How to clean a steam wand – this is how baristas unclog burnt, dried milk

These simple steps will have you steaming in no time

A barista steaming milk on a machine
(Image credit: Tara Moore via Getty Images)

You might think that my barista training centered around quality beans and expert machines. It did, but the one thing that was stressed even more was how to clean a steam wand. 

If you aren’t properly cleaning the steam wand, there’s no point in owning one of the best espresso machines or even learning how to texture milk. Dry milk is like cement, blocking your machine. It'll stop your steam from having good pressure, dribbling out instead. Plus, any milk that you do texture will taste sour. 

If you've let your cleaning lapse or you're looking to clean burnt milk off a steam wand, you're in the right place. I've been there. I spoke with fellow baristas and appliance experts to give you the low down on how best to clean the steam wand on your coffee maker. We’ve got tips and tricks for unsticking stubborn milk, soaking your steam wand to remove build-up and some home remedy recommendations too. 

How to clean a steam wand after use

A jug of milk being textured using a steam wand

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cleaning your steam wand starts as soon as your milk texturing stops, so it should be a daily task. You’ll need to have a microfiber cloth (available at Walmart) on hand. As soon as you lower the milk carafe, use your cloth to wipe any visible excess milk or froth from your steam wand.

Some machines will automatically spurt out some water once you’re finished. This is called 'purging' and it removes any residual milk from inside your steam wand. If yours doesn’t purge automatically, make sure to give it a quick blast (turn the steam wand on and then off again) as soon as your milk is textured. Skipping this step is a sure-fire way to clog your steam wand.

Kayla Stavridis, former barista, recommends that you wipe the wand at this point. 'While it's still warm (not hot) use a damp microfiber cloth and wipe any milk spatters away, Stavridis says. Don't use any sharp objects, because this could damage your steam wand. The burst of steam from purging should have softened any newly splattered milk, so it will wipe away. 

Kayla says 'If your steam wand is detachable or has a removable tip, I recommend soaking it in a mix of warm water and milk detergent. This loosens up any stubborn milk gunk, making it easier to clean.'

Most machines will come with a thin, flexible brush or wire accessory, which looks like a paperclip. Kayla recommends 'using this to use the brush to clean the inside of your wand or the detached top. This step is crucial for removing any milk build-up which might clog the steam holes.'

That’s all you need to do. Make sure all the parts are dry and reassemble them – if you disassembled them. It takes a matter of minutes and can give your steam wand an extended lease of life. 

How to remove buildup and from a steam wand

Breville Barista Pro steaming milk

(Image credit: Future)

If you’ve left your steam wand for too long and milk has set like cement inside and outside, there are a few things you can do. You don't need to be in a milk clog crisis to follow this deep cleaning process. In fact, I do this with my machine weekly.

First, fill a stainless steel jug with warm water. You can dilute some white vinegar in this if you want to. Kayla advises that 'products like Urnex Cafiza are formulated especially for cleaning espresso machines, but white vinegar diluted in equal parts water can do a good job too. Just make sure you thoroughly rinse your steam wand to get rid of vinegar's strong taste.'

Then, run your steam wand like you are steaming milk. You’ll only need to do this for five seconds. If you’ve used a vinegar solution, repeat this but with filtered water. This will clean any residual milk from inside your steam wand.

If you find your steam wand needs some help unclogging and you've lost your sharp cleaning tool (like this one from Amazon), there's a home hack you can follow. Uncurl a paper clip and tentatively work the sharp end up inside the steam wand. Wiggle it and increase the pressure until you feel it breaking through your dry milk.

How to clean burnt milk off a steam wand

Instant milk frother with burn on base

Here's an example of burnt milk at the bottom of a milk frother. It's simple to soften if you can act quickly

(Image credit: Future)

We've all steamed our milk and had it stick onto the steam wand. If your milk has scalded and stuck onto the wand, you can try the deep cleaning method. Alternatively, try wrapping a damp towel or cloth around your steam wand for a few minutes. Then run the wand, still with the towel wrapped around you. The heat and moisture will help to soften the milk, so the scalded milk will wipe right off.

Tips and tricks

De'Longhi La Specialista Maestro texturing milk

(Image credit: Future)

I've already played most of my cards for cleaning tips and tricks. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to give your steam wand immediate attention. Milk is easy to clean if you act quickly. It only becomes stubborn when neglected.

Kayla emphasized the importance of still being gentle on your steam wand. Sharp tools and harsh chemicals could damage your equipment, so always be careful and gentle when cleaning. Detergents such as Ecover and Method are effective and gentle on your machine.

Laura Honey
eCommerce Editor

Laura is our eCommerce editor. As a fully qualified barista, she's our expert in all things coffee and has tested over thirty of the best coffee makers on the market. She has also interviewed Q-Graders and world-leading experts in the coffee industry, so has an intimate knowledge of all things coffee. Before joining Homes & Gardens, she studied English at Oxford University. Whilst studying, she trained as a master perfumer and worked in the luxury fragrance industry for five years. Her collection of home fragrance is extensive and she's met and interviewed five of the world's finest perfumers (also known as 'noses'). As a result of this expansive fragrance knowledge, she always puts quality and style over quantity and fads. Laura looks for products which have been designed simply and with thoughtful finishes.