This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.Properly Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment may be the most overlooked aspect of making great beer (and high proof alcohol) – especially among rookie homebrewers. If you don’t take extra time and care to kill all the unwanted bacteria and wild yeasts that are trying to dine out on any leftovers clinging to your equipment, you’ll wind up wasting tons of your valuable time and money on beer you’ll just pour down the drain. Still not convinced that sanitizing is worth your time? Here's some more info on what happens if you don’t clean and sanitize your equipment.
It’s also worth noting that you must clean your equipment before you can effectively sanitize your gear: it’s a two-step process.
With that as our setup, let’s walk through some steps that will help you ensure your equipment is shipshape and ready to start brewing.
Step 1: Adopt Good Cleaning Habits
What’s important to remember is that you need to clean all of your brewing equipment – not just some of it – using your preferred cleaning ingredients.
Here’s a handy checklist
- Brew Kettle
- Mash Paddle
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cup
- Yeast starter jar
- Fermenter and lid
When it comes to choosing what to clean your equipment with start with a sponge, a faucet and a spray bottle. In terms of cleaning solutions, your options include sodium percarbonates sold under brands like PBW. As with anything, read the label first to make sure you are wearing proper eye and hand protection.
Also be aware that you may need to use different cleaning products depending on what your equipment is made of. Plastics tend to absorb odors easily, for instance, so make sure you’re using unscented detergents or soaps. Foaming soaps can also work well since the foam can seep into any cracks or grooves in your equipment you might miss otherwise.
When you’re dealing with metals like copper, brass, and steel, you’ll need some bigger guns like PBW or even acid cleaners like lime-and-rust remover to keep your surfaces spotless and shiny.
Those brewers who look to make the most of their time might even employ the power of an automatic dishwater to do some of the heavy-lifting for them. While this can work great for removing a good deal of gunk on spoons, measuring cups, and wide-mouthed jars, there are limitations – especially when it comes to cleaning the inside of bottles. There’s no guarantee that water is getting inside enough to effectively clean a bottle and, if soap or detergent does get inside one, it might not be properly flushed out.
The best way to clean dirty bottles is to put them in a tub of PBW for a few hours and then use a bottlebrush to properly scrub them out. You can save yourself extra hassle if you do this with bottles right after you’ve used them to help prevent the buildup of mold and grime.
Take the time to get it right or you’ll pay the price later when your beer tastes like punishment.
Step 2: Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize
While your equipment may now look clean and dandy, it isn’t. The enemy may be well hidden, but they are still there, waiting to ruin your beer. That’s why it’s time to break out the chemical weaponry to ensure you’re starting from a very clean slate.
Probably the most widely used brand of sanitizers (and also most effective) is Star San. It's an acid based sanitizer sold in almost every homebrew shop in America. We've used this brand for years and highly recommend it.
Here are some advantages of Star San:
- Star San doesn't require rinsing and won't contribute off flavors to your beer
- It's safe for all kinds of equipment (but should be diluted for copper equipment).
- It works in about 30 seconds
- It is self-foaming, meaning that penetrates well into cracks and gaps in your equipment.
If you have any equipment that you can’t reach the inside of, such as a carboy, then you’ll need to create a sanitizing bath or it and then let it sit overnight to help ensure that you dissolve all the leftovers inside.
Again, you need to zap every possible surface on each and every piece of your equipment or you risk infecting your next brew and beyond.
Applying heat is also a great way to blast bacteria into the ether. Many brewers will use their dishwasher’s high-heat drying cycle, for example, as the last step in their sanitization process. While this can be effective with metal products, using high-temperatures tends to warp any plastic equipment and should be avoided.
Once you’ve got your gear cleaned and sanitized – then it’s finally time to start brewing!
Step 3: Start Right Away
After you’ve logged a few sweaty hours in front of your brew kettle and done the heavy-lifting of cooling and transferring your wort to your fermenter, the temptation might be to kick back, relax, and pop open a cold one. You’ll clean up later, you tell yourself.
But the longer you wait to start cleaning and sanitizing your equipment, the harder those jobs become because your bacterial enemies will have had more time to set up their defenses.
It pays to postpone your celebration at least long enough to chuck everything in a bucket of clean water at least until you’re ready to properly kick off your cleaning cycle before starting your next brew cycle.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – especially when it comes to homebrewing great beer.