Sanitation is critical to brewing good beer at home. Even the slightest contamination of fermenting or finished beer can ruin a perfectly good batch. This week, we take a look at good sanitation techniques for home brewers.
Good Brewing Sanitation
Anything that comes in contact with your wort or beer after it has been boiled should be both washed and sanitized. Items used prior to boiling should be washed, but need not be sanitized as boiling the wort will sanitize it.
Washing is simply the act of removing dust, dirt and grime from your equipment. Sanitizing your equipment is a separate step to kill off remaining bacteria and micro-organisms that might linger after washing. A thorough washing is a precursor to sanitizing, as sanitizing agents alone will not be able to remove built up grime and deposits on equipment that harbor bacteria.
A good mild anti-bacterial dish detergent makes a good primary cleaning agent. A scrubbing sponge or brush will help to remove any deposits, though be careful not to use abrasives on plastic as this tends to scratch and pit the plastic, creating a home for micro-organisms.
For stubborn stains, a number of stronger cleaning agents are available. These include Oxiclean, PBW, and Straight-A. Oxiclean is widely available, and as little as 1-3 tablespoons per 5 gallons will rapidly clean the residue found on fermenter walls. Powdered Brewing Wash (PBW) provides a somewhat stronger solution for tougher stains. Straight-A is another specialty cleaning agents that works well on tough stains.
Recently I’ve moved towards using PBW with hot water for most of my cleaning. It is very effective at removing organic residue from brewing and works well on stainless steel as well as plastics. A short soak will remove most residue without substantial scrubbing.
Do not leave bleach based cleaners in contact with stainless steel for any extended period of time. A short wash is acceptable, but extended bleach exposure will pit stainless steel and may even bore a hole in it if left long enough. Similarly you should not soak plastic in cleaning agents for extended periods as plastic tends to absorb many of the chemicals.
After washing your equipment, it is important that anything that touches the wort or beer after boiling is thoroughly sanitized. Some of the most popular sterilizing agents include household bleach, iodophor, Star San and B-brite.
Bleach was an early choice for me as it is inexpensive and easy to get. Using 1 tbsp per gallon of water yields a solution that will sanitize with a soak time of 15 minutes. Some care needs to be taken when using bleach with stainless steel or plastics, as you should never exceed the 15 minute soak time – bleach will pit stainless steel or soak into plastics if left in contact with the materials too long. Rinse thoroughly with hot water.
Another sanitizer I used extensitvely early on was iodophor. Iodophor is a iodine based sanitizer available in liquid form. I like to use iodophor for stainless pots and kegs as it works rapidly and is not as corrosive to steel as bleach. It requires a relatively small amount of iodophor (read the instructions – as concentrations vary) and will sanitize very quickly – as little as 60 seconds. Again you should not leave metals in contact for an extended period. Iodophor does not require rinsing, but I usually rinse lightly after use.
Starsan and B-Brite are available from your local homebrew store and are also easy to use. Starsan requires only 60 seconds to sanitize and does not require rinsing. B-Brite takes approximately 15 minutes to sanitize and does require mixing. B-Brite can also be used as a cleaning agent with a good soak. One advantage of star-san is that it can be stored for an extended period of time and reused several times.
Most recently I’ve moved almost exclusively to using PBW for cleaning and Starsan for sanitizing. PBW works well on tough deposits and is easy to rinse, and Starsan will sanitize virtually all equipment and requires no rinse afterwards.
As a final point, be sure to clean and sanitize any piece of equipment that comes in contact with your fermenting or fermented beer. This includes fermentation vessels, siphoning equipment, spoons, hydrometers, tubing, and your kegs or bottles. Clean, sanitary equipment will result in better beer that is free from infection of off-flavors.
Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:
- Passivating Stainless Steel Beer Brewing Equipment to Prevent Corrosion
- Metallic Flavors in Beer – Off-Flavors in Homebrewing
- Beer Cleaning and Sanitation with Jon Herskovits – BeerSmith Podcast #62
- Yeast Washing: Reusing your Yeast
- Aluminum vs Stainless? Best Beer Brewing Pots
- Beer Brewing Equipment with John Blichmann – BeerSmith Podcast 28
- Bottling Beer: 10 Tips for Home Brewers
- Ten Top Tips for Home Brewing Beer
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