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Cleaning and Sanitation

Cleaning and Sanitation

The Key to Successful Home Fermentation

Everyone who makes wine or beer at home agrees cleaning and sanitation are very important. Cleaning and sanitizing are two distinct steps. The products I mention here are ones I personally use. It doesn’t mean other products aren’t equally as good.

Why is cleaning and sanitation so important?

Fermentation at home or in a commercial winery or brewery is all about bacterial control. We want to eliminate as much harmful bacteria as possible and provide the best possible environment for our desirable bacteria, our yeast. Unfortunately, the best environment for our yeast is also the same conditions that are appealing to all of the wild yeasts, molds, spores and bacteria that are around us. Some are good, some are bad. We cannot be sure of what is in the air and on surfaces so we want to eliminate as much of it as possible before introducing our yeast. I think of it as cleaning the house before the guests arrive.

What is the difference between cleaning and sanitation? 

There is a difference between cleaning and sanitation. Cleaning is the process of removing the debris inside and outside of our equipment. Cleaning can be done at any time before and after using equipment. For example I clean all equipment immediately after using it and clean again just before using it. I clean my bottles right after the party by running them under hot water before I put them in my “bottle bin”. Then thoroughly clean them when I have time. If they have been unused in the basement for a long time, I clean them again just before using them.

Sanitizing is the process of killing bacteria and is always done just prior to using the equipment or bottling.


There are many excellent cleaners available and just as many opinions about which one is the best. Try different products until you find one you like using. Household dishwasher powder works well because is rinses easily. Try to avoid products that are scented or dish soaps that are “easy on the hands” they tend to be difficult to rinse. Always rinse thoroughly after cleaning. We like PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash). It cleans very well, loosens labels and removes the tough stains from inside bottles and carboys. This product was developed for the brewing industry and therefore is an excellent choice for cleaning our home fermentation equipment.

Tips for Cleaning

  • Clean equipment and bottles immediately after using them whenever possible.
  • Use hot water and a good cleaning product intended for home fermentation.
  • Powdered dishwasher detergent can be used but never use bleach, ammonia, vinegar or other household cleaners.
  • Rinse well

Bottles:  I suggest having a bottle cleaning routine so there isn’t so much to do on bottling day.

Rinse the bottles immediately after use. Place them in a bin until you have time to thoroughly clean them and remove the labels. Periodically fill the bin with PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) or other acceptable cleaner. Let them soak for a few hours to loosen the labels and residue inside the bottles. Use a bottle brush to clean the insides as needed. Put them in a clean box or bin until you are ready to use them. On bottling day rinse them and sanitize before filling. Labels can be difficult to remove; you may need to use a razor blade or knife to scrape them off. Keep in mind it’s more important to clean the inside than the outside. Also when labeling your wines or brews, select labels that will come off easily. A Jet washer is a very useful tool and helps reduce the need for brush cleaning. It works great on carboys too.


Like cleaning products, there are many excellent sanitizers available and just as many opinions about which one is the best. Try different products until you find one you like using. All of the products on the market do what they say they will if you use them according to the maker’s instructions, if they don’t, they don’t stay on this market for long. Try different products until you find one you like. I’ve read many articles on this subject and there are a couple of things I would like to make clear.

I do NOT recommend using bleach, vinegar or tea tree oil for sanitation in home fermentation. I use these products in my home cleaning, and while these products are excellent for cleaning your carpet, toilet and clothes they present problems in home fermentation.

Bleach: May not be a problem for home beer makers, it can be a big problem for winemakers. Contact with Chlorine has been linked to “Cork Taint” which can make the wine smell musty, corky and just awful.

Vinegar: Vinegar is caused by a bacteria, it will turn a wine or beer acidic, and make it very, very sour. It’s great for salad dressing, but do you really want 5 gallons of salad dressing?

Tea tree oil: It makes my carpet smell nice, but I wouldn’t like it in the aroma or taste in my homebrew or wine.

Reusing Sanitizers

Some products are fine to save and reuse. However this shouldn’t be a concern when selecting a product to sanitize your equipment. All of the sanitizers available are economical when you consider how much money you spend on ingredients and time you spend on the process of making your homebrew and wine. Sodium Metabisulfite is the only product I save, but if it starts to get cloudy throw it away and start fresh.

Tips for Sanitizing

  • Always sanitize your equipment immediately before using it for your home fermentation.
  • Only use products intended for home fermentation.
  • Most sanitizers should not be rinsed from the equipment.
  • Completely drain the sanitizer from carboys, primaries and bottles. Rinse straining bags because they will hold an excessive amount of the sanitizers.
  • Sanitize everything that will contact your wine or beer.
  • Better to sanitize more than less!
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