Most homebrewers would agree that the better part of brewing beer at home is spent cleaning and sanitizing equipment. A lot of dedication goes into every batch and after waiting weeks for fermentation to be done you are ready for some payback. There is only one step that separates you from drinking that beer, and that is bottling or kegging. Bottling beer takes a lot of work — mostly spent cleaning and sanitizing each bottle.
Some of the most common methods for cleaning/sanitizing bottles that I am aware of are using chemicals and soaking the bottles in cleaning/sanitizing solutions, putting the bottles through the steam cycle in the dishwasher, or using a dry heat cycle in the kitchen oven.
In my experience, the first of these methods takes the most work. Bottles are dipped in cleaning solutions and you have to physically brush the insides and then rinse each bottle in preparation for sanitizing. The dishwasher method has the advantage of using wet heat, which is much more effective than dry heat in the oven, but there is the problem that the bottles have to be placed in upside down. That makes it hard to have a uniform coverage of steam deep inside of the bottle. The dry heating method in the oven works well by itself for sanitizing provided the bottles are already clean.
The bottle rack described in this project uses the oven as a source of heat to generate steam inside of the bottle for cleaning and sanitizing purposes. This enhances the cleaning power of the dry method.
The bottle rack in this project is made of aluminum sheet metal and holds 24 bottles. It can be used in two positions: drying position (bottles upside down) and steaming position (bottles upright). I chose 24 bottles to make it easily portable, and because that is the number of bottles that come in a case. The reasons to use aluminum for its construction are several: It does not corrode easily in high moisture environments, it is lightweight, it withstands high temperatures, it does not need painting (so there is no risk of toxic fumes) and it is easy to work with (as opposed to stainless steel).
To use this bottle rack, I add approximately 50 milliliters of water into every bottle and then put it in the oven for one hour at 250 °F (121 °C) so the bottles are steam cleaned and sanitized. The rack makes it easy to transport the bottles into and out of the oven once they have cooled. The time and temperature I leave the bottles in the oven could probably be adjusted to a higher temperature and shorter heating time. In any case, one important detail to keep in mind is to add enough water to support the length of time in the oven so that there is continuous formation of steam. Adding too little may result in the water evaporating too quickly without really getting the benefits of wet heat (as mentioned above, dry heat is not as effective and takes a much longer heat cycle to obtain the same sanitizing effects). Also, note that if your bottles are extremely dirty they may require a second pass through the oven. Some bottles are not even worth the effort.
Parts & Tools
Aluminum sheet metal (16 – 14 gauge)
1/8-inch drill bit
1.5-inch hole saw
(4) #6 screws and nuts
Pair of vice grips
Black Sharpie marker