Cleaning and sanitizing are two crucial but often neglected steps in the brewing and distilling process.
Sanitizing kills bugs – bacteria that can infect your brew and create unpleasant unwanted flavors in the final product. Worse, they can ruin the entire batch or make people sick.
In this article, we’re going to explain what the best practice for sanitizing is and recommend some products which make it quick and easy to do.
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What is Sanitizer (And Why Do You Need It?)
The type of sanitizer you choose is an important factor to consider when brewing and distilling. As sanitizers kill any microbes and surface bacteria that may contaminate the equipment, it ensures that it is safe to use.
Potentially, this is the most important phase in the brewing process. Without sanitizers, beer, wine, and cider could be filled with organisms that turn it sour and make the beer practically undrinkable.
The best part about some of these sanitizers is that they are “no-rinse”, so you can soak your equipment in the sanitizer and immediately use it to brew and distill alcohol. This reduces any risk of recontamination.
What Happens If You Do Not Sanitize Correctly?
Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment, whether it be for home brewing or commercial purposes, is necessary as it is one of the best and easiest ways to ensure your beer’s quality across batches.
If you do not clean and sanitize your brewing equipment, you are exposing your beer to microorganisms that can ruin the beer at a rapid rate.
A common bug that ruins beer is called Lactobacillus. This creature will leave your beer tasting sour and unpleasant. The reason for this is the lactic acid produced by the bacteria after it eats the yeast and sugar in your beer. Other creatures like Pediococcus will leave strange rope-like bits growing in your beer.
If you do not clean and sanitize your equipment properly, you are setting your brew up for failure.
- If you clean your equipment but do not sanitize it, you are allowing bacteria to fester and infect your beer.
- On the other hand, if you sanitize but do not clean your equipment, there may be leftover sediments and yeast which will ruin your next batch of beer as it masks its color and character.
What is the Difference Between a Cleaner and a Sanitizer?
Many consider cleaning your brewing equipment as a good scrub down with soap and hot water. This, however, is not totally effective.
Cleaning your brewing system means washing any leftover grains, hops, and yeast from your previous batch of beer. For most parts of the homebrewing process, you can simply clean your equipment. For others, this does not offer the required sanitary level.
Sanitizing refers to the process of killing all remaining microorganisms that are left in or on your equipment after it’s been cleaned.
What to Look for When Buying Sanitizer for Brewing and Distilling?
There are two convenient ways to sanitize your equipment. These are chemicals and heat.
If you use chemical sanitizers, the solution can be prepared by using a fermenter bucket where all your equipment can be soaked. If you decide to use heat, the methods depend on the type of material being cleaned and sanitized.
A Quick Word On Safety
Finally, when using any of these products, it’s important to wear appropriate safety equipment to protect your skin, eyes, and mouth from accidentally contacting the chemicals
It is best to use a set of Brewer’s Gloves. These are purely a precaution but will save your hands in the case of an accident.
We also recommend eye goggles, or a face shield to stop anything from getting in your eyes.
How To Use Brewing Sanitizer:
The method of sanitation of brewing equipment is as follows:
Mix the solution (your cleaning chemical and water) at the right concentration. You will need to refer to the label to get the proper ratio as every product differs.
If you want to sanitize a keg, mix the solution in a bucket and siphon, or drain it into your empty keg.
Allow all your equipment and surfaces that will encounter the beer an adequate amount of contact time with the sanitizer solution.
Star San, for example, requires 1 to 2 minutes of contact time to sanitize a surface.
Again, you will need to refer to the label because different cleaning or sanitation products require different contact times.
Just before using your equipment, you will need to drain the sanitizer. Do not rinse to achieve maximum sanitation. However, a quick rinse will not have any negative effect.
The Best 5 Sanitizer Products for Brewing and Distilling (In 2023)
The following are our top picks for a great all-purpose brewery sanitizer. Each of these products is perfect for whatever you are making, whether that be wine, beer, cider, or spirits.
It makes no difference if you are a homebrewer making 5L batches or a commercial brewer making 5000 barrels – just scale up/down the dose as needed.
- Star San – Star Sun will destroy any microorganisms that could potentially destroy your brew. The manufacturers describe it as a “self-foaming acid sanitizer ideal for brewing, dairy, and other food and beverage equipment.”
- Iodophor – Iodophor is another popular sanitizer that is traditionally used by both the food and medical industries. This is a cost-effective sanitizer used on equipment in the food industry.
- Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW)
Powdered Brewery Wash or PBW is a cleaning product that was originally widely used in commercial breweries. Over time, however, the public has caught on to how well this product disinfects, sanitizes, and cleans equipment.
- Clorox Bleach – A good value-for-money option and good for people who can’t get access to name-brand sanitizers.
- Heat – Old school and very time-consuming, but if you have an old oven or sterilization chamber you have to place your components to be sterilized inside and heat for the correct amount of time vs. temperature to kill any bugs.
1. Star San – Best Overall
Star San is an acid-based sanitizer that requires no rinsing after use. It is effective and easy to use. Star San contains food-grade phosphoric acid and is safe for people and the environment.
This self-foaming product can penetrate cracks and crevices with ease. It is odorless and flavorless, which means you do not need to worry about it tainting your beer or wine.
This product is safe to use on all surfaces but requires caution as it is an acid. Contact with soft metals, rubber, and plastic must be kept to a minimum.
The surfactant in Star San will not influence the head retention of your beer like those used in detergents
The cost of star san is around $30.00.
All that is required is thirty seconds of contact time and no rinsing. Compared to other “no-rinse” sanitizers, Star San does not add any off-flavors at higher concentrations than the recommended dosage.
The recommended concentration is one ounce per five gallons of water. From there, you can use the solution in a spray bottle, which can also be used as a spray-on sanitizer for your glassware.
- Star San Is A High Foaming, Acid-Based, No-Rinse Sanitizer That Is Effective And Easy To Use.
2. Five Star Low Foaming Iodophor – Runner Up
Iodophor is a convenient-to-use solution made of iodine mixed with a polymer carrier.
One tablespoon in 5 gallons of water is all that is required to sanitize your equipment. You need to soak the equipment in this solution for two minutes.
If you soak your equipment for longer than ten minutes at the same concentration, your equipment or surfaces will be disinfected to hospital standards.
At 12.5 ppm, the solution has a faint brown color which is used to monitor the viability of the solution. If the color is lost, it means that it no longer has enough iodine to work. If plastic is exposed to this solution for a long period, it will stain.
This 12.5 ppm concentration does not need to be rinsed, but you should allow your equipment to drain first before use.
Pros of using Iodophor:
- Easy to use
- Effective on various surfaces
- Low-foaming solution
- Safe for all food-related uses
Cons of using Iodophor:
- May lose effectiveness over time
- IO STAR is a low foaming iodophor wash sanitizer
4. Bleach – Best Value For Money
Bleach is readily available and cheap.. You can make a bleach solution to kill any microorganisms.
This solution consists of one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water. Leave your equipment to soak for roughly 20 minutes before rinsing it off.
Generally, rinsing is not technically necessary when using this concentration. However, For many brewers, rinsing with hot water is preferred just to be sure that no off-flavors remain from the chlorine,
Pros of using bleach:
- Cost effective
- Kills 99.9% of bacteria and germs
- Uses a low dosage
Cons of using bleach:
- May require rinsing
- Takes a long time to get the job done
- Clorox CLEAN: Get more cleaning power per drop with this concentrated formula with 33% more compact dose reducing the amount required for cleaning (compared to Clorox Disinfecting Bleach2)
5. Heat – Use an oven or sterization chamber
If you decide to use heat to sterilize your equipment, microorganisms heated at a high enough temperature for a long enough period, will die. You can use both dry heat and steam to kill any bacteria.
Dry heat, however, is less effective than steam for sanitizing and sterilizing. But it is a method favoured by many brewers.
Dry Heat Sterilization Duration
|338 degrees F||60 mins|
|320 Degrees F||120 mins|
|302 Degrees F||150 mins|
|284 Degrees F||180 mins|
|250 Degrees F||12 hours (Overnight)|
Though these times may seem long, they are necessary to kill all microorganisms.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Are a sterilizer and a sanitizer the same thing?
Sanitizing reduces microorganisms to a safe level whereas sterilizing will remove all microorganisms from an item. Sterilizing is not often necessary in a commercial kitchen environment, but is used in places like breweries and hospitals.
Q. Can I use OxiClean to sanitize brewing equipment?
Oxyclean does a fantastic job of cleaning your brewing equipment. However, you will also need to use a sanitizer like Star San on everything your beer will touch. Generic “oxy” works well when cleaning glass carboys and beer bottles. After use, be sure to rinse them well, then sanitize them with Star San before you fill them.
Q. Do I need to rinse off my sanitizer before using my equipment?
If the concentration is 12.5 ppm, your equipment does not need to be rinsed, but you should allow it to drain properly before using it.
Q. How often do I need to sanitize?
It is best to clean all your equipment as soon as you are done with a batch. This entails rinsing out the fermenter, tubing, etc., as soon as they have been used.