An almost-newbie's thoughts on cleaning and sanitation

Discussion in 'Beginners Brewing Forum' started by Donoroto, Nov 27, 2020.

  1. Donoroto

    Donoroto Well-Known Member

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    Full disclosure: I still identify as a newbie, but wanted to share some lessons on cleaning and sanitation.
    tl;dr: Newcomers sometimes hit a wall after a few brews, sanitation being the cause. Long post.


    I write this for the almost-newcomer: You’ve brewed a couple of times, with pretty good results. But what’s going to happen, soon, is a bad batch. You see, sanitation is easy with new equipment: It starts out clean. But over the course of 3 or 5 brews, it gets dirty, in places you can’t see. Start with good sanitation habits from the beginning and you’ll never have the almost-newcomer’s sanitation problem.

    To start with: Clean is an absence of dirt/crud/etc. Sanitized is a (relative) absence of living things. Sterile is a complete absence of living things, and not necessary in brewing. And after cleaning anything, rinse it well: You do not want any cleaning solution remaining. I tend to over-rinse, just to be sure.

    Cleaning accessible metal – like the inside of my BrewZilla 35, a corny keg or a fermenter – is a mostly mechanical process, with some chemical assistance. For example, a non-scratching scrubbie pad, some dish detergent and careful physical effort to scrub at the surfaces should get it clean. Your concern is generally not the large, flat surfaces, as these are very accessible, but the little corners, cracks, and fittings where the scrubbie doesn’t get. A brush may help, and some kettles don’t have a bottom seam (being slightly rounded inside), but think microscopically about that seam: That hundredth-of-a-millimeter seam can’t be cleaned mechanically, but leaving anything in there means it cannot be sanitized. Hold that thought.

    Now, a boil kettle doesn’t really need to be sanitized, since the act of boiling sterilizes it. But you probably want it clean, if for nothing else, to eliminate any unwanted flavors. Fermenters, on the other hand, definitely want to be sanitized, and therefore must start out as clean. Scrub, scrub, scrub until it is really clean.

    Inaccessible metal – the inside of my counterflow chiller for example – also needs to be cleaned. And possibly sanitized, depending on what the object is. A counterflow chiller’s insides, where the wort touches, is sanitized by running very hot wort through it at the end of the boil. Some say a few seconds is all it takes, but I run it five or 10 minutes while things whirlpool. But cleaning is a different story: I don’t have a brush or anything even close to mechanically scrub the insides of a thirty-foot piece of 3/8-inch copper tube. Just as your local bar can’t scrub the insides of their tap piping system.

    For this, we resort to chemicals, such as the alkaline cleaner known as PBW. And, it is just as effective in those microscopic seams (wherever they are) mentioned above.

    Hot (120-150F) PBW is effective at cleaning. In 30 minutes or so – longer generally does no harm – you end up getting pretty clean. Cold PBW also works, but overnight or longer is recommended. For my counterflow chiller and BrewZilla, I put in maybe 3 gallons of water* and the recommended amount of PBW**, set it to heat to 140F or so and let the pump circulate the cleaning solution for a while. Rinsing is important, I rinse 3 or 4 times or more until I am completely satisfied all PBW is completely gone...then I rinse once more. May be a bit excessive, but that’s just me.

    At the same time, anything that needs cleaning but isn’t a good candidate for the dishwasher gets tossed in there to soak.

    * I’m also a cheapskate, and willing to scrub the top half of the BrewZilla manually. So I save some PBW (and therefore money) by not filling it up to 8 or 9 gallons. You might decide differently and fill it up to the tippy top, using an extra few cents’ worth of PBW.

    ** 2 oz/gal (15g/l) for fermenters, ¾ oz/gal (6g/l) for everything else. No harm going stronger (to a point), but significantly weaker means less effectiveness.

    Corny kegs are what I consider accessible metal, at least the tank part is. You really should take the valves off every time, clean them (and the dip tubes) in the sink with dish soap (I have a long, thin brush for the tubes), and use a long-handled scrub brush with dish soap for the insides. Use hot water, if possible. See below for sanitizing.

    Then there’s plastic. Accessible plastics, like the inside of a 5-gallon open bucket, can also be scrubbed, but here you wish to avoid scratching the surface (use a plastic brush) and avoid scented dish soap. That lemon-scented Ajax will leave lemon-scent in the plastic. Again, hot water is preferred. You can also fill it up with a PBW solution and let it soak. Indeed, for plastic containers with a small opening, where scrubbing is impossible or difficult, PBW is a great option. Remember that PBW, if not too terribly dirty, can be re-used for other cleaning tasks, like soaking the insides of a keg after the brew pot soak. But don’t try to keep the PBW solution for any length of time, it is meant to be disposable.

    Same with your tap lines, including party taps: Disassemble them, clean them best you can, then soak everything in PBW overnight.

    I run everything that fits – malt pipe screens, false bottom, some of the tri-clamp hardware (not the clamps themselves, though, not necessary, and not the gaskets) and stuff like spoons and bowls through the dishwasher, without any rinse-aid and about half the normal detergent, at the hottest temperatures I can get. Clean and sanitized.

    As for sanitizing, something like StarSan, mixed properly, does the trick, but it takes a minute or more of contact for that to happen. But only if it’s all clean. For my kegs, I put in about a quart of sanitizer solution, shake it up and pressurize it with CO2 (about 10 PSI) for storage. If when I go to use it there’s still pressure I know it’s not leaking. Release the pressure, pop the top, dump the sanitizer and let it drip upside-down a minute, purge it with CO2, seal it all back up and fill the keg from the fermenter.

    I also use a spray bottle filled with fresh StarSan to sanitize just about everything: gaskets, fittings, most anything that needs it. I spray it a few times, to get that minute of contact. Things like fermenters get slightly filled and shaken, then drained. You may be tempted to rinse, but really, there’s no need: StarSan is completely flavorless. Other products, like Iodophor, must either dry completely or get rinsed. Read the manufacturer’s instructions!

    I have buddies who take these tasks rather lightly, and to my knowledge they’ve never had an infection, so perhaps all this is excessive. I dunno, I’m perhaps over-thinking and over-doing all this. But I have it down to a routine, and it really doesn’t take that long to do.

    I wrote all this not just to remind myself of my thoughts, but to help anyone new to all this by explaining what one person happens to do for cleaning and sanitizing, and why. Of course, you should do whatever you think best.

    I’d love to hear your comments!
     
  2. Hawkbox

    Hawkbox Well-Known Member

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    I pull my corny tubes out once or twice a year tops. I will push starsan through them from one keg to another though. It doesn't hurt to go overboard by any means though. Good opportunity to check your o-rings.
     
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  3. BarbarianBrewer

    BarbarianBrewer Well-Known Member

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    Great post! I agree with you that much of what you do is overkill but, while you can under-clean , you can rarely over-clean.

    Best line is:
    One thing I'd add would be that crud acts like a protective wall. So, bacteria surrounded by crud will not be touched by a contact sanitizer.
     
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  4. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

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    Good write up!
     
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  5. HighVoltageMan!

    HighVoltageMan! Well-Known Member

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    I think you have a good system, very thorough. Sounds like you do tear downs for every brew, I do the same. It’s a little more work, but it keeps everything in good shape. I use a sump pump in a bucket with a short pipe with holes drilled in it. I fill the bucket with 2 gallons of PBW mix, put the keg on it upside down and turn it on. It works for cornys and sanke kegs.

    One thing I do with plastic is to give it a soak in hot water and small amount of equal parts of household bleach and vinegar. This will get the bacteria that is imbedded just under the surface and in the small scratches of the plastic. Starsan isn’t as effective in those situations. It’s only for plastic or glass, never for stainless. The vinegar lowers the pH of the bleach water, making the mixture more effective at killing microbes. Kind of like in a swimming pool.
     
  6. Trialben

    Trialben Well-Known Member

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    #6 Trialben, Nov 27, 2020
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020
    Very through indeed!
    Nothing like an infection to make you annalise your cleaning regime been there meself;).

    I had a bucket fermentor with a tap at bottom I used to rack into keg them taps are a serious infection risk! So many internal crevices and threads where cleaner doesnt penetrate effectively.

    I've been using keg kings fermentasaurus for a year now no infections their just so easy to clean and the PET plastic is smooth and continuous no bacteria harbouring crevices except around the stainless floating ball and lid assembly.
    One thing I dont do is go crazy with a scrubber inside the fermentor as this will introduce microscopic scratches instead I rely on a good Sodium perc hot soak under 50c as it will warp the plastic and after this and before a good blast with the hose. If it's still there in goes my hand and rub a dub dub gonskies. Usually it's the Krausen ring that is stubborn.

    I used my keg cleaner similar to what @HighVoltageMan! Uses and I'm sure @BOB357 and @thunderwagn uses the bucket blaster they are worth the purchase!

    I transfered a beer kicked a keg cleaned the fermentor and the keg yesterday eve it was a breeze
    I leave things to air dry before putting away. 20201128_075635.jpg
    Hoses and seals get hung up on inside door of keezer clear of dust out of sunlight same as pet dont store in sun.
     
  7. thunderwagn

    thunderwagn Well-Known Member

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    @Trialben love my bucket blaster. Makes it so easy to clean hoses, kegs, and disconnects. Everything stored upside down to drain and dry.
     
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  8. Hawkbox

    Hawkbox Well-Known Member

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    I'm apparently the slob here who just blasts it with water and then starsans day of. ;) I will refrain from pearls of wisdom that might bite people in the ass.
     
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  9. Daniel Parshley

    Daniel Parshley Active Member

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    Lets folks know to never add vinegar to bleach (will form chlorine gas). Make the bleach/water solution and then add the vinegar. This bleach/vinegar solution is the old time brewer's Star San. I personally use large amounts of this solution for cleaning all equipment and bottles but do rinse after. The brewer who passed this on to me suggested a 10 minute contact time. Maybe some of the long-time brewers on this forum have more to add. I was personally hesitant to mention the bleach/vinegar mixture in previous discussions about sanitation because of the need to make correctly and the danger of producing chlorine gas.
     
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  10. Donoroto

    Donoroto Well-Known Member

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    I like that idea and plan to copy it. Just need to get a sump pump...

    Thanks!
     
  11. Bubba Wade

    Bubba Wade Well-Known Member

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    I just have two words for effective cleaning and sanitation: stainless steel.

    Note that I have nothing against plastic or glass. However, plastic does get scratches and glass carboys are a bit of a pain.

    I follow standard cleaning and sanitation practices that have been described above. I add one extra step. Instead of cooling the wort in the brew kettle, I transfer the boiling wort into my fermenter. I use the SS Brewtech with the stainless heat exchanger coil. By the time I hook up chilled water, the vessel has been exposed to temperatures over 200 degrees for 4 or 5 minutes. This kills any stray bacteria or yeast that might have been missed.

    I use a similar approach to the kegs. After cleaning and sanitizing, I fill them about half full of boiling water and seal them up. I let the kegs cool down at ambient temperature. This long exposure to high heat kills any leftover microbes.

    This may not be practical for larger systems, but in the last four years I have made around 100 batches with no infections.

    While not common in the commercial brewing industry, it is common for pharmaceutical facilities to employ a steam-in-place process (SIP) to follow the CIP process. I am somewhat replicating this on a 2.5 gallon scale.
     
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  12. Trialben

    Trialben Well-Known Member

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    You ever melted the rubber ends off the keg doing this? I had one keg where the top handle grip unstuck from the heat I re glued it.
     
  13. Bubba Wade

    Bubba Wade Well-Known Member

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    I use the Torpedo keg. All stainless, no rubber.

    8D97708E-FE3F-4079-818E-A64EC18020FE.jpeg
     
  14. Hawkbox

    Hawkbox Well-Known Member

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    I've done more than one direct transfer into a stainless brew bucket as well, it's getting cold here so I will probably do it more during the winter. Use the environment to your advantage.
     
  15. BOB357

    BOB357 Well-Known Member

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    Yup. Love my Bucket blaster. Even use it to recirculate cleaner through beer lines and faucets'
     
  16. HighVoltageMan!

    HighVoltageMan! Well-Known Member

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    Good point.
     
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  17. soccerdad

    soccerdad Well-Known Member

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    Always a good topic ! BTW, I find a long wallpaper tray to be a good item for soaking things like diptubes, wine thief, auto siphon, racking cane, etc. They are kind of cheap plastic and won't take super hot water, so a bus boy's tub like you get at Sam's works too (on the diagonal).
     
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  18. Bulin's Milker Bucket Brews

    Bulin's Milker Bucket Brews Well-Known Member

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    I do a complete tear down on everything but the pumps on every brew. In addition I run a CIP cycle through the system using both pumps in line. Chlorinated milkline detergent followed by an acid rinse/sanitizer. Same thing we did on the farm for cleaning food contact surfaces. Learned a long time ago to clean like your paycheck depends on it, because it did.

    Water flush before acid rinse...don't make toxic gas.
     
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  19. HighVoltageMan!

    HighVoltageMan! Well-Known Member

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    Dairy farmer. Yes!
     
  20. Brewer #335694

    Brewer #335694 New Member

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    Totally agree with you! I am about 25 batches into my homebrew "career". And I have never gotten necessarily lazy about cleaning/sanitizing. But there was a point that I was probably not as hardcore OCD about ensuring things were 100% ready for the brewing process. And I ended up with an infected batch of a beer. Worst part is that I felt super confident after brewing that it was going to turn out to be an amazing beer.
    Pretty sure it was from lack of clean equipment and was not a "bug" post-boil getting in there. After that mishap, I don't ever cut any corners and take my time to ensure everything is clean and ready for the next batch. It may be one of the most important steps to brewing in my opinion.
     

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