Drill-Powered Carboy Cleaner

I honestly can’t pinpoint exactly what got me started in homebrewing. I was looking for a new hobby and literally stumbled into it. I kid you not, before I brewed a batch, before I had bought a single grain, I had already transformed a cooler into a mash lauter tun, made a copper immersion wort chiller, and modified a previously unused turkey fryer to make it brew-friendly. That’s one of the things that attracted me to this wonderful hobby 2-½ years ago; the ability to personalize your equipment and the freedom of knowing that your process or setup may be different from everyone else’s, but it works for you and you end up with good brew.

When I finally started brewing, I learned quickly that a carboy brush is designed to spackle the walls, surrounding cabinets, and the user with undesirable crustiness from within. Sure, it does a good job cleaning the kräusen ring and it’s cheap, but I was sure there was a better way. I scrounged DIYs on various Internet forums in search of a better way and found that soaking it with OxiClean overnight seemed to be the default for most folks. For the first few batches, I did just that — I waited. I’d fill a carboy up half way with some sort of detergent then carefully flip it over and balance it in a bucket to let the suds do the work. Most of the time the place I picked to let the carboy sit and clean itself was in the way of my wife or I, but I couldn’t dare move it out of fear of spilling the water all over the counters and the floor, not to mention dropping a carboy could be catastrophic. I needed a better way; a way to speed up that process because leaving carboys soaking in the kitchen for an extended time wasn’t an option in my world anymore.

Driving through the automatic car wash one day, as I watched the giant spinning cloths, I wondered, ‘why not try to make a small one of these to clean the innards of my carboys?’ The only thing I had on hand was a Shammy cloth in my stash of car washing supplies, so before heading to the local hardware store I drew up a quick sketch of how to attach the cloth to the end of a rod. I realized I could attach the other end of the rod to my power drill. With a design in mind, I spent about 10 minutes at the hardware store and gathered $16 worth of supplies, including an aluminum rod. When I was about to leave, I realized the aluminum rod was long enough to cut in half and I had enough Shammy material to make an extra, so I bought two additional nuts, flat washers, and lock washers and made one for a buddy that brews. The thread protector already came in a two-pack, so for a grand total of $18 (add $6-$8 more if you have to buy a Shammy) and an hour of my time, I had a tool for me and a gift for a friend, and you can, too!

Tube cutter (or simple scoring tool)
Vice grips
Small slip-joint pliers
Thread cutters (die, ¼-inch, fine or coarse)
Sand paper

(1) 18-inch (46-cm) aluminum rod, ¼-inch diameter
(2) nuts, ¼-inch (use same thread pattern as the die you used)
(2) flat washers, ¼-inch I.D., ¾-inch O.D.
(2) external tooth lock washers, ½-inch I.D.
(1) thread protector, ¼-inch
(1) Shammy cloth

1. Cut the aluminum rod
Gather all of the tools required for this build, which can be found in the picture to the left. Using the tube cutter, cut your aluminum rod to the desired length. I made mine about 18 inches (46 cm) long, which is long enough to reach the bottom of a glass carboy without being too long. You just need to score the rod enough to bend it with your hands. Clean up the new end with sandpaper to remove any sharp edges.

2. Thread one end of the aluminum rod
While holding the rod with your vice grips, cut threads on one end. You’ll need to thread about 1-1 ¼-inch (2.5-3.2 cm) of one end of the rod. The aluminum cuts very easily so you should be able to do it without cutting oil or lube for this small task.

3. Cut slits at end of cloth
Cut and shape the Shammy. You will not use the whole Shammy, just cut at least 4 strips, roughly 4 inches by 7 inches (10 cm by 18 cm). Once you’ve got your strips of Shammy cloth cut, fold each in half lengthwise and feather one end by cutting several ½-inch to ¾-inch (1-cm to 2-cm) slits with your scissors.

4. Cut hole at the other end to slide cloth onto rod
Round off the other end of the folded over Shammy by cutting the corners and then poke a small hole, approximately ½-inch (1 cm) from the rounded edge, so you can slide it over the rod. Repeat this step for all four strips and set them aside for use in a moment.

5. Assemble your carboy cleaner
Assembly time! Start by threading on one nut, then the flat washer, and then the lock washer. Add all of the Shammy pieces in some sort of a symmetrical pattern to aid in balance. I had four pieces of Shammy, so a cross pattern suited my application just fine. Place the other lock washer on top and finish the stack with the flat washer and nut. The very last thing to put on is a thread protector. This isn’t just for aesthetics; it will prevent the sharp aluminum threads from contacting and etching the glass on your carboy. The picture to the right shows the order of assembly.

6. Put it to use
Make sure the Shammy is damp. Add one gallon (3.8 L) of warm water and OxiClean (or your cleanser of choice) and gently lay your carboy on its side. Put your new carboy cleaner in the carboy and attach the other end to your drill. Run your drill on its lowest setting to prevent the Shammy from just wrapping around the aluminum rod. Periodically roll the carboy to ensure the entire kräusen ring is exposed to the cleaner.