element on the right is how one should look.
Unfortunately, once a boiler has gotten to this stage it has reached the point of no return and must be replaced in order to get your machine up and running again. In some instances you may even be out of luck and have to get an entirely new machine.
However, there are a few easy tips you can follow to avoid winding up in this situation. If you have a heat exchanger machine like the Oscar above, make sure to open the steam valve on your machine every time you turn it off and it cools down. If you don’t, a vacuum is created and the left over milk in the steam wand is sucked up into the boiler. On the other hand, if you have a single boiler machine, such as the Rancilio Silvia, the best way to avoid this problem is to run water out of your steam wand after each use so you don’t create a vacuum in the boiler.
The next time you consider saving flushing out your steam wand for “later,” remember these images and cautionary tale. Clean your steam wand after each use and do a more thorough cleaning of the machine once a week. If a wet cloth isn’t strong enough to cut through the grime, try using a liquid or powder espresso machine cleaner. If your machine has any removable parts, you should take them off for cleaning as well. For instance, if your machine has a panarello, you should remove it and soak it in a solution like Rinza. This will rid it off any milk that has built up inside the panarello as it can get sucked into the boiler. If you follow these simple steps, your espresso machine will likely run well and continue to produce tasty drink for years to come. If you are kind to your espresso machine, it will be kind to you.