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I have made over 50 batches of homebrew, and I have a confession: I rarely CLEAN my equipment. I take a quick look to see if there is any visible debris/dust, etc., and if so, I will spot clean it or rinse it. I am still a maniac about sanitization, which I know is different than cleaning, and people make a huge point to make that distinction. What I do not know however, is does it actually benefit to scrub an Ale Pail with Oxyclean and a sponge, use the sink attachment to blow out a carboy, or a bottle brush to 'clean' a bottle, when the stuff is free of visible dirt (unless I miss something) and I am sanitizing?

I'm relatively happy with most of my batches, and have only had one (knock on wood) case of pedio/lacto infection. However, I just bought a chest freezer for fermentation/conditioning, and am looking to my hot and cold side processes to improve the product.

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

"You can't sanitize a turd" - George Fix

If you can see it, feel it or smell it, you can't sanitize it. A little oil from old yeast or a plug of old hop trub wedged into a seam will never get sanitary from contact with a sanitizer. So clean first, then sanitize.

Sure, a clean glass carboy looks pretty clean and will probably sanitize well, but how clean is it around the gasket on your bottling bucket or under the lid gasket or inside your racking cane? Oxyclean or B-brite or other cleaners will attack the oils and proteins of old crud, break them up and get them out of the way so that your sanitizer can touch all of the inner surface.

After all, your santizer will only be in your bucket for between a minute and an hour. Your beer will be in there from a week to a month or more. Which will soak into the crud better?

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+1 for the quote! Iodophor is somewhat disabled by residue - protein load - while others, such as StarSan can tolerate some residue. Still, it's best to clean regularly, or it just becomes exponentially harder. –  mdma Mar 13 '12 at 20:16
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Just be sure that the new cleaning agents don't become part of you next brew. That is the main potential issue with introducing cleaning into a working brewing process. –  Chris Plaisier Mar 13 '12 at 20:24
    
@ChrisPlaisier What? Are you saying don't get your cleanser in your beer? –  brewchez Mar 13 '12 at 22:43
    
@brewchez Exactly what I am saying. Screws up a lot of things including taste, head retention, etc. –  Chris Plaisier Mar 14 '12 at 18:53
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Everything that the beer touches post chilling should be soaked in pbw or oxyclean and rinsed, whether it looks clean or not. I borrowed a carboy that looked clean, and gave it my usual overnight with warm oxyclean. And the next day there were little whisps of white foaty things in it. You can't see a boifilm, and that can get ya contaminated.

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Since you're a self proclaimed 'maniac' when it comes to sanitization (and props to you for that!), you have probably been attacking the grime and dirt agressivly enough, during your sanitization process and spot cleaning, to remove most of the contaminenets.

Although 50 batches is a respectable amount of notches under your belt, remember that every small risk you take in cutting corners could end in a big loss... your entire batch of beer and your wasted time. ....not to mention the bruises to your ego.

Furthermore, your equipment is suseptable to wear and tear the more you use it (and sanitize/clean it). This creats areas on the surface of your equipment like scratches and pits that are able to better hold contaminents. So, what you are able to get away with today may not be the case in the future.

I would suggest a slight change in your brewing process and add a clensing stage (which is a minimal amount of extra time in relation to the entire process) to further increase your chances of success in future batches and aleaviate any worries of shotty brewing practice.

It will always be benifical to eliminate every risk that you have the ability to.

P.S. @Chris Chubb: Great answer, and quote!

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