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Cleaning and Sanitation for the Homebrewer

“The single most important factor in being able to make delicious beer is cleanliness” – Charlie Papazian The Complete Joy of Home Brewing 4th Edition

The widespread popularity of Craft Beers has spilled over to entrepreneurs and beer enthusiasts who are homebrewing. Great home brewed beer comes from clean homebrewers. Cleanliness when homebrewing is more than cleaning up the mess you made at the end of the brew day or rinsing out your pint glass (to refill it, of course). Cleanliness is also important from the time you purchase your ingredients until your delicious homebrew hits the bottle or keg. Proper cleaning and sanitation protect your beer from a variety of potential contamination sources. Ensuring you have a thorough understanding of homebrewing cleaning and sanitation will ensure you create delicious homebrewed beer every time you step into your at-home brewhouse.

Cleaning vs. Sanitation

Cleaning and sanitation may seem like a repetitive statement, but in fact, it is not. Cleaning and sanitation are two distinct concepts that are equally important for producing quality homebrewed beer. Cleaning simply means removing any visible debris from your brewing equipment, kegs, or bottles. Sanitation means lowering the total number of microorganisms (single-cell living organisms that can only be seen by microscopes) on your homebrewing equipment, kegs, or bottles to a level where they will not impact the quality of your beer. These unwanted microorganisms can cause a lot of problems if they contaminate your homebrew. Contamination by these microorganisms can lead to cloudy beer, sour flavors, over-carbonation, a beer that has a thicker-than-usual texture, off-flavors (ranging from the taste of green apples to butter), off-aromas (ranging from the smell of rotten eggs to Band-aids), films (produced by wild yeasts) growing on the surface of the beer, and even exploding bottles! You cannot sanitize dirty equipment, utensils, and tools. If you try to sanitize dirty items, you are just wasting your sanitizer, and it does not work on a dirty surface.

Homebrewing equipment is easily cleaned using appropriate cleaning agents and detergents alongside brushes and clean, potable water (that’s water that meets state and federal standards for people to drink) to remove any visible debris. Cleaning and scrubbing also removes a large amount of microorganisms present on the equipment making sanitation more effective. Details regarding types of cleaning agents and detergents (and directions of how to use them) and proper cleaning techniques will be discussed later in this factsheet.

Sanitation of homebrewing equipment is as easy as either submerging equipment or spraying surfaces with properly diluted sanitizers. Types of sanitizers and how to dilute and store them will also be discussed later in this factsheet.

Types of Contaminants

Contaminants (any material that ends up in a finished product that should not be there) are broken down into three categories. These categories are physical, chemical, and biological.

Physical contaminants can be anything from rocks to jewelry. In homebrewing, some of the stages in the process protect the finished beer from large physical contaminants. These stages included lautering the wort through the mash-tun filter and racking the beer from primary to secondary fermenters and bottling buckets. Smaller physical contaminants include but are not limited to dirt, insect (or insect parts), hairs, and leaf fragments. Care should be taken, especially if brewing outdoors, to limit the possibility that physical contaminants can be introduced to your beer. For example, don’t brew directly under a tree where birds or squirrels could introduce contaminations. Other methods to prevent contamination include covering the boil kettle during wort chilling, moving the boil kettle indoors during wort chilling (if possible), and simply wearing a hat to restrain your hair while chilling wort or racking/packaging finished beer.

Chemical contaminants are the residues of cleaning and sanitizing agents that can affect the quality of the finished product and potentially cause the consumer of the product to become sick. If cleaning and sanitizing chemicals are not used properly, they can cause harm to the yeast during brewing. Chemical contaminants are easily controlled by following the manufacturer’s instructions and dilution rates when using cleaners and sanitizers.

Biological contaminants refer to both microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, mold, and viruses) and bodily fluids (blood, sweat, saliva, etc.). Microorganisms are controlled by the proper use of sanitizing agents to kill them so they cannot grow in the beer. Bodily fluids are easily controlled by following a few simple hygiene guidelines. If you cut yourself during the brewing process, quickly cover the wound with a bandage and, if possible, a bandage that liquid cannot pass through. If the cut is on your hand and you have household or latex gloves, use those to cover the injury. Wearing clean gloves during the process may be a good idea to protect your hands and the beer. Furthermore, if there is ANY chance blood entered the beer itself, the entire batch should be thrown out. Consider wearing a sweatband or hat when brewing in warm temperatures to prevent sweat from dripping into the beer. Never put your hands into the beer for any reason. If you need to stir the beer or remove an object from the beer, use a cleaned and sanitized stainless-steel utensil. Lastly, NEVER mouth siphon beer from one vessel to the other. Prime your siphon using gravity or a cleaned and sanitized racking wand.

Types of Cleaning Agents

Below is a list of common cleaning agents used by homebrewers. Table 1 at the end of this fact sheet also provides a summary of the cleaning chemicals. It is highly recommended to use cleaning agents intended for use by homebrewers. These cleaning agents typically are safer for the user than chemicals used by professional breweries and are more appropriate for homebrewing than household cleaners.

PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash): PBW is a cleaning agent produced by Five Star Chemicals. PBW is a mixture of sodium metasilicate and sodium 1-octanesulfonate. PBW assists in removing thick, tough, and caked-on organic matter on homebrewing equipment. PBW can break down organic material in areas that cannot be reached by brushes and can remove physical debris by simply soaking and rinsing. PBW is available as liquid concentrate, powder, and tablets. Rinsing after use is required. Dilution rates are described in the chart below.

PBW Type Dilution Rate (amount of PBW/water)
Liquid 1-2oz/gal
Powder 1-2oz/gal for kettles, .75oz/gal for all other uses
Tablet 2.5g tablet/32oz or 10g tablet/gal

Oxygen Wash: Oxygen wash is a cleaning agent produced by several different suppliers. Oxygen wash is typically a mix of sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, sodium carbonate, sodium metasilicate, and sodium sesquicarbonate. Oxygen wash works to break down organic matter on brewery equipment. Oxygen wash can also be used to remove labels from glass beer bottles. Rinsing after use is required. Oxygen wash is NOT recommended for use with aluminum equipment. Dilution rates are described in the chart below.

Level of Organic Matter Amount of oxygen wash/water
General Cleaning 1oz/gal
Heavy Soils 2oz/gal

B-Brite: B-Brite is a powdered brewery cleaner and bottle label remover available through several brewing supply companies (such as BSG and Crosby and Baker LTD.). B-Brite is made from a mixture of sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate. Use by soaking soiled brewery equipment in a dilute B-Brite solution for thirty minutes. Rinsing after use is required. Dilution rates are listed in the chart below.

B-Brite Dilution Amount of B-Brite/water
General Cleaning and Label Removal 1 tablespoon/gal

Easy Clean: Easy Clean is a powdered brewery cleaner produced by LD Carlson. Easy Clean is a mixture of sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, sodium carbonate, sodium citrate, and sodium chloride. Easy clean is a no-rinse cleaning agent. Dilution rates are listed in the chart below.

Easy Clean Dilution Amount of Easy Clean/water
General Cleaning 1 tablespoon/gal
An example of gloves and eye protection.

An example of gloves and eye protection.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

The above selection is not a comprehensive list of all homebrew cleaning agents. It is always important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, usage rates, and safety instructions. It is also important to wear gloves and eye protection when handling chemicals. Do not use common household dish detergents on your home brewing equipment because these detergents can leave behind residues on brewery equipment that can interfere with your brewing process.

General Brewery Equipment Cleaning Method

Choose an appropriate homebrewing cleaning agent. Wear gloves and eye protection. Dilute the proper amount of cleaning agent into a clean and labeled bucket or spray bottle. If using a bucket to soak, fill bucket ¾ of the way full of diluted cleaning agent and allow equipment to soak for the appropriate amount of time as described by the manufacturer. Scrub the equipment with a brush if needed. Finally, rinse all equipment with potable water.

Adding Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) to a brewing bucket of clean, potable water.

Adding Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) to a brewing bucket of clean, potable water.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Scrubbing a fermenter bucket with a clean brush and dilute PBW solution.

Scrubbing a fermenter bucket with a clean brush and dilute PBW solution.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Examples of clean rags and brushes.

Examples of clean rags and brushes.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Cleaning Brushes and Rags

Cleaning brushes and rags may be necessary to remove physical debris from brewery equipment completely. Choose brushes with bristles that are firm enough to clean the equipment but will not cause abrasions (especially if using plastic fermenters and bottling buckets). Always use recently cleaned and unsoiled rags if needed. It is important to thoroughly clean brushes with diluted cleaning agents and warm running water. Dirty brushes and rags can be sources of physical, biological, and chemical contamination. Don’t forget to replace your brushes over time as they become worn or damaged.

Types of Sanitizers

Below is a list of common sanitizing agents used by homebrewers. Table II at the end of this fact sheet also summarizes a list of common sanitizers for home brewing. It is highly recommended to use sanitizers intended for use by homebrewers.

Iodophor: Iodophor is an iodine-based sanitizer produced by a variety of suppliers. Iodophor can be used to spray or submerge brewery parts for sanitization purposes. Twenty-five ppm (parts per million) of iodophor is recommended for sanitation of brewery equipment. Iodophor requires 1 minute contact time. Typical dilution rates for 2% stock iodophor products are listed below. Always verify the manufacturer’s dilution rates for iodophor. Iodophor does not require rinsing after use.

Iodophor Dilution Amount of Iodophor/water
General Sanitation 1oz/5 gal

Star San: Star San is a foaming brewery sanitizer produced by Five Star Chemicals. Star San is a mix of phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid. Star San can be used to spray or submerge brewery equipment. Star San does not require rinsing after use. Star San requires 1-2 minutes of contact time to be effective. Dilution rates are listed in the chart below.

Star San Dilution Amount of Star San/water
General Sanitation 1oz/5 gal

Saniclean: Saniclean is a non-foaming phosphoric acid-based sanitizer produced by Five Star Chemicals. Saniclean is used in place of Star San by homebrewers who prefer a non-foaming sanitizer. Saniclean can be used by spraying or submerging brewery equipment. Saniclean does not require rinsing after use, but it does require 3 minutes of contact time to be effective. Saniclean is NOT recommended for use with aluminum equipment. Dilution rates are listed in the chart below.

Saniclean Dilution Amount of Saniclean/water
General sanitation 1 oz/3 gal

The above selection is not a comprehensive list of all homebrew sanitizing agents. Again, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, usage rates, and safety instructions. Wear gloves and eye protection when handling chemicals.

General Brewery Equipment Sanitation Method

Choose an appropriate homebrewing sanitizing agent. Wear gloves and safety glasses. Dilute the sanitizing agent into a clean and labeled bucket or spray bottle according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Spray brewery equipment surfaces or submerge equipment for the manufacturer’s recommended contact time. Minimize time between sanitation and contact of the equipment with beer as much as possible to prevent recontamination of the surfaces or equipment.

Measuring out stock sanitizer into a graduated cylinder.

Measuring out stock sanitizer into a graduated cylinder.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Making a labeled spray bottle of dilute sanitizer.

Making a labeled spray bottle of dilute sanitizer.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Using dilute sanitizer from a spray bottle on a brew bucket.

Using dilute sanitizer from a spray bottle on a brew bucket.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Adding stock sanitizer to a brewing bucket of clean, potable water.

Adding stock sanitizer to a brewing bucket of clean, potable water.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Adding parts to a sanitizer bucket.

Adding parts to a sanitizer bucket.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Allowing parts to soak in sanitizing bucket until ready to be used.

Allowing parts to soak in sanitizing bucket until ready to be used.
Alex Thompson, ©2021, Clemson University

Table 1: Common Cleaning Agents for Home Brewing Equipment and Tools

Trade Name Chemical Composition Post-Rinse Required Aluminum-Safe Links for More Information
PBW Sodium metasilicate and Sodium 1-octanesulfonate Yes Yes https://fivestarchemicals.com/home-brewing
Oxygen Wash Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, sodium carbonate, sodium metasilicate, and sodium sesquicarbonate Yes No https://www.midwestsupplies.com/products/oxygen-wash
B-Brite Sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate Yes Yes https://www.northernbrewer.com/products/b-brite-brewing-cleaner-bottle-label-remover-5-lbs
Easy Clean Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, sodium carbonate, sodium citrate, and sodium chloride No Yes https://www.northernbrewer.com/products/easy-clean

Table II. Common Sanitizers for Home Brewing Equipment and Tools

Trade Name Chemical Composition Rinse Required Aluminum-Safe Contact Contact Time Link for More Information
Iodophor Iodine No Yes 1 https://fivestarchemicals.com/io-star-32oz
Star San Phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid No Yes 1-2 https://fivestarchemicals.com/star-san-sanitizer-32-oz
Saniclean Phosphoric acid No No 3 https://fivestarchemicals.com/saniclean-32-oz

Conclusion

Proper cleaning and sanitation are essential to producing delicious homebrewed beer. Remember that you cannot sanitize an unclean surface. Also, do not be discouraged by the expectation of brewing in clean and sanitized equipment. Anyone can be a ‘clean and safe’ homebrewer by simply using the basic cleaning and sanitation methods and products listed in this factsheet. While cleaning and sanitation are necessary to produce homebrewed beer, do not let it intimidate you from participating in the highly rewarding endeavor of homebrewing your own beer. In the words of Charlie Papazian, “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew.”

References:

Papazian, Charlie. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, 4th Edition. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers. 2014.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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