Two Methods for Cleaning Sankey Kegs without a Pump

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.
This article will detail the two methods I have used to clean my Sankey kegs. I recently built a manifold for the purpose of keg cleaning. First I will give some background of my brewing and equipment, then I will detail how I cleaned my kegs before I built the manifold and finally I will explain how I use the manifold to clean my kegs now.

In process of cleaning a keg with my DIY manifold
I ferment my beer in unmodified half barrel Sankey kegs with the valve stem installed. My methods are similar to WortMonger's pressure fermentation methods detailed in this thread. I do all of my brewing/cleaning in or very near my garage, so my system is set up to work in that environment.
I brew on a 10 gallon three tier system and I do not own a pump other than a wort wizard style venturi (and don't plan on buying one anytime soon) so all of my procedures accommodate for that. If you have a pump there are several parts of this process that will be different (possibly easier) for you. For example, you could circulate the cleaning fluid from a reservoir through the keg and back to the reservoir and probably get better contact than soaking (however, some say a march/chugger pump won't create enough force to send the liquid cascading down the sides).
I clean my Sankeys with the stem installed. This requires having a modified Sankey coupler with both check valves removed so liquid/air can flow in and out of both the gas and beer ports. A modified coupler is required for fermenting in Sankeys and for transferring from and filling them, so it is a good idea to have multiple couplers with at least one without check valves. I currently have four couplers that I use regularly for two fermenters.
One thing that has made all of my cleaning easier is I installed hose bibs above my hot water heater in my garage (see photo) so I have direct access to hot and cold water at any time. This makes cleaning much easier because the cleaner (I use Oxiclean but the process for PBW is pretty much the same) works much better with hotter water.

Hose bibs above my hot water heater. Potable water RV hoses attached via quick disconnect to each.
Soak Method:
After transferring my finished beer out of the Sankey to corny kegs with CO2, I rinse the keg several times with cold water. I attach the coupler with a length of hose running from the beer out port to the water hose. Then turn the keg upside-down, and run water at full blast in through the beer out port so it flows down the sides of the keg and out the gas in port. Water will go in faster than it comes out so I have to stop and let it drain occasionally. I stop and roll the keg around to make sure the yeast cake and krausen ring are broken up. Sometimes the gas port clogs with yeast/trub and I have to take the coupler off and rinse out the coupler and the top of the stem. I continue this until the water coming out is mostly clear.
Next, I fill a bottling bucket with 5 gallons of hot water and a scoop of Oxiclean, stir the solution well and then drain/siphon it into the keg. I unhook the coupler from the keg, put the keg on its side, and roll it around for five/ten minutes or so, making sure that all areas get hit with Oxiclean and it gets stirred up well. Often, but not always, I leave the Oxiclean in the keg for a couple days or a week and turn the keg over occasionally so both the top and bottom soak. I have also only let it sit for a half hour before draining without issue.
I reattach the coupler and drain the keg upside down through the gas port over a 5 gallon bucket or milk crate. Then I rinse the keg several times with cold water in through the beer port and out through the gas port.
At this point is where I would open up the keg and check if it is clean. I use a small LED flashlight and a mirror on a stick that I can stick in the hole to inspect the inside of the keg. The first few times I opened the keg after cleaning to check it. It was always spotless so I stopped looking as often. I continue to verify my practices every five cleanings or so, but I do not plan on opening the keg every time.
Once the keg is rinsed, I siphon in sanitizer (I use Iodophor, but the process is same for any no-rinse sanitizer) and roll the keg around just like with the Oxiclean. Then drain it out upside down.
I fill with beer or wort with the valve installed through the Sankey coupler without check valves. Siphon the beer/wort in through the beer out port so it fills from the bottom up.
Manifold Method:
The soak method has worked fine for the year and a half I have been using Sankey kegs, but it is time consuming and labor intensive. It requires lifting and rolling of partially full kegs, and constant reconfiguring of the coupler to add water, siphon from the bottling bucket, and drain. I wanted something easier that could work though the steps in the process with less labor and time.
I found this article about building a keg washing manifold for a small brewpub and was inspired to design my own. That design in the article includes a pump, but the basic concepts are similar.
I built this manifold out of parts I had and bought at Home Depot (my dad is a plumber). It cost me about $90, but I don't have an exact parts list because I already had some of the fittings and tubing. It addition to the equipment listed above for the soak method, the manifold requires an air compressor (which I already had) and at least two corny kegs to use as reservoirs. The manifold also connects to my hot and cold water lines.
I don't have exact details from the build of the manifold, but if you have questions about it or would like additional specifics, please contact me.

Keg washing manifold
Keg washing manifold (ball valves from right to left):
1. [AIR 1] Air compressor/CO2
2. [GREY] Corny gas disconnect
3. [AIR 2] Ball valve to control air flow to KEG or GREY
4. [BLACK] Corny beer disconnect
5. [HOT] Hot water
6. [COLD] Cold water
7. [KEG] Sankey coupler (to beer center port)
8. [PURGE] Purge valve for draining the system
9. [RETURN] (Not pictured) The Sankey coupler has a drain line attached from the gas side port

Keg washing manifold plans. Each line has a ball valve and there is a valve between the two corny attachments to redirect the air line to the corny. The list of supplies in the corner is not correct as to my final design.
Throughout this process, I use the combination of my city water pressure and air pressure from the air compressor (set to about 20 PSI) to create enough pressure to make the liquid cascade down the keg walls. Close all valves between steps to limit cross contamination. Make sure the return line is secure in the drain or corny keg as needed so it does not fly out and spray everywhere.
1. Tap keg and allow to depressurize/drain any remaining liquid
a. All valves closed | RETURN in drain
2. Rinse the keg with cold water/pressurized air into the keg water is clear.
a. Open COLD, AIR 1, AIR 2 line (partially), and KEG | RETURN in drain
3. Add a scoop of Oxiclean to the attached corny and fill with HOT water then close it up.
a. Open HOT and BLACK
4. Push the Oxiclean from the attached corny keg through the Sankey and into a second (open) corny keg with compressed air. Continue until Oxiclean keg is empty
a. Open BLACK, GREY, KEG and AIR 1 lines. Adjust AIR 2 as necessary to create a balance between cleaner from the corny keg and air pressure | RETURN to second corny.
5. Swap the corny kegs and repeat as many times as you feel is necessary. (I usually run the cleaner through three or four times.)
a. Same valves as above.
6. Push all remaining cleaner out of the Sankey with compressed air.
a. Open KEG, AIR 1 and AIR 2 | RETURN to second corny
7. Rinse the Sankey several times with cold water/compressed air into the drain.
a. Open KEG, COLD, AIR 1, and AIR 2 | RETURN to drain
8. (Optional) Purge keg with CO2 after cleaning cycle and store under pressure until use.
a. Hook CO2 up to AIR 1 then open AIR 1, AIR 2 and KEG.
b. Purge with CO2 until all water has been pushed from the keg
9. Sanitize the same way as in the old method by siphoning in the sanitizer when ready to use the keg.
Using corny kegs as reservoirs also serves the dual purpose of cleaning those kegs as well. I have cleaned 6 cornies and 4 Sankeys in about an hour before. I rinse the cornies out by hand (and use a cleaning brush when necessary, which is not often) when I am done washing Sankeys since they aren't designed to clean in place and don't rinse fully when closed.
Some people are uncomfortable with using an air compressor because it might leak some oil into the keg. You could use CO2 instead of compressed air, but it would use a lot of CO2. I don't worry about it since I purge with CO2 and don't use compressed air when sanitizing.
I have used both of these methods with success to clean unmodified half barrel Sankey kegs without a pump and without removing the valve stem. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me (RoundKid on forum)

Latest posts