Monday, July 6, 2009

Gaggia Running Out of Steam?

Imagine my surprise when I discovered how easy it is to disassemble my Gaggia Espresso Machine. An appliance that is actually meant to be opened up and repaired; no prying through fragile little plastic tabs, marring the surface with a screwdriver, and completely voiding the warranty. Plus, replacement parts are widely available all over the internet.

A few months ago, the Gaggia began loosing steam pressure and started to leak steam around the grouphead. A few attempts at descaling helped, but didn't completely solve the issue. Generally, it would start to steam a pitcher of milk, and fade away about half way through, and I would have to stop and wait for the steam pressure to build again. It might take four or five of these cycles to get the milk temperature to 150ºF. Finally, I'd had enough.

Like my other post about fixing my KitchenAid Mixer, I'm not going to provide a step by step walkthrough. I will, however, post some pictures that might help somebody as they attempt disassembly. These pictures actually came in very handy for me when I forgot the correct way to reassemble the boiler. I plan to disassemble about once a year as a maintenance routine.

Gaggia Coffee Deluxe


Pouring a lovely shot after being fixed!


First, remove the shower screen. It can be cleaned with a mildly acidic solution.


Remove the water spreader and give it a thorough cleaning. Notice the mineral scale on the hex head screws.


The grouphead with the screen and spreader removed. Clean it with a soft bristled brush. Remove the hex nut and pull out the spring valve with the little rubber ball on it. Clean this well, as it keeps steam and water from leaking from the grouphead. I have also removed the steam wand and the four screws that hold the boiler in place. You might consider replacing the rubber seal that surrounds the grouphead and makes contact with the portafilter.


This is a view from the inside. The bright orange part is the pump which probably doesn't need to be removed and cleaned. The weak of heart should turn back now!


Pay attention to all the electrical connections and label them with a marker or tape. This is very important! If the contacts get mixed up upon reassembly, you could fry your machine.


This is the boiler. Open up the steam valve and make sure there are no blockages. Ditto for the steam tube. Also note how the boiler is disassembled - maybe apply a witness mark. Notice the beer. You weren't thinking of attempting this project without a beer, were you?


The inside of the boiler and nearly complete disassembly. Clean any mineral scale from inside the boiler and soak other parts in an acidic solution. Be careful not to get the electrical connectors wet. Notice the different beer as an indication of time lapse.

21 comments:

Suzi Riot said...

I'm impressed!

Missed seeing you on Saturday, but I hope you had a great time camping. Hope you'll make another trip up soon!

Aidan said...

I have had exactly the same problem but I am unable to remove the water spreader. Do you have any tips?

Prof Wasteland said...

This is really helpful. My machine quit pumping through the brew head but pumps great through the steam wand so it has to be something else that is blocking flow. I have gone through the standard checks and cleaning and that didn't help, and I don't want to ship it off to get fixed if I can do it myself. I will try this today. The beer information is excellent too, looks like at a minimum it will take at least a good porter and then possibly an IPA or wheat ale to get through this.

taskerc said...

I have a Coffee Deluxe that had also stopped pouring water through group head. So I did the tear down (but sadly had not seen your pictorial). Went through all part s looking for blockages - nothing. So I did an in-situ blow method (funny to watch I am sure) and eventually found that the water was getting to the spring/rubber ball thingy. I removed that and cleaned it and voila - full pressure back and espresso flowing again! I noticed my boiled did have quite a bit of buildup inside so I have ordered more cleaner/descaler.

Guyan said...

Good guide. How did you get the steam control know off? I can't see how to take it off without damaging it and can't get the boiler out without doing this. Thanks

shimniok said...

Awesome post and pics! My Gaggia Espresso Deluxe is unhappy. First attempt at disassembly flying blind went poorly. This post will help me tremendously. Thanks!

Jeff said...

Keith...
Your post helped me do EVERYTHING except fix my machine. I need a new group head and spreader -- because I waited so long to find your site and do general maintenance. My mistake! (and thanks for the beer suggestion)

Do you happen to know ANYWHERE that I can buy a group head? I have looked online for hours and cannot find anyone who sells them. ANYWHERE. Am I just stupid?

Thanks,
Jeff

Keith Shank said...

Guyan, I think the steam control knob just pulled off if I remember correctly.

Jeff, not sure if this helps, but I was able to find this site: http://www.coffeeparts.com/gaggia/gaggia-spare-parts-1.html

AnatolyG said...

Fantastic description! I took most of the machine apart a week ago and descaled it, but the performance was still lackluster. That time I couldn't get the shower screen off. After reading your post, I took off the screen, and saw a ton of calcium build up. Cleaned it, and the machine works perfectly now. THanks!

Vinny said...

Love the pics and walkthrough. I have my gaggia espresso deluxe mostly apart now and I will do a thorough cleaning. What did you use for cleaning? You say a mildly acidic solution, can you expand on that? I want to purchase it or make it for the purposes of cleaning my machine.

Thanks.

Keith Shank said...

@Vinny

You could use a mildly acidic solution like vinegar water, but I don't like the other flavors associated with vinegar. I would use citric acid or tartaric acid (cream of tartar) dissolved in water.

If I had to guess at a ph (I just winged it), I would get it to about 3-4.

Hope this helps!

Vinny said...

Thanks Keith, I actually have some of that at home so I'll give it a shot. Did you use the citric acid solution on internal components? I want to soak the shower holding plate at least.

How did you get the little bolt out that the spring and valve go inside of?

Keith Shank said...

Vinny,

Not sure what spring and bolt you're talking about - it's been a few years. There wasn't any tricks that I remember. Maybe just force? Things might be corroded, so maybe it will come apart after an acid soak.

I did soak some of the internal components to descale them, but only tubing and such, not any of the other components.

Hermione Way said...

Hi Keith,

well explained and appearance of beers most amusing.
I have the same steam issue and after having pulled the group head off last night have looked through your photo's and I've done about half of what you've done (I ran our of time and had to put the kids to bed).
What part of the process did you think solved your steam issue and does it now operate like it used to? As did mine up until I tinkered with it then the intermittent steam issue began.
thanks
Miles

Hermione Way said...

I should clarify that the intermittent steam issue happened on the weekend, not as result of taking the group head off last night. My group head is quite corroded, I bough the machine second hand.
thanks
Miles

Keith Shank said...

Hermione,

My machine runs pretty well now, but I've since upgraded to professional machines that I've purchased from Craigslist. I even purchased one working model for $400! If you have the space, this is the way to go. But my Gaggia runs alright - it's sitting in a box somewhere, though.

Sorry I couldn't be of more help. If you have any other questions, I'll do my best to help out!

Keith

Keith Shank said...

Hermione,

Part of that last comment was deleted, whoops!

I'm really not sure what I did exactly to fix the machine. I can only assume that something was limed up. I recommend soaking all the parts in an acidic bath, and physically cleaning out any parts that don't seem completely clear. Take lots of photos of everything before you disassemble it (like 50 photos from all different angles). Soak everything.

Cheers!

Hermione Way said...

Hi Keith,

Sounds good mate - pulling everything apart and soaking is my next plan, I'm sort of enjoying all teh tinkering, my wife thinks it's hilarious! I'm tempted to upgrade to a Rancilio Silvia but will tinker with this first.
Thanks for coming back to me.
cheers
Miles

sbarkdull said...

How do you remove the wires that connect to the heating elements? Do they simply pull straight up?
Thx

Anonymous said...

Thanks. You saved me a bunch as I was looking at a new/cheap machine. I just did the first 2 cleaning steps, ran a bunch of vinegar, and now my 2003 gaggia espresso is almost like new.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. You saved me a bunch as I was looking at a new/cheap machine. I just did the first 2 cleaning steps, ran a bunch of vinegar, and now my 2003 gaggia espresso is almost like new.