Guide to Cleaners and Sanitizers

What’s the Difference?

Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment is a topic that is stressed over and over in the brewing community. That’s because it is absolutely imperative to successful beer making. There are many ways to go about it, but the important thing is that you do it.

Think of cleaning as being done on a visual level. If you can see some form build up, dust, hop matter, crusted on krausen, etc. These things require cleaning. Your equipment should be visibly clean and free of any dirt, grime or otherwise.

Sanitizing works on a microscopic level, killing things that would get into your wort (an excellent growth medium) and ruin your beer. The effect of sanitizing can’t be seen, but you must trust that it is indeed effectively finishing off any microscopic contaminants. Your equipment should be clean, then sanitized.


Cleaning is a big job in brewing; in fact, brewing on the professional level has been compared to being a glorified custodian, as much of your time is spent cleaning. Those tanks don’t stay shiny on their own! Let’s look at some cleaning options. The best time to clean is right after brewing or bottling.

The most commonly used is PBW or Powdered brewery wash. Mix it up with warm water and let it do the hard work. It is great at cleaning the hard to reach places in carboys and equipment.

Another option that home brewers have found useful is OXY Clean Free, or a generic brand equivalent. It works well, just make sure to get one that is scent free or the aroma may linger in your equipment and then in your beer.

Lastly, a little hard labor, a carboy brush, soft sponge, and dish soap can also be used to clean your items. There are a few things to note here. If cleaning plastic equipment like buckets or some carboys, it’s important to not use anything abrasive as it will scratch the surface. These scratches are great hiding places for bacteria and may reduce the effectiveness of your sanitizing. Also, aluminum kettles are a great affordable option for brewers. They do need an oxide layer to be built up (this can be done by boiling water in them). Heavy abrasive sponges can scrape off your oxide layer, and it will need to be reproduced. If you’ve ever taken a scrubby sponge to a new aluminum cookie sheet, you probably remember all the micro scratches you put on it.


Clean sanitized 1


As mentioned earlier, sanitizing is a crucial part of your brewery upkeep. The last thing you want is to wait several weeks for a beer only to have it succumb to an unintended infection that has been growing slowly in your fermenter. On top of that, a serious enough infection may warrant having to purchase new equipment. There are a few ways to go about sanitizing. First would be to use a brewing specific (commonly used by homebrewers) sanitizers such as:

sanIodophor is a darker, iodine based liquid concentrate.
Star-san or Five Star-San is clear, acid based liquid concentrate.
Your Home Brew shop should carry one or both of these options.

Another option is to make bleach based sanitizer. It is not recommended, as all your equipment must be rinsed until the odor is removed (and this rinsing may just end up rinsing new bacteria all over your equipment). If you must go this route, such as if you don’t have sanitizer and you thought you did, use the “food surfaces” dilution rate on the bleach bottle. Most importantly don’t forget to rinse very well.

In Closing

If you are working with "wild" yeast or bacteria, you may believe that you can skip sanitation since you are intentionally infecting your batch. This however is not true. You want to be in control of your brew from beginning to end. You do this by choosing what you want in the beer or wine. Start from zero and build your way up instead of starting with unknown variables. Doing so would make it even harder to repeat your recipe. Don’t forget to clean!

written by David Doucette

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