Cleaning brewing equipment with commonly available products.

Cleaning brewing equipment with commonly available products.

Postby Charlie » Sat Dec 24, 2016 7:34 pm

As homebrewers we seem to accept as fact that it takes a lot of elbow grease to clean things up, and using only the cleansers recommended by the brewing community (PBW, Oxyclean etc) that is quite definitely true! But in my years of homebrewing I have tried several other products. Some worked, and some didn't. My background in chemistry and laboratory science led me to try products used in that field, and to try some others based on my knowledge of the crud that I was trying to remove.


Beer Stone: Beer stone is calcium oxalate, a notoriously difficult substance to remove from fermentors. It can be removed by strong acids such as sulfuric acid and nitric acid which abstract the calcium moiety from the matrix, but you won't find sulfuric or nitric acid at Home Depot. What you will find is hydrochloric acid (HCl, muratic acid), 38% swimming pool grade, for $12.98 for two gallons. Mixing one gallon of 38% HCl (12 Molar) with sufficient water to make 5 gallons yields 2.4 Molar hydrochloric acid (molarity X volume = molarity X volume). I have found that 2.4 Molar hydrochloric acid will remove beer stone from fermentors with about a week of contact time. The stuff simply sloughs off at the touch of a brush!

CAUTION: Always add acid to water! Never the other way around! Do not use hydrochloric acid, or any compound containing elemental chlorine (NaOCl, chlorox), on stainless steel!

I keep a 7.5 gallon bucket of 2.4 M HCl in my wash-down area and transfer it to each fermentor as it becomes available for cleaning. The solution will become less effective as it is used, but seems to be good up to about a year after preparation.


Fermentation products: Fermentation products, other than beer stone, are primarily proteins. They tend to accumulate in hoses and equipment used to transfer, contain, and serve beer post fermentation. These include beer transfer and serving lines, racking canes, kegs, and hydrometer flasks. The product appears as a gooey coating or residue, which can be removed from accessible surfaces with detergents and a good deal of effort. Production breweries use sodium hydroxide (caustic soda, NaOH) to remove these products, and laboratories use NaOH to digest proteins. While you can find sodium hydroxide on Amazon (it is used for making soap) it is extremely hazardous to work with (the 2M concentration of NaOH necessary to remove proteins will eat a hole in you pretty quick!). My prior experience stripping paint led me to try tri-sodium phosphate as a substitute.

Tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) is available at Home Depot for $9.96 per 4.5 lb box. A 4.5 lb box of TSP diluted to 5 gallons will yield a 2.0 molar solution (use hot tap water with stirring until dissolved), and this is sufficient to remove fermentation products from fermentors and transfer equipment. I rotate dilute TSP into each of my serving Cornies after cleaning, and allow a contact time of at least 7 days. Corny kegs treated in this manner have a sparkling clean interior! After treatment the Corny is rinsed thoroughly prior to being sanitized with Star San because TSP is a base, and it will neutralize Star San if not removed. I replace the TSP every six months (at that point it has a wine red color!) and put the old TSP in a 7.5 gallon bucket to clean beer lines, racking canes, hoses and other affected equipment.

While this post may lead you to believe that I enjoy doing things for the hell-of-it, I worked in hard science for 38 years, and that's not something that you just walk away from. :-)

"Yes officer, I know I smell like beer. I'm not drinking it, I'm wearing it!"
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