The Joy of Clean
I’ve recently fallen in love with a curiously simple device that makes cleaning my kegs, carboys, and conicals a breeze while simultaneously saving me money on my water bill. Introducing the Mark’s II Keg Washer. At its core it’s a submersible pump, some PVC, and a plastic reservoir. Combined, it’s a recirculating cleaning system that can be used to clean and sanitize whatever will balance on top.
In the commercial brewing process we use a manual Premier Stainless keg washer. It jets hot cleaning and sanitizing solution into sealed sanke kegs through a series of stainless pipes and ball valves. This stainless monster comes in at a whopping $8K. Clearly we have the luxury of doing things on a much smaller scale in the home brew realm so equipment is rarely as expensive. The marks retails for about $100 at most homebrew equipment vendors.
If you are looking to up your game or expand your brewing capacity, it’s worth looking into the Mark’s II if for no other reason than that it saves on water and cleaning supplies. Having a water reservoir and pump that recirculates means that you can use the same water to clean multiple vessels. When used properly, this little device can clean 6-7 kegs, a few carboys, and a even a conical with 2-3 gallons of water or less. Remember, just because your PBW cleaning water looks dirty, does not mean it’s lost its cleaning ability. Keep in mind that the 2-3 gallons does not include rinsing (so maybe add a few gallons on top of that total to account for rinse water) or sanitizing.
Mark’s II History
The founder and engineer who goes by just “Mark”, started making his own beer in 2001 to combat the inconvenience of buying beer in the state of Connecticut. An intense focus on cleanliness and sanitation sparked a desire to make his brewing process more efficient and convenient, thus the first keg washer prototype was born. Continuing his home brewing hobby, Mark moved to Oregon in 2003, still working on his keg washer, but it wasn’t until 2009 that he started exploring the idea of selling his invention to other brewers. In 2010 the first washer went to market, appropriately titled the Mark I, but manufacturing flaws, expenses, and shipping snafus necessitated a complete redesign of the original washer. Finally, in 2011, the Mark’s II Keg Washer, the new and improved model, arrived and it’s still going strong with new innovations coming in the near future.
I live in Southern California–Inglewood to be exact. As a resident of So Cal and the greater Los Angeles area, water conservation is definitely a concern. My wife and I make a point to take short showers, run the eco cycles on our washing machine/dish-washer, turn off the faucets when we brush our teeth, and capture excess brewing water (and rain) in rain barrels. Brewing is notoriously water wasteful, so really anything that can be done to conserve water is a good thing. Think about it this way: a homebrewer may fill up their fermentation vessels to give them a good soak first with a PBW-like cleaner, a rinse, and then with a sanitizer. If it’s a full soak we’re talking 5-7 gallons of water for each vessel. Got a 10-15 gallon fermenter, add that to the total.
In my example, previously I cleaned 6 kegs, 2 carboys, 1 conical, and 1 cask with 2.5 gallons of water. If I had soaked these in the traditional way it would have been (5 gal x 6) + (6.5 gal x 2) + (17 gal) + (6gal) = 66 gallons! Jesus! And that’s just for cleaning with PBW; double that when you soak with sanitizer. Even if you make a mistake using the Mark’s II and use extra water, the difference between 3 and 66 gallons is monumental – not only for the environment, but for your water bill.
A somewhat more conservative homebrewer may do the traditional full vessel soak, but elect to clean each vessel one at a time, transferring the cleaner from one vessel to the next when finished. While this is a better method in terms of conservation, it’s still 1 gals vs 6 gals.
Mark’s II Keg & Carboy Washer Anatomy
Assembly: It’s pretty easy and only takes a few minutes. The pump has a threaded hole at the top where the PVC cleaning pipe is connected. The cleaning pipe is fitted with a spray cap and a predrilled hole, and then the pump is attached to the water reservoir via suction cups. The cleaning collar is then snapped in place, which lifts and suspends carboys and kegs over the cleaning pipe. For extra safety, the Mark’s II comes with an anti-skid rubber collar cover which does a good job keeping carboys from jostling around.
Water Reservoir: The reservoir holds a little over 1 gallon of water which can be filled with a pre-concocted cleaning solution of your choice. My go-to is scalding water and PBW. You’ll want to check on the temperature of the water regularly or grab a submersible heater to keep the water at the right temp.
Keg & Carboy Cleaning: A keg or carboy is placed on top (upside down) over the cleaning pipe and then the whole thing is plugged into the nearest wall outlet.
Accessories: Each Mark’s II unit comes standard with line cleaning accessories. The spray cap that fits on top of the cleaning pipe, used for cleaning kegs & carboys, can be replaced with a hose barb, which allows you to hot jet water through your beer lines. There’s also an attachment for kegs that fits between the pump and the cleaning pipe that can be used to simultaneously jet water into your keg and through the liquid line, which is super neat.
*Tip: Attach a gas ball lock (without hosing) to your keg to allow cleaning solution to free drip/drain back into the reservoir. That way you can clean your liquid and gas lines simultaneously.
Where to set up: You’ll definitely want to do this outside in an area with good drainage or, better yet, a bathtub or utility sink. Splashing does occur, but if you are already kegging beer, you’ll be accustomed to normal home brewer janitorial duties. When using the Mark II to sanitize vessels, this becomes even more important especially when using high foam sanitizers like Star-San. Shaaaaving Cream, be nice and clean, brew every day and you’ll always look keen.
*Tip: When using Star-San, spray the excess bubbles with isopropyl alcohol. They’ll disappear in no time. Or use Sani-Clean and avoid bubbles all together.
Electricity! : It’s recommended to have a Ground Fault Interrupter for safety – you are, after all, mixing water with electricity. In addition, when using an extension cord, I always elevate the connection on a bucket, just to be careful. Safety First.
Heating Assembly: I would love to see a heating assembly for this unit so that a warm/hot temperature can be maintained during long cleaning cycles.
Plastic Thickness: The plastic frame is thin. It definitely does the trick, but I would love to see some a tad more robustness in the future to promote long term use.
Suction Cups : I’m not sure what the solution to this issue would be, but I there is a tendency for the suction cups to detach from the pump and they are very difficult to reattach. Either more permanent suction cups or an easy way to reattached them would be a great add.
If you head over the Mark’s II site you might find something else of interest, a bottle cleaner attachment. For those that own a Mark’s II already, this is a great add. As much as I love kegging, I do still bottle from time to time and this would really help. This bottle cleaning attachment fixes to the existing Mark’s II unit and is used to clean 16 22-oz bottles (8 at a time).
I would love to see it handle more than just 22-oz bottles. 12oz, 16oz, 32oz? My bottle needs tend to be centered around beer competitions so cleaning 12oz bottles to prep for a home brew contest is key. The bottle attachment retails for around $84 as an attachment or $174 sold with the keg washer.
For the DIY’er, the Mark’s II Keg Washer should be fairly simple to replicate. Submersible pumps are easy to come by, a reservoir could be a bucket or cooler, and PVC pipe is easily obtained from any hardware store. Our host brewery, Ohana Brewing Co, even set up their own ad-hoc keg washer with brewery pumps and tri-clamps for a fraction of the cost of our commercial keg washer. That being said, $100 for a fully functional and ready to use set-up is a steal.
Check out this home made keg washer from Maltose Falcons homebrewer, David Clark.
(Photos courtesy of David Clark)