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February 1, 2013
Last updated

How to Clean a Copper Moonshine Still

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

Cleaning A Copper "Moonshine" Still

Quite a few folks have asked us how to keep the copper bright and shiny, so we decided to write this "how to" guide.  

First things first, by "moonshine still" we mean "small copper still. We've chosen to use that language because small copper stills are often called "moonshine stills." That said, copper is not naturally shiny.  Over time the metal develops a patina (dulls and turns more of a brownish color then black and bluish green) due to oxidation.  For those that want the patina, just wait! For those that like to keep their still bright and shiny, read on. We'll present a few easy and inexpensive ways to keep a still looking brand new.

copper moonshine still cleaner

1. Vinegar, salt, and flour:  Yes, that's right a few common kitchen ingredients and a bit of elbow grease will clean copper right up.  Combine about a tablespoon of salt and a cup of vinegar and then add enough flour to make a paste.  Apply the paste to a still and wait.  Leave sit for 30 minutes, wash off, and repeat the process if needed.  Of course, one will probably need to scale this recipe up for even the smallest still we make, but it's very inexpensive and works well.

2. Ketchup, lemon juice, cream of tartar:  This is another common recipe that utilizes common kitchen ingredients. If one does not have the ingredients listed in the previous recipe, but they do have some ketchup, lemon juice, and cream of tartar they can use this recipe.  However, this version of DIY household cleaner is not as effective as vinegar, salt, and flour.

copper moonshine still cleaner

3. Tarn-X:  For the quickest results, consider purchasing an "industrial strength" metal cleaner / tarnish remover.  Tarn-x works well and can be purchased at Lowe's or Home Depot.  It is also fairly inexpensive.  Be warned though, this stuff is quite a bit stronger than vinegar and salt, therefore proper protection is required.  Wear gloves and goggles.  Also, this stuff really smells awful.  I literally wear a voc mask when using it, which actually blocks the smell completely.  

Regardless of the cleaner used, remember to rinse a still thoroughly after cleaning. Any residual acids left on the still will cause it to discolor.  Also, remember that nature will always win and a still will discolor over time.  The best way to prevent natural patina is to apply a sealant just after thoroughly cleaning and polishing a still.  

Hopefully this was helpful information for those that want to keep their stills bright and shiny.  Also, consider the alternative: do nothing and let the still develop a natural patina. In my opinion, the natural route is best. Stills with patina look cool and require no work to maintain!

A reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn't brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.

  • What color should the solder joints be in side the still after a cleaning run using vinegar followed by PBW?

    Posted by David on March 04, 2019
  • I put 1 gal. vinegar in my 6 gal. pot still. turn it on, run the vinegar thru the still at a reasonable temperature,it will be blue coming out of the worm. run it till it becomes clear. I save the un-run vinegar back in the jug for next time.

    Posted by S P on November 22, 2017
  • Hello,

    Finally got around to building my 10 gal kit, how do you clean out the leftover flux and solder/grime etc. from inside of the still and all the plumbing prior to a run? Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks & take care,


    Posted by RG Hocutt on May 30, 2017
  • Can you clean the inside of a copper steel with bleach. And if you do does it ruin it. Can you use it any more? Will vinagar clean the bleach out.
    Posted by WAverly on January 23, 2017
  • Thank you for the awesome tips on cleaning your still I much appreciate it, thanks again

    Posted by chris on July 30, 2014
  • Confused ? When you say fill the still with
    One gal of water. Do you mean clean it with
    Just one gal of water ?

    Posted by Tony Mitchell on July 08, 2014
  • Confused ? When you say fill the still with
    One gal of water. Do you mean clean it with
    Just one gal of water ?

    Posted by Tony Mitchell on July 08, 2014
  • Do you need to clean the still after each use?

    Posted by tina on May 01, 2014
  • To clean the inside you need to do a vinegar and water run (1/2 and 1/2) this will clean the chunks. Then you need to do a sacrificial run, use either a wash you made or cheap wine. I used wine that cost 5 dollars a gallon. This will clean what the vinegar missed. Hope this helps those asking in the comments.

    Posted by N Shine on April 24, 2014
  • I’m just wondering what you recommend for cleaning the residue from the solder and flux prior to the first run.

    Posted by Mike Ferris on January 16, 2014
  • I have in the works my own still that I am building. Once built how do I get it all cleaned out due to soldering (flux, etc). Any help will be appreciated!


    Posted by Tim Ware on December 11, 2013
  • Good morning kyle, I was wondering on your web site it shows your ten gallon pot is 5′×12″, is this the overall size, or is this with out the column t t Albert Bongers N.Y.C

    Posted by Albert Bongers on November 15, 2013
  • Clean the inside with a bottle brush and ketchup.Let set for around two minutes rinse and your ready to go.The ketchup has the cling effect where as vinegar will run off fast.

    Posted by scottyboy on September 30, 2013
  • Hey Kyle, I understand on how to clean it, what sealant do you recommend to save the polish. Also ( kind of a no brainier) the sealant burn off while doing a run?, Kyle as always Thank you for all your guidess

    Posted by Rick on August 29, 2013
  • It took me a year to get and figer out the whole thing preduse whiskey,how other than it burnig blue can I tell its good?

    Posted by mark on August 22, 2013
  • when putting a kit together.,how do you clean or get out the flux and soldier out of the insides of the copper pipes were they were soldierd.,? wouldn’t that be bad and make your shine taste bad when you go to distill it?….

    Posted by JOHNNY LEONARD on July 19, 2013
  • just got my still put together,how do I clean the inside I have to put the water lines on it or just let it run.have put about a gallon of vinegar in it but do I put cooling lines on it.

    Posted by madmax on June 09, 2013
  • I ran water and vinegar through my still to clean it.when I to dump out when finished I noticed that the water vinegar mix had a light bluish Tint to it is that normal

    Posted by Jake on April 23, 2013
  • just got first still , how do i make sure it is clean and safe to start running it.

    Posted by willis r davis on March 19, 2013
  • I clean mine at the first run of the year. Vinegar and water works like a charm. 2 gallon water and 1/2 gallon of vinegar. Bring it to a boil and let it run out the worm for around 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with water. That gives you a good product throughout the year. If you by some slim chance burn your mash because you got a little corn in your pot (experience talking. Lol.) this method works well too to take out the burned stuff in the bottom.

    Posted by Scott on December 05, 2012

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