How To Clean Homebrew Tubing: The Complete Guide
Cleaning your homebrew tubing equipment is an essential part of the homebrewing process — though it’s definitely not the most exciting part. Making sure that your homebrew tubing is spiffy can be quite complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Here are the basic steps on how to clean homebrew tubing:
- Sterilize your tubing.
- Soak the tubing in a cleaning solution.
- Wash the tubing thoroughly.
- Dry the tubing.
In this article, I will provide a comprehensive guide to cleaning homebrew tubing and go through each step in detail. I’ll also touch on why you need to clean your homebrew tubing and what signs you should watch out for that indicate you should replace the same.
Reasons To Clean Your Homebrew Tubing
Considering how often you use your homebrew equipment, you may be tempted to skip cleaning altogether. After all, they’re going to get stained anyway after each use, so what’s the point of making them spiffy afterward?
There are a few good reasons you need to clean your homebrew tubing regularly.
When you brew, you create the perfect conditions for yeast to thrive. Unfortunately, that also means you’re creating breeding grounds for other types of microorganisms such as bacteria.
If your tubing isn’t sanitized and washed after each use, you raise your risk of producing infected and potentially dangerous beer. As a homebrewer, the last thing you want is a bunch of angry customers complaining online about food poisoning.
Aside from angry customers, you also have to consider your own health. Unless you have a fleet of human brewers at your disposal, you don’t want to have to stop your source of income to recover from the effects of an infection.
Cleaning your equipment immediately after each use prevents stubborn stains from setting in. Once these stains set in, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll need to replace your equipment altogether.
Maintain Beer Flavor
Last but not the least, you need to keep your equipment clean and safe because their condition directly impacts the quality of your beer. As you know, every recipe has its specific requirements regarding temperature, pH level, chemical concentrations, etc.
Maintaining these conditions can be difficult (if not impossible) if the equipment is filled with residue from previous batches, dirt, stains, or bacteria. Therefore, taking care of your tubing is essential for producing master-quality beer.
Steps To Clean Homebrew Tubing
Now that you know why you need to clean your homebrew tubing, let’s go into the specific steps for doing so. It’s important that you go through each of these steps carefully to maximize the time and effort you spend cleaning.
1. Sterilize Your Tubing
Immediate sterilizing is crucial for preventing infection. As you know, single-celled microorganisms reproduce rapidly. For example, bacteria double in number every 4 to 20 minutes. That’s an incredible reproduction rate!
In other words, the longer you leave your homebrew tubing unsterilized, the more likely you’ll have billions of creepy crawlies all over your precious equipment. And you can’t have that.
To thoroughly rinse the tubing, you need a strong cleaner. Alternatively, you can prepare a mixture by combining 1 cup (240 ml) bleach per 1 gallon (4.5 liters) of water.
Remember to choose the cleaning product depending on your tubing material. For example, if your tubing is made of plastic, you shouldn’t go for scented cleaners or bleach mixtures that will leave a strong chemical smell on your homebrew.
Instead, percarbonate cleaners would be a better option. For example, the Sodium Percarbonate, 99% Purity, Oxygen Bleach Cleaner, 2-lbs can help you do the job while minimizing the impact on the environment.
You can also use something like Star San Sanitizer, which I’ll talk about in more detail below.
Star San Sanitizer
Star San is a popular sanitizing solution that works well for most materials. It doesn’t have an odor, which is great for plastic tubing as it won’t give your beer unnecessary flavors and smells.
Simply washing or spraying with Star San is usually enough to sterilize your homebrew tubing. It’s also less toxic than most cleaners, making it safe for treating your equipment.
To prepare the mixture, combine 1 oz (28 g) per 5 gallons (19 liters) of water. The sanitizer should only contact your equipment for a maximum of one minute. That’s because, while Star San isn’t highly toxic, you still want to wear gloves to stay safe.
If you anticipate having to clean with Star San for a while, I suggest grabbing a bottle of Five Star - 6022b_ - Star San - 32 Ounce - High Foaming Sanitizer. Since it’s high-foaming, it can easily penetrate hard-to-reach areas.
Chemical-Resistant Spray Bottle
If you’re using Star San, putting it into a chemical-resistant spray bottle can simplify the sanitizing process. As mentioned above, you need to dilute Star San before use and take care not to let it get in contact with your skin.
Luckily, the Star San mixture can be stored for weeks without going bad in a chemical-resistant spray bottle.
With a spray bottle, you can quickly apply Star San and sanitize your tubing. Also, you can store relatively large batches of the diluted mixture at any time.
I know spray bottles are a relatively common and inexpensive tool, but I will nonetheless recommend the JohnBee Spray bottle - Empty spray bottles (16oz/2Pack) - Spray bottles for Cleaning Solutions / Plants / Bleach Spray / BBQ - With Adjustable Nozzle from Fine Mist to Stream - BPA Free Material. They’re safe for most types of cleaning solutions and are relatively easy to use.
2. Soak the Tubing in a Cleaning Solution
No matter how hard you rinse the tubing, you’ll find that some pieces of yeast, hops, or other stuff get stuck on the inside of the tubing and can’t be cleaned out that easily.
Sometimes you won’t even notice these stains are there, but getting them out is essential for keeping your equipment in great condition. The best way to deal with the issue is soaking.
Soak the tubing in a strong cleaner for at least 20 minutes, or leave it to soak overnight if you can. Many brewers recommend using a hot PBW solution for this step.
PBW is one of the most popular solutions for washing homebrew tubing. It’s excellent for removing stubborn thick stains from hard-to-reach areas. The product is specially designed for cleaning homebrewing equipment, which is probably why it’s so popular among brewers.
Remember that this is a washing solution, so make sure to use a powerful sanitizer to sterilize your equipment first. I’ve already talked about the best sterilization solutions for homebrew tubing earlier.
Here’s how to prepare the PBW mixture depending on how much cleaning you want to do:
- For light cleaning: Use 1 tsp (5.4 g) of PBW per 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water.
- For heavy cleaning (rinsing stubborn pieces): Use 6 to 8 tsp (32.4 to 43.2 g) of PBW per 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water.
- For soaking: Use 8 to 10 tsp (43.2 to 54 g) per 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water.
If you like what you see after trying out a bit of PBW cleaner, you can buy the Five Star 26-PBW FS08 PBW (8 lbs) Brew Cleaner from Amazon.com. Even if it comes into contact with your skin, you don’t have to worry about side effects.
3. Wash the Tubing Thoroughly
Once all the stubborn stains have been softened enough, you can thoroughly rinse the tubing. Aside from removing the aforementioned stains, rinsing also helps to clear away any remaining cleaning solution.
If you perform the sterilization and soaking steps properly, you shouldn’t need to use additional equipment. That said, brushes can help make the cleaning process much easier.
Brushes for Homebrewing Equipment
Sometimes, the stuff that gets stuck to your tubing doesn’t go away even after sterilizing and soaking with a cleaning solution. In this case, you may need a brush to clean the tubing properly. The best brushes for cleaning homebrew tubing include line and tubing brushes.
These brushes typically come with long handles made from stainless steel, making it easy to go through the tubing and ensure nothing is stuck in it.
When you’re choosing brushes for cleaning your homebrew tubing, you should check for the following:
- The length of the handle (it should match the length of the tubing or exceed it for maximum convenience) and;
- The diameter of the brush itself.
Otherwise, you can’t pull the brush through the tubing if it’s too big.
On the other hand, if the brush’s diameter is too small, it won’t be able to clean the surface in one move. One workaround is to rinse in circular motions, but cleaning will be a lot easier if you get a brush that perfectly fits the tubing in the first place.
4. Dry the Tubing
Make sure to properly dry the tubing before storing it. You need to let all moisture escape before the tubing gets rolled up. Otherwise, the moist conditions will encourage the growth of harmful microorganisms and force you to start the cleaning process all over again.
To ensure thorough drying:
- Leave the tubing hanging in a U-shape with its ends facing down. Leave it overnight or even for a couple of days until it’s completely dry.
- Once the tubing is dry, curl it up and store it in any type of container where it won’t gather dust.
If you want, you can have backup tubing for those times when you need to clean your usual equipment. That way, you won’t be in the awkward position of having to put up a sign along the lines of “Closed for Cleaning” every time you need to perform regular maintenance.
When To Replace Homebrew Tubing
No matter how well you clean your homebrew tubing, it’s going to give out eventually. When it does, you need to replace it.
How often you’ll have to replace your tubing depends not only on how well you maintain it but also on its material.
Here’s how to know when your homebrew tubing has to be replaced.
The best thing about plastic tubing is that it’s relatively easy to find and cheaper compared to other options. But that’s about the extent of plastic tubing’s advantages.
Plastic doesn’t last as long as other materials. Also, as I mentioned before, plastic quickly absorbs odors and is more prone to infections, so you need to clean it as thoroughly as you can.
Ideally, you should replace plastic tubing every half a year or so. But if your plastic tubing already has any of the following, you may need to replace it earlier.
- Stains. You may notice that your plastic tubing has stains inside that don’t seem to come off no matter how hard you clean them. In this case, your best bet is to get new tubing.
- Infections. If you’re experiencing an infection, chances are it’s from your plastic equipment. Therefore, you need to replace it for the continued safety of your homebrewing.
- Plastic taste. It’s possible that your beer will develop an overtone of plastic flavor. When this happens, you should definitely change your tubing — or at least, the brand of plastic tubing you’re currently using.
Silicone tubing usually lasts much longer than plastic tubing. Nonetheless, if you spot any of the following, that’s your cue to change your silicone equipment as well.
- Mold. You usually get mold issues when you don’t dry your tubing properly. Since there’s not a lot you can do when this happens, replacement is the best way to deal with the problem.
- Bursting. This is something that can happen by accident. When your tubing experiences more pressure than it can hold, it will burst open. For safety reasons, you should replace your silicone tubing ASAP.
- Stains. Like plastic tubes, silicone can get stained and become darker or yellow after prolonged use. If you can’t clean the stains as I’ve outlined earlier, replacement is your best option.
Cleaning your tubing thoroughly and using proper cleaning solutions is crucial for maintaining the great quality of your beer and keeping your equipment in good condition. The more effort you put into taking care of your tubing, the longer it will serve you.