Cleaning Basics for Homebrewers
You probably know that cleaning makes up a big part of the brew day. It is also one of the prime factor for making good beer. As the saying goes, a brewer is just a glorified janitor. But even though it is so important, it is very difficult to find information on what kind of products you can or should use for cleaning a homebrew setup.
Most of the guides you can find online or in books are for professional brewers. They use strong chemicals which are dangerous and hard to find on a small scale. As a homebrewer you should only use them as a last resort.
I spent many years looking for the perfect chemicals and cleaning products. The ideal product should not only be easy to handle but also efficient for the task at hand. I like to be able to quickly wash my brew kettle without putting on protective gear. But just in case nothing else works, i like to have something strong that can wipe out the dirt from any corner.
This article ended up longer than expected. It not only covers cleaning chemicals and products but also explanations on how to clean.
Lets start with the basics of cleaning and a simple formula.
Temperature x Contact time x Optimal cleaner x Mechanical intensity
What this means is, you can exponentially raise the effectiveness of cleaning by elevating one factor of the formula. The formula also works the other way, if you take away from one factor, you would have to raise another the get the same result. Let’s talk about the details of each of these factors.
The temperature of the cleaning solution. Try to use warm or hot water for if possible. Check you cleaner product manual, a lot of them have an optimal temperature where they work best. Usually warmer is better.
Everything must be in contact with the cleaner, the longer the better. Use a brush to spread the cleaning liquid in every corner. Soak your stuff overnight. This is how the energy saving program of the dishwasher works. It uses a lower temperature but higher contact time.
Another important aspect is using the right cleaner for the job. As i explain further down not every type of cleaner works with any kind of dirt. You should also use the right concentration. More is not always better. There are products that get less effective when raising their concentration over a certain point.
The final point is the ability to access the soil with a brush or other cleaning utensils. By flushing a counter flow chiller or CIP cleaning equipment the mechanical intensity is very low, you have to raise the other factors to get a good result. Take special care on spots that are difficult to be reached by a brush. Buy special brushes that can reach the interior of pipes, valves or bottles.
More Cleaning Rules
Try to immediately rinse stuff that came into contact with wort. Its a lot easier to clean the kettle directly after it has been emptied. Clean up spills immediately, don’t wait until they dry and you have spread them everywhere. Regularly take apart your ball valves/pipe fittings and clean them. Finally, if you have to remove samples from fermenting beer it is better to do that with a sanitized pipette rather than by opening the valve.
Types of solids
There are 2 types of solids you will encounter, not just in a brewery but everywhere. Only a certain group of cleaners works well with either of these two. If you take the wrong group of cleaners for a task it won’t work well. Have you ever tried to clean your bathroom armatures with soap then you know what i mean.
Cleaning products sold in supermarkets try to be able to clean both of these groups. They are advertised to be super duper effective at cleaning any type of dirt. That is just not possible. They end up being able to clean none very well. You should also avoid them because they contain tensides that will inhibit foam.
Most of the residues belong to the organic group. These could be burned in kettle trub or hop and yeast residue in the fermenter. Because of their chemical properties, organic residues are best cleaned with an alkali (high PH).
What: Hop oil, fat, starches, hot/cold break, yeast, proteins
Where: Kettle, Kegs, Beer lines, fermentor
The other group are mineral residues like lime deposits. Mineral compounds are best removed with an acid (low PH).
What: Beer stone*, lime scale, minerals
Where: Beer lines, Kegs, Boiler
* Beer stone aka calcium oxalate is a complicated case. It actually is a compound of both mineral and organic deposits and thus very hard to remove once established.
Real Life Example
I once visited a brewery, the owner used only peracetic acid to CIP clean all his equipment. On first sight this should be very effective? Wrong, periatic acid is, as you can see from its name is an acid. It is very effective at removing mineral residues and is also used as a sanitizer. Although all his pipes and kettles were free of lime scale and mostly sterile, the periatic acid was not able to dissolve the organic residues. Things like like small pieces of grain remained and presented a nice meal for bacteria and mold. This carried over to the beer. Every one of them tasted moldy. Remember, even sterile dirt is still dirt and of course tastes like dirt.
Many brewers mistake sanitation for cleaning. As you can see at the above example it certainly does not mean cleaning. You can only sanitize after you have cleaned everything. Sanitation is to reduce the microbe count on a surface even further. Most of the time, if you have cleaned up well, sanitizing is not even necessary. Therefore, sanitation takes up a very small part on a typical brew day. It is reserved for special cases where absolute cleanliness is required. For example things that touch cold wort or yeast samples. Furthermore sanitizing does not equal sterilizing, there are always viable spores or microbes remaining, you just lower their amount.
List of brewing chemicals
On my list you will find the cleaning products i use. You will also find products i don’t use and why. This list is by no means complete. Some products may not be available in your country. Choose one alkali cleaner and one acid/sanitizer from the list. For comparison, i also added some of the products big breweries use.
WARNING: Some or all of the chemicals listed can be dangerous if not handled properly.
Pure Washing Soda [Recommended]
Chemical Name: Sodium Carbonate
Chemical Formula: Na2CO3
Dosage: 4 – 6 g/l
Cost: ~ 4 $/kg
My choice, its cheap, not that aggressive and it cleans well. Sodium carbonate is even used as a food additive.
Washing Soda with Additives
Commercial Products: PBW, Halapur MP, Calgonit D, etc.
Dosage: 5g / l
Cost PBW: ~ 20 $/kg
Calgonit D, Halapur MP: ~ 3.50 $/kg
PBW and many other commercial alkali cleaners use sodium carbonate as one of their main ingredients. They add other chemicals to improve the cleaning efficiency or even add a sanitizing component. I recommend a cleaner like this if pure washing soda is not available for you or to expensive. Check the ingredient information i collected from data sheets further down if you are interested in a commercial product. In my case, i don’t need the sanitizing (chlorine) component of Halapur MP and would go with Calgonit D.
Chemical Name: Sodium hydroxide
Chemical Formula: NaOH
Commercial Products: DESANAMAX, Chemipro Caustic
Dosage: 1 – 5g / l
Cost: ~ 10 $/kg
WARNING: Don’t confuse caustic soda with washing soda. This is very strong stuff, it is dangerous to handle and protective gear is necessary. Mostly used in big breweries. There are a few commercial products available like beer line cleaners that use it. I almost never use sodium hydroxide and even then only on the worst cases of dried up or burned in residues. If you clean all your brewing stuff directly after using it and never let the dirt dry up, there is no need for chemicals this strong.
Used to clean inorganic deposits. I don’t use acid cleaners on the hot side of my brewing equipment. They are reserved for the cold side where beerstone can be a problem. For example beer lines and kegs. You don’t need to use them every time you clean, but its good to sometimes do an acid wash.
Commercial Products: *Starsan, Halacid P
Dosage: 5 – 10ml/l
Cost: ~ 16 $/l
Food grade phosphoric acid can also be used to lower the ph of the mash. It is good for passivating metals like copper and stainless steel. I use it to soak kegs and fittings.
*Starsan is mostly made out of phosphoric acid, so it can technically double as an acid cleaner/sanitizer.
Commercial Products: Chemipro ACID (partially)
Chemical Formula: C6H8O7
Good to remove lime scale from pots and water boilers. Don’t use it on your coffee machine, by heating the citric acid with lime scale, it will be converted to calcium citrate which can clog the small tubes.
Chemical Formula: NaHSO4
Often used in commercial lime scale removers. Stronger alternative to citric acid.
Commercial Products: Halacid S
Chemical Formula: NaHSO4
Doasge: 10 – 15 g/l
Sodium bisulfate is a solid.
Commercial Products: Halacid sauer flüssig
Chemical Formula: HNO3
Very strong acid, used in big breweries. Good for stainless steel.
Chemical Name: Acetic acid
Chemical Formula: CH3COOH
Cost: 1 $/l
I don’t use vinegar because it has a very strong smell. Otherwise it is a cheap and effective lime stone remover.
Remember, even sterile dirt remains dirt. If you for example sterilize mold, it will still taste like mold. I only use very small amounts of sanitizer. When using a sanitizer i prefer acidic products (Starsan) because they can double as an acidic cleaner. Still, my preferred sanitizer is heat. If it can be boiled or put in the dish washer at more than 70C, there is no need to use sanitizer. I only use no rinse sanitizers.
Heat is often overlooked as a sanitizer. You can use it to sanitize your wort chiller by putting it into the boiling wort a few minutes before use. Starting at 62C (30min contact time), almost all microbes in a liquid are killed. Some spores remain, but this is the same with a chemical sanitizer. The more you raise the temperature the less time is required. At 74C, 15s are enough.
Acid mixture [Recommended]
Commercial Products: Starsan, Saniclean
Dosage: 1.5 – 2.5 ml/l
My favourite sanitizer, you can put it in a spray bottle or soak stuff in it. It stays fairly stable when diluted and can be kept in this state for a long time. To check if the solution is still effective, use a PH strip or meter. It should be bellow 3. Use distilled or demineralized water when creating the mixture.
Cost: 7 $/l
Dosage: 70 %
Good for disinfecting surfaces. It should remain relatively stable in a spray bottle.
Chemical Formula: C2H4O3
Commercial Products: Halacid PE
Very strong, not that stable in diluted form so you have to prepare it fresh every time you want to use it. Used in big breweries.
Hydrogen peroxide / Sodium percarbonate
Chemical Formula: H2O2
Commercial Products: Chemipro OXI
Cost: 10 $/kg
Not stable if diluted, needs to be prepared fresh for every use.
Iodophor stains plastic and although it is advertised as a no rinse sanitizer, i would not use it like this. I once tasted a beer that had a horrible iodine flavor to it, i suspect the brewer overdosed iodophor.
Chemical Name: Sodium hypochlorite
Cheap but too aggressive, it produces ugly stains on clothing and you have to wear protective gear. Not recommended for stainless steel. I use it sometimes to soak and sanitize glass or plastic carboys.
Composition and Dosage of commercial products
To get an idea of how commercial cleaners work, i looked up the composition and dosage instructions of some products. The information is not complete but it gives an idea on what chemicals are used. You can find more information on a cleaner if you search for the datasheet.
PBW (Alkali Cleaner)
Sodium silicate 20-35%
Sodium percarbonate 25%
Sodium carbonate 20-30%
Dosage for Normal Cleaning: 7-14 g/l
Dosage for Intensive Cleaning: 21 g/l
Star San (Sanitizer)
Phosphoric Acid 50%
Dodecylbenzene Sulfonic Acid 15%
Isopropyl Alcohol 10%
Dosage 1.5 – 2.5 ml/l
DESANAMAX (Beer Line Cleaner)
Sodium hydroxide 50-75%
Potassium nitrate 5-10%
Sodium persulfate 5-10%
DESANACID (Acidic Beer Line Cleaner)
Sulfamic acid 50-100%
Potassium sulfate 10 – 25%
Halacid S (Acidic Cleaner)
Dosage: 0.5 – 2 %
Halacid P (Acidic Cleaner)
Phosphoric Acid 40 – 50%
Chemipro OXI (Sanitizer)
Sodium percarbonate 50 – 100%
Sodium carbonate 2.5 – 5%
Dosage: 4 g/l
Chemipro Caustic (Strong Alkali Cleaner)
Sodium hydroxide 25 – 35%
Sodium silicate 10 – 20%
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate 2.5 – 10%
Benzenesulfonic acid 1-3%
Aliphatic compound 1-5%
Dosage Brouwland: 2 – 5 %
Recommended Dosage: 1g/l
Chemipro ACID (Acidic Cleaner)
Citric acid 10-20%
Lactic acid 5-10%
Sulfonic acid 3-5%
Dosage: 0,5-1,5 %
Halapur MP (Alkali Cleaner)
Sodium carbonate 40-50%
Sodium silicate 10-20%
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate 2.5 -10%
Manual Cleaning Dosage: 0.5 %
Automatic Cleaning Dosage: 0.5 %
Calgonit D (Alkali Cleaner)
Sodium carbonate 30%
Sodium silicate 5-15%
Quaternary ammonium cation <1%
Manual Cleaning Dosage: 0,5 bis 1,0% (5 – 10 g/l), Temp: 30 – 40°C
Automatic Cleaning Dosage: 0,5% (5 g/l), Temp: >40°C
I hope this article helps you to better clean your equipment and gives you a basic understanding on the cleaning products that are available.
2 thoughts on “Cleaning Basics for Homebrewers”
Thanks for this excellent post.
I have a question.
When using Sodium Carbonate to wash the bottles, is it necessary to rinse afterwards?
Can I fill the bottles right away?
Sorry for the late reply, yes its is necessary to rinse. You could do that with water(if its clean) or use an acid like starsan solution.