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How to Clean a Dirty Grouphead - a How-to
How to Clean a Dirty Grouphead
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 21, 2002
How-To rating: 7.9
feedback: (55) comments | read | write

Espresso, like most things related to coffee, is not a low maintenance thing. Even those who own super automatics have to do a good and thorough cleaning from time to time. Traditional espresso machines need a lot of TLC to keep pouring out the good stuff, and I never cease to be amazed at how much of an improvement a little bit of elbow grease can give you. Far too many people neglect cleaning their machines, but if you want the absolute best espresso you can get, you need to take care of that machine!

In this Tips and Tricks article, we'll be looking at a maintenance routine that is crucial to any machine with a pressure release system, often called a 3 way solenoid valve. Most machines over $400 feature this kind of instant pressure relief in the grouphead when you end your espresso shot - the purpose is to make it fast and safe when removing the portafilter after brewing. This special release valve, which directs all the built up pressure into a waste area (usually the drip tray) has one unfortunate side effect, making the machines more labour intensive. This side effect is a rapid increase of what can only be described as "coffee gunk" in and around the grouphead and dispersion screen.

After a few weeks, it can get pretty nasty, even if you backflush regularly. So you need to clean and maintain the grouphead and dispersion screen. Here's how you do it.

(note, those without pressure release systems in their espresso machines can also do this maintenance to help improve their espresso quality).

Each of the following images can be clicked to view a full size version in a popup window. Warning, each image is approximately 90KB in file size.

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Ugh, that is one dirty grouphead. It's been way too long between cleanings, time to get a good shot again!
Use a screwdriver (or a wrench if it's a nut), to remove the screw in the middle of the grouphead. It may be torque'ed in there, so use good judgement in how much pressure to apply.
This is the five hole pattern plate that is part of the Livia's grouphead. Different machines may use different configurations. This needs cleaning too.
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Look at that. Disgusting! The inner brass dispersion plate and the screen are in horrible shape. They need some real work.
The sink is your friend, as is good dish soap. We use a nifty device from Oxi with stiff bristles and a soap reservoir to scrub, scrub scrub.
Make sure you get the edges and crevices. Optionally you could use a stiff bristled toothbrush. Also optionally, if your dispersion screen is steel, a long, good soak in Oxi-Clean and boiling water will disolve the impossible to reach stuff.
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Most higher-end espresso machines include a heat-retaining brass disc as part of the grouphead and dispersion system. Clean well with a nylon-wool scrubber. Don't use steel wool, it leaves fibres in the brass.
Nothing but elbow grease will do this job. Scrub well, use lots of finger pressure.  Do not use Oxi-clean. It will turn brass green. Do not use a brass cleaner, it coats the brass with chemicals.
Make sure the edges are crystal clean as well. Keep reloading the nylon scrubber with soap as you go along, and rinse it often. I also use a toothbrush to "scrub" the tiny dispersion holes.
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What a difference! Shiny, clean, and contaminant and fibre-free brass! Looks like new!
I use an old, discarded Oxi brush (note the wear in the bristles) for cleaning the grouphead portion. I only use water here - don't use soap if you can help it - it will be very difficult to get out. This brush does wonders for all the nooks and crannies in there.
The cleaned and reassembled grouphead. To finish the job, I usually do several clean-water backflushes with a blind filter, and run a few blank shots as well as one "real" shot to season the group once again.

See our other Guides and How Tos

How-To rating: 7.9
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 21, 2002
feedback: (55) comments | read | write
This how to and all its parts are owned by CoffeeGeek.com and are covered by the Creative Commons license.

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