Cleaning and Sanitising for homebrewers is the essential process of removing any bacteria, wild yeasts and microorganisms that may be living in your equipment. While it may not be the most exciting part of brewing it is definitely the most important. We all suck it up and do a really good job of it, otherwise, there is the risk of getting an infected batch of beer. Touch wood, I have never had an infection but I have seen an infected batch get dumped down the drain and that’s a sight which could make a grown man cry.
Everything that comes in contact with your wort needs to be sanitised, but before that, you must clean. (For those beginners wort is what we call beer before it’s fermented.) Below are the methods and products I use for cleaning and sanitation. Sure there are others out there but these work for most.
All your equipment needs to be cleaned free of any dust or residue prior to sanitising! This includes your fermenter, airlock, stirring spoon, can opener, scissors and thermometer for brew day. Then there are bottles, bottling wand, kegs and racking cane on bottling/kegging day. There are various products available from your local homebrew store or online but I use Sodium Percarbonate. It’s not recommended to use dish washing detergent especially if it’s scented because that can carry through to your beer if all the residue is not removed, but if you have nothing else at the time you can use it with care as explained below.
OK let’s say you can’t get your hands on Sodium Percarbonate yet, you could use dishwashing detergent and elbow grease, but what you may have in your laundry could surprise you. Napisan Oxiaction for example actually is Sodium Percarbonate and there is no problem using this to clean your gear but be aware it’s generally not 100% Sodium Percarbonate. All this means is you will need to use a bit more depending on the concentration.
Another option which I would use as a last resort is an unscented bleach. I don’t really feel comfortable using bleach as it can be quite hard on your equipment and leave a chlorine smell but it’s up to you. I have only ever used it once when I recovered all my homebrew gear from storage and I wanted to make sure it was all super clean. In saying that, it’s the go-to cleaner for a lot of homebrewers because its cheap.
So now I have touched on some of the cleaning products available I will briefly describe how to clean with them. Before I start, please read and follow the safety precautions or instructions on the label of the product you are using.
Place 2 tablespoons of Sodium Percarbonate in your fermenter along with all your equipment that will be coming in contact with wort, then fill it all the way to the brim with hot water. I usually do this in the bath because if you ask my wife I like to make a mess and get water everywhere. Once you have filled your fermenter place the lid back on and let it sit for a couple of hours or preferably overnight. Once the Sodium Percarbonate has done its job, open up the tap at the bottom and let the fermenter start draining. I like to do this to flush out any nasties that may be hiding in the tap. At this point, I get a soft cloth or sponge and wipe down all the surfaces and equipment inside the fermenter to make sure all foreign matter is removed. After you have finished cleaning and the fermenter has drained, proceed to thoroughly rinse out all the cleaning solution with water. You are now ready to sanitise. This is where I get my Sodium Percarbonate.
Napisan or Equivalent Clothing Stain Remover.
Follow the same steps as per cleaning with Sodium Percarbonate above but use twice the amount as Napisan Oxiaction Gold only contains 330g Sodium Percarbonate per kilogram. Different brands tend to contain different amounts, but I’m sure you can use the correct judgement on this. Just remember if you have any questions or not sure about something, ask us in the comments below.
I don’t really need to go on about this one too much because it’s not recommended, but if you need to use it just give your fermenter a good squirt of detergent which is preferably unscented and proceed to follow the same steps as you would using Sodium Percarbonate. Rather than soaking overnight, I would just soak for a couple of hours and then use elbow grease with a soft cloth or sponge to clean everything. Just make sure you rinse everything afterwards extremely well.
Place a half cup of unscented bleach in your fermenter along with all your equipment that will be coming in contact with wort, then fill it all the way to the brim with warm water. Once you have filled your fermenter place the lid back on and let it sit for a couple of hours. Once you have let the bleach soak in, open up the tap at the bottom and let the fermenter start draining. Once the fermenter is just about drained put on some rubber gloves and with a soft cloth or sponge wipe down all the surfaces and equipment inside the fermenter to make sure all foreign matter is removed. After you have finished cleaning and the fermenter has drained, thoroughly rinse out all the bleach with hot water. You will need to rinse everything multiple times to ensure there is no strong chlorine smell. You are now ready to sanitise.
Now that you have got the hard part out of the way and your equipment has been cleaned and rinsed thoroughly its ready to be sanitised.
As I touched on above, sanitising is the process of killing any bacteria, wild yeasts and microorganisms that may be living in your equipment. Sanitising is not guaranteed to kill 100% of everything inside your equipment, so if you were to try to achieve a 100% kill rate sterilisation is required, however for homebrew this is not required. Hospitals for example use sterilisation methods.
As there was with the cleaning products there are multiple options and methods on the market, including Sodium Percarbonate, Hydrogen Peroxide and an acid mix containing Phosphoric and Sulphonic acid (otherwise known as Star San). Hands down Star San or the equivalent generic brands are the number one choice of sanitiser for homebrewers.
Whatever product you are using be sure to follow any safety precautions or instructions on the label. I’m only going to explain the use of Star San or Equivalent because that’s how highly regarded it is in the homebrew world.
Star San or Equivalent
This acid sanitiser is made up of 50% Phosphoric acid, 15% Dodecylbenzene Sulphonic acid and the remaining 35% is an inert ingredient. The reason why this type of sanitiser is so popular is that a little bit goes a long way, the contact time to sanitise is extremely quick and there is no need to rinse. As the saying goes NEVER FEAR THE FOAM! This is the Sanitiser I use.
To sanitise your equipment simply follow these steps:
- Add 6ml of Star San or equivalent to your fermenter along with 4 litres of water or 1.5ml for every litre of water.
- Place your mixing spoon and airlock in the fermenter then attach the lid.
- Give it a quick shake ensuring all surfaces get contact with the sanitiser.
- Give it another quick shake after 5 minutes.
- Once you are ready to do your brew or the sanitiser has had a minimum of 10 minutes contact time, drain it into a clean bucket along with the airlock and mixing spoon then place the lid back on until its ready to add your wort. Remember there is no need to rinse the sanitiser.
- Place any other equipment such as the scissors, can opener, and thermometer into the bucket while you do your brew.
I usually keep some diluted sanitiser in a spray bottle that I use from time to time. EG; to spray inside the tap after taking a gravity reading.
Have you held a Viking burial for a brew gone wrong from infection or you’re still not sure about something? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or via the forum!