How To Clean A Still (Complete Guide To Maintaining Distillation Hardware)

Whether you are making an alcoholic beverage or a luxurious essential oil at home, preparing perfect distillate calls for the right equipment and a good quality still.

Having a clean still, that’s safe from all unwanted substances and residues is just as important as the actual process of distillation to make the perfect drink.

Copper and stainless steel stills will last forever if you take proper care of them. Cleaning them at home is an inexpensive process and calls for a little time and effort to keep the equipment in a perfect, polished condition. You can employ some readily available cleaning solutions and just a handful of steps to get it done.

Here’s our complete guide on how to clean your sill, along with some frequently asked questions about the same. Keep reading!

How Often Should you Clean your Still?

It is crucial to clean your still after each run to keep it clean and safe for distilling. You can perform a cleaning as often as you want, but good distillers go for a deep clean of their stills about every 3 to 6 months depending on use. It’s a good idea to fix a reminder on your calendar to schedule a deep clean if you use your still on a regular basis.

What is a Vinegar Run?

Vinegar run is the process of removing all dirt, dust, and impurities from the interior of your still by using a solution of hot water and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio. The idea is to place the still pot overheat, further filling it with the solution to its 20 percent volume and assembling the still. Next, you need to turn on the heat and allow boiled water, vinegar and steam to ooze out from the condender spout, which you collect in a container. Allow the still to cool, followed by disassembling it back and rinsing with hot water. Once it’s dry, you can head for using the still.

How to Clean a New Still

When you are all set to use a brand new still for the very first time, you need to go for a thorough cleansing of the same after washing all the parts with hot, soapy water. Once the components are dry, a vinegar run works wonders in removing all the impurities and making the still perfect for use. Here’s how you need to clean a new still.

Step 1: Wash the Still

Take all the individual parts of the still, especially the copper elements and wash them using a quality dishwashing liquid. The liquid will remove most of the extra manufacturing oils from the surface. Make sure to rinse the still so that no soap residue is left on the same.

Step 2: Steam Clean

Next, you need to add water to the still and fill it up to its half capacity, further bringing it to a boil. Leave the condenser water off until steam comes out of the distillate outflow. Allow the same for around 5 minutes and turn on the condenser water. Make sure to recover around 25 percent of the water inside the boiler by letting it run. Turn off the gas and allow the still to cool off before rinsing out.

Step 3: Vinegar Run

Add a 1:1 ratio solution of water and vinegar to the still to fill it up to half of its capacity. Allow the solution to boil and run it to recover atleast 1litre of distillate for 5 litres of volume. Turn the heat off and allow the still to cool off before rinsing it and washing again with liquid detergent.

Step 4: Second Steam Clean

Fill half the still with water, further sealing it and bringing to a boil. Allow steam to come out of the outflow with the condenser water off. Turn the same on after 5 minutes and let it run to recover most of the water inside. Turn off the heat and rinse the still after it cools down.

Step 5: Sacrificial Run

Your first distillation is always referred to as a Sacrificial Run is your first distillation that you usually perform with a sugar wash. Once done, your still is ready to use for distillation.

How to Clean your Still Before Each Run

Before each run of your still, you need to perform a thorough inspection of the same before you transfer any liquid into the boiler. Make sure to clean it before each use to get rid of any corrosion or copper salt on the surfaces. Copper salt can be brown, black, purple, teal, or blue in appearance, and you can always make it restore its color by cleaning the still using a light acid. To get that done, you can go for a vinegar run and once you bring the solution of water and white vinegar to a boil, you can remove all the deposits using a pine cleaner and a brush. You can also use food safe chemicals like lemon juice to clean the same.

How to Clean Your Still After each Run

It’s very important to keep the interiors of the still clean to ensure the safety and purity of the liquids you are distilling. After every use, make sure to let allow the still to cool properly, further disassembling it for thorough cleaning. The heat and alcohol vapors also work towards cleaning and protecting the copper, but you must make sure to prevent any build up that can contaminate your essential oils or alcohol.

To get started, you need to rinse the still pot and fill it with clean water up to its 10 percent capacity. Take an unused toilet scrub brush and assign it for the exclusive cleaning of your still. Use the brush to thoroughly scrub the pot from the inside, followed by rinsing it well, and using a carboy cleaning brush to scrub it that suits the size of the still. Go in for a second rinse of the still with clean water, further letting it dry completely. Make sure to put the still in a dry, safe place.

How to Perform a Deep Clean

Deep cleaning your still often involves going for a thorough vinegar run, accompanied by cleaning the exterior of the same to retain a brand new look. Steam cleaning is also a great idea. Before steam cleaning, make sure to apply a cleaner such as Powdered Brewery Wash to the inside of your still parts, further scrubbing it with a pipe cleaning tool and rinsing with a pressure hose.

Steam cleeaning lets you run water vapor through your copper still for a considerable duration without worrying about flammable vapor leaks. You can add a quick sacrificial run with alcoholl to remove elements that vinegar and water vapor did not remove. Steaming also removes any flavors and odors from all previous runs and help to clean the palate consistent.

How to Clean the Outside of your Still (and Keep the Metal Polished)

If the outside of the still calls for some spot cleaning, you can rub some ketchup onto the spot, further removing it with a dry cloth after 10-15 minutes. The vinegar contained in the ketchup removes the tarnish and makes it look shiny once again. If the exterior calls for a full cleaning, you can keep the copper lustrous using a mixture of salt, vinegar and some flour. For every gallon of your still, use a tablespoon of salt and one cup of vinegar, further creating a paste by adding flour to it. Apply the resulting paste to the surface, leave it for half an hour, and remove it properly.

You can also use commercial cleaning products to get the task done and keep the copper looking polished with minimal effort. Most home improvement stores have tarnish-removal products, along with the safety gear, including a mask, eye protection, and gloves. However, commercial cleaners feature strong odors and are likely to leave residues, so make sure not to use them on the insides of the still.

If you are using a stainless steel still, you can clean it using a simple store-bought stainless steel cleaner and a microfiber cloth. Once you apply a stainless steel polish to the parts, the still would look as beautiful and shiny as new.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What if i don’t clean my copper still?

Over time, your copper still will undergo the process of oxidation and develop a dark brown hue, further turning green if you don’t clean it regularly.

While you can allow the copper still to discolor on the outsider, most people want it to retain its natural copper look and lustre like it’s a piece of modern art.

But, more importantly, the inside needs to be clean to produce safe and tasty spirits. As the copper discolor and eventually turns green, the pure copper material converts to a thin later of copper oxide and copper carbonate. This now is unable to react with sulphides to clean up your product which is the entire reason we ensure there’s copper in the vapour path!

Moral of the story; you don’t need to worry about the outside but make sure the inside of your still stays clean!

Q. When should i perform a vinegar run?

As stated above, you can go for a vinegar run whenever you want, while also performing a deep cleaning twice a year. Apart from that, make sure to do a vinegar run before you change products when you are using the same still to prepare multiple distillates.

For example, if your last run was a whiskey and the next run is going to be gin, make sure to perform a vinegar run between the two drinks to prevent the flavors from mixing. If you are preparing multiple essential oils, you must do a vinegar run between different oils to avoid their delicate flavors and smells from being affected.

Lastly, if you move your still from one location to another, or don’t use it for a long time, make sure to do a vinegar run before using it. Not using a still for a long period may make it contaminated with insects, dust particles, and pet hair. A thorough vinegar run will get rid of all those unwanted particles and make the still perfect for distilling.

7 thoughts on “How To Clean A Still (Complete Guide To Maintaining Distillation Hardware)

    • Avatar photo
      Tristan says:

      Yes. We recommend following the same steps for a stainless still. The only difference is you won’t be dissolving the greeny/blue sulphide deposits on the copper, so the vinegar run is ‘less effective’. It’s still good practice.

      • Penny says:

        is it fine to clean with citric acid instead of vinegar? a 2% percent citric acid solution.
        There quite much dissolved copper on plates after a couple of days of using the copper bubble plate column. It even makes some colour to distillates in the beginning of the batch.
        Can you give some advise how to avoid this? Thanks in advance

        • Avatar photo
          Tristan says:

          Hi Penny. Good question. We prefer vinegar because it’s able to clean the still via vapour rather than just soaking in the liquid. What I mean by this is vinegar (acetic acid) boils at 112deg C while citric acid boils at 310deg C. This means that you’ll get more ‘acid vapors’ if we can call it that with the vinegar.

          To your second question; no there’s not much you can do about the copper deposits. It’s perfectly normal and means the copper is doing its job! Cleaning up your wash before running it will help, i.e. filtering or cold crashing to remove impurities. Thanks!

          • Penny says:

            Hi Tristan,Appreciate your help! So,I think above vinegar clean method is suitable either for commerical still as well as DIY home still,right? some friends meet problem with commercial still when the lyne arm couldn’t be cleaned cause of its angle location. I think I will recommend they try the vinegar run(1:1 ratio with 20% of pot volume).What’s your idea?

    • Avatar photo
      Tristan says:

      Hi Majid, I wouldn’t risk it to be honest. The alcohol vapour is a great solvent and you’ll collect and be drinking any nasties that were in the still. I’d do a fresh batch!

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