Choosing Cleansers for Beer Homebrewing Equipment
The chemicals used to clean homebrewing equipment include iodine-based products, ammonia, chlorine-based products, lye, and at least one environmentally safe cleanser that uses percarbonates. Following are the pros and cons of various chemicals:
Iodine is widely used in the medical field and the restaurant industry as a disinfectant. The disinfectant properties of iodine can be applied to homebrewing, but unless the iodine solution is well diluted, it stains plastics as well as human skin. (Dilute the iodine according to package directions.)
Ammonia is best used for cleaning bottles in a dilution of 1 cup ammonia to 5 gallons of water — if you can stand the pungent odor. Ammonia requires a thorough hot-water rinse.
Chlorine is in simple household bleach, which is very effective and cost-efficient for cleaning homebrewing equipment. A 1-ounce-per-gallon dilution ratio is sufficient, making a gallon of generic bleach an incredibly good deal. Be sure to buy unscented bleach and to rinse all equipment thoroughly. Good old plain bleach is best.
Just so you don’t try to double up on your sanitizing procedures, never mix ammonia with chlorine. This combination releases toxic chlorine gas.
Lye should be used only to remove the most stubborn stains and obstinate organic material from bottles or glass carboys. Always wear protective gear, such as goggles and rubber gloves, when you work with lye. Also, be sure to always use lye according to package directions.
Percarbonates supposedly accomplish their cleaning activity with oxygen molecules. Sanitizers that contain percarbonates don’t require rinsing. (Always use percarbonates according to package directions.)
Several brand-name sanitizers — including Iodophor, One Step, and B-Bright — are available through homebrew suppliers. The capacity of these products to sanitize homebrewing equipment is in direct proportion to the way in which they’re used, meaning if you don’t follow instructions, don’t blame the manufacturer for a blown batch of beer.