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One of the things you need to know before you even pick up your first homebrewing recipe is which brewing sanitizer is the best. You are going to spend a good portion of your homebrewing hobby cleaning and sanitizing your equipment and bottles. While you may think simply washing and drying your equipment is satisfactory, that could leave residue and other contaminants that ruin your brew. As such, you want to get a brewing sanitizer that is known to work.
This article is going to delve into cleaning, sanitizing, and how to choose the best options for you. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is the Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitizing?
- What Are Some Examples of a Cleaning Agent?
- The Best Brewing Sanitizers
- Can You Use Bleach as an Alternate Brewing Sanitizer?
- Is Hydrogen Peroxide a Good Brewing Sanitizer?
- Does Heating Items in an Oven Sterilize Them?
- Time to Sanitize!
What is the Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitizing?
The first thing that must be discussed is the difference between cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning is the removal of debris and other particles from your equipment. You will need to scrub away at the surface of your fermenters and mash tuns and kegs and bottles, ensuring they have been thoroughly cleaned before you begin the sanitization process. Cleaning is extremely important, but it does not sanitize your equipment.
Before sure to cleanse the following:
- Carboys and fermenters
- And anything piece of essential homebrewing equipment
Sanitizing is the next step and must always follow cleaning. When you sanitize something, you are using chemicals or acids to remove microorganisms, such as fungus, bacteria, or yeast, from the surface of an object. Many of these microorganisms can alter the flavor of your beer and even change the end result. If you do not want any off-flavors, then you must select a decent brewing sanitizer.
The video below provides wonderful tips for cleaning and sanitizing your brewing equipment:
What Are Some Examples of a Cleaning Agent?
Separating brewing equipment cleaners from sanitizers can be confusing, because they all seem to contain the same ingredients. Keep in mind that your cleaning agents are meant to remove any gunk stuck to your equipment and tools. A lot of brewers prefer OxiClean or Powdered Brewing Wash (PBW). Dish soap is also a worthy choice, but you have to be careful of the perfumes. Even if you use a brewing sanitizer following the dish soap, anything left on your drinkware will kill head retention.
Features of an Excellent Brewing Sanitizer
There are a slew of brewing sanitizers out there, but which one is the best? The ones that are rated highly generally have the same features. Whether you choose a product from the list in this article or opt for something else, make sure you choose based on the following criteria:
- No-rinse formula. Not only are non-rinse formulas excellent for saving you time when you are prepping to brew, it also ensures that nothing is left behind on your equipment. Formulas that require rinsing may leave contaminants behind that muck up your beer.
- Easy to use. What is the point of spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out the instructions? You want a sanitizer that requires minimal effort to use safely.
- Zero perfumes. Fragrances will get carried over into your brew, which is something you do not want. Avoid any sanitizing solution that contains perfumes or scents.
- Gentle on the skin. Although you would never bathe in a brewing sanitizer, you don’t want it eating at your hands either. You want to be able to reach into the basin and pluck out the hydrometer without fearing for your fingers.
- Non-staining formula. Some products will stain your clothes and skin. For instance, bleach or iodine. Look for formulas that contain friendlier ingredients.
- Cost-effective. Is the formula effective without being too expensive? Then you found a decent product.
The Best Brewing Sanitizers
Now that you know what to look for when shopping for a brewing sanitizer, here are three of the best on the market:
Consistently rated throughout the food industry and homebrewing community as the best brewing sanitizer, Star San (phosphoric acid) should be on your shopping list. Star San is highly effective in sanitizing your equipment without draining your wallet. The solution requires zero rinsing, foams up well, and can cleanse even the deepest of cracks in your equipment. Plus, you can mix this solution with distilled solution and use the same batch multiple times. This is useful for when you are rinsing out mugs when serving draft beers, for example.
The manufacturer recommends placing the solution inside a squirt bottle for quick and effective sanitation while you work. Directions are easy to follow and give you consistent results each time.
The only downside is that Star San lacks any moisturizers. The solution will dry out your skin with use. Some people also dislike how much Star San foams up, but there is an easy solution to this: add the liquid to the water after you’ve filled your bucket.
Check out this video that looks into Star San as a safe product:
Another wonderful option on the market is Five Star IO Sanitizer, a low-foam, no-rinse formula. According to the instructions, you mix about 1 ounce of Five Star IO Sanitizer with 5 gallons of cold or lukewarm water, resulting in a strong solution that requires only 2 minutes of contact to completely sanitize your brewing equipment. Most people claim this is a little too strong. You could use far less of this product and achieve the same results.
Unlike Star San, the effectiveness of the solution diminishes over time. Otherwise, it is easy to use and provides sufficient sanitation. Do be aware that the presence of iodine in this formula may cause some staining, so you may want to wear an apron or inexpensive clothing when mixing and sanitizing with this product.
The brewing community also loves a product called Iodophor. Traditionally used in the medical and food service industries for sanitation, Iodophor does its job well. It contains ingredients that act as detergents, germicides, and sanitizers. Like Star San, Iodophor requires zero rinsing and comes in a similar concentration. You will need to let your equipment soak for about 10 minutes before removing them from the solution.
Similar to Five Star IO Sanitizer, Iodophor will stain your clothing a lovely (not) light brown. Otherwise, it is safe on your hands, odorless, and tasteless. Many users note that, once making a switch to Iodophor, find that their beers taste better.
To use Iodophor, you will need to combine about 0.5 ounces in 5 gallons of water. It will contain about 12.5 ppm of iodine.
Iodophor does lose effectiveness overtime, even when stored properly. You will notice that it starts to lose color as it goes bad.
Can You Use Bleach as an Alternate Brewing Sanitizer?
Perhaps you have run out of your brewing sanitizer and need an alternative. Maybe you do not feel like shelling out money for Star San. The good news is that most households already have a useful brewing sanitizer in their cabinets. That’s right—it’s bleach. Cheap and easy to use, bleach gets the job done fast.
You will need to add about a cap (1 tablespoon) of bleach to a gallon of water. Put your equipment in the solution for about 20 minutes. Drain the solution then rinse everything with boiled water. Supposedly, you don’t have to do the rinsing step, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?
If using bleach is a frightening concept, you can use Oxiclean, too. OxiClean contains an oxidizing agent that can be used to sanitize your equipment. All you need to do is combine it with a specially formulated brewing cleanser, such as Red Devil TSP/90, which contains a metasilicate. This also works with detergents like Tide. Mix together with a 70/30 ratio to create a DIY brewing sanitizer.
Is Hydrogen Peroxide a Good Brewing Sanitizer?
Looking for a substitute that you do not have to wash? Consider 3% hydrogen peroxide. Commonly found in first aid kits, hydrogen peroxide is an effective solution for removing bacteria and other contaminants. You can find it pretty much anywhere you go, and you may have some in your house. The advantage of using hydrogen peroxide as your sanitizer is that it does not have to be rinsed off after the work is done.
Need to remove any surface deposits on your equipment? You could mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to help lift stubborn buildup and sediment. The ratio is 2:1 vinegar to peroxide. This is especially useful for brass components.
Does Heating Items in an Oven Sterilize Them?
Another option for preparing your equipment for brewing is heat. Many homebrewers who grow their own yeast cultures (also known as a yeast starter) will sterilize their equipment to avoid contamination. Heat is useful because, at higher temperatures, the microorganisms cannot survive. You can use dry heat, such as an oven, or the dishwasher to sterilize your equipment.
If you want to use dry heat to sterilize, using the following chart to determine temperature and time:
This may seem like a lengthy process, but you are killing off microorganisms that could potentially ruin your beer. Since you don’t want that to happen, it’s recommended. Keep in mind that you can only use the heat method on items that are heat-proof at the temperatures shown above. Anything that is glass, like your yeast culture jar or a carboy, is a good candidate for this method.
You can also bake your bottles to ensure that your freshly brewed beer is going into a fully cleaned, sanitized, and sterilized bottle. However, if you are using soda lime glass, they may go into thermal shock and crack. If you want to heat sanitize your bottles, use only borosilicate (such as Pyrex) glass. Heat to the appropriate temperature then ensure the glassware cools down slowly.
Sanitizing in a Dishwasher
You could potentially use your dishwasher to sanitize, not sterilize, any equipment that is dishwasher safe. During the drying cycle, the steam will coat the surfaces of your brewing equipment. This heat will sanitize the surfaces, making them usable for your brewing project. However, you should never clean and sanitize at the same time. Detergents or dishwashing agents will leave a thin residue on the materials that will ruin head retention.
As such, run your glassware through the dishwasher with detergent first. Next, sanitize it during the next run.
Time to Sanitize!
When you are home brewing, having an effective cleaning and sanitizing routine is key. You need to ensure your equipment is clean and disinfected prior to brewing, because you don’t need any off flavors ruining your brew. As such, it is recommended that you use one of the brands listed in this article, such as Star San. Of course, there is always the option of making your own sanitizer with bleach diluted with water, especially if you run out of your go-to product.
The most highly recommended brand is Star San, an acid based sanitizer. It is widely used and has been around for many years. Star San does not have to be rinsed, making it ideal for home brewing.
If you want to make your own brewing sanitizer at home, bleach is the best. Put a single cap of bleach in 1 gallon of water to dilute. The bleach must be non-scented. The only downside is that you are going to have to rinse your items in water, which could introduce contaminants if your water is from the tap.
Yes, OxiClean can be used to clean and sanitize brewing equipment when combined with a metasilicate. The cleaning agents in the formula are strong enough. In fact, OxiClean is recommended for removing the labels from bottles you have collected or are reusing. However, you will need to rinse this off!
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