For most brewers, PBW is the go-to cleaning solution for their brewing equipment. Although PBW is effective, it can be expensive, driving more homebrewers in search of less costly alternatives that are just as effective.
The most important ingredient in PBW is sodium percarbonate which is in alternatives such as One Step No-Rinse Cleaner and Craft Meister Alkaline Brewery wash which are specifically designed for cleaning beer equipment. Other options include many household cleaners such as OxiClean, Borax, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and liquid bleach.
Read on for a complete exploration of these PBW alternatives including the pros and cons of each and where to buy them.
The Best PBW Alternatives for Homebrewing Beer
Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) from Five Star Chemicals is the most popular cleaner for brewing equipment. It is easy to use, safe on the skin, and leaves no residue when used correctly.
With cleaning being such an essential part of the brewing process, it is important to have a product that works. Using PBW is a great option, but it can be costly, leading homebrewers to look for less costly alternatives without sacrificing their effectiveness.
These cleaners are all good options to use instead of PBW, and many are available at your local grocery or big box store:
- One Step No Rinse Cleanser
- Craft Meister Alkaline Brewery Wash (ABW)
- Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
Finding a cleaner that has listed percarbonate as an active ingredient is the first step. Sodium percarbonates, an oxidizing agent, when dissolved in water, break down into sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide, creating an effervescent solution made of bubbling oxygen that is effective at breaking down deposits and buildup found on most equipment.
What makes PBW so effective as a cleaner is the active ingredient sodium metasilicate (30% of the formula) that acts as a chelating agent, eliminating the issues (scum, stains, etc.) that come in areas with hard water. The lack of a chelating agent may require extra rinses in areas that have hard water.
One Step No Rinse Cleanser
One Step is a cleansing agent that some brewers have discovered to be quite an effective substitute to PBW when used for cleaning their equipment.
Initially formulated as a cleaner, brewers are finding One Step be just as efficient as a cleaner as it is a sanitizer, making it an effective one-two punch.
Some brewers prefer to use a separate sanitizer after cleaning, so you may want to use either a different cleaner or a different sanitizing solution.
There are some issues with it being considered “no-rinse,” with some brewers recommending rinsing after use due to possible slight buildup left behind especially when using hard water.
- No rinse cleaner
- Can be used on all surfaces
- Can be used as a sanitizer
- If rinsing, it does rinse well
- Fails to dissolve fully
- Not as effective at cleaning as PBW and Oxiclean
- Must be used immediately after using equipment
- May irritate skin
Craft Meister Alkaline Brewery Wash (ABW)
Alkaline Brewery Wash is another excellent substitute for PBW, but with one big difference.
ABW is not a typical oxygen-based cleaner like the others found on this list, which is not necessarily bad. Not being oxygen-based gives it a more caustic cleaning ability, allowing it to be more active than an oxygen-based cleaner.
This will allow you to “soak” your equipment for a much longer time. The use of gloves and goggles is recommended when using ABW.
Brewers are a fan of the effectiveness of ABW on dirt and debris, especially when used in cold water, making it a great option if looking to soak equipment for an extended period. It can be used in a spray bottle, making it a great option for quick cleaning.
Craft Meister also carries the Oxygen Brewery Wash as an option if you prefer an oxygen-based cleaner. However, ABW is the more popular of the two.
- Effective at removing bottle labels
- Will not lose effectiveness over time
- No scrub solution
- Can be used with both cold and hot water
- Not to be used on aluminum
- Minimize contact time on copper
- Recommended PPE use
Not just for laundry, Oxiclean is by far the top choice for brewers when choosing an alternative to PBW.
Oxiclean, like PBW, is a percarbonate and has similar ingredients to PBW. That, along with cost and its availability, makes it a great alternative.
Although not as thorough of a cleaner as PBW, brewers consider Oxiclean an excellent alternative. Brewers who use Oxiclean are quick to mention their concern for the residue left behind, along with the lack of effectiveness at cleaning heavy gunk and dirt. But this is not a big issue if you are immediately cleaning your equipment after use.
Besides those concerns, its cost, availability, and ease of use are a suitable choice for brewers.
- Effective cleaner
- Easy to find
- Doesn’t rinse well
- When used with hard water, can leave a hard scale on equipment (lacks a chelator)
- Leaves a slimy residue
- Not recommended for soaking
Borax (sodium tetraborate) is another option when it comes to cleaning your brewing equipment.
Although it has a much lower pH level than a washing soda, Borax can be helpful as a day-to-day cleaner. It can be used for soaking or as a quick cleaning method.
It may require using a bottle brush to eliminate any remaining film or residue that may remain unseen to the naked eye that could negatively impact your beer.
Brewers who have used Borax as a cleaning solution are primarily satisfied with the results. Not only does it have an impact on your brewing equipment, but it can also be used to take out those pesky stains left behind on clothing.
- Great for copper and stainless surfaces
- Works great at removing labels
- Lower pH than other options
- May leave a film behind if not rinsed thoroughly
- Requires hot water to be most effective
Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
A washing soda like Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda is a sodium carbonate with a high enough pH to make it an effective cleaner.
Brewers applaud its effectiveness when used for soaking and removing labels. This versatile cleaner is slowly making its way from the laundry room to the brewing counter.
- Low cost
- It can be used for soaking
- Great for removing labels
- Requires a higher amount
- Film and residue left behind (sometimes after multiple rinses)
- Requires warm and hot water to be effective.
Available at most locations in a name brand or generic form, bleach is a versatile cleaner that some may not think is a viable option to clean brewing equipment because of its harsher ingredients when compared to other options.
When mixed with cold water, bleach forms a very caustic solution that breaks down stains and other organic material that may be left behind. Be sure to use unscented bleach to eliminate any perfumes or scents.
When looking for a cleaner, bleach is usually not the first choice by brewers, but it is still effective. More care and concern need to be given during rinsing to ensure the removal of harmful ingredients.
- Great cleaning agent
- Effective at removing any bacterial growth
- Corrosive, so minimum contact on most surfaces is a must
- PPE is highly recommended
- Requires rinsing using boiling water
- Ruins clothing
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