How to clean keg beer lines

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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
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
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.

Secondary gas valves
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.

beer line cleaning container
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.

Beer line cleaning bucket
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.

Beer line cleaner mix
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.

Drawing beer line cleaner through cellarbuoys
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.

Drawing beer line cleaner through bleed valve on electric pumps
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 Beer line cleaner
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.

Beer line cleaner in cellarbuoy
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.

purple beer line cleaner
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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67 COMMENTS

  1. 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. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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..

    • 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    • It is good practice to inform everyone that you will be cleaning the lines as well as putting up signs that line cleaning is in progress to prevent any possibility of this happening.

    • Also to add and probably a little obvious, but try not to use glasses to perform any part of the line clean, If you are using verification cleaning products IE Purple, Use white containers – this should ensure
      : A) no one will drink from a white (ice cream style container) b) its easier to see the colour change. If you need any more advice on the Verification cleaners please let me know.

  8. 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.

  9. Very comprehensive but some bits you may want to put in.
    1)Turning off the gas is also important as the CO2 will react with the beerline cleaner changing its chemical nature and making it either less effective or basically do nothing. Cleaning systems should use compressed air to pump liquid through to the bar taps not gas.
    2) Lines should be left for 3 x 10-15 minute soaks, this makes sure the lines are completely clean and saves on time in the long run.
    3) Always make sure you follow the dilution rates of the product you use, too much solution will ruin your lines over time meaning they will have to be replaced far more often and cause you more problems costing you money.

    • Hi James, Point 1 great, Point 3 great, Point 3 not sure about, just leaving any solution in the line for this period of time does not mean that the lines will be completely clean. The manufacturers would like to think its the case but alas it isn’t. The process of re dosing the solution is to replace the line volume with new fresh solution to perform a secondary clean. If you are using a good verification line cleaner ( Desana Verify) it will tell you exactly how much dirt remains in the line via the oxidisation of the chemical to change the colour from the original purple to Blue Green or yellow. Any other chemical that does not have verification chemistry is guessing that the lines are clean and the only way you find out when you have an issue is when the customer tells you. TOO LATE.

    • Hi James
      You are using some pretty broad statements here, I have never heard of Co2 gas reacting with beer line cleaner; there are three of four different types – alkali, caustic or the eco-friendly types you haven’t said which. We’ve used gas with cleaning for years even using pressurized cleaning containers. The only reason they stopped using them is because it was cheaper and safer to use a gas pump.

      Your Quote “Cleaning systems should use compressed air to pump liquid through to the bar taps not gas”.????WHY NOT??? If there was cross contamination through the pumps the cellar-buoys would continually fill with gas.

      If you clean your lines weekly, drawing fresh solution through twice should suffice, unless you are using a substandard cleaner.

      And your third point is already covered in the article” Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions mixing the right amount for the size of your container.”

      • As a brewer I can verify that CO2 does reduce react with NaOH (caustic) in effect reducing the concentration in the cleaning solution, I imagine the same is true for KOH, another common component of line cleaner.
        However, the level of exposure in a line cleaning operation is negligable.
        Also the phenolphalein indicator (the purple bit) will inform you if your caustic has been degraded, So I would argue that CO2 is fine.
        Does anyone have a good stragegy for approaching a system with many long lines, high value products and relatively low throughput of beer per line, i.e. beer staling and wastage are a problem e.g. in craft beer bar? Cheers.

          • You should always clean your beer lines regardless of the sales you have. Beer is a food and will leave residues in lines which over time will taint the flavour, odour, appearance etc. You wouldnt turn around to a chef and say “If you can sell enough food don’t bother cleaning the kitchen”

  10. HI,

    Is there any set rules or laws which relate to the length of time that beer lines must be cleaned. As where I drink I think its a bit hit and miss. It would be very useful for a downloadable guide so I could print it.

    Many thanks.

    • HI Paul regrettably not, beer hygiene is unregulated, however the brewers would expect you to clean the lines every 7 days. However there are some companies that will tell you different but even then it is no more than 30 days. In terms of downloadable guides! It depends what you want – there are many guides to cleaning beer lines but most of which will talk about a 7 days clean. Let me know if you need any more info.

  11. Often a major financial investment for the ambience to encourage customers for food and drinking ,So often in my many years associated with the quality of the beer journey from cask / keg to the glass is the importance of ensuring that the stubborn bacteria ( not seen by the naked eye ) biofilm – plaque ( in dental terms ) can produce itself many times on all internal surfaces – the result – SPOILAGE -loss of customers.

    Whist there are many beer line cleaners and glass washing products on the market I can only propose that on selection of such products that the publican ensures the products are from companies dedicated to providing technical support – with the additional training and service from independent cellar service companies
    Inn Doctor continues with years of experience to study all chemical products that are market available Products formulated for ensuring with correct applied procedures will go someway to maintain quality product to those customers. With the repeat request for ” Another Beer Please “”

    Awareness to topping up cellar skills is vital – this is from someone who as just completed a cellar course with over 50 years of chemical cleaning from Brewhouse to the Glass. – never to old to learn

    • Stan I would like to invite you to join me on an AVANI Beerista Workshop. I think you will get a huge amount from it. And once you have done it you can add it to your amazing repertoire.

      • With an appetite to always listen -learn and offer constructive,comments any invitation to enter into a discussion my door is always open.

      • Hi Thanks for the reply but that seemed to be more to do with pulling beer through that has been dormant in the pipe. I just wanted to know that straight after line cleaning by staff pull through 4 pints of the line that has just been cleaned before serving.

        They also pull 4 pint of after changing a barrel, which they do not need to do as I have the Cask widget system in place that offers the same tap off facility as stillage.

        Cheers

        • After pulling 16 pints of clean water through each line, a lot of people pull off half a pint, personally I pull about 3/4 pint of beer through to clear any water residue. I think four pints per line would be very excessive.

        • Thanks all and the landlady was right, didn’t consider that the beer in the pipe is the end of the barrel beer that you just poured into a pint, so that needs to be pulled through 🙂

    • No it isnt Lee, if the lines have been properly and fully rinsed with clean water before switching back to beer then the only bit of wastage you should have will be the tiny bit that’s been diluted that comes out the line.

      If want to talk it through or need some advice then drop me a line at direct@proton-group.co.uk and we can see how you can resolve the issue.

  12. One comment and one question

    Is there a clash of interest with breweries saying clean every seven days, This means wasting 4 times the amount of beer than a monthly clean.

    Do you need to clean pipe which sell cider ?

    • Hello Jim,

      Yes you do need to clean the pipe for cider, while cider has less of the proteins it will contains some yeasts (plus any wild yeasts and bacteria found in any cellar) and of course a lot of sugar for these to feed on and grow.

      We ourselves recommend cleaning every 7 days and we do not sell beer like a brewery does so no conflict of interest. The reason every 7 days is specified by the brewery is because they have performed a lot of tests on line cleanliness and their own products, from these tests they have found that to give the perfect serve and the perfect taste this is the best length of time between line cleans.

      The longer you leave it the more likely you are to have issues develop in the lines that will then require costly time consuming remedial works to be performed.

  13. Re paragraph by the 5th picture of the water capsule; my gas pump is completely dead and not pulling through any water to the lines do you have any idea what this could be?

    We have had lines split and that many product changes now that we have couplers unused on the wall. Could this be the issue (gas getting into lines)? Although we haven’t had this issue in recent weeks and all has been fine with our gas pump…

    I logged this issue once before about a year ago with Innserve and when they had arrived it had just sorted itself out! Checked nitrogen and gas, no issues.

  14. If you have all the gases to the couplers turned off, look to see if there are bubbles coming up to the cleaning gas pump if there are, check all joints are tight, jubilee clips are tightened etc. Check the down pipe in the cleaning bottle isn’t split. If there are bubbles in the pipe just after leaving the gas pump look to the fittings on the gas pump itself. That should cover most things.

    • This would be covered in a cellar management course, you would have to do a search of your area in google to find out who is doing it.

  15. Hi there ,
    I was about to clean the lines in my cellar but after doing the all regular bits ( cooler off, coupler attached to cleaning socket , solution ready in the cleaning bottle) I cannot successfully fill the cellarbuoy with the cleaner.
    It seems it’s straggler to pull the line cleaning in circles and cannot go ahead.
    Any suggestions?

    • Sounds like you have left the gas on to one of the couplers it is usually the Guinness. Quoted from above

      “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.”

      Just make sure there are no bubbles coming up from the bottle it could be sucking in air from the joints.

  16. Apparently many people do not know that beer lines can be kept clean in-situ with specific ultrasound devices.
    They remove both calcium oxalate (beerstone) as well as the biofilm formed on the pipe walls.
    This was proven with several studies and tests. If more info is needed i will be happy to provide.

  17. I am 84 years old from New York, and remember local pub visit maybe 19 years old before I went to Korea , one morning stopped in to see a tap cleaning process I thought was recirculating through 2 taps to the barrels with a sand and water mixture , a glass vessel showed the circulation , they said the piping was made out of block tin metal , before plastic tubing was invented or approved, I have since years later collected a bit of the piping from old bars that replaced with plastic, I melt it for shiny fishing weights or use for soldering , soldering rods made by pouring molten tin over an old courigated wash board to make triangular lengths for soldering copper pipes safer than lead solder
    Are there any more old tin pipes used for beer , yeast resistant ?not any more craftsman left who can solder anymore
    Ed Fanuzzi

  18. Not read anywhere that cleaner should be left in the lines to soak overnight. 3days ago I was handed a half pint of fluid that look like beer but tasted like cleaning fluid. No notice was hung on the pump, and no advice about how likely it was that I have been poisoned! I haven’t been to A and E, but have had heads aches and nausea and upset stomach. Reading peoples experiences online, I’ve been very lucky. Going back today to see what cleaning fluid they used. Signs should always be put on the Despensers to say they are being cleaned. But am I right believing cleaner should never be left in the lines over night?

  19. Hello could someone give me some information on a portable beer line cleaning system qualflow what it is and how it works and cost if known thanks

    • Hello how would you perswade a bar owner that the need your services to keep their beer lines in great condition I was reading long before the eye can see problems and any contamnation in the beer lines there could be a problem with the beer

      Should you offer to clean one or two lines for free so the can judge the quailty of your work can you clean lines separately or must all the coupling from the kegs be connected to the cleaning line at the same time are the all piped together if this is the case is there a cap you can fit over the lines you are not cleaning thanks for any help

  20. Hi Damian, I have used Qualflow products. I think you may be looking at the portable unit they produce.These are in common use by dedicated brewery techs in Ireland, where line cleaning is done by the brewers as part of their service.
    Depending on your level of expertise these units could be an option for you. They are fairly expensive units and are not commonly used in the UK. It may be feasible to use one of these units but using the on site brewers cleaning system might be a cheaper and better option. Your only investment would be buckets, cleaning fluid and your skill.
    The most important aspect of beer line cleaning is safety. To ensure this your knowledge of beer dispense systems must be thorough. Experience is everything. To embark as a beer line cleaning service you need to be aware of the potential risks to yourself and the public.
    As for getting business from landlords you would have to demonstrate to them that there is a cost saving and that you can offer added value to their business by improving or at the very least maintaining beer quality.
    Be aware your potential competitors are offering some amazing claims for their systems, anything from two weekly cleans to monthly or even longer! Super dooper cleaning fluids, electronic gizmos, automated machines, these are your competitors and even brewers are offering line cleaning to their customers. Yes, it’s a competitive world in the line cleaning business.
    If you have the skills and determination then why not have a go.
    Cheer.

  21. Thanks David for your reply when you have cleaned the lines do you take the fossets apart in the bar and soak and clean them or do you just clean the diffusers and sparklers thanks

  22. Hi Damian,Just the diffusers. It’s good practice to clean the taps and fonts with a soft cloth and generally wipe down all the equipment in the cellar. Things look nice and clean and it shows the landlord you are doing a good job. Simple things like washing the cellar floor down with a hose, tidying and removing empty kegs and leaving the cellar neat and clean all adds value to your service. You need to tell the landlord of any faults or potential problems you may come across. Generally as well as line cleaning you are checking the whole system, remote coolers, under counter coolers, gases, cellar cooling for operation and even glass cleanliness. If you have a look at Inndoctor there is lots of information on glass care.
    Finally I always use litmus papers to check the flush water after the clean, believe me it will put your mind at ease as well as impressing the landlord. Litmus papers are available from Proton. I always use Protinate. They also have a product with a purple tracer in it which is very good and if you ever have a technical question they are very helpful indeed.
    Bit of advice, get to know as much as you can about all types of equipment. The more knowledge you have the more professional you will be. Which brings me on to how you project you business. Get a uniform with a logo on it, business cards, get a web site, these are easy to set up and will not cost you much. These are important things when canvassing for work. The more professional you look the better. Offering the first clean for free is one way of getting your feet through the door and has worked for me. Anyway just a few pointers, hope you find these helpful.

  23. Thanks David for your help and to everyone that has answered my Questions and to Paul jones for a great information site

    • Thanks Damian, but it’s not just me the guy who just answered your questions has a lot to do with it and Facebook side of things.

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