How to clean keg beer lines

Cleaning fluid in lines

The most important, yet one of the most hated jobs for Landlords or Landladies alike is beer line cleaning. Probably because cleaning keg beer lines, takes up, what most publicans have little of…“Time”. As a result this is often neglected and can be catastrophic to a business. If you don’t have clean lines, your keg beers will not taste as good as they should,  your customers will not say anything they will just walk.

While cleaning beer lines is straightforward, it may confuse someone who hasn’t done it before or not for a very long time, and hopefully this article will prove helpful for them. I have ten customers who I clean lines for, so I am well aware of the problems associated with line cleaning.

If you can’t set aside at least two and half-hours of your time a week to clean lines and equipment, then you should employ someone who will. Near enough isn’t good enough. And if your beer doesn’t taste good, then you will lose customers or even worse, drive them to the supermarkets. Not to mention wastage through fobbing.

As a Technician, who has been doing the rounds for many years, I would often be told “this bitter is so bad I have to clean the line every four days”. If that is the case, then the line isn’t been cleaned properly in the first place. Or the Indian Restaurant, who isn’t particularly bothered with his beer, until you happen to mention that, when his customers have bad stomachs next day they will blame his food.

keg couplers in cleaning main

Before handling cleaning fluid you should have the necessary protective gear. PVC gloves (I prefer the gauntlet type), goggles and a PVC apron. If you get cleaning solution into a cut or rash on the skin it really stings and if you get it splashed in your eye it hurts like stink!! Be careful with the neat stuff as it can be absorbed through the skin and this could lead to blood poisoning.

To begin, just because the customers do not go into your cellar does not mean it should be neglected. Cleanliness is just as important down here as it is in the bar. So the first job when you remove the keg couplers from the container should be to clean them in a bucket of warm water with cleaning fluid solution mix. Also, clean the cleaning sockets on the wall (cleaning main) that the keg coupler fits into. When you are done, wipe the boards down with a cloth. Nothing looks worse than beer stains everywhere.

Inbev Coupler in its Cleaning Socket

All the keg couplers should be inserted into their relevant cleaning sockets, with the gas to each container turned off. Why turn the gas off? – Cleaning sockets are usually made of plastic and sometimes this does not provide a very good seal, and can result in gas seeping into the cleaning system causing the taps to spit and blow, and fob detectors, floats to drop. Gas to the gas pumps should be left on.

Turn off the gas to the containers

Turn off the coolers both remote and under counter. “Why turn the coolers off I have been cleaning lines for years with them left on”, I hear you say? Answer – beer has a lower freezing point than water so could freeze in the line whilst cleaning. If you have any of the newer “glycol remote coolers” turn off at least an hour before cleaning, but I would turn them off the night before to be on the safe side. There is nothing worse than having to turn off the remote cooler and wait hours for the line to thaw especially if you have cleaning fluid trapped.

50 Litre (10 Gallon) Cleaning Bottle

Rinse out any water that is in the cleaning container, water that has been in there a day or so becomes stagnant (I have seen cleaning containers with algae before now). Then fill the container with clean cold water. Use cold water for two reasons: hot water will freeze quicker than cold, because there is less oxygen in the water and if you use a pressure container, hot water increases the pressure within that container so it then becomes a safety issue.

Most cleaning systems now have a gas pump to power the cleaning solution/water through the lines. Making sure the pump inlet pipe is inserted in the cleaning container. Switch on the gas pump and bleed any air/gas bubbles that is in the cleaning main through any one of the cellar-buoy / fob detectors – doesn’t matter if you set all the fobs to the clean setting, there always seem to be a couple of fobs where the float drops and you have to go back down the cellar to bleed them again.

15 Litre window cleaning bucket is ideal for T bars

Placing a bucket under the taps, remove the sparklers and diffusers. Then flush the lines with water till all traces of beer are removed. By clearing all beer and debris from the line first you wont waste any cleaning fluid, if not, you could use twice as much.

Make sure you have the right mix for the size of container

There are a lot of different types of cleaning fluid out there, some good, some bad. I would go for one that is recommended by one of the main brewers, then you know it will have been tried and tested and is good. Cheaper will not necessarily mean you will be saving money, more likely you will use a lot more. Carefully follow the manufacturers instructions mixing the right amount for the size of your container.

Bleed Fob detector to fill the glass with cleaning fluid

The cleaning solution can now be drawn through the lines if you are using a clear, line cleaning solution you will be able to tell when the line cleaning solution has reached the tap by using litmus paper. When all lines are full of cleaning solution, return to the cellar and bleed cleaning solution, through the fob detectors. This makes sure the top of the fob is also getting cleaned. If you have electrical pumps you should bleed them as well.

Bleed electric pumps if you have them

After about 15 minutes repeat the process drawing fresh cleaning solution through the lines. You will be able to tell when clean, cleaning solution is in the line by using a glass; the solution will be of a milky appearance until the fresh solution comes through. Or if you are using a dye based cleaner until the cleaner retains a purple or blue colour (the same colour that is in the container, before it is used).

Clear line cleaning solution of a milky appearance indicating there is still yeast present in the line

If the system is heavily soiled you may want to repeat this process a couple more times, but do not leave in longer than recommended by the manufactures instructions on the cleaning fluid container.

Bleed the cellarbuoy to draw cleaning solution into the top, bleed to remove cleaning fluid during the rinse cycle.

When you are happy that all the lines are clean, you can now begin flushing the cleaning solution out of the lines taking any yeast debris that is left.

Thoroughly rinse out the cleaning container a few times until all traces of cleaning fluid have been removed, and fill with clean water.

Dye based cleaning solution indicating line should now be clean

Now flush out the system with water, drawing at least two gallon (10 litres) through each tap. Cleaning solution breaks up and loosens the yeast that is attached to the walls of the pipes; it doesn’t dissolve the yeast like a lot of people think. That is why it is a good idea to remove the sparklers and diffusers before cleaning as they could get blocked.

Don’t forget to bleed water through the fob detectors and the bleed points on the electrical pumps if you have any. When you have thoroughly flushed out the system, check with litmus paper to make sure there is no cleaning solution residue in the lines. Now you can drain the cleaning container and switch off the cleaning gas pump.

Litmus Papers

Connect the keg coupler back on to the beer container, not forgetting to switch the gas back on to the container; I like to draw beer through the fob detector first. This way I know water is not getting trapped in the system, while at the same time setting the fob detector to the serve position.

Then replace the sparklers etc. Turn on the tap and until beer comes through. Now you can switch the coolers back on.

Check that the beer looks and tastes good and pat yourself on the back.

A job well done!!!

 

Looking after beer isn’t rocket science, a lot of call outs to brewery tech services can be attributed to yeasty lines. If you have just taken over a pub and the lines are in a terrible condition you may not get all the yeast out for the first couple of cleans. But perseverance will get you there and when you do get your lines clean, keep them that way.

If you clean the line thoroughly as time goes on you will get to a point where there will be hardly any yeast to remove at each clean. This is when you have reached a pinnacle with your line cleaning. Of course if you require a Blitz clean to speed up things you can get in touch with people like myself who specialise in restoring lines to their original condition.

Cheers and happy stress free beer line cleaning   check list

Paul Jones has worked in Dispense Technical Services for over 25 years with beer and soft drinks. As well as employed by major breweries such as Carlsberg-Tetley and Ansells and for a brief spell with Innserve. Now works out of Newtown, Mid-Wales trading as Pub-Tek

Please feel free to comment or add to this post this post below.

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  25 comments for “How to clean keg beer lines

  1. andy law
    January 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    great web site mate but tell miller to get his finger out at the arena my back is hurting now through carrying him lol

  2. Cris Lipsky
    May 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Great work, hope to hear more from you. Are you working in a Group that you can make such a great Blog?

  3. Caroline
    May 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    I was wondering if you could help me out?? I currently clean my lines manually, but have heard others talking about the beer piper system. Have heard both good and bad reviews, some say it cuts down spillage while others I have spoken to say that its not cleaning the lines “properly”? What are your views?

    • May 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm

      In reply to Caroline.
      This question should have gone on the forum where you could have got a lot of other responses. Wow! You said you clean the lines manually which is the traditional way and my personal view would be, that this is the best way. If you clean the line thoroughly by removing all the yeast from the lines then the beer will taste good, and this is what it is all about, as well as making a profit of course, with one comes the other.

      With a Beer Piper system it will save you on wastage, you clean the line when the container is empty by chasing the beer through the line with water e.g. If you have five pints in a line then you would push four pints through with water behind it. And then you would begin the clean cycle. You just have to justify the monthly rent against beer wastage, though it isn’t totally automated.

      Does it work, “yes”! Of course it will work. Like a lot of other systems out there, the reason you get both good and bad reviews is the human element. Those who totally rely on the system; and then don’t monitor the condition of the lines. Put a torch behind the Fob Detector if it isn’t sparkling then clean it again, and keep cleaning it until it is sparkling, doesn’t matter which system you have. Beer line cleaning is at the end of the day common sense. Whatever system you use, beer lines have to be kept clean, or your customers will just walk. Hope this helps.

  4. Deccatha
    November 17, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    thanks 4 the tips

  5. October 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    How do you take cellar buoy apart to clean, the one that you push up the knob to release the ball?

    • October 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      Would not recommend you take the Cellarbuoy apart if the seals are perished you might not get it back together without it leaking. Best practice would be to call out tech services that’s really their job..

  6. Valentina
    December 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Where and how is the line cleaning fluid stored? How much line cleaning fluid is used per container?

  7. January 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    This is one of the best guides for beer line cleaning… I wish more people would follow it.

  8. Billt Fullwood
    January 18, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Just took over running a pub and found your information very helpful many thanks

  9. Matt
    March 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Can you give me a bell as been out the business awhile!!!!!

    07xxx xxx xxx

    Thanks

    Matt

    • March 19, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      While we are unable to offer technical advice or queries on a personal level, please register with the forum it will only take a minute, we will answer any question you may have, there you can ask for explanations and advice on technical issues.

  10. Paul
    July 11, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    i thought u turned the coolers off as the beer line clean doesnt work under a certain temp?

    when ever i clean the lines, sometimes i find yest in the line under the bar where the line bends and find sedement at the bottom theonly way to clear the line is too strip it?

    any advice thanks

  11. Amanda Daniels
    November 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Hi, I am part of a group of people in the process of inventing a device that will keep yeast out of the beer lines for longer, thus reducing the amount of times lines need to be cleaned. As a part of this we need to know if all lines have a standard bore or not, and if do what is the diameter.

    • John
      August 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      How are you getting on?

  12. rupert
    November 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Mainly 3/16, 3/8, 5//8 sounds like this is something we are all waiting for.

  13. November 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Hi Amanda when you have developed your bit of kit please let us know as we would like to talk to you.

  14. November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Hi Amanda

    Is the equipment that you are developing a yeast inhibitor or something new?

  15. Tim
    March 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Thats a very well written article mate, it was a pleasure to read through and it’s always good to find out your doing it right ;-)

    I do have somthing to add however. I have found that it’s best to use 2 separate contains for clean water and cleaning fluid/water mix. The reason is that I find that even with concave bottomed containers there is always a little cleaning solution left in the bottom and it wastes time to thoroughly wash a single container between steps.

  16. March 7, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for those great comments Tim.

    I’m glad someone has brought this up, the reason I say to use one container being; if you continually use the same containers one for cleaning solution, one for fresh water then. What tends to happen and I see it in pubs all the time.

    The cleaning container discoloured with dye so it is nearly black and the fresh water container half full of water. So people obviously leave cleaning fluid and fresh water in those containers ready to use next time.

    So who knows what strength the cleaning solution is, this can vary product to product, some lose their strength quicker than others.

    Then there is the fresh water container which shouldn’t be classed as fresh water because it has stagnated, not to mention the ring of algae that has formed around the inside. So who knows what you are infecting the clean lines with.

    So while a lot of people do flush out their containers after use a lot don’t, so I think it is the better practice to just use one container and empty it after use.

  17. October 31, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Regarding things like the automated Beer Piper system that someone mentioned some time ago, I am strongly against them. One particular problem is that because it’s a closed system you will not know if anything stops working. As a result the machine may not actually be doing the job and the first you know of it could be the sight of yeast infections growing in your cellar buoys or your beer becoming foul. I’ve actually experienced this problem in a cellar that I ran some 12 years ago.
    Go with a manual line cleaning system. That way you know what’s going into your lines and what’s coming out. You stay in control; a much healthier situation.

  18. Will
    January 4, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    How easy is it to accidentally drink the acid when a member of staff is cleaning the pipes?

  19. Dave Abbott
    January 21, 2014 at 8:34 am

    The pub I drink in is very nice apart from the beer and I am sure the manager is not flushing his pipes out properly as every time I have a drink in there I cannot pee and my kidneys hurt like hell and I cannot pee till the next day, the beers all taste the same, not different like they do in the other pubs around my town, could this be down to not flushing the pipes enough.
    Thanks.
    Dave.

A reply or opinion is welcome