Do I Need To Sanitize My Wort Chiller Or Not?


Keeping your brewing equipment clean and sanitized is of chief concern to all brewers, however, there are certainly some phases of brewing which require a little less sanitizer than others.

When I first started brewing I was extremely worried about getting something wrong, so I went overboard with sanitizing everything, but did I really need to?

It’s not necessary to sanitize a wort chiller in the same way you sanitize other brewing equipment. The high temperature of the wort around or flowing through it already does that job. However, it’s essential to thoroughly clean any wort chiller before and after use as organic material can build up.

That being said, there are still some other things you need to be aware of before you throw your sanitizer away for good!

Luckily, I’ve gone ahead and listed them all out in this article.

Why are brewers so concerned about sanitizing equipment?

As beer is a living, breathing thing (OK, I’m not getting dramatic here) its health is something we need to ensure as brewers.

Unfortunately, the world is full of nasty little bands of bacteria that like nothing more than getting into your wort or beer and ruining your entire day.

Even if you have cleaned your equipment and home brewery until your fingers are sore, bacteria can still be present and still infect your latest batch. This is why you need to sanitize as well as clean.

The major negative effect of not sanitizing your equipment is that these troublesome bacteria will lead to off-flavors in your beer, such as tasting like vinegar (see my article here).

However, there is no doubt that the risk of a bacterial infection is higher during some phases of brewing than others, especially when the wort or beer is below 160°F/71°C.

This, of course, begs the question of whether or not you need to sanitize your wort chiller or not.

Cleaning versus sanitizing

Before I go on, I just want to address the difference between cleaning and sanitizing as it is an important difference when talking about wort chiller maintenance in particular.

Cleaning

Cleaning’s aim is to remove any organic material from the surface of the brewing equipment in question.

When dealing with sugary wort, it’s easy to get a build-up of this material on your brew kettle, keg, wort chiller, etc. If left uncleaned, then these deposits of organic material can adversely influence the next beer you brew with the same equipment.

CleanIng is always easiest, I find, immediately after you have used the piece of equipment or terminated your brew day. If left until later, you’ll find that those sugar and hops particles get very stubborn and can take time to remove.

Sanitizing

Sanitizing can only happen after the equipment has been thoroughly cleaned, otherwise, you may not prevent off-flavors despite killing off any micro-organisms.

Of course, that is the goal, to remove anything from the equipment which can rival the only organism we want in our beer, yeast.

The best way to sanitize most pieces of equipment due to their size and use is a non-rinse sanitizer such as Star San (great deals on Amazon right now!). Another method is using heat.

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What is a wort chiller?

Chances are that because you found this page you already know, but just for anyone who is doing their preliminary research into homebrewing, let’s discuss it.

A wort chiller is a neat little piece of kit which allows you to reduce the temperature of your wort before you introduce yeast to it (pitching) and start fermenting it as beer.

There are three main models or variants, the immersion chiller, counterflow chiller, and plate chiller. The main difference is that the immersion chiller design is put directly into the wort whereas the other two types have wort and wort pumped through them.

All designs work on the principle of heat exchange which passes the heat from the wort to the cooler water flowing through the wort chiller.

For more information on the ideal type of wort chiller for your situation, read my in-depth guide to choosing the best wort chillers.

Immersion Wort Chiller

Q: Do you need to Sanitize it?

A: No

Well, no exactly no!

The immersion wort chiller is, unsurprisingly, immersed into the brew kettle and this is how it chills the wort. You should place your wort chiller into your boil about 10-15 minutes before you turn the heat off.

The reason that you don’t really need to sanitize your before you place it in the brew kettle is that the boiling wort will kill off any bacteria before they have a chance to affect your wort, and later your beer.

However, you really should clean your wort chiller thoroughly between each use to remove sugary residue and hops particles. You don’t want to put something which is dirty into your wort, even if all the bacteria will be killed off eventually!!

You should especially pay attention to the gaps between the coils as these are areas where much of the organic material will build up.

If you have just bought a brand new immersion wort chiller, make sure that you clean it before you use it as there will be a lot of oily residue left on it from the manufacturing process, and you don’t want that in your beer glass!

In terms of the internal part of the actual metal coil, you don’t need to worry about cleaning this or sanitizing it as it’s always sealed and never has contact with the wort. The worst possible scenario is that you have a leak that drips into the wort. (see my article here)

To avoid this make sure you have secure fittings and opt for a wort chiller with ‘arms’ which not hover over the wort but are angled to sit outside the brew kettle.

Counterflow Wort Chiller

Q: Do you need to Sanitize it?

A: No, not really

A counterflow wort chiller is a step up from the immersion chiller in terms of complexity and also efficiency. Also, this type of wort chiller is an external one and requires the use of a pump (see my guide to the best wort chiller pumps here).

The way it works is by pumping cool water and hot wort through two parallel coils in opposite directions to each other’s flow. This gives you very swift cooling potential.

This means that the water tube isn’t a concern at all, much like in the immersion wort chiller. However, you do need to worry about the wort tube as it will have the same build-up of organic material as any other piece of brewing equipment.

What you need to do to prevent any issues with this is to clean your wort chiller thoroughly after each use and to give it another clean before you use it again.

You should follow these steps to clean you wort chiller before and after each use:

  • step 1: Flush your wort chiller with a hot caustic solution (2.5%) for 40 minutes at 140-160°F (60-70°C).
  • step 2: rinse with water for several minutes
  • step 3: (For storage) fill the wort chiller with iodophor (25ppm) or high proof alcohol, ensuring you plug both ends.
  • step 4: (For use) run boiling hot wort through the tube before commencing the chill.

source

Plate Wort Chiller

Q: Do you need to Sanitize it?

A: No, but clean the heck out of it.

From what I’ve read and heard from other brewers, a plate chiller is both a blessing and a curse. It’s extremely efficient at chilling wort, but it’s a pain in the behind to clean properly.

This is because the plates have very small gaps between them, to accelerate heat exchange. But these crevices are ideal places for little bits of hops and other material to get stuck in.

It seems clear that the best way to clean them and have them sanitary is not to wait too long. What I mean is that you don’t want to leave the organic material time to dry and get really lodged into the chiller.

  • step 1: Flush your wort chiller with a caustic solution (2.5%) for 5 minutes at 140-160°F (60-70°C) one direction, then 5 minutes another direction.
  • step 2: repeat step 1 until the liquid runs clean of any organic particles.
  • step 3: Soak in a cleaning solution for 3-4 hours.
  • step 4: rinse with water for several minutes in both directions
  • Step 5: (before use) rinse with hot water to sanitize the wort tube.

Recommended wort chillers & cleaners

Immersion chiller

Northern Brewer Silver Serpent

Check out the latest prices and deals on Amazon.

Counterflow chiller

NY Brew Supply Deluxe 

Check out the latest prices and deals on Amazon.

Plate chiller

HFS(R) Homebrew Beer Wort Chiller

Check out the latest prices and deals on Amazon.

Cleaners

Five Star PBW Cleaner 

You can also find this great cleaner on Amazon or in your local brew shop

One Step (no-rinse)

I’ve used this cleanser a lot and it’s great for all sorts of uses, you can get it today on Amazon.

Sanitizers

Star San

By far the most popular sanitizer for brewers and rightly so, check out Amazon and compare prices to your local brew shop, you’ll be surprised!

BTF Iodophor Sanitizer

Another great sanitizer to use and also fairly cheap nowadays online, check out the latest deals on Amazon.

Phil - BeerCreation

Hey, I'm Phil. I'm passionate about all things beer. I love making it, drinking it and best all, learning about it!

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