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I made my first cider 3 weeks ago and the home brew shop gave me sodium metabisulfite as a sanitizer (1tbsp per liter) and anti-oxidant (1/8tsp per gallon).

Last week, I did my first beer (5.3 quarts / 5 liters small batch all-grain). I also used metabisulfite as a sanitizer and it seems to have worked.

My questions:

1) I have read that metabisulfite is not a strong enough sanitizer for beer, is it true?

2) When I let the sanitizer drip dry on glass, a white salt mark (metabisulfite) remains on the surface. Does that mean that I should rince with boiled water (annoying) or the amount remaining on the glass negligible?

3) Should I continue using metabisulfite, it seems to be good enough for me.

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An interesting question.

1- metabisulphite is usually regarded as an oxygen scavenger and thus a preservative by virtue of inhibiting bacterial (and yeast) growth (but not so much the metabolism). Metabisulphite in solution can also be a source of SO2 - which reacts in water to make an acid solution. That acidic solution could be regarded as acting something like StarSan (which is a solution of phosphoric acid and a surfactant/detergent). It can sterilise as it has antimicrobial activity. But I would not class it as a strong sterilising agent. For for most intents and purposes it is a reasonably viable one for treating unsoiled equipment. However I can imagine situations when it might not sterilise completely.

2- a very small residue left on the equipment is no particular cause for concern. After all people add whole tablets to wine ferments. It could be wiped or rinsed off as preferred. One could use boiling water and one could probably use cold tap water if one particularly wanted to remove it.

3- you can continue using metabisulphite if it works for you. It has worked for millions of baby feeding bottles over the years and is still used widely when making wine. If the brewing equipment is unsoiled and well scrubbed down then using "campden tablets" is a viable option. As I have said IMHO it is not totally dissimilar to StarSan in action. If the equipment becomes soiled or a biofilm begins to build up then it might well be better using a deep cleaning agent like VWP or similar.

  • Based on this reference it would take about 1/2 ounce of Sodium metabisulfite per liter to achieve a 3.0 pH solution. Starsan data sheet states it is ineffective as a sanitizer if above 3.0 even with its detergents. solvay.us/en/binaries/PSS-Sodium-Metabisulfite-164360.pdf , basically dropping a couple campden tabs in 5 gallons will not work as a sanitizer. – Evil Zymurgist Nov 10 '17 at 3:44
  • It's important to note that a low pH below 3.0 alone does not make a sanitizer. It is just one of the needed conditions to rupture microb cell walls. – Evil Zymurgist Nov 10 '17 at 3:58
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1) Yes, it's true. It's not a sanitizer.

2) This is dry sodium or potassium as a by product after absorbing oxygen. Can give off flavors.

3) NO

Metabisulfites (potassium and sodium) are not sanitizers. They're actually preservatives. They work by depleting solutions of oxygen to prevent aerobic organisim growth. They don't kill anything on contact as a sanitizer does.

For an example of how it works, get some Apple juice that has it as a presevative. If you pitch yeast in it, there will be no cell growth but the existing yeast will consume sugars. The preservative can be defeated with oxygenating the juice and then the yeast will have a growth phase.

  • It's very interesting, but it doesn't answer any of the questions. Sorry – cricardol Oct 25 '17 at 19:59
  • Sorry, metabilsulfites make great sanitizers. They are dual purpose, santize/sterilize and preservative – farmersteve Oct 26 '17 at 13:08
  • According to wikipedia: Winemaking equipment is sanitized by spraying with a 1% SO2 (2 tsp potassium metabisulfite per L) solution. – Philippe Oct 26 '17 at 16:11
  • Guys can Google all you want and find misinfo just because people "use" this product wrong. Find "HOW" it would function as a sanitizer IE killing most organisims. – Evil Zymurgist Oct 26 '17 at 16:14
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    @Philippe actually the only use for them in commercial wine making is as a stabilizer to prevent oxidation and microbe GROWTH. A sanitizer must kill microbes this does not. It only prevents aerobic microbes from reproducing. It has no effect on anaerobic microbes. – Evil Zymurgist Oct 26 '17 at 23:41
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Let me answer your questions...

  1. metabisulfites (potassium and sodium) in strong enough concentrations can be a very effective sanitizer. In stronger doses, potassium metabisulfite works well to sanitize your equipment, with no negative consequences. Make a solution of 8 teaspoons dry measure of potassium metabisulfite added to 1 gallon (4 liters) of warm water. Rinse your equipment in this solution for about 5 minutes, and let drip dry.

  2. You didn't probably dissolve it enough. But, you can rinse it with boiled water to remove it because that white residue is probably enough to kill off your yeast.

  3. I would continue to use sulfites to preserve your cider but there are much better sanitizing cleaners than sulfites. I recommend using PBW or StarSan instead.

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It's kind of a poor sanitizer in general with that concentration. It's not that it is bad for beer, it takes 5 minutes to sanitize. It will work, but you're going to have to be extra patient and careful. Trying to use the rest will have not paid off if you ruin one batch.

Buy a bottle of star-san and keep the metabisulphite for when you want some non-acidic anti-oxidant.

  • I meant 1 tbsp per liter. I corrected in an edit. In my opinion, star san is pretty expensive here. – cricardol Oct 25 '17 at 3:21
  • Star San is not cheap, but you do not need much. The best way to use it is dissolved in a spray bottle, take care to use RO or distilled water. For more basic cleaning and sanitizing I use an oxidizing sanitizer (Puro Oxi is what can be bought here, I have no knowledge about other things). – chthon Oct 25 '17 at 6:31
  • It was $20 for the big bottle on Amazon for me earlier this week--well cheaper than the lhbs. It was 18 something the last time, that was ridiculous, and that one happened to be coming from the lhbs that was selling it for $29 in store... – erds Oct 27 '17 at 15:33
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    That is a more reasonable concentration, but that information stays pretty much the same, much slower than star-san but it will do the job. at 1oz to five gallons, that star-san takes a long time to use. Especially if you keg it for reuse. It's really just phosphoric acid-water. It stays deadly for microbes until the ph goes up. – erds Oct 27 '17 at 15:41
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1- It is used to sanitize equipment for wine making, it should be strong enough for beer IMO.

2- If you leave the residue, it could leave an after taste. I would rinse it.

3- I use metabisulfite to sanitize when I make wine and a one step cleaner/sanitizer (Aseptox) when I make beer.

Sulfite residue can have a harsh taste which is ok in wine since it will age longer and serve as an anti-oxidant, but in beer I prefer something that will leave no aftertaste. People widely use Starsan, but there are other similar products, the one I use come in powder that you mix with water which is a lot cheaper than buying it in liquid form.

  • under your #2 it will not leave an aftertaste if the amounts are small enough and given enough time and oxygen it will break down down and leave no aftertaste. I would never use it in beer since there is no reason to "preserve" it like wine. #3 no need to use metabisulfites in cleaning equipment, starsan, pbw, one-step etc are better and less toxic – farmersteve Oct 26 '17 at 13:19
  • It is not use to clean, but to sanitize after cleaning, you would still need to use something else to clean. In a light beer, I would not be surprised if the sulfur can be detected, but I agree that the more beer ages, the more sulfites will dissipate... – Philippe Oct 26 '17 at 16:11

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