Sanitation is Key: Three Methods to Keeping Things Clean
Golden Road’s Quality Assurance Manager Cris Carter drops some sanitation advice on us this week for our third installation of this series. When first learning to homebrew, you will notice that sanitation is one of the most important things to learn and practice whether you are a beginning extract brewer or a seasoned veteran. But what types of measures are necessary to create a sanitized brewing environment? What other agents can you use if you don’t have easy access to products or a home brew supply store? We first must delve into the three ways to keep things clean. This is only the first in what will be a handful of posts dedicated to sanitation.
When brewing at home, there are three cleaning methods you should know:
I. Mechanical: Do you see dirt and residue on your kettle, fermenters, and equipment? Cleaning things mechanically is the good ole’ fashioned physical method. Scrub those carboys well and make sure you don’t have any dirt stuck to the surface of your gear. A little elbow-grease goes a long way in the cleaning process.
II. Chemical: A crucial part of sanitation isn't just making sure you don’t visually see dirt. Chemically treating your equipment with an alkaline material such as Powdered Brewing Wash (PBW) or a mild detergent like Oxiclean goes hand in hand with the mechanical cleaning method. These agents can help loosen and break down dirt and residue found on fermenter walls for example.
III. Thermal: Heat things up. Heating water to 175 degrees for 5-10 minutes is enough to kill mirco-organisms, active yeast, and bacteria. Boil that spoon, sterilize that ball valve -- don’t skip out on this step if you have any doubt that your equipment may not be clean. In need of sterilizing bottles and small items? The heat from your dishwasher is also a great tool.
- Using a chemical agent or base detergent raises the pH and helps kill or inhibit bacteria. However, it is important to rinse these agents well as to not leave any chemical cleaner behind.
- If you do not have access to a cleaning agent such as Star San, you can use citric acid or vinegar (acetic acid) -- once again, just be sure to rinse well after soaking as to neutralize the pH.
- Bleach is an effective cleaning agent when used in the mildest of solutions, but can often have a lingering aroma. Using bleach also increases your odds of acquiring an undesirable chlorophenolic off-flavor.
- In a pinch but want to avoid using bleach? Iodine or Betadine used in the appropriate concentration are effective, tasteless, and widely available at your local drugstore.
- A spray bottle filled with (cheap) vodka is a handy tool to sanitize small items and surfaces such as the top of your fermenters, racking valve, etc. Vodka used as a mist is mild enough to not leave a distinct flavor or odor.
- Case in point: Sanitize EVERYTHING. (Yes...EVERYTHING -- from the hydrometer you're inserting into your fermenter to take a reading to the spoon you're using in your kettle. Absolutely, positively, everything.)
This is only the first in what will be a handful of posts dedicated to sanitation. Got a question you'd like answered? Have any pro-tips you live by? Feel free to share them in the comments section of e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org!