You’ve heard that proper cleaning and sanitation in brewing are paramount, but you may find yourself asking, “Do I really need to spend money on a brewing-specific clean or sanitizer when I already have all of these effective cleaners around my house?” Well, the short answer to that question is “yes”.
Why You Should Clean Your Equipment
Spending several hundreds of dollars on all the homebrew equipment your heart desires but deciding to skimp on cleaners and sanitizers would be like buying an expensive sports car and filling it up with regular unleaded. While you may initially save a couple of bucks at the pump, the inevitable repercussions make the frugality seem completely idiotic.
While bleach and other household cleaners are great for your bathroom and kitchen surfaces, you’re not consuming things that come in direct contact with these surfaces. These are very harsh cleaners that are great for their intended use but a less than ideal choice when making beer.
In brewing, it’s very important to create a happy and healthy environment for the yeast. Any bacteria, germs and the like will have adverse affects on your beer and it’s critical that you remove them from anything that will come in contact with the wort/beer at any point in time. This includes but is not limited to brew pots/kettles, brewing spoons and/or mash paddles, fermenters, siphons and tubing, airlocks, wort chillers, etc.
Cleaning vs. Sanitation
It’s important to understand that there is a very distinct difference between cleaning and sanitizing and you cannot substitute one for the other. Cleaning involves removing dirt and debris while sanitizing is the process of reducing the number of living organisms present. While you cannot completely eliminate living organisms, it’s important to get them down to levels where they will not have a negative impact on the yeast.
Cleaning comes first. Mild dish detergents are acceptable as they’re non-toxic and can be effective. If you use dish detergent to clean your brewing equipment be sure that it’s free of perfumes and dyes. However, these types of soaps are designed to cut and remove grease, and you may find that their composition may leave a residue on your equipment, leading to extra scrubbing and rinsing.
An even better option for cleaning is Five Star PBW or a similar brewery wash. PBW, which stands for “powdered brewery wash”, is intended specifically for cleaning brewing equipment. It is an alkali cleanser that was developed for easily removing the byproducts of brewing while remaining environmentally friendly and completely biodegradable. It is a cleaner that can far move effectively reach the cracks and crevices that you may not be able to reach with your dish soap and sponge. It is also effective in stain removal and also safe for use on glass, stainless steel, soft metal and plastics. Other popular and equally effective cleaners include B-Brite, and National Chemicals Craft Meister.
A good practice is to clean your equipment as soon as possible to avoid dirt and stains from setting in. Once things like yeast byproduct and sugars get time to attach themselves to a surface, they can be very stubborn and difficult to remove. Using a good brewing cleaner also reduces the need to scrub, which can create cracks on smooth surfaces where bacteria and germs can hide. Once you’ve properly cleaned your equipment, give it a good rinse with cool water. If you don’t plan on using it immediately, simply let it air dry.
Sanitation is the step that comes after cleaning. While it may not be 100% necessary to sanitize equipment that you use for the boil, as the high temperatures can be effective in killing bacteria and germs, it’s critical that you sanitize everything that you use after the boil. It is important to use a no-rinse sanitizer. The reason for this is that the tap water that you use to rinse equipment after cleaning may have unwanted bacteria in it. While it is OK for consumption, it may not be OK for your yeast.
A couple of the most popular brewing sanitizers are Five Star Star San and B-T-F Iodophor, both of which are no-rinse sanitizers. They are also both odorless and tasteless so they won’t impart any undesired aromas or flavors in your beer.
Regardless of which sanitizer you choose, keep in mind that proper sanitation is determined not only by the type of sanitizer that you use but also in the way you use it. Contact time is very important. Follow the instructions on the bottle for the sanitizer you choose. Some call for a contact time of as little as 30 seconds while others may require five minutes or longer.
So, while you may be able to find something around your house that can seemingly get the job done, if you want to brew the absolute best beer, it’s wise to invest in cleaners and sanitizers designed specifically for brewing purposes. They have been created with the ideal chemical makeup for use with dirt, bacteria and viruses that you may encounter during the beermaking process and have also been designed with the end product in mind. Using the proper cleaners and sanitizers will result in a better beer and maximize enjoyment in your investment.