Homebrewing equipment, including the airlock, should be clean and sanitized before and after every batch of beer to avoid problems and off-flavors.
To properly clean and sanitize an airlock when homebrewing beer, you should:
- Remove and rinse with warm water
- Prepare the cleaning solution and soak the airlock
- Scrub the airlock to remove any dirt or debris
- Rinse the airlock in clean water
- Soak the airlock in a no-rinse sanitizer such as Star San
Let’s walk through all of the steps necessary to clean and sanitize your airlock and make sure that it will be ready for your next batch!
How to clean your homebrew airlock
Cleaning your equipment, specifically your airlock, is an easy process that is not time-consuming if done regularly. There is a cleaning and sanitizing process to ensure all bacteria have been killed. Always clean and then sanitize your airlock. Sanitizing alone will not guarantee your equipment is properly cleaned.
For best practice, you should clean and sanitize your airlock before the brewing process. That way, you don’t interrupt the brewing process to clean equipment. If you find yourself cleaning your airlock during the brewing process, cover the brewer with sanitized aluminum foil (p.s aluminum foil out of the package is pre-sanitized).
Step One: Remove and rinse your airlock
Remove the airlock from the lid of your brewer. If you haven’t yet, this would be a great time also to clean the lid.
Note: If you are cleaning during the brewing process remember to cover the brewer with aluminum foil so nothing in the environment finds its way into your beer.
After removing the airlock, rinse with warm water to remove any loose debris.
Step Two: Prepare the cleaning solution
Fill a bucket or other container with warm water. After filling the container with warm water, add your cleanser according to the directions regarding the amount of cleanser to water ratio.
Always measure the amount of water you are using to take the guesswork out of how much cleaner to use. Thoroughly mix the cleanser and the water.
Step Three: Soak the airlock in cleaning solution
After preparing the cleaning solution, place the airlock in the container to soak. Make sure the airlock is entirely submerged in the solution to ensure proper cleaning.
Allow the airlock to soak for at least 20 minutes. Depending on how dirty your airlock is, it may need to soak longer than 20 minutes.
For the deepest clean, allow your airlock to soak in the solution for 24 hours.
Step Four: “Scrubbing” your airlock
Because of the small size of your airlock, you will not be able to scrub the inside. However, there are ways to try to release stuck-on debris inside the airlock.
Gently swirl the container with the airlock inside in a circular motion. This will help to release stuck-on debris. Make sure to be gentle to not cause any damage to the equipment.
You can also scrub off any debris that is still on the outside of the airlock. If your airlock is plastic make sure to not use an abrasive material when scrubbing.
Using an abrasive material could cause scratches which are a perfect breeding group for bacteria. Instead, opt for a soft cloth or sponge.
Step Five: Rise your airlock again
After you have finished soaking and scrubbing your airlock, thoroughly rise again. This makes sure that all removable debris is gone and there is no more cleaning solution still in the airlock. After this step, you are ready to begin the sanitizing process.
Step Six: Prepare the sanitizing solution
Preparing your sanitizing solution will completely depend on what sanitizer you choose. Personally, I prefer Star San because it does a great job and doesn’t need to be rinsed so it keeps a cleaner surface throughout the brewing process.
Each will have a different process for creating the solution. Follow the directions listed on the sanitizer.
Step Seven: Soak airlock in solution
After you have prepared the solution, place the airlock into the sanitizer solution. Make sure it is entirely submerged to ensure the entire airlock is sanitized. Much like preparing the solutions, how long the airlock soaks will depend on what sanitizer you used.
If you use Star San, the airlock should soak for one to two minutes, Iodophor for 10 minutes, and bleach for 20 minutes.
Step Eight: Remove and reassemble
After the airlock has soaked for the necessary time in the solution it is time to take it out. Before removing the airlock make sure that your hands are also clean and sanitized. Germs can pass very easily from your hands to the airlock.
After removing the airlock, make sure to rinse if you were using bleach. You don’t want your next batch to have a bleachy aftertaste.
Finally, reassemble all of the pieces of your brewer. After this, you are ready to brew again.
How do you clean an airlock overflow or blowoff tube?
Cleaning your airlock overflow or blowoff tube is just as easy as cleaning the actual airlock. Follow the same steps listed above for cleaning the airlock.
You must have enough solution to submerge all of the parts completely. Having an extra solution is better than having not enough.
Which cleanser should you use to clean your airlock?
Before you get started cleaning your airlock you need to pick a cleanser. Powdered Brewing Wash, or PBW, is the preferred cleaner in the brewing community. PBW is often hailed as the best cleaner for brewing equipment. While strong, PBW is also environmentally friendly and won’t damage your skin.
However, if you are looking for a cleanser that is more readily available brewers recommend using OxiClean. OxiClean is an effective stand-in for PBW. While not as strong, it will do the trick and is cheaper. Just be sure to get the fragrance-free version!
Never use dish soap to clean your airlock. If not properly and thoroughly rinsed dish soap can cause your beer to have a soapy taste, completely ruining the batch.
Do you need to sanitize the airlock?
Sanitizing is an extremely important step in the entire cleaning process for your airlock. Without sanitizing your airlock you won’t kill all of the bacteria that lives in the airlock. If you don’t effectively clean your equipment you can expose your beer to microorganisms.
These microorganisms change the quality and taste of your beer. Contamination from microorganisms usually becomes apparent after brewing more than three batches between cleanings. But to ensure your beer is of the utmost quality a deep cleaning should be done after every batch.
Cleaning your equipment after every batch will also ensure that flavors from previous batches won’t affect the taste of the next batch.
Can you use bleach to sanitize your homebrew equipment?
Three main chemicals are used to sanitize brewing equipment. The first and most highly recommended among brewers is Star San. Star San is flavorless and odorless, so it doesn’t require rising afterward. Star San is also the solution that will sanitize your equipment in the least amount of time.
Pro tip: Star San can be kept in a spray bottle for easy access and use.
The second most popular chemical used would be household bleach. Bleach will be the cheapest and most readily available solution used for sanitizing. When using bleach, make sure to thoroughly rinse after to make sure your next batch of beer does not have a slight bleachy taste.
Finally, another solution used to sanitize is Iodophor. Iodophor is an iodine-based sanitizer and also doesn’t require rinsing after use. The solution has a slight brown color and becomes clear after the solution is no longer capable of sanitizing.
Following these cleaning and sanitizing steps and using the recommended cleansers and sanitizers will ensure your airlock is free of bacteria. Making sure to clean and sanitize your equipment after every batch will ensure you are brewing the highest quality beer every time. Here’s to not only making good but great beer.