In this article, we will discover one of the keys to brewing great beer. Knowing how to clean brewing equipment is an essential skill for every homebrewer.
As a new homebrewer, there are many skills to learn which are vital for making good beer. When we first started home brewing our craft beer, many friends who had already brewed told us that the most important part of homebrewing was knowing how to clean brewing equipment.
Cleaning your equipment seems like a minor task for a home brewer. However, the first batch of beer that is spoiled is a good reminder that properly sanitizing your brewing equipment really is one of the essential skills of the brewing process.
In this article, we will look at the tools and processes you need for properly cleaning your brewing equipment. So, follow along with us as we tell you all you need to know about how to clean brewing equipment. You might also find our explainer on is an airlock necessary for brewing helpful.
Before you start brewing, you will need to gather all of the equipment you need for cleaning your homebrew equipment. It is important to remember that all of the tools you use for brewing need to be properly washed and sterilized before starting.
Cleaning your brewing equipment is a task that takes a bit of elbow grease. But this bit of hard work is essential for a successful brew day.
The reason it is so important to sterilize your homebrewing equipment is that microorganisms and wild yeast can create off flavors in your beer. They can also be hazardous to your health.
Before you start cleaning your brewing equipment, you need to gather the proper supplies. Here is a list of the cleaning supplies that you need for sanitizing your home brewing gear.
Some home brewing tools really need to be sterilized and cleaned with more detail than others. The homebrew equipment that you need to gather for cleaning includes:
- Fermenter (bucket or carboys)
- Kegs or beer bottles
- Brew kettle
- Miscellaneous tools (spoons, grain spatulas, etc.)
Once you have all of your brewing tools gathered together, you will need to collect the cleaning supplies that you will use.
- Warm water
- Cleaning Solution (dish soap, percarbonate, or powdered brewery wash)
- Scrub brushes
- Sanitizing solution (Star San, hydrogen peroxide, Iodophor, or another food-grade sanitizer)
- Spray bottle
- Drying rack or towel
- Cling wrap or aluminum foil
When you are selecting items like your cleaning agent or sterilizer, you need to make sure to select products that are food-grade. These products are considered safe for cooking and food storage containers. They will not add a flavor to your beer, and if you forget to rise, they won’t make you sick.
Bleach or a bleach solution is not recommended for sterilizing homebrew equipment. Bleach is not considered food grade and can create off flavors in your beer. You might also be interested in learning why malt extract is great for home brewing.
Step 1: Rinse All The Equipment
We recommend that you thoroughly rinse all your brewing equipment right after you are finished brewing. This simple step will remove any remaining sediment buildup, grime, and proteins, from the previous brew day. It is particularly important to make sure your carboys are rinsed well.
Step 2: Prepare Your Cleaning Solution
You will start your cleaning process by simply washing your brewing equipment as you would the dishes in your kitchen. The best way to do this is to fill your sink with hot water and your preferred cleaning agent.
Dish soap is inexpensive but can leave a residue. Many homebrewers prefer powdered brewery wash or PBW. This cleanser does not leave a residue and is specially made for cleaning the equipment used in breweries.
You may have noticed that we specified hot water; using hot water with your cleaning agent will sanitize against some microorganisms. It is not recommended that you use cold or warm water for cleaning. Research found that more than 75°F was enough to reduce bacteria like E. coli.
Step 3: Wash All The Equipment
You can start this step by soaking as much of your equipment in the water and cleanser mixture as possible. This will help break up any buildup of proteins or sediments that may be stuck in your brewing supplies.
Use a bottle brush, washcloth, or sponge to scrub all surfaces that will or have touched your wort, beer, or grains. Make sure to pay close attention to crevices. Bacteria and microorganisms love to hide in the crevices and grooves in carboys and fermenter buckets.
Step 4: Rinse The Cleaning Solution
Before you move on to sanitize your brewing equipment, you will need to rinse the cleaning solution from all of your equipment. It is very important to make sure you rinse your brewing equipment well after washing, particularly if you are using dish soap. Dish soap can add unwanted flavors to your beer and can cause problems like poor head retention in your finished beer, incomplete fermentation, and foaming during the boil.
For items like your stainless-steel brew kettle, chillers, stainless steel spoons, or stirring paddles, you can end your cleaning process here. These items will be exposed to boiling water, so they do not need to go through the sterilizing process. All of the rest of your homebrewing equipment will need to move on to the next step.
Step 5: Prepare Your Sanitizing Solution
Once you have washed and completely rinsed your homebrewing equipment, you will need to prepare your sanitizing solution. The purpose of this step is to sterilize your equipment so that you do not introduce wild yeast, bacteria, and other contaminants that may interfere with your brewing process.
If you have chosen PBW for your cleaning agent, you can skip the sanitizing step. Powdered brewing wash is intended to be a one-step cleaning agent that will wash and sanitize your brewing equipment. However, when homebrewing, we recommend that you always take the time to sterilize your equipment, even if you have used PBW.
Popular sanitizing agents used for homebrewing include Star San and Iodophor. These products are easy to find at most homebrew supply stores and are relatively inexpensive. The difference between the two is that Iodophor is an iodine-based product, and Star San uses phosphoric acid.
Bleach should not be used to sanitize your equipment. Bleach is difficult to rinse from your equipment and can interfere with fermentation, add off flavors to your beer and inhibit the yeast that carbonates your beer.
Before you prepare your sanitizing solution, make sure that you read the instructions. For the best results and complete sterilization of your homebrewing equipment, it is important to mix the sanitizer properly. Both Star San and Iodophor will tell you how many ounces of the sanitizing agent should be mixed with a gallon of water.
Fill your sink or fermenter with warm water and the proper amount of sanitizing agent, as recommended by the instructions. You may want to fill a spray bottle with a sanitizing solution for use while racking beer from your fermenter or for sanitizing the top of beer bottles before capping.
Never use hot water for sanitizing solutions, particularly Star San. Hot water can volatilize the phosphoric acid and create a gas unsafe to breathe.
Step 6: Sterilize Your Equipment
This may seem like a difficult process, but sterilizing your homebrewing equipment is very simple. Sterilizing agents are made to work effectively with minimal contact time. In most cases, to effectively sanitize your brewing equipment, you only need to soak items for a few minutes at the most.
It is fine to soak your brewing equipment longer. However, allowing your brewing equipment, particularly stainless steel items, to soak for more than a couple of hours can cause corrosion.
Step 7: Rinse Sanitizer
While Star San and Iodophor do not necessarily need to be rinsed from your equipment before use, it is a good habit to rinse after sanitizing. Food-grade sanitizers are intended to be safe if ingested, so you do not have to worry about these products making you sick.
They can interfere with fermentation if you do not properly dilute them according to the directions on the bottle. To ensure that your brew day is successful, it is a good idea to rinse thoroughly after sanitizing.
Step 8: Cover And Touch-Up
If you are not going to use a piece of brewing equipment directly after it has been sanitized, it is a good idea to cover the item with foil or cling wrap. This will allow you to use the item later without having to sanitize it again.
If you need to quickly sanitize the end of a spoon, your siphon end, or the tops of your beer bottles, you can lightly spray these items with the pre-mixed sanitizer that you placed in the spray bottle. This will allow you to quickly sanitize items without making a full sink of sterilizing solutions.