Cleaning and Sanitation Primer

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One of the most important parts of the homebrewing process is cleaning and sanitizing your equipment. As many a homebrewer can attest, there is an increased risk of off-flavors and/or infection when the necessary precautions are not taken. Taking a little bit of time to ensure sanitation can mean the difference between a great batch of beer and a batch that has to be dumped.
The first thing you should do is clean your equipment before it comes into contact with any cold-side wort. The sanitizing you do later will be more effective on a clean surface than a dirty one. Avoid using common household cleaners (such as dish soap), as they can leave residues that will impart unwanted flavors into your beer, and can affect head retention. Many brewers use PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) as their cleaner of choice, although there are others (such as B-Brite).
There are also DIY cleaners that approximate the formula of PBW. Most of them use a sodium percarbonate-based cleaner (such as Oxiclean Free) combined with a smaller amount of sodium triphosphate substitute (like TSP/90). There are recipes on the HomeBrewTalk forums that work effectively and are economical compared to some of the store-bought cleaners.
The general cleaning process involves creating a cleaning solution by adding the cleaner to a larger amount of warm water, then soaking your equipment in the cleaner. If you have plastic equipment (bucket fermenters, for example), be careful not to scrub with anything that might be abrasive or hard enough to scratch the plastic, as these scratches can create excellent hiding spots for wild yeasts and bacteria. After cleaning, you can use plain water to rinse your equipment before sanitizing it.

Label Sanitizer Spray Bottles Clearly
When it comes to sanitizers, there are several varieties. The first one most brewers encounter is the powdered "no-rinse" variety, such as One Step. Technically, this type of cleanser is not a "sanitizer" (at least not in the United States) as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, though it is generally marketed and used as such. Many brewers start with One Step because it came with their homebrew starter kit, then move on to something else once the time comes to purchase more sanitizer. If you decide to stick with One Step, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions and leave it on for the recommended amount of time (usually a couple minutes). As the name implies, this cleanser does not require rinsing; simply pour it into your vessel for the recommended duration, then pour it out.
Another common variety of sanitizer is the chlorine-based sanitizer. The most common is bleach used in a low concentration (around 10%). If you use bleach, you will need to rinse after sanitizing, which may risk re-introducing contaminants through the tap water. When in doubt, use a different sanitizer. C-Brite is another chlorine-based sanitizer that is mixed with water, but does not require rinsing.
Iodine-based sanitizers (such as Iodophor or Io-Star) are another option. They generally require about 2 minutes of contact time and don't require any rinsing. Iodine-based sanitizers can also serve another purpose they can be used as a mash conversion test in all-grain or partial-mash brewing. Simply fill a small container with mash liquid, add a few drops of iodine, and wait a few seconds. The unconverted starches will turn black from the iodine. If the mash is complete, the liquid will turn slightly tan or reddish instead of black.

Always Store Sanitizers In A Safe Location

The last sanitizer option I am going to talk about is Star San. Star San is an acid-based sanitizer, and it is probably the most commonly used sanitizer among homebrewers. It is added to water and diluted at a rate of 1 ounce to 5 gallons of water. It only requires about a minute or so of contact time, making it a quicker option than most other sanitizers. Star San can also be stored and used repeatedly, as long as the pH stays below 3.
Over time, brewers have developed various tricks to make sanitizing easier and more cost-effective. One of the most common tricks is to add sanitizer to a spray-bottle, where it can be sprayed directly on equipment as opposed to immersing the equipment in the sanitizer. This is most commonly done with Star San, but it can be done with any sanitizer as long as the sanitizer can achieve the required contact time. This allows you to dispense the amount of sanitizer you need, instead of requiring the large volume needed to fill a bucket or kettle. Just use the sanitizer as you would normally (i.e., use the same dilution rate), but spray your equipment instead of dunking it in the sanitizer.

Oxiclean FREE For Cleaning Gear Before Sanitizing
The last sanitizing tip I am going to mention is one that I discovered recently, and it is an expansion on the spray-bottle technique. Instead of a spray-bottle, fill a hand-held pressure sprayer with sanitizer. This allows you to spray sanitizer continuously without having to repeatedly pull the spray-bottle trigger. This can be very convenient when you are spraying a large surface like the inside of a bucket fermenter. I use a half-gallon hand-held sprayer from the hardware store, but you could just as easily use a larger sprayer or even one of the sprayers typically used to spread herbicide or insecticide. It should go without saying that you need to use a brand-new sprayer for this; don't ever use a sprayer that has been used to spread insecticide or other chemicals. For a reference, my half-gallon sprayer requires just under 3 ml of Star San, and it will last through quite a few brew days. The end result is that very little sanitizer is wasted, and it's very convenient to use.

Half Gallon Hand-held Pressure Sprayer
To recap, cleaning and sanitation are perhaps the most important steps of the entire brew process. If you absolutely must skip a step, pick a different one, because lax sanitation can result in an entire batch of brew getting dumped. Luckily, there are a lot of options available to keep your equipment clean and sanitary, which is never a bad thing. Feel free to use any of the tips listed here, or come up with your own and share them with the homebrewing community.
Agreed that sanitation is key!!!!
One thing that I feel should be pointed out to newbie's that may read this is article is that star san is not poison.... the skull & crossbones would suggest otherwise
I (like others) add a few drop of red food dye to my Star San spray bottle, so that it is not confused with water. The food coloring has no effect on beer color.
@CBelli The skull and crossbones picture was edited in after I submitted the article, but I understand what you are saying.
@LabRatBrewer That's a great idea. Have you had any issues with the food coloring staining your plastic fermenters?
@douglasbarin No, I have not had any issue with it staining anything (and I pretty much end up spraying everything). I use 2-4 drops for a standard spray bottle (32oz?).
I've been using 2 drops red food coloring for years in my spray bottle. No effect on anything (I spray everything: hands, while doing food prep, cheesemaking equipment, cutting boards. Nothing gets stained. I'd recommend keeping some in the kitchen all the time.
Great article BTW.
@douglasbarbin good read. Never thought of a pressurized bottle. Thanks for the tip.
any recommendations on how long you can leave the StarSan in a spray bottle and stil have it be effective? I have read some comments that seem to indicate it loses it's efficacy once watered down over time.
@Todd820 it is effective as long as the pH remains below 3. That is somewhat dependent on the water that you use to mix it. Harder water will result in it losing effectiveness more quickly.
I have heard that using RO or Distilled water with Starsan will last indefinitely and that if it appears hazy or milky then you need to replace.
Haziness has no bearing on PH. Craigtube did a video to prove it after being asked the same question & arguments back & forth in his comments. I've also found that it doesn't hamper effectiveness. But RO & distilled are better. Interesting that the Starsan in my spray bottle stays clear while that in the 1 gallon jug doesn't? I also found that I save time, PBW & water by cleaning dirty FV's with the garden hose. Adjust the spray nozzle for a 3" spray at the point of contact. Crud blasts right off. Spray a gallon or so into it & run through the spigot to clean that. Although I still remove spigots for cleaning, rinse & install wet with Starsan on brew day.
Good article.
I agree with what @unionrdr stated, haze has no bearing.
I have had a batch (5 gal) for a year or longer and the PH was still stating it was good although it was hazy.
IIRC it's the minerals that cause it to haze. I have 1 gal of RO water that is 6 or 7 months old and it's still clear.
Great tip on the pressurized spray bottle.
I've been using one of the dish-sponge "Wands" to wash my plastic buckets and love the convenience. Simply add some santitizer/wash to the "wand" along with the water and use a dedicated sponge-head (so nobody uses it for anything else) and go to town.
I'm not too worried about using too much StarSan. I'm still on the same bottle I bought about 5 years ago, although it is getting low. I used to make 5 gallons at a time, but then cut it in half. I just throw all my equipment into the bucket and pull it out as I need it, already sanitized. I'll siphon the Starsan into my carboys and keg, killing two germs with one stone in the process.
I just want to add that the absolute easiest way to clean a glass carboy with a narrow opening after fermentation is as follows:
1. Rinse as much out as you can by swirling/shaking. This does not need to be anything close to perfect, but you should get out most of the yeast cake and other stuff from the bottom.
2. Funnel 1 scoop of oxiclean free into the carboy.
3. Fill with warm water all the way to the top.
4. Let it sit overnight and work its magic.
5. Rinse.
I was amazed that the stuck on krausen crud just dissolves away with no scrubbing or nozzle pressure! After drying, just store with some plastic wrap over the opening and be sure to swoosh around a litte star san solution before your next fermentation.
Can anybody show a photo of the Oxiclean Free packet ? We have two or three Oxyclean products here, but the name is spelt different. I did find some Oxiclean laundry powder but there is a few different types available so i thought if l seen the packet l could mabe sort it out. Many thanks

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