HOW TO SANITIZE BEER MAKING EQUIPMENT – ECO-FRIENDLY SOLUTIONS

Today is bottling day. My first beer bottling day ever! After brewing day came the 6 days of primary fermentation. The instructions in the ingredients kit recommended performing a secondary fermentation – which I did and waited patiently for 2 more full weeks. Now my Belgian (Style) Ale is finally ready to be bottled for the conditioning part of the process. This is when you want to make sure you understand HOW TO SANITIZE BEER MAKING EQUIPMENT.

Sanitizing is extremely important when brewing beer. It might even be the number one concern. The reason is, wort is a warm, moist and nutrient rich environment that is perfect for yeasts and bacteria to grow. If unwanted cells invite themselves to the party … chances are you will end up with a funky tasting brew! My first experiment is promising and I don’t want to ruin my next batch …

So, I did some research to find out.  I have not tried most of these products and methods.  Given my short experience as a new beer maker at home, I have cleaned and sanitized my equipment so far (on brewing day, and before racking for secondary fermentation) with the products that came with my brewing kit – what seems to be some generic oxygen-based cleaner “easy clean”, and an Iodine-based sanitizer, “Io-Star”. Before bottling, my beer turned out clean and aromatic, so I must have sanitized correctly.  However I learned from this research what product(s) and methods I will use moving forward and why.

  • what CLEANING PRODUCTS are recommended
  • What PRODUCTS TO USE TO STERILIZE
  • Preferred TIPS and SANITATION METHODS in the home brewing community

How to sanitize beer making equipment bubbles

Sanitizing – what does it mean?

Commonly speaking, sanitizing means “to make sanitary by cleaning OR sterilizing”. When it comes to home brewing, SANITIZING actually means “cleaning AND sterilizing”. When brewers speak about sanitizing, they actually mean sterilizing, which means killing or removing all forms of microorganisms – so, for the sake of consistency, I’ll speak about CLEANING and SANITIZING.

You CLEAN to remove all VISIBLE grime and dirt off all your equipment. Most of the time cleaning is a PHYSICAL METHOD, such as washing, scrubbing, flushing, rinsing … after using a cleaning agent. The sanitization process simply won’t work if you have dirt left on your equipment.

You SANITIZE to remove all unwanted wild YEASTS and BACTERIA. This is the deep clean, so to speak. There are different possible methods. As far as home brewing is concerned, this is done either by CHEMICAL or HEAT treatment. Since we care about the environment, we will briefly mention here which chemicals are natural, harmless compounds.

Cleaning – what products to use?

What is NOT RECOMMENDED:

DISHWASHING LIQUID SOAP – in other words, DETERGENT – you will need to rinse it thoroughly, and might leave a soapy residue that will affect the foam retention in your beer. It might also taint it with artificial scent and taste, as the soap’s perfumes can migrate to your plastic equipment.

BLEACH – you can use it as an effective cleaner (a CAUSTIC CHLORINE solution that breaks up the organic compounds) and it is very affordable, however it is corrosive to metal parts if in contact for an extended period of time. You will also need to rinse abundantly.

RECOMMENDED:

OXYCLEAN – like the name indicates, an OXYGEN-BASED cleaner. It contains percarbonates and hydrogen peroxide, which breakdown into BIO-DEGRADABLE elements, which makes it appealing to me, as environment conscious citizen!

ONE STEP – A no-rinse version of oxygen-based cleaner, claiming to be THE ONLY ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND cleaner because of its non-alkaline nature. Apparently lots of home brewers clean and sanitize with this only product. One step. It is still advised to use a sanitizer, especially as your equipment gets older.

PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) – An ALKALINE and CAUSTIC cleaning agent that’s very effective. Also, ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY. It is trusted by many professional brewers.

For copper and brass only – WHITE DISTILLED VINEGAR (ACETIC ACID): Before the first use, clean your wort chiller by soaking it for 15 minutes, no more otherwise, the copper/ brass will start to dissolve. Rinse after each use to prevent oxide or wort deposit that could harbor bacteria.

What sanitizers should you use?

NOT RECOMMENDED:

ALCOHOL – might be useful to sanitize surfaces, such as tables, … your hands… but not so much equipment.

Although glass, metal and HDPE are resistant to methyl, ethyl and isopropyl, some plastics will decompose in contact of alcohol. A 70% Alcohol solution (30% water) is actually more effective than 100% Alcohol.

BLEACH – it will effectively kill germs, but since rinsing is required, it makes bleach not a good sanitizer at this point – I’ll explain in the paragraph below on methods and tips why rinsing is not a good thing after sanitizing.

MOST USED

STAR-SAN – is the most popular sanitizer for home brewing. It is a no-rinse, ACID-BASED, no color, self-foaming agent, with a short time of contact needed, 1 minute. The foam helps get the product in the cracks of the equipment. It is USDA Approved.

IDOPHOR – It is IODINE-BASED – so food industry friendly, also a no-rinse, with little contact time needed – 1 minute, low foaming. Will slightly stain vinyl tubing.

RECOMMENDED

For glass and metal only – DRY HEAT. The perfect application for this type of sanitization is STERILIZING (not just sanitizing) your empty, clean glass bottles in your oven. They need to stay at 350° F for 60 minutes.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE (ONE STEP or PBW) – beyond being an excellent cleanser, hydrogen peroxide is also an effective sanitizer. It works by oxidizing, meaning burning microorganisms. It also breaks down into water and oxygen after reacting with the organic material, making it VERY SAFE. The more you dilute the solution, the more contact time is required. For example a 3% solution as sold commonly needs about 10 minutes to kill bacteria. It cleans and sanitizes at the same time – And it is no-rinse.

 

Methods and tips on sanitation.

SOAKING – follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Short contact sanitizing products such as acid and iodine based – will work with a 1-minute soak, whereas hydrogen needs 10 to 20 minutes.

SCRUBBING – only use SOFT brushes or cloths, as you don’t want to scratch the surfaces of your equipment

RINSING or NOT RINSING AFTER SANITIZING? – since tap water may contain bacteria and germs, it is NOT RECOMMENDED rinsing after sanitizing. This is why is important to use cleaners and sanitizers that are SAFE for your health and the environment. Another benefits of using environmentally friendly no rinse products such as ONE STEP is that it saves water.

MICROWAVE – technically effectively kills germs but does not work with dry or metallic materials. Could be a solution to sterilize liquids, to prepare for the action of yeasts for example.

DISHWASHER – some people use this to sanitize empty bottles, but it is not recommended as most non-commercial dishwashers won’t heat more than 140°-160° F on average, which is not hot enough at any length of time to properly sanitize.  Also, regular dishwashers are not designed to wash bottles and use up lots of water.

OVEN 350° F for 60 minutes – perfect solution to sanitize/ sterilize empty bottles.

How to sanitize your beer making equipment – what to remember.

Common sense and paying attention to details at all stages of the brewing process are key.

Cleaning is not sanitizing. Both need to be done. Increasing time of contact or temperature normally improves result. Do not overuse chemicals. Watch expiration dates.

Rinse BEFORE sanitizing and immediately after use of your equipment

Scrub gently.

OXYGEN-BASED PRODUCTS serve the two purposes: CLEANING and SANITIZING. For that reason, even if they are at first sight more expensive, they may be still less expensive than buying two products instead of one. They also break down into water and oxygen, two natural elements that are completely safe for the environment. I also learned that they are no-rinse, therefore easier to use and protecting your equipment against the tap water bacteria. To me, this is the perfect solution.

I will continue to use the dry heat of my oven to STERILIZE my clean, empty bottles.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share your questions or comments below.

Cheers, and to our health!

Vincent

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