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I asked this on Twitter a while back, but I thought I might get some other thoughts on it. I have one of those 5g Poland Spring water jugs. If I get a bung that fits it, is there any reason I couldn't use it as a fermenter (either primary or secondary?). Some people have said it should be fine, others have said that "chemicals in the plastic" will leech into my beer and produce off-flavors. I find this latter argument difficult to accept given that those same chemicals don't leech into the water that the jugs held. Thoughts one way or the other?

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4 Answers 4

The consensus answer is that the only thing safe to put food with non-neutral PH into is #1 Polyethylene terephthalate or #2 High-density polyethylene. The big blue jugs you get with water in them are made from #7 polycarbonate. Polycarbonate has some potential health issues as it can leach, even in water at room temperature, a substance known as Bisphenol A which can have detrimental health effects. There is a movement going on to discontinue use of #7 polycarbonate plastics in the bottled water industry and replace them with #1 or #2. It is my understanding that the company that makes Better Bottles is benefiting from this. I know people will argue up and down that they haven't seen any health effects, but I simply wouldn't bother risking it. Better bottles and bucket fermenters are cheap.

I have fermented in plastic carboys can I cannot recommend it. You CAN get them clean with Oxy-Clean, but they are a PITA. Glass fermenters where you can use a carboy brush or plastic bucket fermenters are superior, in my opinion.

As to the oxygen permeability issue, unless you are going to leave the product in the plastic for years, it should be a negligible effect. #1 or #2 plastics have a very low oxygen permeability.

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In short: you'll probably be fine.

To explain, the primary danger is oxygen leaching through the plastic and oxidizing your beer. This is a real risk however you can minimize it. I believe it will take months at the rate of diffusion. Your beer will come out tasting like stale crackers or wet cardboard.

The reason chemicals in the plastic may leech into your beer and not the water is because beer is acidic while water is fairly neutral in pH. A few hours in the sun may drive off those chemicals. There is probably some food-safety regulation governing water jug composition guarding you from harmful chemicals.

Try it out. If you don't have a problem, relax & don't worry.

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I often used plastic jugs when first starting out, probably because they were cheaper and available. One thing I recall is the relative difficulty in removing krausen scum from the inside - perhaps the plastic isn't as smooth as glass; I'm not sure. But this was also years ago and I'm not sure I tried as hard as I would now. So perhaps with a good soak in the right chemicals - Oxyclean, bleach, what have you - it would be no problem.

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I use a #7 five gallon jug to transport brewing water from the RO machine in front of the market to my house... but I ferment in glass carboys. I had two batches spoiled by a hairline crack on the bottom of a better bottle. When I moved it, I smelled sour spoiled beer, and when I tasted it, it was awful. I noticed it just after I had brewed a batch, and the local homebrew shop had closed 10 minutes earlier. I put the new batch on top of a platter filled with starsan, but the bugs in the scratch ruined both batches.

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