Any brewer worth his weight in malt knows that making a beer is 99% cleaning and 1% brewing. Maintaining clean and sanitary equipment and work space is extremely important as even the most minute contamination can infect an entire batch and result in a sour, undrinkable beer (Oh NO!!!). Wort is the perfect growth media for yeast and other micro-organisms, with a perfect pH range (5.2) and the necessary nutrient to stimulate and promote growth.

The first thing to clear up; there is a clear difference between cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning specifically refers to the use of detergents and detergents to remove soil, surface stains and organic material from equipment. Sanitizing refers to the use of special chemicals and agents to inhibit and kill micro-organisms. Each process is unique and necessary to ensure a successful batch each time.


It is important to use non-abrasive pads on all the surfaces to ensure that no grooves are available for bacterial, yeast and residue to accumulate between batches. A soak may be necessary to loosen heavier contamination.

There are several, commercial available options for the detergents:

1)Weak alkaline (base) chemicals

Composed of sodium carbonate and percarbonate, these compounds produce hydrogen peroxide, a strong oxidizers, that is very effective in breaking down grease, heavy residues tartrates and acetic acid. This class of products is the most environmentally friendly.

2)Caustic (corrosive) alkaline chemicals

Usually found as Sodium or Potassium Hydroxides, these products are very corrosive. They are highly effective at breaking down organic material and removals of hardened and stuck on residue. This class of cleaner requires a fresh water rinse to ensure no caustic is carried over. Most commercial breweries use this class of cleaner due to their low cost and high efficacy. This class should only be used on stainless steel and food-grade plastics.


This is a class of products that are both hydrophilic and phobic. Surfactants are capable of bringing into solution residues that are not normally dissolvable. These compounds are the ideal class for extreme residue build up


Chelating agents are usually on needed when breweries have hard source water. These compounds bond with ions in the water so that they do not precipitate and create a hard residue.


Sanitizing agents work to inhibit/kill microbial activity. When used in association with cleaning agents, a perfectly clean and sterile environment is achieved. Surfaces usually needs to be in contact with the sanitizing agent for 30 sec to 20 minutes, depending on the class of products.


Usually found in the form of Sodium Metabisulfite and Potassium Metabisulfite. These products work to inhibit growth through sulfur compound availability. They have been used for centuries in the wine industry as a stabilizer and in the food industry as a preservative. A pre-made solution can have a long shelf life, as long as you can still smell the sulfur.


Usually found as Phosphoric or Nitric acid these products have to oxidize most organic matter. These acids are more effective than some peroxides. The major benefit of using acids is that they do not risk adding off flavors to the beer.

3) Chlorine

Usually found as bleach; this is one the oldest sanitizing and decolorizing solutions. More effective than most other oxidizers, bleach will sanitize most surfaces but should only be used on metal surfaces as wood, and plastic will retain residue.  A major disadvantage is a byproduct of bleach is 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA); TCA can give beer a musty smell and taste.

4) Iodophors

Iodine based sterilizing agent, they are very effective at killing most if not all micro-organisms found in a brewery. The only drawback is iodophors stain EVERYTHING!


4 thoughts on “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

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