In my younger days I always remember frequenting a pub where the Draught Guinness had a different flavor to the other Guinness I drunk in regular bars. Whether it was better or worse I couldn’t quite work out. It was just different.
When I finally asked the landlord of the pub what made his Guinness taste so different he revealed his secret was in not cleaning the lines! According to Jim, the landlord, allowing the beer to sit in the line between kegs allowed for more flavors to mature which would otherwise be killed off by a sanitizer!
That was the last time I drank Guinness in Jim’s pub (in fact I think the last time I drank there at all!)
It’s not the flavors maturing I was worried about, but the yeasts and associated bacteria found in beer being allowed to fester!
If you have your own draft beer at home, whether it’s a small home bar with a kegerator or a pro-level multi-tap draft beer system, you have probably experienced those same funky flavors I tasted many years ago in that Draught Guinness. Maybe you have had the problem of the beer foaming or, worse still, “floaty bits” in your beer.
Blame the temperature, blame the gas or blame the beer itself, but 9 times out of 10 off flavors or foaming issues will be down to the draft lines not being as clean as they should be. Funky flavours and floaty bits aren’t something you want in your beer, and they can even be harmful to your health.
Let’s take a look at the importance of keeping your kegerator lines clean, how often they should be cleaned, and whether you really need a complicated kit to clean your beer lines?
Why Do Kegerator Beer Lines Need Cleaning?
Perhaps the most obvious reason is to flush out any old beer from the line making way for the next brew. You don’t want your ultra hoppy IPA taking on the flavors of that malty winter stout you last had running through the kegerator!
That’s not even mentioning the fact homebrew is normally unfiltered, which means any leftover yeasts will work the way through the system too. Mold, bacteria and wild yeasts may also find a way into the beer, and through the lines too, no matter how good your sanitation practices are.
The other main factor why you need to clean your beer lines regularly as well as the faucets is calcium oxalate, commonly known as beer stone. Think of it like a plaque similar to the effects of a night washing down bacon-wrapped goodies with your favorite beer that collects in your arteries.
Beer stone is the sediment which can harbour some leftover ingredients of the beer along with spoiling bacteria. Beer stone creates tiny nucleation sites which promote beer gushing and poor head retention in your draft beer.
In more severe cases it may even cause those white floaters you sometimes see in beer.
As homebrewers, we know the importance of sanitation in every step of the process, from thoroughly sanitizing our equipment, preparing healthy yeast starters and fermenting in temperature controlled environments. So why is it that many of us can be so lazy or carefree about cleaning our lines?
How Often Should You Clean Your Beer Lines?
Its recommended that you should clean your kegerator beer lines with a caustic beer line cleaning solution bi-weekly or at least every time you change the keg.
Although there are no legal requirements set up by the Food Safety Agencies yet, the International Beverage Dispensing Equipment Association (IBDEA) recommend to beer distributors that restaurants and bars should clean their lines every two weeks as a minimum.
Once a quarter (every three months), you should also clean your draft lines with an acid-based beer line cleaner which can help to remove the organic materials such as sediment and beer stone from your equipment.
Finally, when talking about cleaning your draft beer lines, remember you should also replace the lines periodically. The more beer you brew and serve through your kegerator the more frequently you will need to replace the lines.
For most of us, replacing the lines annually should suffice, but chuggers may need to change them more often, while the sippers can maybe go a bit longer before replacing the lines.
Can You Clean Kegerator Beer Lines Without a Kit?
Yes, although professional bars and restaurants will normally recirculate a cleaning solution through each of their beer lines for several minutes, this can be impractical for most home brewing enthusiasts.
While recirculation is certainly beneficial for longer beer lines often found in commercial premises where the beer can travel 20 feet or more from the keg to the tap, for most home draft systems it is not as necessary. For most home draft systems where the line will probably be 10 feet or shorter, a simple soak and rinse should be enough.
You could always call in a draft installer from the local area who would be happy to clean your beer lines for you – for a fee of course! Not only is this method quite costly, but unless you have got several systems or quite a few taps it is not worth the expense.
Our local homebrew club used to call in a draft installer once a month but we were talking about over 20 taps, about 5 kegerator systems and a couple of Pro-level Multi-tap draft systems!
For most homebrewers, cleaning your kegerator system at home is easy enough to do and can save you money too (we like saving money, especially at the moment!).
The easiest option is to buy a simple beer line cleaning kit like this one from Amazon.
- INCLUDED WITH KIT: An easy to use instruction sheet. Featuring 8 ounces of Brew Clean powder cleaning solution. 1 plastic bottle to mix the cleaning solution, gently squeeze the bottle to prevent leakage. 1 ball lifter for holding the check valve open on your beer coupler. 1 metal faucet wrench to loosen and tighten your faucet for an all-around cleaning experience. 1 faucet brush for those tough spots. 1 connection hose to connect the cleaning line directly to the tower or standard shank.
- EASIEST KIT ON THE MARKET: This all-in-one cleaning kit includes everything you need to clean stainless steel, Cornelius, Firestone style kegs, liquid/beer lines and other glass, plastic or rubber homebrew equipment.
- SAFE TO USE: The 8 ounces of Brew Clean solution is a safe and easy to use powder solution. It will not cause rust on kegs/ homebrew equipment. This formula actually helps protect metal from corrosion. Only 1 tablespoon of the Brew Clean solution is needed for each cleaning (enough to do about 20 cleanings).
At between $30 and $40 it’s not going to break the bank, but you probably have most of the equipment at home already to Do-It-Yourself.
All you need is a spanner wrench for disconnecting the posts or coupling of your keg, some beer line cleaning solution, a cleaning jar to contain the cleaning solution, a method of pumping it into the beer lines, and a bucket to collect any dirty beer, spent solution and water.
We also recommend you get some latex or rubber gloves and safety glasses, as you can be using some pretty caustic chemicals when cleaning those bacteria-laden lines.
Can You Clean Beer Lines with Dish Soap?
No, you shouldn’t be using dish soap with anything that comes into contact with your beer. Dish soap can leave residues that will be harmful to the beer. The alkaline nature of soap will reduce head retention and fragrances, and other chemicals found in dish soap can effect your beer flavor, often creating off flavors or aromas in your beer.
Most beer lines are made of clear vinyl, and while dish soap may “clean” the more stubborn stains from the tubing, you can’t always guarantee it will have killed all the bacteria. It can also be difficult to check if any sediments of the soap remain in the beer line.
Although you can use natural compounds like vinegar or lemon juice with baking soda dissolved in it, or even bleach in the cleaning stage, you will need to ensure it is thoroughly rinsed to avoid contaminating the next batch of beer..
Personally, I prefer, as many homebrew enthusiasts do, a no rinse sanitizer solution which has been approved as food safe for use in restaurants and bars too. A product like the Logic One Step Original No Rinse Brewing Sanitizer available at Amazon makes the perfect kegerator beer line cleaning solution.
- [NO RINSE CLEANSER] One step powder is the original no rinse sanitizer for brewing. It gives a non alkaline brewery wash to the brewing supplies and equipment and therefore requires no rinse.
- [MULTI PURPOSE] One Step sanitizer is a non-foaming brewer sanitizer used with any homebrew sanitizer equipment such as a carboy cleaner or a kegerator line cleaner.
- [USE IT WHEREVER] One step sanitizer is formulated to be used as both a standard brewing cleaner and a final rinse solution. Logic One Step beer sanitizer for homebrew is safe for brass, copper, aluminum and stainless steel, polycarbonate and vinyl.
I feel a specific beer-line cleaning solution gives the cleanest and safest results, although feel free to experiment with the more natural ingredients if you don’t have any sanitizer to hand or if the local brew shop is out of stock (at a push you can always use baby bottle Sterilizing formula, just don’t tell my wife that’s where all her Milton’s Sterilizer has gone!).
How to Clean Kegerator Lines Without Kit?
While there are many commercial beer keg line cleaning kits available on the market, they can be expensive and may not be necessary if you have a few household items on hand. Below, we will explore how to clean kegerator lines without a kit, using items you likely already have in your kitchen.
Step 1: Disconnect the Keg
The first step in cleaning your kegerator lines is to disconnect the keg and empty any remaining beer from the lines. To do this, turn off the CO2 tank and release the pressure from the keg by opening the pressure release valve. Then, use a wrench to remove the coupler from the keg.
Next, place a clean bucket or container under the faucet of the kegerator and open the faucet to let the remaining dirty beer in the lines drain out. Once the beer tap lines are empty, close the faucet and remove the faucet handle.
Step 2: Prepare the Cleaning Solution
To clean your draft beer lines, you will need a cleaning solution. You can make your own beer line cleaning solution using household items, or you can use a commercial cleaner. For this method, we will be using a homemade cleaning solution.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 gallon of hot water
- 1 tablespoon of baking soda
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Mix all of the ingredients together in a large container until the baking soda has dissolved. The vinegar and lemon juice will help to remove any stubborn stains or buildup, while the baking soda will help to neutralize any odors.
Step 3: Clean the Lines
Once you have prepared your cleaning solution, it’s time to clean the kegerator beer lines. There are a few ways to do this, depending on the equipment you have available.
One method is to use a hand pump to push the cleaning solution through the lines. You can purchase a hand pump specifically designed for cleaning kegerator lines, or you can make your own using a bicycle pump and a length of tubing.
To use a hand pump, insert one end of the tubing into the cleaning solution and the other end into the faucet on the kegerator. Then, use the hand pump to force the cleaning solution through the lines, making sure to push it all the way to the end of the line.
Alternatively, you can use gravity to clean the lines by filling a clean bucket with the beer line cleaner solution and placing it on a table or shelf above the kegerator. Then, attach a length of tubing to the faucet and submerge the other end of the tubing into the cleaning solution. Open the faucet and let the cleaning solution flow through the lines and into the bucket.
Whichever method you choose, make sure to let the cleaning solution sit in the lines for at least 20-30 minutes to allow it to break down any buildup or residue. You can also gently agitate the lines by gently shaking the tubing or tapping it with a spoon.
Step 4: Rinse the Lines
Once the cleaning solution has had time to work, it’s time to rinse the lines to remove any remaining solution. To do this, fill a clean bucket with cold water and attach a length of tubing to the faucet.
Submerge the other end of the tubing into the bucket and open the faucet to let the water flow through the lines. Make sure to flush out all of the cleaning solution, and continue to rinse until the water runs clear.
Step 5: Sanitize the Lines
After rinsing the lines, it’s important to sanitize them to ensure that all bacteria and yeast have been killed. For this step, you can use a commercial sanitizer such as One Step No Rinse Brewing Sanitizer or make your own using household items.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 gallon of warm water
- 1 tablespoon of bleach
Mix the bleach and water together in a clean container. Then, using either the hand pump or gravity method, pump or pour the sanitizer solution through the lines.
Make sure to let the sanitizer sit in the lines for at least 10-15 minutes to ensure that all bacteria have been killed. After the sanitizer has been in the lines for the appropriate amount of time, rinse the lines again with warm water to remove any remaining sanitizer.
Step 6: Reassemble the Kegerator
Now that the lines are clean and sanitized, it’s time to reassemble the kegerator. Start by reattaching the faucet handle and coupler to the keg. Then, turn on the CO2 tank and set the regulator to the appropriate pressure for your beer.
To test that everything is working properly, pour a small amount of cold beer from the faucet or beer tower and taste it. If everything tastes good, you’re ready to enjoy your freshly cleaned and sanitized beer!
Tips for Maintaining Clean Kegerator Lines
Cleaning your kegerator lines is an important step in maintaining the quality and taste of your beer. However, there are a few other things you can do to keep your kegerator in top condition:
- Keep the temperature of your kegerator at the appropriate level for your beer. Different beers require different temperatures, so make sure to research the ideal temperature for your favorite brew.
- Keep your kegerator clean and free of spills and debris. Regularly wipe down the inside of the kegerator with a damp cloth and make sure to clean up any spills or drips as soon as they happen.
- Use high-quality couplers and faucets to prevent leaks and contamination. Cheap or poorly-made couplers and faucets can lead to leaks and contamination, which can affect the quality of your beer.
Cleaning Kegerator Lines Without a Kit – Final Call
Cleaning your kegerator lines doesn’t have to be a difficult or expensive task. With a few household items and a little bit of time, you can keep your kegerator lines clean and free of harmful bacteria and yeast.
Regularly cleaning your kegerator lines not only helps to maintain the quality and taste of your beer, but it also helps to ensure that your kegerator is safe to use. By following the steps outlined in this post, you can enjoy freshly tapped beer in the comfort of your own home, without having to worry about contaminants or off-flavors.
Now if only I could trace down Jim and his funky Guinness and tell him what I’ve learnt since!