Germs, germs, everywhere,
They spoil my beer and I despair.
Another sour batch, what can I do?
To kill those critters who wreck my brew.
Yep, homebrew infections are bad. I’ve had a handful over the years and they hurt.
A no-rinse sanitizer like Star San can protect your homebrew.
Time, energy and ingredients wasted on amber lawn fertilizer.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to minimize the chance and severity of infections. Namely, to clean properly and use a no-rinse sanitizer.
It’s a tough (homebrewing) world
The home is far from being a sterile brewing environment. Microbes cover every inch of it, looking for a resource-rich environment to thrive and reproduce.
Just like our wort. It’s wet, warm and full of sweet microbe-friendly goodness.
The kitchen is the most usual homebrewing spot and is a hotbed of microcritter activity. Food scraps, spills, bins, sinks are the playground of bacteria and wild yeast.
Even the water you use to rinse off your homebrew gear after cleaning isn’t safe.
A numbers game
We will never completely eliminate microbes from our brewing environment. Kids, pets and life in general make that impossible.
Instead, we need to reduce the count of bacteria and wild yeast (the baddies) down to a negligible amount. They won’t do much harm below a certain threshold.
Once they are knocked down, our homebrewing yeast (the goodies) is free to dominate the wort.
Cleaning isn’t sanitizing
Cleaning and sanitizing are two different things.
They are still there lurking, waiting to flourish in your rich wort.
Enter the no-rinse sanitizer
A no-rinse sanitizer will hammer bacteria and wild yeast covering our squeaky clean homebrewing gear.
It will destroy 99% of these remaining microbes and severely limit their potential for damage. No-rinse sanitizers are food grade so don’t need to be rinsed off before brewing
There are a few options on the market, but I recommend Star San. It is made from food grade phosphoric acid, so safe when used as directed.
Star San also has a short contact time needed to destroy microbes. After 30 seconds, it has done its job but I recommend leaving for a couple of minutes to be sure.
It basically works by creates an acid environment, stopping microbial growth.
You can use it on all common brewing surfaces—plastic, metal, glass, rubber, etc. As the name suggests, just let it drain. If you rinse it off, you can introduce new microbes.
A pro tip is to use a pump-style spray bottle filled with no-rinse sanitizer solution.
This means you can flush out the hard to get parts of your gear. You’ll also have pressurized sanitizer on hand during your brewday for dropped spoons and the such.
What you need to know
Sanitizers work best at the recommended rates. Mixing a stronger batch won’t make it any more effective.
Stronger than recommended mixes can even reduce the product’s effectiveness. Strong mixes can also create potential health hazards, given the solution is not rinsed off.
Always use no-rinse sanitizers at the recommended rate.
So use at the recommended rate. This is one fluid ounce (28 ml) of Star San per five gallons (19 L). This translates to around 3 ml per two quarts (2 L). Check your bottle to confirm this is correct for your product.
You still need to clean
I love no-rinse sanitizers, but they’re no silver bullet. You still need to clean your gear properly.
Flecks of hops, dried wort and yeast smudges will cover and protect microbes, leaving them to continue their sour path of destruction.
Use a brewing-specific cleaner like PBW to get your gear shining first.
Gloves: protect your hands and your beer.
As with any cleaning product, wear gloves and protect your hands. Star San is pretty mild, but it can dry your hands out and irritate.
Your hands are also full of microbes, so cover your hands with sanitized gloves. Even clean hands carry a thriving micro-community.
Start with a fresh batch
StarSan solution will begin to degrade after a week or two once mixed with water.
There are no real clear-cut signs when the solution is no longer viable, so mix a fresh batch every time you brew.
It’s cheap and plentiful, so why risk it?
How to use no-rinse sanitizers
Clean your gear and brewing area with a quality brewing cleaner like PBW.
Fill a clean bucket with a gallon (4 L) of water.
Measure out 6 milliliters of Star San and mix into the water.
Fill a pump-style spray bottle with some of this solution.
Add all of your loose homebrewing gear to the bucket.
Spray out the threads, nooks and crannies with sanitizer solution to make sure all contaminants are flushed out.
Spray your fermenter to cover all surfaces, including outside, the base and threads.
Leave to drain for two minutes and then seal your fermenter.
Your gear can be cleaned, sanitized and sealed the day before you brew if you are short on time.
Homebrewing With Kits—The Beginner’s Guide
To help you master homebrewing with kits, I’ve put together a guide based on my experiences over the last two decades.
This is the information I wish I had when I started brewing. I hope it helps you make awesome homebrew.