grapestompers - winemaking supplies and wine kits
Search Products
Shopping Truck
Home
Catalog
Winemaking Information
Specials
Customer's Corner
Contact Us
About Us
Policies
Location

Sanitation and Winemaking

If you were less than pleased with your latest winemaking effort, look no further than your kitchen sink for a logical explanation. It's been said - and rightly so - that 90% of winemaking failures can be traced to poor cleaning or faulty sanitation.

The most common symptom of a wine that was made under less than sanitary conditions is a wine that has "off" tastes or an "off" odor. Under worse conditions, the wine may be so bad it will have to be thrown out - and that would be a shame.

What does "sanitize" mean?
Before we go much further, you should understand that sanitation is NOT the same thing as cleaning or sterilization. Sanitizing means reducing or removing bacteria and other undesirable microorganisms via heat or chemical means. Cleaning involves removing visible dirt and residue from your equipment, while sterilization means that everything (germs, worms and personality) is killed, and besides - it isn't realistic or even desirable to create a sterile state during the winemaking process.

Achieving good sanitation isn't rocket science; just use some common sense. For instance, don't use your mouth to start a siphon! Instead, use a sanitized siphoning device or suction bulb and an uncontaminated piece of tubing.

The Sanitation Cycle
There are several methods winemakers can employ to achieve sanitation, but the cyclical process of cleaning and sanitizing should always follow this general rule of thumb:

Wash everything just before use and then wash again when the job is finished.

Here's a breakdown of what we mean...

  1. Inspect equipment
  2. Clean equipment, paying special attention to small crevices (like scratches in plastic), nooks and crannies where bacteria and other microorganisms love to hide, grow and multiply.
  3. Sanitize equipment (see directions and methods below.)
  4. Rinse equipment (may not be necessary, depending upon sanitation method used.)
  5. Use equipment
  6. Rinse equipment immediately after use.
  7. Clean equipment
  8. Sanitize equipment
  9. Allow equipment to air dry
  10. Store equipment (cover it or stopper it to keep dust and bugs out.)
  11. When ready to use equipment again, go back to step one and start over.

What Should I Sanitize?
Generally speaking, anything that comes in contact with your must or wine must be sanitized - and this especially includes your hands, which are a great source of microorganisms and lactic acid bacteria. The most common pieces of winemaking equipment that require sanitation include:

  • Stoppers or bungs
  • Airlocks
  • Carboys
  • Bottles
  • Tubing
  • Thermometer
  • Fermenting buckets or demi-johns
  • Wine thiefs
  • Sample jars
  • Hydrometers
  • Bottling wands or systems
  • Racking canes
  • Siphoning equipment (like the Fermtech Auto Siphon)
  • Measuring devices, such as measuring cups and spoons
  • Stirring paddles, rods, and spoons

What are some approved sanitation methods for winemakers?
In the following paragraphs, we will explore the most common ways to sanitize winemaking equipment. We will also provide you with directions to make one U.S. gallon of sanitizing solution with each sanitizing agent described.

Boiling
The most basic way to sanitize equipment is to boil your equipment in water. No chemicals are involved, and all you need is a source of heat, water, and a large vessel to hold the water. As you learned in grade school, high temperatures applied over a length of time will sanitize most anything. Home canners have known this for years.... they dunk their glassware in boiling water before filling them with food.
METHOD: Boil equipment in water for at least 5-10 minutes. Note: Minimum sustained water temperature must be no less than 170 degrees for fifteen minutes.

Chlorine
Chlorine (free available chlorine, in the form of household bleach) is the most universally accessible sanitizer and is an excellent cleaner and disinfectant. However, if winemaking equipment is not rinsed well with copious amounts of hot water after sanitation, you may inadvertently leave some chlorine residue behind. At the very least, this will impart "off" tastes to your wine - or worse, it can ruin your wine. We generally use chlorine for sanitation in emergencies only, when we can't get other (more desirable) sanitizing chemicals.
METHOD: Mix 1/4 teaspoon unscented household bleach (Clorox or generic brand) with one gallon of water. A little bit goes a long way. Strictly speaking, it only takes 0.25 PPM (parts per million) of pure chlorine in distilled water to create an effective sanitizing solution. Since most household bleach contains a 5% solution of available chlorine, we generally err on the side of caution and mix 1/4 tsp. with a gallon of water. This will create a batch of solution that contains around 25 PPM of chlorine, which is more than ample for our purposes. If making this solution, we always recommend pouring a little water in the bottom of a gallon jug, adding the bleach and then shake the heck out of it. Slowly add more water, shaking after each addition, until you reach 1 gallon of water.

Iodine
This chemical is also an effective sanitizing agent, and like chlorine, a little bit goes a long way. Usually, an acid such as phosphoric acid has been added as a cleaning agent.
METHOD: We've seen manufacturers recommend adding anywhere from 2 to 4 ml per gallon to get the desired strength. We stock the B-T-F Iodophor Solution, which is effective at 12.5 PPM (0.3 oz diluted in 3 gallons of cool or lukewarm water) with only 60 seconds of contact time required. You don't even have to rinse or air dry your equipment after use; just drain well. Read the label directions carefully to be sure. Not only can iodine stain your clothes or skin, but it can be as toxic as chlorine (never add to hot water!), so please handle with care.

B-Brite
B-Brite is a proprietary formulated sanitizing powder made specifically for the winemaking and beer making industry. It cleans with active oxygen, and does not contain chlorine or bisulfite. It also removes fermentation residues, so we recommend it for its effective one-two punch (cleaning and sanitizing), a combination that is hard to beat.
METHOD: Mix one tablespoon powder to one gallon water. Rinse equipment with clear water after cleansing.

Campden Tablets
These little tablets (Potassium Metabisulfite is the active ingredient) work wonders; not only do they "clean" must prior to pitching yeast, but adding crushed campden tablets to water also makes a great sanitizing solution for winemaking equipment. Each campden tablet supplies about 67 mg / liter (PPM) per gallon at pH between 3.2 and 3.5. As it turns out, it's good to have a little free SO2 in your wine (between 40 - 60 PPM), so there's no need to rinse your equipment after sanitizing with this agent.
METHOD: In order to obtain a sanitizing solution of 940 PPM SO2, crush 14 campden tablets and dissolve into 1 gallon of water.*

Potassium Metabisulfite Powder
You can also buy Potassium Metabisulfite in powder form, usually sold to home winemakers in 4 ounce bottles or 1 pound bags. This chemical works well as a sanitizing agent because it is a bacterial inhibitor. Since there's no inert materials in this form (unlike campden tablets, which have some fillers added), you don't need to add a lot of crystals to make a great sanitizing solution.
METHOD: Dissolve 1 teaspoon of crystals in one gallon of water to make a solution comprised of 940 PPM SO2.*

To help you visualize the differences between the methods of sanitizing equipment, we've comprised a matrix of the various methods, listing the advantages and disadvantages of each. If the sanitizing agent is stocked by grapestompers, the item number is shown. After you look at the table of information, we'll tell you what grapestompers recommends.

Sanitation Method

Advantages

Disadvantages

Boiling

No chemicals are required.

Time consuming; need large vessels to wash equipment in; burn hazard; requires steady source of heat.

Chlorine

Common chemical, readily available in the form of household bleach; inexpensive; good cleaning agent.

Hard to remove from porous material; if not properly rinsed off with hot water, residues can ruin the taste and smell of wine; potentially hazardous (chlorine gas, poisonous in high concentration); ruins clothes and corrodes stainless steel.

Campden Tablets
(#2731)

Easy to measure correct amount. Long shelf life. No rinsing necessary.

Sulfites cause allergic reactions to some people; must crush tablets before mixing. Same active ingredient, but more expensive than metabisulfite powders.

Iodine
(B-T-F Iodophor - #2745)

Economical; a little dab'll do ya.

Toxic in high concentrations; stains clothes, skin and porous materials.

Potassium Metabisulfite crystals
(#2732)

Long shelf life; economical. No rinsing required.

Need to take care in measuring; some folks are allergic to sulfites.

B-Brite
(#2721)

Cleans with oxygen, without the use of chlorine. Cleans and sanitizes.

Must rinse equipment with clear water after use. Slightly more expensive than metabisulfite powder.

Note: Heat destroys the chemicals mentioned above, so store them in a cool, dry place.

WARNING: Never, EVER mix any of these sanitizing agents with one another! The gases that are released by the chemical reactions can be very toxic.

Here are some other chemical sanitizers we have not discussed, but they can be used as well:

  • CTSP (Chlorinated TriSodium Phosphate)
  • Quaternary ammonia
  • Washing soda (sodium carbonate)

Please refer to other online resources to find out about these agents.

Recommendation
Our favorite way to sanitize winemaking equipment is to make a solution using the potassium metabisulfite crystals, because it's effective and we don't have to rinse afterwards. Even though campden tablets accomplish the same thing chemically, we tend not to use campden tablets because the metabisulfite powder to sanitize is more economical - and we don't have to bother crushing the tablets prior to mixing with water.

Every now and then when we need more "oomph" to clean as well as sanitize, we use B-Brite followed by a thorough clean water rinse.

Conclusion
Sanitation, an extremely important step in winemaking, is easy to accomplish if you follow a few simple guidelines and take the time to do a complete and thorough job.

  • Before you use equipment, clean it and sanitize it.
  • After you use it, rinse, clean and sanitize equipment. It's very difficult to clean out crevices once residue has dried.
  • Air dry and store covered to keep out contamination and bugs.

 

*Note:
The directions mentioned for making metabisulfite solution are the ones recommended by the manufacturer of the products we stock at grapestompers. We mention the concentration in parts per million of free SO2 for a reason... so you can understand the strength of the solution you are making. We have read several winemaking texts and web sites, and no one seems to agree upon the threshold (expressed in parts per million of free SO2) needed to properly sanitize winemaking equipment. Some sources state you only need 200 to 300 PPM to accomplish sanitation, while others mention a need for higher concentrations.

In fact, one of our favorite books about winemaking (The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey) contradicts itself regarding this very topic. On page 26, Terry tells the reader to make a one cup solution of water and five crushed campden tablets ( a 5510 PPM solution). On page 48, Terry recommends mixing 50-60 grams of Metabisulfite crystals with one gallon of water (7615 to 9138 PPM), while on page 248, he tells you to use 4 oz. of crystals in one quart of water (17270 PPM)!

Quite a range of advice, eh? If anyone knows FOR SURE what the accepted range (in PPM) is supposed to be, please enlighten us and we'll pass the word along!