What’s the coolest project you’ve built in your eight years contributing to Brew Your Own?,” my editor inquired. The answer was easy — a bottle washer I built in 2003 is my favorite device. Cleaning and sanitizing is the most important process in brewing. As a BJCP-certified judge, it is sad to scribble “beneath the disgusting taste and aroma caused by contamination, there’s depth of malt and a nice hop balance. Improve your sanitation.” I have no way of knowing if the problem was a single dirty bottle or a whole batch by dirty hoses and lines, or vilely contaminated fermenters. My mission is to show you how to create an all-purpose cleaning and sanitizing station that will simplify this essential process. And may I (or you) never suffer through another bad bottle of homebrew due to contamination!
The original bottle washer was built to wash and sanitize any size bottle. I soon discovered it could be used to clean fermenters, hose lines and keg lines. I use it every brew session and in between. Best of all, if you’ve already built one, modification is easy and should cost less than $20. While a corny keg is beer-cool, you could use any sturdy cylindrical or square container with 1–4 gallon capacity. In case you don’t have the old story, we’ll start over.
Although this “Bottle Washer Deluxe” made for our September 2003 issue was admirable, we’ve decided to make it even more useful.
Step-by-step – Corny version
Begin by marking your keg at the halfway point. This will give you a potential volume of at least 1 gallon (3.8 L) of cleaning solution. Lay the keg on its side and rotate it against a fixed marker. This will be your cutting guide so be sure it is accurate and circles the keg levelly.
Now it’s time to cut the keg. I used a small grinder equipped with a cutoff wheel, but a hacksaw or jig saw with a fine (24 tpi) bimetal blade or grit-coated blade would also work. Once the keg is cut, grind and file the edges so that they are level and smooth. This is thin steel, and it retains razor-sharp edges. For safety’s sake, do not neglect this step!
Holes — the in and out
There are several ways to make bulkhead fittings for your container, steel or plastic. One involves welding a stainless steel nipple or union into the corny. We chose a universal method of making a bulkhead fitting for both the intake and output.
Two compression fittings with national pipe taper (NPT) are required. One 3/8” x 3/8” (10 mm) MPT (male NPT) and a 3/8” x 3/8” (10 mm) FPT (female NPT) barbed fitting create a bulk-head fitting.
To prevent leakage you’ll need “O” rings of proper size. Ordinary garden hose washers work well and last longer than conventional O-rings. Plus you may need a thick washer. This is because NPT fittings are not meant to fit like nuts and bolts, as needed here.
Pipe taper fittings join by interference or wedging and do not fit
shoulder-to-shoulder. (Straight fittings exist and will tighten up like a nut and bolt. They’re harder to find and more expensive.) The easiest solution is to use one hose washer inside and another outside. Another alternative is to make a washer out of scrap Plexiglas.
Drill 5/8” holes (16 mm) for the inlet and outlet above the chine (i.e. the joint between bottom and cylinder.) I measured 1” (25 mm) above the chine and used a prick punch to mark the location, then drilled a 1/8” (3 mm) pilot hole before drilling the larger hole. Where you put the holes around the cylinder is up to you — I chose 90°.
Drill 1/2” holes and enlarge with files or a rotary grinder (or a step drill if you have it).
Intake and output construction
Liquid is stored in the bottom of the container and then pumped into a spray wand. Both the intake and spray wand were bent out of scrap 3/8” (10 mm) tubing using a tubing bender. You might like to use the stainless steel keg spear; I chose copper, it is easier to bend.
Two brass fittings (one compression and one female barbed) comprise each bulkhead fitting. Bend a right angle that is about 1 1/2” (40 mm) by 3” (75 mm). Later we will trim this pickup tube to size.
Then bend a right angle with one leg equal to your container’s radius and the other about 12” (300 mm) long for the spray wand. The pickup tube should extend from the side of the container downward to within 1/2” (13 mm) of the bottom. The spray wand should be centered. This means you will have to cut the smaller leg
of the spray wand a bit long, assemble the fitting, and measure for a
These are all the components you’ll need to prepare for our new cleaning system: tapers, compression fittings and tubing.
The first step to making the pump hookup, is to join the barbed fittings that are exiting the keg to the correct inlet, or output of your pump. My choice was clear vinyl tubing as it was sturdy enough and easy to clean and sanitize. The connection to the pump will depend on the pump itself. Drill powered pumps cost less than $10 (U.S.), use garden hose fittings and do not require an on/off valve.
Making the difference — old to new
Once the basics are complete, or you’re ready to modify an existing spray cleaner, you’ll need the following:
• 3/8” x 3/8” Female Pipe Taper thread
(FPT) compression fitting
• multiple 3/8” x 3/8” MPT compression
• several feet of 3/8” copper tube and some 3/8” internal diameter (i.d.) vinyl beer tube.
• You may also need some gas-in and beer-out keg body connectors if you’re adapting to clean kegs and cobra taps.
After removing the original spray tube from the keg, attach a 3/8” FPT compression fitting to the inside of your keg.
The thought is this: connect height-appropriate sprayers for bottles, small and large fermenters, and connectors for hose cleaning, tap cleaning and any other use you can imagine.
Step one: Remove the original spray tube from the keg. Attach a 3/8” FPT compression fitting. You may have to reduce the height of the spray tube.
Step Two: Make a bottle holder. Cut 1/2” plywood to 5” x 13”, find the center and cut a hole 2” (50 mm) in diameter. If you have a router, round the edges and the channels on the bottom (to keep this plank centered). If you have no router, file the edges and use pins or wooden blocks to prevent the plank from shifting.
Step Three: Make the bottle sprayer. Attach a 3/8” MPT compression fitting to one end of an approximately 4” (100 mm) length of copper tube. This will be your bottle washer spray tube. Depending on pump pressure you may need to form a spray tip, or you may adapt a commercial spray tip from a home store.
Step Four: Make a fermenter washer. Follow steps two and three, except make the center hole approximately 4–6” in diameter (depending on fermenter design) and increase the length of the spray wand to within 4” (200 mm) of the “top” of the upside down fermenter. Be creative when making spray tubes, you want the top surface to be totally covered and a uniform sheet of cleaner to cascade down the sides of whatever container you are cleaning — bottle or fermenter.
Step Five: Make some “other” gadgets. One gadget you can make fairly simply is a hose cleaner. This is simply a length of pipe attached to the spray head or a 3/8” barbed fitting that can be screwed in depending on the i.d. of the hoses you use.
When making your bottle holder, cut a piece of plywood 5” x 13” and cut or drill a hole 2” in diameter in the center.
Once you have cut the 2” hole into the center of your bottle holder, use a router or file to round the edges.
Utilize a drill-powered pump in order to power your bottle sprayer and your
Here’s the new-and-improved bottle washer and multi-use cleaning system that will surely make sanitation easier.
I like to clean my tap lines frequently. A dose of cleaner followed by sanitizer helps prevent backwards contamination in my kegs. Attaching a bent pipe to a hose that is connected to a beer-out keg body connector requires another bit of copper tube and an MPT compression fitting (see “Hose Cleaner” in March–April 2003’s issue of BYO). After you have these things, drill out the body connector to accommodate the 3/8” pipe and silver solder the body connector and tube together.
Each additional device costs approximately $2.50, the price of an MPT compression fitting, tube, hose plus whatever thingamabob you hook to the other end. There’s nothing like a final cleaning and rinsing of every bottle, fermenter, connector or tube before putting it to use. The mechanical action of pumping fluid promises a better cleaning and sanitizing operation and that will give you greater piece of mind and better beer. Best of all, the whole thing should cost less than $50, even if you have to buy a corny keg.