Probably one of the most important and easiest tips I can offer is to keep things clean and sanitized. This not only goes for the equipment, but also your work surface, your hands, the sink, the faucet ect. Everything that can come in contact with your equipment and your product needs to be cleaned and sanitized.
There are a number of cleaning and sanitizing agents that a home brewer can use, such as the pink powdered bleach that comes with most home brewing kits, PBW (Powder Brewery Wash) and Star San. But don’t use the dishwasher or the soap. Both will leave a thin residue on the equipment and the bottles. Just like when your glasses will eventually get a cloudy residue on them after a while when you clean them in your dishwasher.
The Difference Between a Cleaning and Sanitizing Agents
Most home brewers find that understanding the difference between cleaning agents and sanitizing agents a bit difficult at the beginning. We all wash our hands and we are good right? It is easy to get clean and sanitized mixed up. Unless you have a brewing mentor with you, you are in an information overload at the home brew store. And the bill is going up with everything they are trying to tell and sell you. There is so much to learn off the start that it can be overwhelming. And let’s face it, cleaning is not on the top of your priority list, you just want to start brewing beer with your friends. However this topic is probably one of the more important parts of the entire process to do, and do right.
Cleaning agents help removes visible dirt and residue that is left on your equipment, but not living organisms such as bacteria and mold. An example of a cleaning agents are the pink powder bleach that often comes with your home brewing kit, or PBW (Powder Brewing Wash).
Sanitizing agents removes any living organisms on your equipment such as bacteria, wild yeast and mold. Sanitizing can also be done with heat. An example of a sanitizing agent is a product called Star San.
You need to clean your equipment before it can be sanitized. A good tip is to clean your equipment right after it is used. It is easier to clean at that time because everything is still moist and will come off easier. So your start up clean up time will be easier and quicker. It is always a good idea to give a good wipe and rinse to your equipment even if it looks clean, then spray it with sanitizer.
Cleaning your equipment
If you are like me, you are using your kitchen to make your beer. If you are, make use of the hand sprayer if you have one. It makes clean up a lot easier and quicker. If you are outside, the garden hose is you best friend.
To start your brew day, you need to clean up all your equipment. As I mentioned earlier, you can use the pink powder bleach or PBW to clean the dirt and grime off your equipment.
However if you rinse your equipment after you use it, most of any sediment or anything that is there is moist will easily be removed just by spraying it with water. So if you clean your equipment after use, then on your brew day all you will need to do is wash your equipment down with water and a maybe a scrub brush to get any grit and grim off that might be left over. If you do use the powder bleach you have to make sure you rinse everything well before you sanitize it. Once clean, you can just go directly to the sanitation steps. I have done a lot of research online on trying to define if the pink powder bleach is a cleaner or sterilizer. The closest I found is that to use the bleach as a sterilizer, you have to let everything soak in the bleach wash for 20 minutes.
Another Cleaning product is called PBW, Powdered Brewery Wash. PBW is a patented alkali cleaner originally developed for Coors, now widely used in commercial breweries across North America. It only requires 1 to 2 ounces per gallon for cleaning kettles or 3/4 ounce per gallon for fermenters, kegs, tanks, and other equipment. It also works great as a household cleaner too.
I haven’t used PBW yet. My star san supply hasn’t run out yet. A bottle lasts a long time. But when talking to Kevin at Prairie Brew Supply, he’s told me it is the latest product and is the environmental friendly replacement to star san.
Sanitizing your equipment
Star San is a food grade, no rinse sanitizer liquid, meaning you just need to shake any excess off. It is not going to harm you if there is a little bit left on the equipment. To mix the Star San cleaning solution, it only takes 1 oz Star San per 5 gallons of water and just 1 to 2 minutes of contact time. So it goes a long way.
I use to use both at the beginning. But after a while, after a lot of reading on the topic, I just stopped using the bleach. I haven’t had a bad brew since doing this.
In the beginning I use to fill up the sink or part of the bucket with water and bleach or star san. Then continue with the cleaning and sanitization process. This took a considerable amount of time and I just made a huge mess. I had to make sure I also had an apron on because I ruined a lot of shirts from the bleach.
Then one day I discovered this beer and wine making show on the local cable network station. Not a high end show, but the host had some great tips. One of the best tips was the use of a spray bottle that you can get at any hardware store or Walmart. I felt this guy was a genius. This made cleaning and sanitizing really quick and easy. Even the siphon hose. I turned the spray bottle nozzle to stream and filled up the hose. Bam, it’s sanitized.
The thing to remember with Star San is that it is reusable to an extent. The batch of star san that I make up for that brew, I use for the complete sanitization of what is needed. For example when I fill up the siphon hose, you can empty the contents into a glass and reuse it for the continuation of that brew day. I find it gets cloudy after this, so you shouldn’t reuse it when it gets to this state.
To start the entire process, I clean my sink and the surrounding counter. Then I spray it down with Star San and wipe the counter down with a clean cloth. Now you can place all your equipment and cleaning supplies in the sink and it will remain clean. At the same time, spray your faucet and spray into the faucet where the water comes out with a couple of squirts.
When sanitizing your pail, just turn the nozzle to a wide spray and spray the inside of the pail and completely cover the area. Use a clean wash cloth, get it wet with the star san from inside the pail and wipe the area again, then pour the star san into the glass for reuse again. keep the wash cloth in a clean and sanitized area to use it again.
My last tip when keeping things clean is your hands. Invest in some latex gloves if you don’t have an allergy to them. These cleaning and sterilizing agents to take a toll on your hands during your brew day. They dry your hands out a lot. I find my hands use to feel dry and kind of raw. You still should spray your gloves with star san once you have them on. So go to Costco and buy a big box of 150 gloves for around $14.00 and save your hands.