When we talk about packaging your homebrew or wine after fermentation, you can bottle condition and wait a few more weeks for it to be ready (and have bottle trub) or you can do what we think the best option is—Just Keg It!

In this installment of Just Keg It, we will cover the cleaning, sanitizing, and general maintenance of your kegs for use and storage. Like many things with brewing, you will spend a large amount of your time working on keeping things clean and sanitized for use, and that includes the packaging for your end product. Kegs are actually quite easy to deal with when cleaning, but there are a few key points to consider. But these details apply to all kegs, both new and used.

A dirty used keg


Cleaning

Whether you just received a brand new unused keg, a crusty old used keg, or a keg that you just emptied, you are going to have to give it a good cleaning. The bulk of which is simply making sure that the stainless interior of the shell is free of any hardened materials like dried yeast or possibly even old soda. This will usually be built up around the bottom of the keg where the dip tube ends. If it’s a new keg, then you just want to make sure you are removing anything leftover from the manufacturing process before you put your beer in there. In most cases, it will not require a large amount of effort.

Soaking keg
Soaking posts and poppets


Soaking Your Kegs

What most homebrewers do to clean a keg is a simple soak with hot water and a cleaning solution like PBW. When mixed correctly, the cleaner will soak into and loosen or remove most stuck materials. And all you need to do is fill the keg up with hot water, add the cleaner, and let it sit. However, we suggest that you definitely give the keg a good rinse and possibly a slight scrubbing—if necessary—to get the process started. The steps are as follows:

Depressurize the keg and remove the lid.

Give a visual inspection of the inside of the keg and rinse out any remaining debris as best possible. 

Loosen and remove the posts on the keg with a post wrench, socket, or box-end wrench (7/8 or 11/16 wrench—size depends on the type of post, see Just Keg It: Keg Types and Keg Parts for more information on types of posts).

Note: These can be troublesome to remove. If you cannot get the leverage or torque needed to remove the post, then be sure to give yourself time to add CO2 pressure to the hot cleaning solution and push the solution through the dip tube and liquid out post for a few minutes before continuing the soak. This is also a good time to clean out any tap lines with cleaner that you can allow to sit for a short while before rinsing. 


Allow the keg to soak and if you can remove the posts, soak them separately in a bowl of hot cleaning solution. If you can remove the internal components of the post prior to the soak, it results in a better cleaning. These are the smallest parts and the most likely place for hops or other debris to get stuck. 

Once the kegs have soaked long enough to remove any debris and/or the solution is beginning to cool, dump the solution into your next vessel that needs cleaning or to your wastewater. Then rinse the keg with hot water. This includes rinsing the lid, dip tube, post parts, and the ports for the posts. This is a good time to also rinse out any liquid serving lines that were soaking.

Note: We strongly suggest you do not dump cleaning solution and sanitizing solution on your yard. It may be environmentally friendly, but there’s a good chance you’ll have a discoloration in your lawn. 

Mix up a solution of Star-San and water to sanitize the keg and it’s components. Dip the post parts and dip tubes into the Star San and reattach to the keg. Be sure the posts are tightly in place or you could lose CO2 and/or beer. Pour a small amount of the sanitizing solution into the keg.

To take precautions against any leaks, use a liberal amount of keg lube and grease the large O-ring around the lid. Dip the lid in the sanitizing solution and close up the keg with the lid. 

Note: Keg lube can be difficult to remove from your hands and clothing. We suggest using disposable gloves.

Add CO2 to pressurize the keg and shake the solution around to coat the inside of the keg. Use a screwdriver to push some of the solution through the dip tube. We suggest using your liquid serving lines because storing them cleaned and with sanitizer in the line is a best practice.

Dump the remaining sanitizing solution back into the main batch, replace the lid, and pressurize the keg with CO2. Use the pressure relief valve to purge the keg of oxygen. Check for any CO2 leaks with sanitizer solution (there will be bubbling). 

Your cleaned keg is now ready for storage or next use! We suggest giving it a fresh splash of sanitizer on next usage after longer term storage, but it should be good to go. Plus, you filled it with CO2 which allows for a blanket to remain above your beer or wine when you transfer, reducing oxygen contact. 


Keg washer


Use a Keg Washer

You can also build and use a simple keg washer at home with ease. Basically, it’s a sump pump from a hardware store and PVC piping and fittings that creates a tree for the keg, bucket, or carboy to rest on as the water is pushed with pressure through the pipe and into the vessel to be cleaned. Some people prefer to drill holes along the post, some add a spinning cleaning ball, and others just allow the solution to push through and run down the walls of the vessel. 

This method requires a little extra effort and a few purchases, but then allows you to make one batch of just a few gallons of cleaning solution and then you can simply let the keg washer run with the keg on it without wasting as much water. This is also a way to keep the water warm due to the pump heating up. And you can add an arm to the main post of the keg cleaning and attach plastic hosing with liquid and gas disconnects so the cleaning solution can be pumped through the posts at the same time. Just remember not to turn it on without a vessel to be cleaned in position. Then you simply follow the same steps as you would a soaked keg. Rinse, sanitize, and store or use. 

Keg Maintenance Tips

Clean or at least rinse your kegs as soon as they are emptied. It makes it much easier to remove any leftovers. Especially if your kegs sit in a hot garage for any amount of time.

Be sure to clean your serving lines after use. If anything, keep a keg filled with Star San and distilled water to run through your lines after use. That way if they wont be cleaned soon after a keg is emptied, they have less time for any bacterial growth or hardened deposits. We suggest actual serving line cleaning solution, but many homebrewers use hot water and PBW.

Rinse off the exterior of your kegs before storage. Spilled beer draws insects and can create some funky aromas. 

Reuse soaking water to conserve water or build a keg washer and wash multiple kegs on the same day.

—Greg Etzel

Semi-Media Director/Special Event Coordinator for TBI, Producer, Main Writer, Host, and Host Wrangler for Come and Brew It Radio, Homebrew Consultant, Lover of Experiments