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This has happened with a few batches now. My three-piece airlocks are drained of the sani inside them repeatedly. Even after a few days, when fermentation doesn't seem as rapid (and therefore the temperature of the beer shouldn't be that much warmer than the surrounding air), I'll add more sani, and it gets sucked right through. Thoughts?

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Are you using a three piece or an S-shaped airlock? –  brewchez Jan 12 '11 at 18:40
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It's a three piece –  hookedonwinter Jan 12 '11 at 19:33
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6 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There are only a few reasons why this might happen.

  1. Suck-back due to temperature changes

  2. Evaporation

  3. Airlock is damaged

  4. Somebody is messing with it

As it has been mentioned by others, s-locks are better at keeping liquid, but are nearly impossible to clean if you get a blow-out. Three-piece airlocks are easier to clean. I use mostly 3-piece, except for things like mead, which might be fermenting for months.

I keep my airlocks filled with cheap vodka. That way if there is suck-back, it adds a microscopic amount to the beer's abv. Plus I don't have to make sanitizer or worry about the effectiveness of the sanitizer in the air lock.

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Excellent idea about the vodka. –  Tobi Jan 12 '11 at 19:51
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We also use vodka –  Joe Philllips Jan 13 '11 at 16:15
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I use everclear :) –  theraccoonbrew Jan 14 '11 at 18:00
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Wow this is an excellent idea, never heard of this before. –  tj111 Jan 14 '11 at 18:29
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I play the "one for you, one for me game" when I'm pouring a shot into my airlock... it's the single best reason to use vodak! –  STW Jan 19 '11 at 21:11
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I've had vigorous fermentation blow the liquid out of the airlock before..!

I now check it every few hours the first day to make sure I refill it if it looks like doing this again.

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Two things that have happened to me / that I have stupidly done to myself, producing the described effect: 1) Put the carboy with room temperature wort and airlock in place into cooling. 2) Drew a sample with airlock in place.

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Pay careful attention to how far into the neck the stopper is inserted, and (more importantly) if it is moving at all. If it's pushing itself out, then that will in turn suck liquid into the carboy.

This happens pretty frequently when first inserting the airlock + stopper. I've gotten in the habit of first inserting the stopper, taping it in place to keep it from sliding out, then inserting the airlock.

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I've done the tape trick and the boil, insert, expand trick. it's in there tight –  hookedonwinter Jan 12 '11 at 19:32
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could be a broken or leaky airlock. could be that the beer is cooling dramatically, so you have less pressure in the fermentor than in the surrounding atmosphere.

Do you have kids that could be messing with your beer?

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no kids that i know of... –  hookedonwinter Jan 12 '11 at 19:32
    
this happens even a week later, when things have slowed. –  hookedonwinter Jan 12 '11 at 19:33
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I'm guessing it is evaporating.

I've noticed that the three piece airlocks lose their liquid a lot faster than the S shaped ones.

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like within a day? –  hookedonwinter Jan 12 '11 at 19:31
    
I never paid that close of attention, how dry is your home? –  Mattress Jan 13 '11 at 18:24
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