Here’s a project that was inspired by Doc at The Brewing Network (check it out at www.thebrewingnetwork.com). In one of their first episodes Justin gushed about one of Doc’s time and energy saving brewing gadgets. Doc kindly gave an explanation about how he used a submersible pump to recirculate cleaning solution through an overturned keg or carboy. He used a main spray head to clean the body of the vessel and also used auxiliary lines to feed cleaning solution through the gas in and beverage out dip tubes.
Here are the basic items you’ll need:
• A submersible pump
• A bucket to put the pump and cleaning
• A bucket lid or other type of support for
on top of the bucket
• Various pipe fittings and adapters
• A ball valve
• Two hose barbs
• 3 feet (~1 m) of tubing
Just like any project, the equipment and materials you use can be swapped out based on availability, your preference or your budget. Find and re-purpose materials you have lying around the house to save some cash. With that being said, the parts and equipment list below is what I used from bottom to top. I built this project using imperial copper pipe fittings. If you are interested in building this project in a country where metric pipe fittings are the norm, you will need to modify the parts list and build accordingly. Stainless steel tube and Swagelok-type fittings will resist erosion from strong alkaline and acidic cleaners, so using stainless is another good alternative to copper. Plus, if you use Swagelok you don’t have to do any welding or soldering. Also, you can use PVC pipe if you don’t want to solder.
Since the initial build four years ago I’ve added a heat stick so I can heat the cleaning solution right in the pump bucket and I’ve added a rotating spray head to perform a more thorough cleaning job. The cleaner could also be used for boil kettles and mash tuns (provided that they are rinsed of grain and other large particles).
Important: Water and electricity can cause serious electrical shock. The pump (and heater if you modify) should be plugged into an outlet with GFI protection.
Parts and Equipment List
• A large saucer
• A 5-gallon (19-L) bucket with lid
• A pump. The pump is really the heart of this beast. I used a 1⁄6 HP WaterAce R6S Utility Pump with a max flow of 25 GPM. I then wandered around with the pump in hand at the hardware store for what seemed like hours to find the right fittings to adapt it down to the 1⁄2” copper pipe.
• I used a monster copper female threaded fitting x 1” sweat
• One copper 1” to 3/4” reducer bushing
• One short section of copper 3⁄4” pipe
• One copper 3/4” x 1/2 x 1/2 tee
• One copper 1/2” sweat to 1/2” mpt
• One brass 1/2” fpt ball valve
• One brass 1/2” mpt close nipple
• One brass 1/2” fpt tee
• Two nylon 1/2” mpt x 3/8” barb fittings
• Two sections of 3/8” vinyl tubing each 16” long
• Four small hose clamps
• Two 5/16” barb x 1/4” flare swivel nuts
• One gas in keg quick disconnect (QD)
• One beverage out keg QD
• Some 1/2” copper pipe
• One bulbus copper “water hammer air chamber” for the spray wand
Note: You don’t need to have the QDs dedicated to this cleaner but you probably want to have an extra set so you don’t need to remove them from your draft system just to clean a keg.
1. The Build
You’ll want to dry fit everything together before any parts are soldered so you’re sure to get the correct heights and lengths. You’ll also want to find the location of any screwed in fittings when they are tight. Take your main threaded fitting and screw it into the pump. Then mark the direction that the ball valve needs to go. This mark will be used to align the fittings when they are soldered. Also make sure you design your cleaner so the ball valve is a few inches below the rim of the bucket.
2. The ball valve
Solder your parts up again making sure that your ball valve will be pointing in the correct direction when the unit is connected to the pump. Do not solder the pipe going up to the main spray head you will want to leave it free so you can add different length pipes for your various cleaning applications.
Assemble all of the pieces that get attached to the pump. Thread on the ball valve, the nipple, the tee, and the hose barbs. Press one end of each section of tubing over the nylon hose barbs and clamp them in place with two hose clamps. Press the two 5/16” barb by 1/4” flare fittings into the open ends of the tubing and then clamp them in place with the two remaining hose clamps.
4. Modify the bucket
You will need to modify your bucket lid by cutting a hole for the keg opening and the QDs. My cutout is an odd shape to accommodate both ball and pin lock kegs. You’ll also need to cut a slot in the edge for the cord. I had to drill holes around the edge of the lid to allow liquid trapped in cavities to drain back into the bucket.
To support the weight of a carboy on top, I used a hole saw to cut a large hole capable of fitting the carboy’s neck in a scrap piece of 2 x 6 (see figure 6). It adequately held the carboy but was awfully unstable so I used a jig saw to create a chamfer around the hole. This improved carboy stability tremendously. I have also seen people use milk crates and the like to hold the carboy.
5. Measure the risers
You will want to solder the union on to the water hammer bulb. Once that’s done you can start measuring out the lengths of copper pipe (risers) you need to get the spray head 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) from the top of your vessels. I use a shorter riser while cleaning carboys and a longer one when cleaning kegs. I put a slight bend in my risers in order to center the pipe in my bucket. Using a pair of pliers slightly deform each end of the riser so that it fits snugly into the fittings on the pump and the spray bulb. This will prevent the riser or bulb from separating due to water pressure. Using a 3/32” drill bit, drill as many holes as you can into the top of your spray head. You may need a number of bits, and use a vice or drill press if you can. Don’t hold it while you’re drilling. You may want to add dimples to the bulb with a punch prior to drilling to help keep the bit from wandering. To specifically target that stubborn kräusen line in your carboys, you can add a few holes along the sides of the bulb or your riser.
6. Using the cleaner
To clean carboys I shut the ball valve, place the wooden cradle over the spray head, and then slide the carboy over the spray bulb. When cleaning kegs I install the QDs on the lines, open the ball valve half way, and put the lid on the bucket. Then I place the keg over the spray bulb and connect the QDs. The keg rests right on the bucket lid (I may end up needing to reinforce the lid with something as I have cracked it). Everything should be good to go. I highly recommend using Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW), it foams far less than OxiClean and does not foam at all when heated over 100 °F (38 °C). If it’s needed, foam control can also be used to prevent a foamy mess. Solution for cleaning carboys should not be heated over 100 °F (38 °C) to prevent the thermal shock from cracking the glass. Kegs can be cleaned with 150 °F (66 °C) solution, which will clean more effectively.
Bill-John Neidrich is a Process Engineer by profession and a professed brew gadget freak. He is a member of the Ithaca Practitioners of Alemaking (I.P.A.) homebrew club in Ithaca, New York. More of Bill-John’s projects can be seen at www.flickr.com/photos/billjohnn.
BYO.com Exclusive: Add-Ons
Since the initial build four years ago I've made two additions. I added a heat stick so I can heat the cleaning solution right in the pump bucket and I've added a rotating spray head to perform a more thorough cleaning job.
Some brewers with these setups say that a little giant brand pump running for 20-30 minutes will heat the water to 100+ °F (38 °C). Mine will not so I accessorized the system with a heat source. A 1500-watt heatstick was built to heat up the cleaning solution and maintain its temperature.
Directions for building a heatstick can be found on the Internet, for instance I found the directions on the Cedar Creek Brewing website (www.cedarcreeknetworks.com/heatstick.htm) to be very helpful. Once built, add a hole for the heatstick in the top of your bucket lid and that's it. I learned a couple things the first time around. If I hang the power cord over the top of the keg the heatstick will maintain an upright position, 150 °F (66 °C) kegs are kind of hot so wear some rubber gloves, and if I take the temperature of the cleaning solution up to 160 °F (71 °C) the thermal protection circuit on the pump kicks in and you'll be out of business until the pump returns to room temperature. So I've learned to keep my max temp to 150 °F (66 °C) or less.
Note: The heat stick is NOT a UL approved device, read it's potentially dangerous if not respected. The heating element must always remain submerged, and only plug the heatstick into a GFCI protected outlet.
The rotating spray ball is by no means a necessity but it does give a more thorough cleaning. The rotary spray nozzle provides improved mechanical cleaning action due to the intermittent spray blast. A stationary spray ball relies mostly on the cascading flow of liquid over the inner surfaces. I purchased the 80-91 Miniature PVDF Mini Whirling Spray Nozzle from GW Kent (www.breweryparts.com). To use the rotating spray ball you will need to solder a 1/2" sweat x 1/2" MPT fitting on the end of an extended riser. This spray ball is less than 1 1/4" in diameter so it will fit in kegs and 6.5-gallon (25-L) acid carboys but it would not fit in most of my5-gallon (19-L) carboys.
I also use this pump system to clean my conical fermentors. I use a longer 1/2" copper riser to get the head up close to the top of the fermenter.