Steam Wand Maintenance 101
September 12th 2022
There are two types of steam wands. Manual wands which operate with a mechanical valve and automatic heating and frothing wands which always operate with a solenoid (electro valve). There are some exceptions. For example, the Slayer Steam espresso machine models are manual wands but operate with solenoid valves. The same can be said for the Rancilio Specialty RS1 espresso machine. There are also different types of actuators such as buttons, knobs, and levers. Regardless of the type of steam wand you work with, all need some type of maintenance.
Rebuild Mechanical Steam Valves
If your machine has a manual wand and a mechanical steam valve you will need to have your valves rebuilt periodically. Mechanical steam valves have moving metal and plastic parts which are lubricated to help them shift. Over time, friction dissipates the lubrication that keeps these parts moving smoothly. The internal components of a valve that does not receive maintenance will eventually begin to grind together. It is important to have these parts lubricated at all times.
Your steam valve also contains O-rings and seals. Over time, the heat produced by your machine will cause these wear n’ tear parts to become brittle. Gaskets will no longer seal properly. Your steam wand will either start leaking through the front of the valve or through the wand itself. Even worse, your steam valve could stick open causing a huge safety hazard, potentially harming someone.
Maintaining Steam Actuators
Regardless of if you operate your steam wands with a lever or knob, they too are moving parts which will also need lubrication.
Typically, servicing your steam valve and actuators should be part of your annual preventative maintenance, but it really depends on your usage, the design of your wand and the materials used by your manufacturer. Some higher volume businesses should have maintenance done bi-annually and others can go as much as two years. If you are operating at medium to high volume, I would recommend you have maintenance completed by your service technician at least once a year.
Timely Maintenance vs Damaging Equipment
Preventative maintenance must be completed timely and on a regular basis. Many valves if maintained may never need replacement, however internal parts that experience times of unprotection will become prematurely worn or damaged. Some things cannot be fixed if worn too severely.
Electro or Solenoid Valves
For wands utilizing a solenoid valve, the only time you will need to address your steam wand’s electro valve is when it is time to replace it. Solenoid valves either work or they do not. Solenoid valves should be replaced when they are still functioning to avoid
expensive emergency repair service. Some valves can be rebuilt but for most others, your service provider will need to make an educated guess on when to replace them before unexpected failure. The goal for your service technician is not to replace any electro valve (i.e., brew, hot water, steam) prematurely but not have them fail causing your business to come to a grinding halt. The more history your service provider has in working with a specific type of valve will decrease your chance of equipment failure and overpaying for maintenance. Electro valves are expensive and can run anywhere from one hundred to five-hundred dollars. Steam wands using a solenoid valve need no maintenance, but your steam wand will still need service.
Your Pivot Joint
Lasty, regardless of if you have a manual or an automatic heating wand, both will maneuver on a pivot joint. You need to care for this area by replacing certain seals, springs, or spring holders. The convenience of caring for your pivot joint is that you do not have to turn your espresso machine off to have this maintenance performed. Each manufacturer is different on how long the materials they use will last and of course, it will also depend on how much use and movement your steam wand experiences. A good model for maintenance for manual wands is to service your pivot area every time you rebuild your valves. For those operating with electro valves, service your pivot area every time you have a maintenance competed on your espresso machine.
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