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Cleaning and Sanitizing Homebrewing Equipment

Today I am going to review how to clean and sanitize your brewing equipment. We will go over the difference between cleaning and sanitizing, and how best to do both. I will tell you why each is so important to making great tasting beer and wine. Then we'll go over what needs to be cleaned or sanitized. I'll be splitting this up into two sections. Cleaning first, then sanitizing. So what is the difference between cleaning and sanitizing? They are two different things, and you should pay equal attention to both. Cleaning is the removal of large debris. This is the visible junk such as yeast, hops, and proteins. Removing stains is also considered cleaning.

Sanitizing is the reduction of the number of living organisms that are on your equipment. These living organisms are what spoil beer and turn wine into vinegar. They are not visible to the naked eye, but getting them down to safe levels is critical. Clean equipment will make clean beer. Dirt and debris will harbor tons of critters that will ruin your beer. Getting rid of all the grime will ensure that your sanitizer will work properly. The old saying goes, ''you can't polish a turd.'' Well you cant sanitize dirt either!

The list of item you need to keep clean includes your fermenter, your airlock, and any hoses you use to transfer. You'll also need to keep your spoon, your kettle and anything else that you use during the brewing process spotless. Be sure to clean any testing equipment you use. Always fill clean bottles, and cap with clean crowns. Finally, wash your hands!

Now that we have an idea of what we need to clean, lets look at the best ways to clean these items. The trusted set of steps is ''wash, rinse, sanitize.'' I highly recommend cleaning dirty equipment as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the worse off you will be. Using hot water with cleansers is always a good idea, and it will make cleaning much easier. Using scrub-pads and brushes will make your life much easier. Be careful not to scratch plastic buckets and hoses. The scratches will hide organisms from sanitizers. Be sure to fully rinse all soap from your equipment. Some soaps will counter-act sanitizers, making them useless!

Now, what kind of soap and cleansers are OK to use on brewing equipment? We recommend that you use a mild, brewing specific chemical called PBW. This is a chemical very similar to ''Oxy-Clean'' and works wonders. Be sure to follow the directions on the package that tell you how much to add. It works best in very hot water, and you can soak really dirty items over night with no problem. Be sure to completely rinse off all the chemical when you are done cleaning.

You can also use dish soap or mild unscented hand soap. These types of soap work great on grease, but you'll find that extra scrubbing will be required to clean your brewing equipment. Be sure to use only enough soap to make a little bit of foam. If you use too much, you'll leave a soapy residue behind. If your soap is scented, be extra sure to fully rinse all of it off. You don't want soap-scented beer or wine!

The third cleaning method involves a lot of hot water paired with a lot of elbow grease. Simply scrubbing at dirt under hot water is an effective way of cleaning. Please be careful not to burn yourself in scalding hot water. An extended soak or pre-rinse with hot water will loosen the dirt for you, and will make your job a little easier. Remember, its easy to scratch plastic buckets and hoses, so use a soft sponge on these items.

Now lets move on to the next step, which is sanitizing. Remember, sanitizing is a separate step from cleaning. We are not sterilizing, which is completely removing all living critters. We are sanitizing, which is bringing the amount of critters down to safe levels. This is a very important step in making fresh tasting beer and clean wines. The critters I mentioned include wild yeasts and bacteria. There are no known harmful viruses or bacteria that will survive in beer or wine. They will only make your beer and wine taste terrible.
So what should be sanitized? Be sure to sanitize anything that comes into contact with the beer after the boil. This includes your fermenter and airlock, your siphoning equipment, your bottles and caps, and anything else that you touch the beer with. Be sure to sanitize your siphon equipment when you test gravity. When you sanitize your fermenter, be sure to fill it all the way full with sanitizer. What kind of chemicals should you use to sanitize your equipment? All of the chemicals I will mention have a minimum amount of time that they need to act on critters, called “contact time.” Be sure to always give your sanitizer enough time to do its job. Using more sanitizer will not make it work faster, it will only cost you more money. All of the following chemicals can be added to clean, warm water. Make sure there is no cleaning chemicals left behind after rinsing. Except for one exception, all of your sanitizers should be used only once. All the sanitizers I will mention are safe to flush down the drain, and will not effect septic systems.

The easiest sanitizer to use is called “One Step.” This dry powder is easily dissolved in water, and does a very good job of sanitizing. Be sure to follow the directions on the package to make sure you use enough. The contact time of one step is 5 minutes. One step does not need to be rinsed off after sanitizing. Simply drain out all of the liquid, and allow your equipment to drip dry. One step works very well on all of your brewing equipment.

The next chemical you should know about is called Star San. This liquid is an acid based chemical that creates a powerful sanitizer when mixed in the correct amount of water. Star San has only a one minute contact time, and the foam will sanitize as well as the liquid. Star San doesn't need to be rinsed off either, but you should let any residual foam dry off before touching any beer or wine. You can store this sanitizer in a spray bottle to have at hand for quick sanitizing jobs. Because Star San is such a powerful sanitizer, you can store it and re-use it later. Keep it in a container with a tight fitting lid, and discard it when it gets cloudy.

The third sanitizing chemical you should know about is sodium metabisulphate, also called campden tablets. This chemical is well known in the wine world, and is commonly used to sanitize all wine making equipment, including bottles and corks. It works well for sanitizing brewing equipment, but it must be fully rinsed off, or else some off flavors will be found in your beer and wine. Some people are sensitive to sulfates, so care should be taken to fully rinse off this chemical. Add 1 Campden tablet per gallon of water, or 2 oz of sodium metabisulphite per gallon. The contact time for sodium metabisulphite is 5 minutes.

There are several more sanitizers that could be mentioned, such as quaternary sanitizers, but they are not as common and can be expensive. If you use one of the three sanitizers I described, you wont have any problems. Clean and sanitized equipment will make clean, great tasting beer and wine. You now have the tools you need to keep all your equipment clean and ready to use. You know the difference between cleaning and sanitizing, and how to do both. If you have any more questions, feel free to call us at 1-800-450-9535, or e-mail us at outpost@homebrewers.com.

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