Whilst they may not be the most fun part of homebrewing, cleaning and sanitizing are THE single most important two steps of the entire brewing process – after all, what good is an amazing recipe if bacteria gets into the suds before you do!
Improperly cleaned and sanitized brewing equipment will at best negatively impact the flavor of your beer and at worst be a risk to your health. Here are some tips on how to easily keep your gear squeaky clean and prevent your prize-winning brew from growing fur.
How to Clean Different Types of Fermenters
There are two types of fermenters, glass carboys and plastic. I will outline some tips for both. The best practice to get into is cleaning out your fermenter as soon as you’ve transferred the beer into bottles or a keg. This ensures the remaining sediment doesn’t dry out and become caked to the inside of the fermenter.
Cleaning a plastic Fermenter
The first rule with plastic fermenters is to keep the insides free of scratches. This means no abrasive cleaning tools like scourers or brushes.
Give the inside a good blast with the hose. With water inside, screw the lid back on and give it a really good shake this will loosen up sediment. Clean any remaining bits of trub that are stuck to the sides with a soft dishcloth and warm water.
Pull apart the tap and let it soak in some warm water. If that’s not enough, a quick blast with the hose will get rid of any sediment that is stuck inside the fitting. Finally, ensure you remove the rubber seals from the lid and give everything a final rinse.
Leave everything to dry thoroughly and store in a dry place, free of dust. Don’t close it up until it is completely dry.
Cleaning a Gass Carboy
Carboys can be tricky to clean. Whilst they won’t scratch as easily as a plastic fermenter, you can’t just take the lid off for easy access either. They’re also heavy so be very careful when handling them during cleaning.
I think the easiest method is letting the carboy soak in a hot water solution of PBW, a common brewery-grade cleaner. Either fill the carboy to the top and leave it to soak overnight or to save water, only fill half way, lay it on its side for a few hours then roll it over to soak the other half overnight.
After the PBW has done its work, give it a shake, empty and rinse with cold water. If there are any remaining bits of trub or krausen, consider using a carboy brush, but as a general rule of thumb, keep the use of abrasive cleaning tools to a bare minimum.
How to Clean a Keg
Cleaning a keg is fairly easy, but does require gas for it to be done properly. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
- Step 1: Open the keg and rinse with water.
- Step 2: Mix approx. 1 teaspoon of PBW with 2.5 litres of hot water and pour into the keg.
- Step 3: Give it a good shake and stand on its head for around half an hour. To clean the relief valve, let a little bit of the solution out by opening it while it’s upside down.
- Step 4: Turn the keg the right way up, connect it to gas and release some of the solution through the beer out post.
- Step 5: Leave the solution to sit in the bottom of the keg for a further half hour then disconnect from the gas, vent the keg, and empty.
- Step 6: Pop the lid and seals and clean thoroughly.
- Step 7: Rinse the keg by repeating steps 3-5 with clean water instead of cleaning solution.
- Step 8. Drain the keg completely and leave upside down with the lid open until you’re ready to use it again.
How to Sanitize Brewing Equipment
Many brewers often confuse cleaning and sanitizing or think they’re the same thing. They’re not. Think of it like this: cleaning is act of getting rid of the gunk you can see, while sanitizing is all about getting rid of the gunk you can’t see.
It’s crucial that anything that’s going to come in contact with your beer is thoroughly sanitized immediately prior to use. The best product to use is an acid-based no-rinse sanitizer. Probably the best on the market is StarSan. It’s highly effective, easy to use and at a dilution rate of 1.5ml (yes, that’s 1.5 milliliters!) to 1 litre of water, a bottle of this stuff will last you a very, very long time.
For fermenters, pour the mixed solution (ensure you read the directions carefully) it into your fermenter, close it up and shake until all surfaces have come in contact with the solution. Leave for two minutes and empty. It’s a no-rinse sanitizer, so there’s no need to wash it out with water afterward.
For other bits and pieces like taps, airlocks, stirring spoons, grommets, rubber seals etc. simply make up a few more litres of StarSan solution, submerge and grab them when you’re ready.
For kegs, simply follow steps 3-5 in the How to clean a keg section with sanitizing solution. Again, there’s no need to rinse.
If you have any cleaning or sanitizing tips of your own, please share them in the comment section below.