Brewing = Cleaning

For my first post I thought I would start with the first step in brewing. This is going to be a multi part post, in the first part we will talk about some terms, and the process of simply cleaning.

Lots of people ask, “If I like to cook, will I enjoy brewing? I usually tell them, that for me, it worked out that way, and that their mileage may vary. Then I lead them to what may have been the most painful thing I learned about brewing, it is not a love of cooking that will sustain you in this hobby, but a love of CLEANING.


Brewers use words like cleaning / sanitizing / disinfecting / sterilizing so interchangeable that a rookie may get overwhelmed and confused, so I will start with laying out what the terms mean to me:

Cleaning: To make clean, to remove dirt and surface debris and visible brewing residue. This is done with some sort of cleaner and a lot of good old fashion work.

Sanitizing: This is the level of clean brewers mean when they say sterilize. It is the level we are shooting for, and the level of microorganism removal we can readily and repeatedly achieve. This is most times accomplished with off the shelf sanitizers marketed for the home brewer and for the most part to a good job.

Disinfecting: This term has a ton of lawyer speak attached to it, and has to work in 10 min or less to pass some silly test. This is the best we can hope for, but most likely we will only get to the level above.

Sterilizing: To truly sterilize you need to bake equipment at high temps for extended time frames, and most, but not all, home brewers simply do not have the means to sterilize. None of the off the shelf agents normally available to us can achieve this, and to be honest, unless you are knee deep in micro-biology and yeast cell culturing, you just don’t need it.

So, in short, for the rest of this discussion we will Clean and we will Sanitize. Before we get started though, I would like to offer some of my own ideas.

  1. The dishwasher is of limited value; rinse agents and soaps with dyes and perfumes may have negative effects down the road, especially if you are washing bottles.
  2. If you are substituting house hold cleaners in place of brewing specific cleaners make sure you are using perfume and dye free versions. I use a DIY version of PBW and a dye/perfume free liquid dishwasher detergent for my cleaning.

So, what gets what?

The fist process is cleaning, and below is the short list:


But really, if you use it to make beer, it gets cleaned. Brushes, bottles, spoons, paddles, jugs, jars, buckets, mills, stoppers, air locks, tubing, grain/hop bags, items for taking and holding samples, brew pots, HLTs, mash tuns and fermenters. Seriously, if you pull it out on brew day, clean it.

Dirty Dirty
The Stuff I cleaned

Now there is no end to cleaners out there that you can use, some made for the home brewer and others that are made for everyday cleaning. The choice is yours, I am an OxyClean or similar user, to that I add a TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) alternative to at the rate of 30% TSP to 70% OxyClean and work off the 1oz of cleaner to 1 gallon of water ratio. You can find the TSP online or in the paint section of your local hardware store.

I mix a batch in a large tub and a batch in a 5 gallon bucket and pour ½ of that into another bucket. It might be over kill but it works for me. Make sure you are using water as hot as you can stand and mix the cleaner into solution well.

The first thing I do is drop all my hoses into the 2 buckets and ensure that they fill up with cleaner and let them soak. Then I take all my small bits and put them in the large tub and use a soft sponge or dish rag to clean everything. I suggest using soft side rags and sponges on all plastic parts to prevent scratching that will later harbour little nasties. After I wash everything, it gets put into a bucket of clean hot water to rinse, and then after I rinse it once, I rinse it again to be sure.

Make sure you save all your cleaning solution, as we will use it to clean the rest of the buckets and fermenters. After the small stuff has been cleaned, I move to the hoses, they are harder to clean on the inside, so a soak of about 30-60 should get everything nice and free; I then just take the garden hose to them and give them a quick rinse. The hoses will get a second wash, and through rinse when I set up the brewery for the cleaning loop. If you are not set up to use pumps, then take them to the kitchen, and rinse with hot water until you feel they are good to go.

Lots of small parts, look around the brew space and see what you can find
All clean and drying

Now, that all the small stuff is out of the way and drying, it is time to clean the large vessels, buckets, and such. I just recycle the cleaning solution into whatever needs to be clean and once again get after it with soft bristle brushes, rags and sponges. Clean, rinse, and rinse again, then turn upside down and let dry.

place the bottom row on some scrap wood to help drain
I have a lot of buckets

By now, most of the small items should be dry and can be put away. I like to put them in a container, or zip lock bag just to limit the exposure to the outside world. Later much of this will go through the sanitizing step, but there is no need for that until brew day.

Brewery Hoses
Letting the hoses hang dry, they will get cleaned again when we clean the Brewery

End Part 1