Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Dirty Side of Homebrewing

If you've ever made a batch of beer, especially all-grain, you know that a large percentage of it is cleaning. Carboy, mashtun, boil kettle, tubing, kegs, bottles... it's never-ending.

Carboys (fermenters) are especially annoying to clean, because once the kreuzen drops, the scum dries around the upper inside of the top. Awesome.Soaking them overnight with a solution of Oxy-Clean and hot water typically works to get all the scum out. PBW works better. But they still require a bit of elbow grease. And kegs? Crevices abound in those things, not to mention the threads and fittings; they're a pain to clean. I spent 4 hours one Saturday cleaning kegs. This is a hobby?

John happened upon a homemade keg/carboy cleaner a few months ago and tasked me with gathering the parts. Now when it comes to plumbing and PVC parts, I'm about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. But with some plans, pictures, and a really helpful Home Depot guy, I got almost all the parts I needed. (I got the rest on a 2nd trip.)

Here was the inspiration. And these were the final plans we came up with (click on the image to make it larger):

When you build this, you'll likely need to cut the long pipe that goes into the keg or carboy. Put it all together without the glue, measure the needed length of pipe, then cut & drill holes. I drilled holes on all four "sides" of the round pipe; the holes are aligned on opposing sides, but are staggered from adjacent holes. John picked up a sump pump from eBay and the entire thing goes in an Ale Pail with 5 gallons of hot water and 2 ounces of PBW. We let this run for 15-20 minutes per keg/carboy. The heat from the pump keeps the water nice & hot through several washings.

You'll be using the lid with the pail as well, but you'll need to cut the lid with a central opening that has two notches for the keg disconnects to go through. You'll also need to cut a little notch on the side for the two electrical cables from the sump pump. The diameter of the hole should be big enough for the water to run through, but small enough for the top of a keg to sit on .

You might have to play around with the width of the disconnect notches; ours are about 1" wide and 1.5" long.

Here's the whole thing put together, with the bucket added to the background for scale (and a lovely shower curtain & liner for your viewing enjoyment). The purple stuff you see there is PVC cement primer.

We put this in our shower stall in the downstairs bathroom while it runs so that if anything should go horribly wrong, at least there's a drain.

Here's the cross fitting, where we've secured threaded fittings into two ends (the other two ends go to the elbows), then screwed threaded barbed fittings onto the ends. The beer lines are then secured with worm clamps to the barbed fittings, and we have a gas & beer disconnect secured to the ends of each.

When we wash a keg, the disconnects are secured to the proper post (in/out) and cleaning solution is then dispensed through the dip tube and gas tube. This ensures cleaning solution is being sprayed on the bottom of the keg.

When washing a carboy, simply set a carboy dryer on top of the lid (the little legs actually grab the ridges on the lid perfectly), then place the carboy inside. The long pipe should extend to about 1-2 inches from the bottom of the carboy.

This picture also shows how the electrical cables fit through that notch on the side of the lid. The shower curtain also makes a re-appearance.

The only problem we seem to have with this is that water collects at the bottom (or is it the top?) of the carboy because the 3/4" pipe takes up quite a bit of real estate in the neck of the carboy. Water enters the carboy faster than it's leaving it, causing the carboy to slowly fill with a few inches of water.  We had so much water hanging out in a carboy one time that the sump pump shut off. I thought the pump had broken; turns out I just didn't read directions.

To remedy this, we'll buy a 3/4" to 1/2" reducer and a 1/2" pipe. This will also allow us to wash our glass carboys which have a very small neck opening.

If you want to make one of these and have any questions, shoot me an email. Happy cleaning!

Edited:  I've uploaded more pictures of this to Flickr


  1. Very MacGruber! Any home project I do involves at least 2 trips to Home Depot, usually more

  2. This thing is awesome. Also have a garden hose fitting -> tee -> corny disconnects thing the rinse kegs out. Carboys are easy to rinse manually.

    Thinking about building a second one, with a less powerful pump, to recirculate acid and/or sanitizer.

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