Boil overs. Hop explosions. Leaky barrels. Yeast “poops.” Brewing, my friends, ain't for the squeaky clean—it's a gritty affair. We're not talking about playing house with some everyday cleaning supplies. No, sir. This is Fight Club for brewers, where every “janitor” is armed with a squeegee and hose to remove brewing grime. They're not playing around with your everyday household cleaners. This is taking down microbial institutions, and if the right chemical isn't used, well, let's just say there's a laundry list of calamities waiting to unfold:

• Microbial Contamination: Inadequate cleaning can lead to the growth of unwanted microorganisms such as bacteria, wild yeast, or mold, which can spoil beer flavors or cause off-flavors

• Cross-Contamination: Insufficient cleaning of equipment and surfaces can result in cross-contamination between different beer batches or between different areas of the brewery, leading to inconsistent beer quality.

• Off-Flavors: Residual cleaning agents or sanitizers left on equipment can impart undesirable off-flavors to the beer, affecting its taste and aroma.

• Infection of Wooden Barrels: If barrels are not thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, they can harbor microbes that may infect subsequent batches of beer, leading to unpredictable flavors.

• Poor Fermentation: Contaminants in fermentation vessels or inadequate cleaning of yeast harvesting equipment can lead to poor fermentation, affecting the flavor, aroma, and alcohol content of the beer.

• Equipment Corrosion: Improper cleaning and maintenance may lead to the buildup of mineral deposits or chemicals on brewery equipment, causing corrosion over time.

• Inconsistent Carbonation: Residual debris in kegs or beer lines can lead to inconsistent carbonation levels, resulting in variations in mouthfeel and effervescence.

• Quality Control Issues: Inadequate cleaning can compromise the accuracy of quality control tests and measurements, leading to unreliable data and potential product defects.

• Health and Safety Concerns: Poor cleaning habits can create an environment conducive to the growth of harmful bacteria or mold, posing health risks for brewery staff and consumers.

• Waste of Resources: Inefficient cleaning practices can lead to higher water and chemical usage, increasing operational costs and environmental impact.

• Extended Downtime: Incomplete or ineffective cleaning processes may require more frequent and extended downtime for equipment maintenance and sanitation, impacting overall production efficiency.

• Regulatory Compliance Issues: Inconsistent or inadequate cleaning practices can lead to non-compliance with health and safety regulations, resulting in legal and regulatory issues for the brewery.

It's a bare-knuckle brawl with chaos if the right cleaning chemical isn’t used. Nobody gets a free pass here. EVERYBODY, from the puny to the powerhouse, has danced with these troubles. You don't just sip your way through one, you slug it out with SEVERAL.

In this ring of brewing anarchy, the key to survival isn't wishful thinking. It's knowing your cleaner like the back of your bruised hand. We're not talking about crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. No, we're talking about being in the know, armed with the knowledge of what works and why it works. Because in this fight, ignorance is the first round knockout.

Fighting Dirty
Modern detergents have evolved significantly from their early forms, simple soaps rendered from fat may have done the trick in the abbey back in the 1600's, but modern solvents are rendering all kinds of enemies, old and new, irrelevant in big league brewing today. The mid-20th century moved beyond the conventional bar of soap and saw the development of synthetic detergents with improved cleaning properties. These detergents, including anionic, nonionic, and cationic surfactants, offered better solubility, emulsification, and overall cleaning efficiency are more than soap opera stars.

As technology progressed, enzyme-based detergents became prevalent, making stains feel like a figment of the imagination. Enzymes can break down complex organic materials, making them highly effective in removing proteinaceous residues common in brewing.

In the context of breweries, the evolution of detergents has played a crucial role in maintaining sanitation standards. Modern brewery cleaning involves the use of specialized detergents designed to eliminate beer spoilers, biofilms, and other contaminants like that sore on the inside of your mouth that would go away if you could just stop tongueing it.

Alkaline and acidic detergents are tailored for specific brewery equipment and surfaces. Moreover, the development of no-rinse sanitizers has streamlined the cleaning process, ensuring that residues from detergents do not impact beer flavor.

Alkalines Tagging In
These bad boys in the brewing brawl understand that carbon molecules are the unruly troublemakers, leaving their mark like a graffiti tag on a brick wall. They revel in the filth left behind—proteins, fats, and their buddies. Armed with a sky-high pH that can square up to the most acidic troublemakers, the heavy hitters we encounter in the ring are:

Sodium carbonate: Reacting with fatty acids, sodium carbonate is able to break down the fats into soap and glycerol in a process called saponification. Sodium carbonate acts as a surfactant, reducing the surface tension of water to allow greasy substances to be broken off into smaller droplets by a detergent, yet is versatile on several surfaces in a brewery like stainless and glass. It also has less of an environmental impact, making it ideal for eco-conscious cleaning practices.

Sodium metasilicate: Now let’s take what sodium carbonate can do and amp it up with some dissolving of minerals.

Sodium lauryl sulfate: Helping water penetrate and wet surfaces more effectively as well as disrupts bonds that hold soil together, this compound is excellent for solubilizing substances, removing stains, and addressing microbial issues. Sodium lauryl sulfate is used in combination with other cleaning agents to boost effectiveness!

Sodium hydroxide: Hard-core hydroxide is over here dissolving proteins and other organic matter! It can act as a catalyst in some reactions, enhancing the breakdown of contaminants on a variety of surfaces including metals, ceramics, and some plastics.

Despite all of the fun of also having a sanitizing effect, it can be corrosive to some sensitive materials.

Potassium hydroxide: Strongly alkaline at a pH above 13, this cleaner is important in saponification, breaking down organic matter, dissolving assorted mineral residues (through hydrolysis), sanitizing, but is corrosive to some metals. Questioning what metal those tanks are made of? This is a great one to use to really find out!

Acidic Avengers
Acidic cleaners are street fighters that address mineral deposits, scale, and beerstone head- on from surfaces. These are especially important for anything that participates in temperature control because this build-up impedes heat transfer. These are all about stripping away the grime so the real action can unfold:

• Nitric acid: This strong acid can suck the rust off… well, it doesn’t have to. It dissolves metal oxides like rust and then induces passivation of metals like stainless steel. It is selective in which metals it interacts with to remove tarnish, stains, and other discolorations cause by oxidation.

• Phosphoric acid: Also effective at removing rust although considered a weak acid, it also acts as a chelant, forming stable complexes with metal ions that prevent them from redepositing. It is also a milder acid than nitric acid, making it ideal for more sensitive surfaces.

Chlorine’s Atomic Beatdown
Chlorinated cleaners contain chlorine compounds that are effective at eliminating bacteria and molds, making them a great sanitizing agent to throwdown on a chemical level. Chlorine, the atom of highlight here, is released upon interaction with water to clean house:

• Sodium dichloroiscyanurate dihydrate (NaDCC): Highly water soluble, this makes it quick and easy to use for addressing bacteria, viruses and fungi in a variety of settings including water treatment, food service, and healthcare.

• Trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA): Excellent for slow-release applications because it is less soluble in water, it is commonly seen in water treatments. Biofilms and algae can both be addressed well with this acid.

Enzymatically Breaking Bad
Enzymatic cleaners contain, no surprise here, enzymes that are biochemical brawlers breaking down organic residues. These are probably going to be used on more stubborn deposits and have the added benefit of being eco-friendly fighters in their smackdown without leaving behind chemical residues:

• Protease: Enzymes that break down proteins into smaller bits like the building blocks, amino acids.

• Amylase: These enzymes should be familiar because of their role in the brewing process. They break down complex carbohydrates like starches into simpler sugars.

• Lipase: Ever brew a beer with nuts or meat? These are the enzymes that are necessary to break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol.

• Cellulase: Cellulose is a common polysaccharide that is found in plant cell walls which may accumulate as a result of using adjunct grains.

• Pectinase: Another polysaccharide that is found in plant cell walls, pectins are especially present in places where fruit and plant materials are processed. Using this enzyme helps break them down.

• Multiple enzymes: Some cleaners may use multiple enzymes so they are applicable in a broad range of functions.

Surfactants in their Sudsy Rebellion
Surfactant cleaners, better known as detergents, emulsify oils and lift away dirt like they are taking down this capitalistic hellscape. In this showdown, they reduce the surface tension of liquids and enhance wetting, spreading, and emulsifying properties. Some compounds that have surfactant qualities that were already mentioned include sodium lauryl sulfate and some enzymes.

Benzene sulfonic acid: The sulfonic acid is polar, while the benzene ring is nonpolar, allowing this acid to interact with multiple different molecules, making it an effective surfactant. However it can leave residues, is quite toxic, and can be corrosive.
Ethoxylated alcohol: Created between ethylene oxide and a fatty alcohol, this creates a carbon-rich alcohol that is hydrophobic and a hydrophilic polyoxyethylene chain, making it an effective surfactant. It is great at emulsifying residues and can penetrate oils and greases, loosening them from the surface.

Oxidizing Agents of Chaos
Oxidizing cleaners are oxygen-based compounds that can be brutal to stains, organic matter, and microbes. They readily throw punches with oxygen or other oxidizing agents that facilitate the breakdown of undesirable compounds, making them effective in sanitizing, tearing apart organic residues, removing scale and similar deposits, and passivating equipment.

• Peracetic acid: A potent oxidizing and santizing agent, it is quick and leaves low residue so it is ideal for no-rinse applications.

• Hydrogen peroxide: Proper dilution and rinsing is necessary with this oxidizing agent that is effective against a broad spectrum of contaminants.

• Chlorine dioxide: Powerful at oxidizing and disinfecting, this is another one that requires proper dosage awareness and thorough rinsing.

• Sodium hypochlorite: Better known as bleach, is effective in the brewery but its application is limited due to potential off-flavors and residues.

• Nitric acid: Used more for cleaning rather than a sanitizer, it requires proper handling and rinsing to prevent and adverse effects on beer flavor.

Caustic Bruisers
Caustics are not just used to describe someone’s wit! They are also highly alkaline and commonly used for cleaning stainless steel equipment. They are used for ‘cleaning in place’ procedures and far more because they break down organic residues like Angel Face.

Previously discussed chemicals that are heavy hitters are sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide.

Sanitization Destruction
Sanitizers can require rinsing or not, but they help sanitize surfaces, providing an extra layer of protection against contamination without compromise. Some that have already been mentioned include sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, chlorine dioxide, as well as our friends NaDCC and TCCA.

• Iodine compounds: Often in the form of iodophors, they release iodine, a well-known sanitizer. They are versatile, easy to use, and have a low impact on beer flavor so they are common no-rinse sanitizers. They are convenient and efficient!

• Quarternary ammonia compounds: “Quats” are effective against a range of microorganisms and are known for their residual sanitizing properties. They have longer-lasting effects and are therefore great for prolonged sanitation, but as a result do require rinsing.

• Sulfur dioxide: Released from other compounds like potassium metabisulfite upon interaction with water, is a great sanitizer, antioxidant, and antimicrobial. However, it can impact flavor and aroma, so proper rinsing is necessary to remove residue.

• Sodium chlorite: It is often used with an acid activator like chlorine dioxide to be versatile and sanitize a variety of surfaces, but also requires rinsing to avoid adverse effects on products.

It’s Sport Defoaming
Defoaming agents, also known as antifoaming or foam control, are essential to reign in that foaming fury during various stages of brewing. These are used to strike a balance since foam can be a friend or foe in the brewing ring. Defoamers are applicable during boiling and fermentation because they reduce the surface tension and emulsify the bubbles, causing them to collapse. Dosage needs to be carefully considered with at what point in the process is it being used and that excessive amounts impact product quality.

Don’t Lye
Many cleaners can be corrosive to brewing equipment if improperly used, mixed, or diluted, essentially a Molotov cocktail to cleaning efforts. Sodium metasilicate is a common anti- corrosive that is used to passivate stainless steel. It is alkaline in nature and can help maintain a basic environment, which is preferable for passivation, encouraging the formation of a stable and protective chromium oxide layer on the stainless steel surface. It can also react and sequester cations like iron because no one wants to be literally rusty when brewing.

Near Life Experience
There is always a story floating around whether through a friend or social media about a boil over, wrong chemicals being used, or existential doubt about stainless steel because of rust (probably right, but that is a different problem for equipment sourcing). Knowing how to handle these chemicals when it comes to equipment is important, but no one wants a chemical burn, either. The best janitors are ubiquitously equipped with gloves of the nitrile or latex variety, not the boxing kind. Eye protection via goggles or safety glasses are important because tears only do so much for ocular safety. Depending on the size of the cleaning regimen, having body protection may be necessary.

Finding Your Power Cleaner
If guided meditation to find your power cleaner isn’t ideal, hopefully this article has thrown you into the underground fight to figure it out on the cardboard basement floor what is the best attack for cleaning the facility. Consider the nature of the contaminants, the type of brewing equipment, and the desired cleaning outcome (and the brewery definition of “clean”. Alkaline cleaners are excellent for organic residues, acidic ones are better for mineral deposits. Choosing what to use, and in what order, will successfully eliminate contaminants without leaving detrimental residues that could compromise beer quality.

Another day of cleaning can bite the dust with the right choices!

The Rules of (Clean) Fight Club
1.  No secrets about cleaners. Knowing what one is using and how it is effective is important.
2.  One cleaning solution at a time. It may seem efficient to mix some chemicals together, but always follow manufacturer instructions in this to avoid explosive or deadly situations.
3.  Know your enemy. What is being cleaned and what is the most effective way to clean it. Strategy is key.
4.  Respect the equipment. Using the appropriate chemicals on the right surfaces can make all the right or wrong differences.
5.  Fight dirty, clean fair. Training matters because it is all about fighting issues that impact the product, not coworkers.
6.  Alchemy, not magic. It is a scientific process to clean, so keep theories and anecdotes out of the SOPs.
7.  No harm to the brew. Cleaners should eliminate contaminants but not have a negative impact on the product.
8.  Glove and shield up! Personal protective equipment is non-negotiable when dealing with any chemical.
9.  No rinse, no glory. It is great that there are no-rinse options, but others can leave residues and should be properly addressed before moving forward with the brewing process.
10. Talk about (Clean) Fight Club! Knowledge is key and everyone shares similar
struggles. Help them out so they can fight dirty!

About the Author
Frances received their Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry from Le Moyne College in 2009. Having always nurtured a passion in microbiology and chemistry, Frances has always enjoyed being in a laboratory environment. Their altruistic nature and desire to care for others gave them eight years of success in the medical field and acceptance into medical school. After choosing to forgo medical school, Frances moved to Colorado looking to rekindle their passion for the laboratory sciences. After a hard weekend of enjoying craft beers, Frances decided to grab life by the pint glass and founded Fermly in 2018. Frances is a Certified Beer Server in the Cicerone program and a provisional BJCP judge.