Cleaning and sanitising your homebrew equipment
So you’ve got your homebrew gear, you’ve got the hops, yeast, and grains, you’ve cleared some space in the garage, and there’s a weekend homebrew project with your name on it. Let’s get brewing!
Not so fast. Have you cleaned and sanitised your equipment?
We get it. It’s boring, it’s another step, and hey, everything looks clean enough. But a bad batch of beer can often be traced back to substandard equipment cleaning and sanitising – and how gutted would you be to have an entire brew ruined?
Cleaning and sanitising is a quick and easy process, and done right you’ll exponentially increase the odds of having a drinkable brew at the end.
Cleaning vs. sanitising: what’s the difference?
Cleaning is removing the grubby bits like dust or leftovers from the last time your equipment was used, while sanitising kills off bacteria that will spoil your home brew.
Simply put, cleaning is getting rid of the bits you can see, while sanitising is getting rid of anything you can’t. Don’t confuse the need to sanitise with the need to sterilise, however – you’re not looking for hospital-grade cleanliness, you just need to reduce the contaminants to a low enough level that they can’t harm your beer.
How to clean and sanitise your home brew equipment
You’ll need to clean every piece of equipment you’ll use. Next, decide what needs to be sanitised as well as cleaned. A good rule of thumb is to sanitise everything that comes into contact with your cooled wort – basically, everything but your brewpot and stirring spoon.
To clean, you’ll need a cleaning agent to get the grime off. It’s best to use something like a sodium percarbonate powdered wash, which is specially developed for beer brewing. Be careful if you insist on using dishwashing detergents and the like – they can leave behind perfumes and residues that will taint your beer. Give your equipment an overnight soak in your cleaner, and rinse it out the next day. Done!
Now it’s time to sanitise. Get some Stellarsan or Iodophor for this – you could use bleach at a 4ml/litre dilution, but you’ll need to soak your equipment for 20 minutes and rinse it really well afterwards. Star San only needs 1-2 minutes of contact, and you don’t have to rinse it off if you made it at the correct dilution. Make it in a bucket, keep it covered, and you can keep using it until it goes cloudy. If you would like something that sanitises and evaporates with no trace you can't beat a pure ethanol spray.
Final thoughts on cleaning your homebrew equipment
It’s a lot easier if you get into the habit of cleaning your tools as soon as you’ve used them. If you leave it until the next time you want to brew a batch of beer, you’ll find that cleaning is far more of a mission and you’re more likely to cut corners.
You should also make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job – it’s easier to just buy the right brush than make do with one that may or may not do the business.
But if you do a proper job of your cleaning and sanitising, you’ll never have to worry about your brew going off – and you can save your energy for getting your balance of flavours right.