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Beer line cleaning liquids are key tools in the bar manager’s armoury – used regularly, they break-down the deposits of yeasts, proteins and sugars that form in the lines and spoil the taste of the beer.
But not all beerline cleaning fluids are the same, with differences in the chemical composition and functions affecting the price and performance of the solutions.
In most cases, cleaning your beer lines is a weekly chore, although some manufacturers claim to offer monthly beer line cleaning fluids.
There are three types of beer line cleaning liquid in the market and below we’ll take a quick look at each of them, highlighting some of their main features.
The important thing to remember is that cleaning your lines will take time and costs you money – not only in terms of the labour and cost of chemicals, but also in the beer you waste and the water you use – so stretching out the time between cleans can have some major financial benefits, as long as the beer stays good.
These are the original beer line cleaning fluids, developed more than 40 years ago and essentially largely unchanged. There are two main types: clear and purple line cleaners. Purple beer line cleaner is also sometimes called Colour Change line cleaner.
Clear line cleaning fluids are a mixture of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide combined with sodium hypochlorite. Some products in this sector also include additives to soften water and remove scale. Heavy-duty cleaners, such as Protinate from Proton line cleaner, are usually highly caustic.
The caustic (hydroxide) elements aid the line cleaning process by breaking down beer stone and help to stabilise the sodium hypochlorite to improve the products’ shelf life. The hypochlorite disinfects the line, killing bacteria and biological pollutants. However, if the lines are not thoroughly rinsed through with fresh water these products can taint the flavour of the beer.
With the addition of the chemical chloros, developed by ICI in the 1930s, purple line cleaners or colour change line cleaners are basically the same as caustic cleaners and do exactly what you would expect; changing colour when biological pollutants are detected.
There are a variety of colour change products available, with some proving more effective than others at detection. When the line cleaning solution remains purple the line is clear of biological pollutants.
Unfortunately, the chloros can only identify biological contaminants and therefore users who depend on the colour change may not have removed all non-biological pollutants, such as beer stone. It is therefore essential to closely follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Shelf life: Approximately 12 months. It’s probably best to buy branded products rather than cheaper generics, as the lower cost options are often not stabilised properly and can lose their effectiveness in as little as six week
Environmentally friendly: No
Hazardous to health: Yes. The aggressive, caustic nature of the chemicals can be damaging to health and it is advised to take all necessary precautions when using these products.
Stabilised hydrogen peroxide beerline cleaning solutions destroy bacteria in beerlines through a process of oxidisation. When the cleaner reacts with bacteria it is broken down in to H2O and O2 (water and oxygen), leaving no hazardous residues. These line cleaners are highly effective, killing all bacteria present in under 15 minutes.
Most hydrogen peroxide beerline cleaning fluids are stabilised to extend their shelf life. Often, elemental silver is used, which offers antibacterial properties and leaves a residue in the lines which some manufacturers claim can extend the period between cleans. Without stabilisation, the solutions are highly reactive to biological matter (including dust, dirt and even human skin) and can begin to react before you have time to use them. It is therefore essential to wear gloves and ensure that all cleaning equipment is kept very clean.
Unfortunately, stabilised hydrogen peroxide will not clean any non-biological contaminants from your beer lines and scale or beer stone build-up can therefore become a problem if deep cleans are not undertaken at least once a year.
The inclusion of elemental silver as a stabiliser makes these beerline cleaners comparatively expensive, with some costing up to £15.00 per litre.
Shelf life: Most stabilised hydrogen peroxide line cleaners will last approximately 2 years, but care must be taken not to expose the chemicals in the container to any form of biological contaminant.
Environmentally friendly: Yes. These products are fully bio-degradable, non-toxic and non-corrosive.
Hazardous to health: No.
This type of beer line cleaner is less common than the other two and only available from a limited number of manufacturers.
Similar to the caustic cleaners, surfactant beerline cleaning fluid will contain either sodium or potassium hydroxide to remove beer stone, but replace chlorine (the disinfectant) with a different biocidal chemical, such as benzalkonium chloride. These beer line cleaning liquids also often include non-ionic surfactants, such as alkyl polyglucoside, which further aid the cleaning.
Surfactants have a hydrophilic (water loving) and hydrophobic (water hating) end. The hydrophobic end will look to attach itself to soils and contaminants (grease, grime, tannings, yeasts, proteins, etc) in the line, surrounding and lifting the contaminant off the inner surface of the beer line. When flushed through with clean water, the hydrophilic end attaches to water molecules and carries the contaminant out of the line.
Unfortunately, the action of surfactants and benzalkonium chloride can tarnish the beer line, causing a flavour taint which can be difficult to remove. There is also potential for the surfactant to lower the surface tension of the beer if not properly flushed. This can result in the CO2 gassing-off quicker from the beer, causing the beer to seem flat.
Shelf life: Similar to caustic line cleaners, surfactant-based cleaning products will generally last for around 12 months.
Environmentally friendly: Not particularly, due to the inclusion of caustic chemicals for descaling. However, some manufacturers are now promoting biodegradable surfactant cleaners.
Hazardous to health: Again, those that include sodium hydroxide or other powerful caustic agents have the potential to burn skin and damage eyesight if not handled with due care and protection.
There are also growing concerns over potential toxicity from benzalkonium chloride, with the chemical being removed from many skin products, throat lozenges and other consumer products.
Reducing the frequency of beer line cleaning will save you money on chemicals, labour, water and most importantly reduce the amount of product you waste – increasing the profit in every barrel of beer you sell.
Handling chemicals always carries potential health risks and it is essential to follow all safety advice and mixing instructions.
In our opinion, for both financial and health reasons, it is best to clean your lines less often. By installing a StayClean system you can extend the period between line cleans up to once every four to six weeks – making significant savings on beer wastage, as well as avoiding having to use the caustic chemicals quite so often.