Maintenance and cleaning of Italian coffee machines

When you have an Italian coffee maker (or Moka), you may fall into the trap of thinking that because it uses simpler technology than other coffee makers, you can forget about cleaning and maintenance – nothing could be further from the truth!

On the other hand, if you are an experienced user or have already owned one or more Italian coffee machines at home, you may want to deepen your knowledge and understand better how to clean and maintain them. In either case, we will offer you in this article a series of tips and summaries that will guarantee the excellent use and correct maintenance of your Italian coffee machine.

We’ll start by reviewing the basic operating guidelines, follow with the essential safety tips for handling your Moka pot and continue with the always useful cleaning instructions. Finally, some general recommendations to correctly preserve your Italian coffee maker and extend its life. Let’s Start!

How to use an Italian coffee maker

The first thing you need to know and understand correctly is the basic guidelines for using any Italian coffee maker or Moka machine. We’ve expanded on these instructions in our article on Italian coffee makers, but it never hurts to remember or summarise the necessary steps:

  1. Fill the water tank or boiler with water. Only fill up the safety valve because if you exceed this level, the valve will not work. Remember that the safety valve on Italian coffee machines serves to release water vapour in the event of overpressure.
  2. Pour the ground coffee into the funnel or filter.
  3. Place the filter with the coffee on top of the lower body of the coffee maker (where you have poured the water before).
  4. Close the coffee maker and make sure it is hermetically sealed. The standard closing mechanism is to screw the two parts together, but some Italian coffee makers snap the two pieces together. Never force or pull the handle of your Italian coffee maker when doing this step.
  5. Finally, place the coffee maker on the stove, or plug it into its base if it’s electric, to heat the water. Waiting times vary depending on the model of the coffee maker and the amount of water you use, but you’ll usually have your coffee ready in a minute or two.

Basic safety steps

When handling an Italian coffee maker, it is worth remembering (or knowing that there are) these basic principles and safety recommendations.

  • As you must know, the safety valve on Italian coffee machines has a particular and well-defined function: it releases steam to reduce pressure when the dreaded overpressure occurs. If this safety valve did not exist, Italian coffee machines would end up exploding. This steam jet, of course, comes out at a very high temperature, so the valve must always face the wall, never outwards where it can reach the user or anyone passing by.
  • For the above reason, and more than with any other type of coffee maker, you should make sure that there are no children around when using an Italian coffee maker because of the risk of overpressure and the high temperatures that the water can reach when it rises.
  • If you want the safety valve to work correctly, remember always to leave the water level below it.
  • Do not use the Italian coffee maker in a manner different from that specified by the manufacturer. It means, more specifically, that you should not use it for boiling water, infusions or other items. Also, do not put any ingredients other than ground coffee in the filter.
  • Italian coffee machines reach high temperatures. That’s why they always have an insulating, heat-resistant handle and knob. Use them to handle the coffee maker; never touch the surface directly with your hands, or you could get burned.
  • Never open the coffee maker while it’s still hot, as the pressure can be released suddenly and explode in your face. You should cool your brewer underwater before open or wait for it to cool down on its own.

What should I do if the safety valve starts to steam?

If the safety valve works, it means that your coffee maker is over-pressurised (i.e. you have over-temperature and over-heated). You should immediately remove it from the heat or turn off the heat and let the brewer cool down by itself.

Once this is done, you should analyse two scenarios to find out what happened:

  1. If coffee is coming out of the tube, the coffee maker worked well, but you left it on the stove. Just take it back and wait. And for the next time, be more vigilant or use an Italian coffee maker with an electric base.
  2. If you don’t get any coffee and the steam is already coming off strongly, something is wrong. Once the coffee maker has cooled down completely, check to see if you have perhaps squeezed the coffee too hard into the filter or if the filter was also ok. Remember that the water doesn’t pass through with as much pressure as in an espresso machine, so the grind should be a little coarser than in these. Another possibility is that the coffee maker has worked well, but perhaps the filter or the tube through which the coffee comes out is clogged. Clean them thoroughly and re-prep the coffee to make sure.

How to clean an Italian coffee maker

To clean your Italian coffee maker, it is best to follow these necessary cleaning and maintenance tips:

  • Many Italian coffee makers are made of stainless steel. Please do not wash them with bleach or abrasive products because they will eventually damage the steel.
  • It is always advisable to rinse an Italian coffee maker thoroughly before using it for the first time. Wash it with soap and water, rinse it as many times as necessary, and then start it up – only with water – a couple of times to remove any toxic residues or impurities that may be inside. This way, you can be sure that your coffee will not take on any strange aromas or flavours.
  • Clean frequently and with abundant water, the internal components: tube, filter, deposits and funnel for the coffee. If they become clogged, the coffee maker will not work well because, no matter how much pressure there is inside, the water vapour will never rise.
  • Dry the coffee maker thoroughly with a cloth after washing it. Do not let it dry in the air. If necessary, use kitchen paper or blotting paper to prevent moisture from remaining in the interior of the coffee machine, which could lead to mould over time.
  • Store the pieces separately, i.e. the upper body on one side and the lower body on the other. It was disassembled and unscrewed. What for? To extend the life of the rubber seal that ensures the airtight seal of the part.
  • When you use an Italian coffee maker, safety always comes first. So, every time you go to make coffee, check that the safety valve is working correctly. How do you check the safety valve of a Moka coffee machine? Only by squeezing the ball inside. If it moves, the valve is clean and in perfect condition. If it’s blocked, you’d better not take any chances. Touch clean.
  • If your Italian coffee maker has already been burned, you’ll want to read this article to try and get rid of the ugly stains – how to clean a burned Italian coffee maker.

Here’s an interesting video that shows you in more detail the process you should follow in cleaning your Italian coffee maker when it’s already filthy:

How to cure an aluminium Italian coffee maker

If you’ve never heard of how to cure an Italian coffee maker, here’s how.

First, we remind you that curing any aluminium utensil is very necessary to prevent the food from absorbing metallic aromas and deteriorating over time. It is a practice of hygiene that should be permanent and not punctual.

Italian aluminium coffee machines usually have a layer of oil or grease (invisible, of course) that serves as protection. With time and with use, this layer disappears. The curing of our Italian coffee machines will help precisely to recover and give lustre to this protective layer. We can divide the process into three steps:

  • Thoroughly cleaning the Moka
  • Cure the coffee machine.
  • Rinse and dry.

The time needed: 30 minutes.

Here is a step-by-step explanation of how to cure an Italian coffee maker:

  1. Clean the coffee maker thoroughly. We do this with hot water and a lot of foam (for this, we will use neutral soap).
  2. Remove all traces of dirt. Use a regular sponge (non-abrasive, non-scratching). We repeat the process until we are sure that no dirt is left on the surface of the mocha.
  3. Rinse and dry the coffee machine thoroughly again. We must dry it with a very soft cloth, or with kitchen paper.
  4. We begin the healing process: heat the oven to 180ºC and dip a cotton ball in oil. If you don’t want to use cotton, you can use kitchen paper. And make sure the mocha doesn’t have any elements.
  5. Spread the oil well over the entire surface of the coffee machine. It is not enough to rub a little; you must insist a lot and make sure that the oil (fat) penetrates every tiny crack on the surface of the coffee machine.
  6. Put the mocha in the oven for 10 minutes. If necessary, first dismantle the plastic parts or elements that cannot be exposed to these temperatures.
  7. Take it out and let it cool down. After it has cooled down, you should wash the coffee maker as you usually do (remember to use a sponge or scouring pad that does not scratch). After drying it for the last time, the oil will have created a new protective film of grease. Your coffee maker is now cured.

General recommendations for use

The following tips are designed to extend the life of your coffee machine and not spoil it unnecessarily. If you follow them to the letter, you can be sure of having a coffee maker for many years to come – enjoy!

  • With your Italian coffee machine, always use water with little lime or mineral water if the tap water in your city does not meet these conditions.
  • Never set fire to maximum, but rather to medium intensity. If you use a high flame, your coffee can get burnt.
  • If your stove is a gas cooker, make sure that the flames do not stick out the sides of the coffee maker.
  • Ground coffee should be medium-fine in thickness (if in doubt, it’s better to use common beans). You should never use excellent coffee (for example, the one you would use for an espresso machine), and you should never press it once into the filter (as you would do in an espresso machine).
  • A coffee maker (of any kind) is used to make coffee. Do not try to put substitutes, coffee extracts, infusions or any other ingredient into the filter.
  • It is essential that the two parts of the coffee maker fit together perfectly and that the piece is hermetically sealed to avoid leaks (with the consequent risk of burns). To be sure, check the rubber seal frequently, and replace it every year.
  • If you see that your coffee doesn’t come out because the coffee maker has cracks (it loses steam from the thread or the gasket), then cool it down, tighten it well in case it is not closed correctly, and put it back on the stove. If it continues to lose steam, then the rubber gasket is damaged, and you should replace it.

Breakdowns and problems in an Italian coffee machine

Due to the practical absence of technology they incorporate, possible disruptions in an Italian coffee machine are rare.

One of the most common is that, due to overheating or excessive exposure to heat, the rubber joint separating the two bodies of the coffee maker melts or disintegrates. This component is then embedded as a kind of glue, which makes it very difficult to separate or unscrew the two bodies of the coffee machine.

Bialetti: 3 Replacement Seals and 1 Filter for 2 Cup Moka Express - Blister Pack-109744
Bialetti: 3 Replacement Seals and 1 Filter for 2 Cup Moka Express - Blister Pack-109744
FBA; Suitable with the lines: Moka and Dama; Includes: 3 rubber seal + 1 plate; seals outer diameter of 5.7cm; inner diameter 4.1cm

If this happens to you, it’s best to heat that part – carefully – so that it keeps melting and try to unscrew the coffee maker when the rubber seal is almost liquid before it solidifies again. You can also try heating one of the two bodies a little, leaving the other one cold. The difference in temperature will cause one of them to tend to expand while the other does not, making it easier to separate them. However, the effectiveness of this practice depends mainly on the material the coffee maker is made of.

It is also imperative to continually check the rubber seal and replace it as soon as we notice the slightest defect. These are very cheap components – the seals cost just a few cents – and are easy to replace, so it’s better to be proactive than to be sorry later. They usually come in multi-unit sets, like the ones you see in the above image.

MSV Jointers for Aluminium Coffee Maker 9 Cups X2, White
MSV Jointers for Aluminium Coffee Maker 9 Cups X2, White
Jointers, for, aluminium, coffee, maker, 9, cups, x2; Jointers, for, aluminium, coffee, maker, 9, cups, x2
Rubber Ring and Filter 4T Stainless Steel
Rubber Ring and Filter 4T Stainless Steel
Made in United Kingdom; Highly Efficient; Easy to Use
Bialetti 12 Cup Washer/Filter Set
Bialetti 12 Cup Washer/Filter Set
BIALETTI Blist 3 Gaskets -1 Filter For moka 12 Cups; Produced in Italy; Easy to use; Quality product

Another problem with the poor condition of the rubber seal is that the coffee maker doesn’t work (i.e. the coffee never goes up), only works halfway, or even loses water in this area. Sometimes the gaskets -also if they are in good condition- do not seal well, and therefore part of the pressure is dissipated or lost here.

A practical and rapid solution to this problem is to get some spare parts for your rubber ring or gasket and put not one but two gaskets on both sides of the filter (one gasket on top and one underneath the filter). This way, the coffee maker will be much better sealed, and you will avoid leaks.

Finally, the third fault or problem that can occur in an Italian coffee maker is that the safety valve is too loose. If the valve is not tightened correctly, steam will escape through it – without needing to reach the pressure limit – so there will hardly be any steam entering the upper body of the coffee machine. The result you may find is that you get a much smaller amount of coffee than you expected (e.g. half of the brewer).

So you know: tighten the safety valve from time to time (you’ll need a wrench of the right size), and avoid this annoying problem.