To make a great tasting beer, it’s crucial to clean and sterilize your equipment for both brewing and bottling. There is a difference between cleaning and sterilizing. You cannot sterilize dirty equipment as it will always contain bacteria and nasties that you don’t want anywhere near your brew.
To clean equipment you could use warm soapy water and a dish brush, but using regular cleaners can lead to low head retention and a nasty film in your beer if it is not rinsed properly. A better alternative is to use a cold water detergent designed for brewing. For soft plastic items, such as fermenters, use a soft cloth to avoid making any scratches where bacteria can get in and hide.
Everything that gets used pre-boil does not need to be sterilized, but anything that comes into contact with the wort after the boil must be thoroughly cleaned and then sterilized. Some of this gear includes your fermenter, spoons, hydrometer and trial jar, anything coming into contact with your yeast, your dry hopping bag and all of your bottling equipment (tubing, bottling wand etc.). If you are a kit brewer, you need to have everything cleaned and sterilized before you start brewing.
The best and most economical way to keep all of your gear sanitized is to buy a liquid concentrate sterilizer such as Star San. All that is needed is to mix the recommended amount of concentrate in a bucket of water. This will last a few months if you store it in a sealed bucket and you clean your gear properly before sterilizing. All you need to do is submerge any gear you need to use in the bucket and allow 3 minutes of contact time for it to be fully sterilized.
Powdered Sterilizer is a cheaper alternative, but is only good for a single use. Simply dissolve the recommended amount of powder in a bucket of water and submerge any gear in the water. Powder sterilizer won’t last as long as liquid concentrate, but it is cheaper to purchase. Different sterilizers have different requirements with contact time before the equipment is sterilized – check the packet of your chosen sterilizer for more info.
When bottling beer, thoroughly clean all your bottles and then sterilize them before filling and capping to minimize the opportunity for rogue bacteria ruining your precious brew. Make sure you remember to sanitize those caps too and you will be sure to enjoy better tasting beer every time you open a bottle.