There are several home brewing cleaners on the market today so which one should a home brewer use? Well first off lets get down to the basics. Any home brewing gear that comes in contact with your wort or beer post boil should first be cleaned and then sanitized. Home brewing cleaners and home brewing sanitizers perform different rolls and it is important to understand the difference. A homebrew gear cleaner such as PBW is great at cleaning gear but is not an effective sanitizer as it should be rinsed from your gear after use. Saniclean is a great sanitizer but it is not an effective cleaner as it does not do a great job of breaking down solids and even if it did, you would not want allot of crud left in your fermenter prior to transferring your wort to it. A cleaners roll is to remove the solids, dirt and grime from your gear so that it may be sanitized. A sanitizer kills any remaining living organisms such as bacteria, fungus and yeast so that the yeast you pitch can ferment the beer as opposed to what may have been living on the surface of your fermenter or transfer tubing.
So which is the best home brewing cleaner out there? In my opinion it is difficult to beat PBW or Powder Brewery Wash. PBW is a non-hazardous, buffered alkaline brewery cleaner. It is cleaner of choice for many breweries where it out performs many hazardous caustic chemicals, yet is much safer to use. It will not corrode soft metals and is safe to use on plastics and stainless steel. If there is dried or caked on material in a kettle or fermenter, I will often let the PBW stay in contact with the item over night and it is just about always as clean as a whistle in the morning with very little needed scrubbing if any. It is also a cost effective cleaner and runs about $6.25 per LBS.
Cleaning and sanitizing your home brewing equipment is perhaps the single most important step in the home brewing process. Without proper cleanliness, your home brew is almost certainly going to suffer off flavors caused by organic compounds, residues, bacteria or fungus. In today’s blog entry, I am going to review some of the popular home brewing cleaners that are available on the market.
There are two typical types of cleaners available to home brewers, oxygen based and alkali based. Perhaps the most popular alkali cleaner is PBW or Powdered Brewery Wash. PBW was originally developed for Coors Brewing Company, but is now widely used in many large commercial breweries. PBW should be diluted to 1 to 2 ounces per gallon of warm water for cleaning kettles and chillers, and approximately 3/4 ounces per gallon of warm water for all other equipment. If time permits, it is best to soak equipment for approximately 12 hours in PBW solution and then rinse. PBW is capable of dissolving most organic brewing compounds without the need for scrubbing and is safe to use on all standard brewing equipment, including stainless steel. Powdered Brewery Wash is my cleaner of choice.
The most widely used oxygen based home brewery cleaners are Easy Clean and One Step. The main advantage to these cleaners is that no rinsing is required, but they are not typically as effective as PBW at removing tough stains or cleaning hard to reach areas.
It is important to keep in mind that cleaning is only the first step in preparing your fermentation, racking, and bottling equipment. You must also sanitize your equipment to insure that it is free of bacteria or fungus that could compromise the taste of your beer.