One of the biggest reasons for low quality beer from homebrewers (and for professional brewers) is inadequate cleaning and sanitation. Wild yeast and contaminants are everywhere and it takes very little to cause off-flavors in your beer.
How do you prevent it from happening to your brew? Clean AND sanitize everything that’s going to come in contact with the beer and use the right cleaning products.
You cannot sanitize something that’s not clean, so everything that is going to be sanitized needs to be cleaned first. You want to avoid chemical cleaning supplies that you would normally find in your cleaning supplies. The product that is most commonly used is Powder Brewery Wash (PBW). PBW is a powder that is diluted down with water to create a cleaning solution. You can use this to soak brewing equipment in the solution or use it as a wash to help scrub those tough areas.
A second popular cleaner and what I personally use is Oxyclean Free. Oxyclean is an oxygen based cleaner that is safe for to use on brewing equipment. You use it just like PBW but it is much cheaper to buy.
Some of the cleaning products that you may use say that rinsing is not needed. I recommend rinsing everything after using a cleaning solution. Better safe than sorry! Rinsing is simply just washing off an cleaning solution with clean water. You can rinse them off with a hose or just place it in a bucket of clean water.
The final step of getting your brew equipment ready is to sanitize it. The most common product used for sanitizing is Starsan. This is used to kill anything that survived the cleaning. Star San is a liquid that is diluted down to make a solution. Unlike the cleaning process, you do not need to scrub, Star San kills on contact. For this reason, some brewers choose to use a spray bottle to make a solution of Star San a spray down the areas of brewing equipment that will be used.
This is an effective way to make a bottle of Star San go a lot longer because you’re only using enough to fill a spray bottle instead of a 15.5 gallon keg. It’s also very smart because you only need to sanitize the inside edges of the equipment that will touch the wort when you are brewing not everything in-between.
What Do You Need To Clean?
Everything that touches the wort during the process, especially anything that touches it while it is cooling. That includes the brewing equipment, fermentation buckets, pumps, thermometers, chillers and anything else that you plan on using. I suggested while you are brewing to have 3 buckets. One with cleaning solution, one with clean water and one with sanitizer. That way if you forget something or something needs to re-sanitized, you have the ability to do it quickly on the fly.
Personally I try to clean everything the night before I brew and then sanitize the morning of. It can be time consuming and I don’t want to delay my brew day too much. Sanitizing the night before isn’t a great idea because bacteria could get re-introduced overnight.