Build a Carboy Cleaner

One of my two Kiwi sons-in-law, Luke, got me started in homebrewing when he and my daughter were here for an extended visit. When they returned to New Zealand, I found that it was nearly impossible for me to properly rinse and drain my carboy by myself. At the very least the procedure always resulted in my getting soaked from chest to foot.

Out of desperation I reviewed the junk in my garage, which is the usual start of any project, and came across a cache of PVC irrigation pipe and fittings left over from several lawn sprinkler projects. What developed is shown in the adjacent sketch. The design not only allows me to rinse the carboy without drenching myself, but the carboy can also be left in place to air dry. It works with 6.5-gallon carboys, 5-gallon carboys, and plastic brewing buckets, too.

The only modification I subsequently made to my original design allowed me to use the setup as a bottler as well as carboy rinser. I extended the bottom section to 24 inches in height from the original 12 inches. By removing the top two pipe nipples of the sprinkler riser, I can place my bottling bucket in the framework and get it high enough above the kitchen table to provide sufficient head pressure for siphoning, even with 22-ounce bottles. This is a real step up from my former system of placing the bucket on the table and sitting cross-legged on the floor to fill the bottles.

Because I already had most of the materials for the rinser in my garage, it cost me almost nothing to build. I recently checked prices at my local discount hardware and other stores and found that the total materials cost, starting from scratch, would be just under $39, excluding tax.

The bottom line is that the rinser works so well for me that if it were to somehow disappear, I would build another just like it before brewing my next batch.

Before You Begin

First, a few explanations, precautions, and suggestions. The pipe and fittings you will be using are common components of residential and commercial irrigation systems and are available in home improvement and hardware stores.

The most difficult items to find may be the PVC couplings that connect the pipe nipples that make up the vertical water supply assembly in the middle of the rinser. If you locate the PVC style with lateral ridges along the sides, you will need to file the ridges off the top one (easy job) so that it will fit through the neck of the carboy. If you absolutely can not find PVC couplings, make up the assembly with a 24-inch PVC pipe nipple on the top joined with a galvanized steel pipe coupling to an eight-inch PVC pipe nipple on the bottom. This arrangement will keep the galvanized coupling well away from the neck of the carboy. Adjust the quantities of items D and E accordingly.

Schedule 40 pipe has an inside diameter of 3/4 inch and an outside diameter of just more than one inch. It is quite soft and easily cut with a fine-tooth saw or PVC pipe cutter.

The slip fittings into which the pipe sections will be installed with cement are tapered slightly on the inside to a diameter that is actually less than that of the outside of the pipe. The cement softens, or melts, the outside of the pipe and the inside of the fitting, allowing the pipe to be fully and snugly seated all the way into the fitting. The corollary to this is that if you try to test assemble the components by forcing them together tightly before final assembly, you may never get them apart again.

The slip joints into which the pipe sections will be installed are typically one inch deep. In 90-degree tees and elbows the pipe ends will be less than 1/6 inch apart. Keep this in mind in case you need to make any adjustments during assembly.

The tee and elbow fittings typically have very smooth sides and will lay flat on your workbench or other assembly surface. This will allow you to easily align the components during assembly. If they have protrusions left over from the mold, turn them so the smooth sides are down on your work surface during assembly.

When using the cement, keep in mind that once a cemented pipe end is inserted into a fitting, the joint will set up in a matter of seconds.

Follow the instructions and cautions on the cement can. Although this stuff is a marvel of modern technology, it is highly volatile and flammable. Don’t even think about using it indoors or getting it near an open flame. Also, you might want to pick up some surgical-type latex gloves from the paint department — the cement is difficult to get off your hands and will give you some serious misery if it gets in an open wound. Wear expendable clothes. Close the can between cementing procedures.

You will need a smooth, flat, and firm work surface at least two feet by two feet in size. A workbench or patio table will work well. When cementing, cover your worksurface with several sheets of newspaper, and change them frequently. There will be inevitable drips — lots of them.

Before applying cement, loosely lay out on your worksurface the components to be joined together. This will help you get the cement in the correct openings. If you should perchance apply the cement to the wrong pipe end or fitting opening, don’t be concerned. Just let it dry. You’ll be able to apply more cement later and make the connection.

Because you will be assembling some of the cemented components without the opportunity to properly twist the pipe into the fitting to fully seat it, use the rubber mallet or short section of wood two-by-four to tap them together.

Pipe threads are tapered, so the farther you screw a threaded pipe end into a threaded opening, the tighter it will get. PVC pipe also has a very frustrating tendency to bind in a fitting. So before you screw any components together, apply a liberal coating of dry bar soap to the pipe-end threads to lubricate them.

Neither PVC nor polypropylene thrives on extended exposure to direct sunlight. Store the rinser accordingly.

And finally, if you mess up and get a connection seriously out of alignment or, more likely, reversed by 180 degrees (believe me, I’ve done it), you can usually make things right by cutting the naughty pieces apart and splicing things back together with straight couplings (3/4-inch slip x 3/4-inch slip).


Assembly Instructions


1. Center Frame: Essentially, the rinser consists of three horizontal, square frames connected by vertical supports. The center frame is the most complicated and will determine the dimensions of the top and bottom frames. So we’ll start there.

a. Cut eight pieces of pipe to 55/8 inches in length. Cement one piece into each end (not the 90-degree side opening) of four of the tees (plan symbol C, page 45). Now measure the total length of one of these assemblies from pipe end to pipe end (it should be very close to 121/2 inches) and write this figure down somewhere where you won’t lose it. This measurement will be used later to determine the length of the side pipe components for the top frame.

b. Next, assemble the middle frame using four of the 90-degree side outlet reducing elbows (plan symbol A) for the corners. Be sure to note on the plan that the side openings of the tees on the side pieces you already assembled will point outward from the center of the frame. Installing 12-inch pipe nipples (E) snugly, but not too tightly, in the threaded side outlets of the elbows and sighting across them during assembly will help you check the component alignment, as the nipples should always be parallel.

c. Holding an elbow flat on the work surface with the pipe nipple pointing upward, cement one end of one of the side pieces into it and quickly rotate the tee so that its side is also flat on the work surface and its side opening is pointing in the opposite direction of the unused opening of the elbow. Using the same procedure, cement an elbow onto the other end of this side assembly. Next, build one more assembly exactly like you built this one.

d. Cement one end of one of the two-side assemblies you haven’t used yet (just pipe-tee-pipe) into one of the elbows of one of the side assemblies you just built, again being sure that the side opening of the tee points outward. Cement its twin into the other elbow. When you get through, you will have three sides of the frame assembled in a “U” configuration, with exposed pipe ends (no elbows) at the ends of the legs. The fourth side of the frame has elbows ready to receive the leg ends of the “U.”

e. Apply cement to the insides of the two elbows and the outsides of the pipe ends. Hold the “U” and the side pieces flat on the worksurface, and slide the elbows all the way onto the pipe ends. Use your mallet or two-by-four to fully seat the connections. Also, a second pair of hands really helps here, as you’ll need to work quickly.

f. At this point you have a fully assembled, excruciatingly aligned, perfectly square middle frame. No? Don’t worry. The top frame will help pull everything back together.


2. Top Frame: So we’ll proceed to the top frame, which is quite simple compared with the middle frame you just built. You’ll have no serious alignment concerns with this frame, as the angles are predetermined by the corner elbows.

a. Screw (don’t forget the soap) four 90-degree side outlet reducing elbows (A) onto the ends of the four 12-inch pipe nipples you previously screwed into the elbows of the middle frame.

b. By screwing the nipples in and out of the elbows, try to get all of the legs as close as possible to the same length, with the elbows aligned with those of the middle frame. Turn the frame over and place it on your worksurface like a table to make the final adjustments. You may notice at this point that the legs are splayed somewhat, resembling those of a newborn calf trying to stand for the first time. Don’t worry. Remember, the sides of the top frame will pull these into alignment.

c. Next, you are going to install the sides of the frame into the corner elbows. This is another one of those places where a second pair of hands will be very helpful. Cut four pieces of pipe to the length you noted in step 1a. Cement one end of one pipe into any elbow. Cement the other end into the elbow that adjoins the other end of the pipe,
tapping the connection home with your mallet or two-by-four. You will need to spread the legs slightly to make the connection.

Work your way around the frame, making all of the connections. The final one will be the most difficult. What you have now is a PVC box frame.


3. Connecting Middle and Top: Now you are going to install the elbows that will receive the tops of the legs connecting the middle and bottom frames.

a. Cut four pipe sections 21/4 inches in length and cement these into the openings on the sides of the tees on the middle frame.

b. The next step will be to install 90-degree elbows (B) onto the ends of these pipes so that they will point straight down. This will actually be straight up in assembly position, as you will need to have the cube resting upside down on the top frame. To help with your alignment of the elbows, cut four sections of pipe to 15 inches in length (you will use these later for the sides of the bottom frame) and temporarily install them snugly, without cement, into the four elbows. Now, with the assistance of a carpenter’s square or something similar that will give you a 90-degree angle, cement these elbows onto the ends of the four protruding pipes, sighting across the temporarily installed 15-inch pipe
sections for proper alignment. When finished, remove the temporary pipes, but keep them handy.


4. Bottom Frame: The next step will be to fabricate the bottom frame.

a. To build this frame you will first need to determine the length of the pipes that will form the sides. Cut two pieces of pipe 21/2 inches in length. With the cube still resting on its top frame, install them snugly, without cement, into any two adjacent elbows on the middle frame. Now install two 90-degree elbows (B — you should have two left) onto the ends of these elbows (again, snugly, without cement) and align them so that their openings directly face each other. Measure the distance between these two elbows (face of elbow to face of elbow), add two inches, and you have the lengths of the sides of your bottom cube. This measurement should be about 131/2 inches. Cut three pieces of pipe to this length (using the pipes you cut for step 3b) and set them aside.

b. You will notice that one of the sides of the bottom frame has a tee (C) through which passes the horizontal section of the water supply pipe. To determine the lengths of the two sections of pipe that will be cemented into the ends of this tee to form the fourth side of the frame, use the following procedure. Measure the overall length of the tee (rounded to the nearest 1/8 inch) and subtract two inches. Subtract the result from the length of the other three side pipes and divide by two. Cut two sections of pipe to this length (using the last piece of pipe left over from step 3b) and cement them into the ends of the tee. You will eventually drill through the back of the side opening of this tee, but that will come later.

c. Proceed with the assembly of the bottom frame, using 90-degree side outlet reducing elbows (A), just as you did when building the middle frame. Use the remaining pipe nipples to help with alignment. Be sure that the tee points outward.


5. Connecting Bottom to Middle: You are now going to install the legs that join the bottom frame with the middle frame.

a. Screw a reducing adapter (plan symbol G) into each of the corner elbows of the bottom frame (don’t forget the soap) and seat them completely.

b. Cut four sections of pipe to 21 inches in length. Cement them into the elbows on the middle frame.

c. The next step will be like trying to coax an unwilling tomcat into a pet carrier, so definitely grab a second pair of hands. Place the bottom frame on your worksurface (or, preferably, your driveway) with the openings of the reducing adapters pointing up. Hold the assembled cube with the legs pointed downward over the bottom frame. Apply cement to the openings of the reducing adapters and ends of the pipe legs. Quickly insert the ends of the legs into the reducing adapters, push the entire cube assembly/legs down firmly, and tap the legs home by applying your rubber mallet or two-by-four to the tops of the elbows. When you are finished, you will have a rather bizarre geometric shape consisting of two open box frames joined at 45 degrees to each other.


6. Water Supply Pipe Preparation: Now its time to make the hole through the tee in the bottom frame to accommodate the horizontal section of the water supply pipe.

a. Install a one-inch spade bit in your power drill and place the framework assembly upside down on the driveway or floor so that it rests on the top frame. Ease yourself into a chair. Have someone hold the framework firmly in place. Holding the power drill with both hands (it may try to get away from you), drill directly through the opening of the tee and through its back. Use short bursts of power for most of the trip then, as the bit starts to bind when you are most of the way through the back, pull it back a little and open ’er up to finish the hole.

b. Using your half-round file, enlarge the openings in both the front and back of the tee so that a piece of pipe will slide through it with hand force only but still fit snugly.


7. Webbing Straps: Next, we’re going to leave this opening temporarily and proceed with the installation of the webbing straps on the middle frame. It is this webbing that will support the shoulder of the carboy during the rinse cycle.

a. The straps will go across the top of the middle frame, wrap around the side pipes, and be secured with screws and washers to the backs of the side pipes where they will not be visible. Install the straps next to the ends of the tees and they will be properly positioned to support the shoulder of the carboy.

b. These straps go across the tops of the side pipes, but you are going to install them while the rinser framework is upside down. Therefore, you will install them across the bottoms of the side pipes. If you happen to get them wrong, just change them around.

c. When installing the straps, place both of those going in one direction over the tops of those going the other way — don’t weave them. This will give you more even support. Also, the straps should be fairly tight but not overly so. They will loosen slightly with use, which is okay.

d. Again, with the assembly upside down, check the two dimensions across the middle frame and use the longer one to measure and cut all four straps. Hold the strap fairly tightly across the opening of the middle frame, wrap it around under the side pipes to the middles of the backs of the pipes and add 1/2 inch to each end. The surplus will give you room to install the holding screws and washers.

e. Cut four sections of webbing to this length with scissors and melt the ends slightly to keep them from unraveling. Just slightly melt the ends, don’t light them off. Keep some water nearby just in case.

f. Drill eight 1/8-inch pilot holes for your screws in the backs of the side pipes, 1/2 inch from the ends of the tees.

g. Using an awl, ice pick, or large nail, open a hole through the middle of one end of a strap, about 1/2 inch from the end. Screw a screw with a washer through this hole and fairly tightly into one of the pilot holes. Wrap the strap around the outside of this side pipe, across the opening of the middle frame, around the opposite side pipe, and secure the end just as you did on the opposite side of the frame. Install all four straps in this manner.

8. Water Supply: Now, finally, you’re going to assemble the water supply for the rinser. This basically consists of a vertical pipe (that I will call the vertical supply pipe) on the outside of the framework, a short horizontal section (I’ll call this the horizontal supply pipe) that passes through the tee of the bottom frame, and an assembly of pipe nipples, couplings, and the spray head (vertical supply assembly) that goes up through the middle of the framework and delivers the rinse water to the carboy.

a. Assemble the vertical supply assembly, consisting of two 10-inch pipe nipples (D) and the two couplings (F), with the remaining 12-inch pipe nipple (E) in the middle. Remember the soap. Leave the shrub head off. When all screwed together, this assembly will probably look a little crooked. Don’t be concerned.

b. Cut a 12-inch section of pipe and slip it through the tee in the bottom frame. Cement the 90-degree reducing elbow (H) onto the end that is inside the framework.

c. With the rinser framework sitting upright on its bottom frame, place the vertical supply assembly down through the middle square of the webbing and screw it into the elbow on the end of the horizontal supply pipe. By moving the horizontal supply pipe in or out through the tee and screwing the nipples in or out (as mentioned in 8a, they will probably be a little crooked), position the vertical supply assembly so that it is as close as possible to the center of the square.

d. Cut a section of pipe to 29 inches in length. Cement your last two 90-degree elbows (B) onto the ends of this pipe, with the openings pointing in the exact opposite directions.

e. Now, this step is going to take some eyeballing. Hold the vertical supply pipe, with the elbow facing the framework, next to the section of horizontal supply pipe that comes through the tee. Position it so that when it is connected to the horizontal pipe it will be vertical (parallel to the bottom legs of the framework) and aligned with (just touch) the outside corner of the middle frame elbow. Mark the horizontal supply pipe at the face of the elbow, add one inch, and cut the supply pipe here.

f. Cement the elbow onto the horizontal supply pipe, being sure that the vertical supply pipe and the vertical supply assembly are parallel.

g. With your file, slightly flatten the corner of the middle frame elbow where the vertical supply pipe will sit next to it. Better yet, if you can, file in a shallow groove.

h. Strap the vertical supply pipe to this corner with the two-inch hose clamp (L). You’ll have to unscrew the clamp all the way and open it up to get it around. Locate the clamp around the side outlet shoulder of the elbow. Put a dab of cement between the vertical supply pipe and the elbow, and then crank the clamp down just tight enough to hold everything is place.

i. Cut a section of pipe 21/2 inches in length and cement it into the elbow at the top of the vertical supply pipe. Onto the exposed end of this pipe, cement the adapter (I) and then screw on the brass hose swivel (J).

9. Spray Head: Finally, you’re going to drill the holes for the spray part of the vertical supply assembly.

a. Clamp the brass shrub head (K) in your bench vise, seat the adjustment screw in the top all the way down, and drill a 1/16-inch hole directly through the middle of the screw.

b. Remove the top 10-inch pipe nipple from the vertical supply assembly and install the shrub head on one end. Wrap the nipple with a piece of towel or something else soft and put it in the bench vise. Approximately 3/4-inch below the shrub head, drill a series of six 1/16-inch holes spaced evenly around the circumference of the nipple. These holes should point upward (toward the shrub head) at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. (Folding two adjoining sides of a piece of paper together at the corner makes a good 45 degree angle for a guide.) It will be easier to drill the angled holes if you first start them straight in and then move the drill to the desired angle. Approximately 3/4 inch below this line of holes, drill another series of 1/16-inch holes pointing directly outward at 90 degrees. Finally, another 3/4 inch lower on the nipple, drill a third row of holes angled downward at 45 degrees. Stagger the rows so that the holes are not directly in line vertically.

c. Screw the 10-inch nipple back onto the top coupling of the vertical supply assembly and you’re finished!

Using the Carboy Rinser

Set the frame on some surface, such as your lawn, which you don’t mind getting wet and connect the garden hose. After the interior of the carboy has been thoroughly soaked and brushed, place it upside down on the rinser with the vertical supply assembly passing through the neck. Turn on the hose full blast and leave it on for several minutes. If the water starts backing up in the carboy, turn the pressure down slightly. When finished, turn the hose off and all of the water will drain out of the carboy. You can let it air dry in this position if you wish.