What is your homebrew sanitization process?
September 27, 2012 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Homebrewers, what is your sanitization process? I am stymied.

I got into homebrewing several years ago, made some great batches and some not so great batches, and then gave it up for a while. I want to get back into it, but when I tried several months ago the batch I made ended up tasting... awful. I'm assuming it was a sanitization problem. I have always been daunted by this part of the process.

What do you use? Bleach? Iodophor? Something else?

And more importantly, how do you do it? What does "drip dry" mean? Do you rinse? What surface do you dry your equipment on? If you let something air dry, how long can it sit out in the air before it needs to be sanitized again?

I have Papazian's book, but every time I read it I feel like it kind of fudges the details on sanitization. Thanks in advance for your insight.
posted by starvingartist to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
PBW for the gear after a brew and possibly before, depending on how long it's been.

Starsan for spot cleaning/sanitizing and for the keg while I fill it.

I never, ever use anything but those two cleaners.

Drip dry means drip dry, I usually clean everything right before I use it and give it a nice starsan spray if I'm worried about it. I dry stuff on papertowels on a clean surface or in a cleaned and starsan'd plastic tub.

You can use oxyclean...but don't use the stuff with detergent in it. Ahem, I heard that makes for horrible beer.
posted by iamabot at 8:06 PM on September 27, 2012

What I found was that reasonable care, all-malt, and lager yeast, was enough. But if you use ale yeast, you have to be triply careful. Ale yeast is notorious for being easy to infect.

We were brewing steam beers, which means we fermented at room temperature but used lager yeast anyway. It worked fine, and out of nine batches the only time we had one turn bad was when we added a lot of sugar because we were trying for high alcohol content.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:10 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always used plain old 10 mL bleach to 5L water. I started being careful with that after my very first batch went bad, and haven't had a bad once since.
posted by cmoj at 8:14 PM on September 27, 2012

I sanitize with Star San and don't worry about rinsing or drying. The foam just provides some additional nutrients for the yeast.
posted by bajema at 8:15 PM on September 27, 2012

Response by poster: I find that difficult to believe, bajema. If it kills bacteria, why would it be nutritious for yeast?
posted by starvingartist at 8:17 PM on September 27, 2012

I'm with bajema. I use Star San and I don't rinse or dry, I just drain everything out and leave the foam. Never had a problem. Don't fear the foam.
posted by sephira at 8:22 PM on September 27, 2012

I find that difficult to believe, bajema. If it kills bacteria, why would it be nutritious for yeast?

Different microbes thrive in different environments. Some love salt, some die right off in even slightly salty environments. Some love high sugar concentration, some hate it. Some love alcohol, some tolerate it, some find it completely lethal. Some need oxygen, some tolerate it, some die on contact with it. Some like sunlight, some hate it. And on and on and on.

This is what makes brewing (and fermenting, and baking with yeast, and....) possible. Because nothing is ever 100% sterilized. The best you can do is give the yeast a head start, and a big part of that is creating an environment that's friendlier to yeast and less friendly to all the other stuff. A bunch of sugar, no oxygen, a bit of alcohol, enough of the right minerals but not too much, etc.

But so yeah, there are definitely things that kill (certain) bacteria and are nutritious for yeast, and vice versa.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:39 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that StarSan will break down as the pH rises, so the foam is diluted by the wort, thus raising the pH and neutralizing the killing power of the StarSan. I've done it this way for years and have never had a problem with yeast health or contamination.
posted by bajema at 8:41 PM on September 27, 2012

I find that difficult to believe, bajema. If it kills bacteria, why would it be nutritious for yeast?

Star San is phosphoric acid with a little bit of a foaming agent to help break up any crap on the surface that bacteria might be hiding in (dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid, aka laundry detergent) and isopropyl alcohol. When you apply it in a concentrated solution, the pH is low/acidic enough to be bad for microorganisms. When a few milliliters of Star San residue are diluted into 5 gallons of wort, the acid is diluted and the phosphate is just extra yeast food. In fact, yeast nutrients are usually urea and a salt of phosphoric acid.

Chemically, you can think of phosphoric acid as phosphate plus some positively charged hydrogen ions, which pop off in the water, making it acidic. Ammonuim phosphate (the salt in your yeast nutrient) replaces the hydrogen with positively charged ammonium ions. The phosphate part is chemically indistinguishable.

Phosphorus is necessary for life. DNA is essentially a string of alternating sugar and phosphate residues with other molecules hanging off, and (I imagine) your yeast is happy to soak up phosphorous from wherever it can.
posted by pullayup at 8:49 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Starsan here as well. But I found that my early bad tasting beers were actually oxidized. Too much splashing, bubbles in the siphon, etc.

In what way does it taste bad? Wet cardboard?
posted by elsietheeel at 8:51 PM on September 27, 2012

Whoa, pullayup, way not to answer the question. What I should have said is don't assume microbiological contamination. As elsietheeel notes here are lots of things that can make your beer taste bad or off that that isn't a "sick" fermentation, and it might be worth keeping some to ask a more experienced brewer about.

In the meantime, here are a couple of pages (etc, etc) of heuristics you can use to get a handle on what happened.
posted by pullayup at 9:00 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've just bottled my 26th batch for the year, with only one bad one* so here's my routine:


(assuming it's already been hosed out & given a bit of a scrub with a sponge at the end of the previous ferment, to reach a state that looks clean to the naked eye - about 5 minutes work...)

(1) 1 level Tbsp of "pink stain remover" dissolved in 1L of hot water. Put lid on & give the fermenter a good shake, turning it over a few times on all axes to make sure the solution touches all surfaces. Run a bit through the tap. Pour it all down the drain.

(2) 1 level Tbsp of sodium metabisulfite dissolved in 1L of cold water. Do the same shaking routine, let a bit out through the tap, and pour the rest into a plastic container for step (3).

(3) I use a funnel & a very long brewing spoon to fill & mix the wort in the fermenter. These are quickly given a splash of the reserved sodium metabisulfite solution from (2). I normally also give the airlock a bit of a bath in the solution as well.

That's about it. I used to wash the pink stain remover residue out with fresh water before using the sodium metabisulfite, but given the volume of wort compared with the surface area of the fermenter lightly covered with pink stain remover residue, now I don't bother & think it's OK for the sodium metabisulfite to wash the stain remover out (enough).


(assuming bottles were rinsed clean with water after being opened & consumed)

(1) same pink stain remover mix, squirted up using a fountain pump thingy that sits on top of a bottling tree. The bottling tree & spashy pump are the best things you can buy. Go get them.

(2) rinse once with hot water using the splashy pump. I rinse for bottling but not fermenting, because the ratio of surface to volume is very different, unless my mental maths are screwed.

(3) sanitise with sodium metabisulfite, same proportion as before. Leave to drip & evaporate for about 15 min while you wash your bottle caps, tube & valve for bottling in the sodium metabisulfite. 15 minutes is recommended to allow the stuff to evaporate, but I don't always respect this. No big difference IMHO.

As others have suggested, at home you're never going to get *sterile* equipment, it will just be *sanitised* enough to help the good yeasts thrive & crowd out the nasties. Don't sweat it too much; it's hard to go wrong.

PS - if using sodium metabisulfite, be wary not to take a deep breath in near it, when it's in powdered form. It gives your breathing parts a bit of a burning sort of shock. I find it's enough to take a deep breath in, open jar & scoop a Tbsp out, dissolve in water, and then breathe again. No worries that way.

* I discovered the wrong way that a fruit fly had made it into the fermenter, which was most likely the cause.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:04 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use an iodine-based sanitizer - I bought some Betadine from my pharmacy, and whenever I brew, I mix 1/4tsp+ into a half-gallon of water. I put most of it in a spray bottle.

I wipe down (with detergent) my table, then spray it with sanitizer. To sanitize things, I spray them thoroughly with the iodine solution and place them on the table. I've made about 8 batches, and not had any contamination problems.

I don't worry about anything being dry before using it, I do however make sure it sits for two minutes between spraying it and using it.
posted by Adamsmasher at 9:06 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

We (and our homebrewing friends) use Iodophor to sanitize all of our equipment (e.g. siphon, airlocks, gaskets) and carboys. For the carboys we also clean them with dishwashing soap, thoroughly rinse, and then sanitize. After pouring out the sanitizing water, if you let the carboy stand for a couple of minutes then the residual water will collect in the bottom and can be poured out. The few remaining drops of sanitizing water will not make a difference in the taste of a 5 gallon batch.
posted by jedicus at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, forgot to mention. To sanitize bottles I use my siphon to siphon a little bit (~1/2in) of sanitizing solution into each bottle, shake, and dump. Again I wait at least 2 minutes before using them.
posted by Adamsmasher at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2012

"spashy pump" = splashy pump. It's not a technical term; just trying to be descriptive.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2012

Oh, PS - infrequently (say every 10 brews or so) I'll do a complete overhaul & clean of the fermenter, which means removing the rubber seal & grommet, taking a toothbrush to the thread for the tap, etc, again using pink stain remover as the detergent. I certainly don't go to that level of cleaning for every single batch...I've got a production line going here & time is beer, you know?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:17 PM on September 27, 2012

Echo all of the above - I prefer Iodophor and drying the fermenter overnight with the neck facing down. But Starsan and bleach work as well.

Chiming in to add - pitching a large volume of healthy active yeast is a good practice as well. If the yeast can outcompete any microbes in the fermenter there's a good chance they can produce an anoxic and high alcohol environment before the microbes can populate enough to make the by-products that give the off flavor.
posted by BrooksCooper at 9:41 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Relatively careful washing with regular dish soap, followed by iodophor. I keg rather than bottle so I only need to sanitize my siphon, primary bucket, and keg. Oh yeah, and the beer lines I guess. I also maintain the heretical position that tap water from a municipal source is sanitized enough for any stage of the brewing process, including being poured into sterile wort, and this has never given me any problems.

But to address your problem more broadly:

when I tried several months ago the batch I made ended up tasting... awful.

Can you describe "awful" in more detail? And would you mind describing your fermentation conditions a bit? In my experience many homebrewers are quite meticulous with malt, hops, and the brew day, but kind of run off the rails at some point during fermentation. In short, you should pitch a lot of yeast, way more than the minimum stated on the packaging, and you need to rigorously control the fermentation temperature throughout primary. Simple fermentation problems can cause a surprising number of off flavors.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:25 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use iodophor and try to let everything air dry completely. Some of my friends use Star-San and prefer it to iodophor, but my LHBS doesn't stock it (or was out last time I went down there) so I got iodophor.

I've also used bleach and I thought all the rinsing was a pain and a waste of water. And the consequences of leaving bleach in are much worse than having some no-rinse cleanser in the mix, so I feel like no-rinse is the less-risky way to go.

But a strong second to whoever suggested not to necessarily jump to the conclusion of bacterial contamination. Lots of things can make beer taste funky; unless you think there was something different in your cleaning procedures, I'd keep an open mind as to what it could be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:26 PM on September 27, 2012

I also maintain the heretical position that tap water from a municipal source is sanitized enough for any stage of the brewing process, including being poured into sterile wort, and this has never given me any problems.

posted by UbuRoivas at 10:32 PM on September 27, 2012

I used iodophor and didn't bother with letting it dry. Essentially on brew day I would:

1) Already have a starter ticking over about 300 mL up to 500 mL
2) Fill up plastic fermenter with iodophor and place siphon and filter and spoons etc inside to keep sterile.
3) wipe down all of the surfaces of the kitchen with bleach
4) have sterile jugs of water cooled in the fridge
5) make beer on the stovetop
6) cool to warm in sink via ice bath
7) tip out sanitizer and setup sieve filtration
8) filter from boiling pot into fermenter and top up with cool water to ensure rapid cooling
9) pitch active yeast immediately

usually worked fine for me always being sure to wear a short sleeve shirt and keep on rinsing my hands in iodophor solution as necessary
posted by koolkat at 2:38 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bleach. Sometimes peracetic acid, or ethanol. But mostly bleach.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:07 AM on September 28, 2012

Fermenter and all of its accessories are sanitized with Iodophor. I usually fill up the fermenter while I'm boiling and throw all the crap in there. After the boil, while it's cooling, I'll drain and usually rinse.

Bottles go in the dishwasher, no soap. No rinse aid, either, it's not good for proper head formation. We have a sanitize setting on the dishwasher which does a good job, but won't dislodge anything large from the bottles (like, say, house centipedes). After I finish drinking a bottle I immediately rinse everything out and drip dry.

Other than that, nothing. Never had a bad batch.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:06 AM on September 28, 2012

PBW to clean everything and Starsan for sanitizing. I use nothing else. On brewday, I fill my carboy with Starsan, let it sit during the mash and boil, dump and immediately rack my finished wort into the carboy (which is still nearly FULL with starsan FOAM). Racking into the carboy, the beer pushes all of the foam out.

Never had a bad batch in my 4 years of brewing with this sanitization method.

No-rinse sanitizers are the only way to go. With bleach, you run the risks of:

A: Not getting all the bleach out when rinsing, which is bad
B: Chance for contamination from the rinse water, or while the vessel is drying after the rinse, which is even worse.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 5:50 AM on September 28, 2012

Just speculating, and thinking of getting into brewing. I imagine that a steamer, like those in a heavy duty floor cleaning system, could be used to sterilize the area and apparatus.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2012

Just bleach, but after a slight moment to drain I cover all openings with plastic wrap. I use a glass carboy for first and second fermentation. I use a blow-off tube 1st and a fermentation air trap during 2nd. Don't bother sanitizing the Wort boiler- It gets boiled long anough to kill anything. For bottle cleaning I have a tap that fits on the sink and shoots water up into the neck of the bottle. So I soak them all in bleach and rinse with that thing using only hot water, and fill and cap immediately. Only 1 batch in about 15 years went bad.
posted by Gungho at 9:31 AM on September 28, 2012

Here's an example of a bottle tree and "sanitiser injector" that I mentioned earlier.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2012

Remember to never sanitize a stainless steel keg with bleach. Seconding the PBW/Starsan recommendations.
posted by ilikemefi at 1:25 PM on September 29, 2012

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