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...
- Inspect equipment
- 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.
- Sanitize equipment (see directions and methods below.)
- Rinse equipment (may not be necessary, depending upon
sanitation method used.)
- Use equipment
- Rinse equipment immediately after use.
- Clean equipment
- Sanitize equipment
- Allow equipment to air dry
- Store equipment (cover it or stopper it to keep dust
and bugs out.)
- When ready to use equipment again, go back to step one and start
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
- Stoppers or bungs
- Fermenting buckets or demi-johns
- Wine thiefs
- Sample jars
- 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.
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
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 (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)
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
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
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 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.
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
No chemicals are required.
Time consuming; need large vessels to wash equipment in; burn
hazard; requires steady source of heat.
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.
Easy to measure correct amount. Long shelf life. No rinsing
Sulfites cause allergic reactions to some people; must crush
tablets before mixing. Same active ingredient, but more expensive
than metabisulfite powders.
(B-T-F Iodophor - #2745)
Economical; a little dab'll do ya.
Toxic in high concentrations; stains clothes, skin and porous
Potassium Metabisulfite crystals
Long shelf life; economical. No rinsing required.
Need to take care in measuring; some folks are allergic to
Cleans with oxygen, without the use of chlorine. Cleans and
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
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.
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.
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!