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Would you ever use second hand brewing equipment?

What's the best way of making sure it's absolutely clean?

Ordinarily, for something like this, I'd just buy new (so you know where it's been), or for things like glass bottles (which are hard to find new) I'd soak them in bleach and then use the oven to sanitize them completely.

However I recently won an auction for a bench-top bottle capper, which came with a whole pile of other stuff like a heat box, and 3x30 litre plastic fermenters. I was originally just going to throw them away, but now I'm thinking it might be kind of handy to have a couple of extra barrels around for bulk priming etc.

I'm concerned though with how best to make sure they're safe to use given you can't know the history of second hand gear (and I obviously can't use the oven for plastic =).

Is soaking in a strong bleach solution enough to remove pretty much any thing left on the inside? (chemical residue etc) Is there anything else I should try?

Or would I be best to just turf them and buy another fermenter that's new?

Cheers Dave

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Not to be a tool, but... cleaning is the issue not sanitizing. –  brewchez May 31 '10 at 0:07

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I've purchased used equipment several times. Metals and glass get hot and soapy, followed by a PBW soak.

Plastics are another matter. The big difference to me is their condition and construction.

Plastics need to be inspected for scratches. If they are carboys, likely they are not scratched on the inside. Hot soapy, hot rinse, inspect, PBW, sanitize and use. If there are visible scratches on the inside, then they are junk. Rare on plastic carboys or conicals, however.

If they are bucket fermenters, unless they have been extraordinarily gently used, then they are junk.

Bad signs for bucket fermenters:

  1. Stacked one inside the other. All but the top ones are scratched.
  2. Lid jammed inside. Interior likely scratched.
  3. Loaded with hard non-plastic things, like the bench capper. Scratched.

I have largely relegated used plastic bucket fermenters to non-beer duty. Unless you are sure about the interiors, and scratches almost too small to feel can harbor bacteria. That's the downside of plastic. That being said, I have one plastic bucket fermenter that is three years old. Soft cloth only, careful use has kept it in service. But plastic buckets of unknown pedigree...I'd use for washing the car.

But that being said, if they have been gently used.... Hot soapy, rinse, inspect, PBW, rinse, inspect again. I certainly wouldn't use them for anything important for their maiden flight, if you decide to keep them.

Vinyl tubing, throw out. It's too cheap to risk. Everything else can be cleaned, especially if its metal or glass. That's my advice.

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Fantastic answer. I am a little less paranoid about plastic scratches that TinCoyote, but its probably a good bet to use these things for holding sanitizer and cleaner during the brew process, rather than as fermentors. –  brewchez May 26 '10 at 11:39
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Agreed. Excellent answer. I've heard of people testing their setups for infection potential by pulling off a bit of wort into a sanitized jar. If your setup is clean, it won't cloud after a few days at room temp. Could you do the same with a simple table sugar solution and your doubtful plastic? Doubtless there's a tipping point reached where the money you spend on testing solution exceeds what you save, but it might be a way to get some peace of mind before committing to a batch. –  Rich Armstrong May 27 '10 at 16:06
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Cool - thanks for the answer. I've ended up keeping one of the plastic barrels which was in pretty good condition. I'm cleaning it out now, and I think I'll try it on some ginger beer first . The other two barrels, I think I'll turf. –  smylie May 30 '10 at 4:36

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