View Full Version : Vodka for sanitizer

01-04-2008, 11:30 AM
Does Vodka ever go bad? I have a bottle of the cheapest stuff I could get and have been using it for sanitizing, but I left the cap off of it for about 2 days and now it has a pretty toxic smell to it, kind of like melting plastic. I didnt think vodka ever goes bad, but I'm fairly hesitant to use this stuff any more.

Dan McFeeley
01-04-2008, 11:40 AM
Vodka can't spoil or go bad -- there's hardly anything there for microorganisms to live on.

Must have been some pretty cheap vodka -- maybe about a buck or two? ;D ;D ;D

01-04-2008, 01:17 PM
I like to use cheap vodka in my airlocks as well.

It will probably still be good, but if you leave vodka open, some of the alcohol may evaporate and leave you with a lower proof substance which MIGHT give you less antimicrobial properties.

In the lab, it's a concern when dealing with EtOH of 70% or higher concentrations--these evaporate quickly and you're left with a lower percent EtOH.

I'm personally so anal that I would chuck it and buy a new, cheap bottle. That's what I did when I left the cap off of mine!! It was like being in college again!


01-07-2008, 11:05 AM
In the lab, it's a concern when dealing with EtOH of 70% or higher concentrations--these evaporate quickly and you're left with a lower percent EtOH.

Which makes for an interesting question... Does the vodka in airlocks lose it's ability to stay sterile over time? How long might we be talking about?

01-07-2008, 01:08 PM
hmm, that is an interesting question. When dealing with lab experiments that require close to 100% EtOH, it is critical. I have a feeling that it is not as big of a deal in airlocks.
The starting EtOH concentration of vodka is typically 40% or 80 proof. I think that in the initial stages of fermentation, when the alcohol content of your mead is low, it would be more important that you have vodka that is "fresher." Probably, as your mead ferments and ages, it doesn't matter as much. At later stages, it's probably more important just to keep airlocks filled to avoid oxidation.
I suppose an interesting experiment would be to measure the gravity of vodka over time to see how it evaporates and the alcohol level changes. This rate of evaporation would probably vary greatly depending on humidity and temp of where you keep your mead.

Another option I guess is to use sanitizer solution. I personally don't like to do this b/c I don't want star san or iodophor accidently drip (or get sucked into) my mead or beer.

I live in CT, and the air is very dry in the winter, so I make it a habit of checking my airlocks regularly to make sure the vodka has not evaporated.

We're probably worrying too much about nothing!


01-08-2008, 12:10 PM
I hope you are right that it is not an issue...

My reason for using vodka is in case there is a "backdraft" (my word) over the long term such that liquid from the trap is drawn back into the must. Initially, when there is positive pressure due to fermentation, I don't worry as much...

01-08-2008, 01:39 PM
"suckback" is one of the reasons I don't use regular airlocks. I just put a 5/16" tube into the bung, and run it to a glass of sanitizer sitting next to the carboy. I have 6 or 7 of these setups, and maybe $2-$3 invested. As a bonus, I also don't have to worry about explosive fermentation making a mess. It just all ends up in the cup.

01-08-2008, 03:25 PM
I often start my batches of beer with a blow-off tube as Adam_MA described, but I typically find mead does not have as crazy a primary fermentation (I tend to avoid fruit in the primary). With beer, I then go to the regular three piece airlock with vodka.

The suckback does suck, and happens when yur wort/must is warmer than the surrounding environment.

01-09-2008, 02:46 AM
Hey everyone,

For what it is worth, there are 2 different ways of looking at this. What will kill the criters, and what will stop them from growing. I am not aware of any yeast that can ferment to 40%, so vodka will stop any new growth, and extended exposure times will (almost) always make up for lack of concentration of the agent.

I put the vodka in the air locks, but I would not use it as a sanitizer.

Sorry for jumping in late,


Wonderful 5 page outline. (http://www.richmond.edu/~lrunyenj/bio384/lecturenotes/ch7.pdf)

A good description (http://realbeer.com/jjpalmer/cleaning.html) of alcohol directly related to brewing is here. The bold section was my doing.
The most commonly available alcohols that can be used for sanitizing are methyl, ethyl, and isopropyl. Alcohol's mechanism of action is still unconfirmed, but theories for how alcohol might kill cells include denaturing of cell proteins, interfering with cellular metabolism and destroying cell membranes. In the absence of water, proteins are not denatured as readily by alcohol, and this explains why a solution of 70 percent alcohol and 30 percent water is a better sanitizer than 100 percent alcohol. Alcohol will kill most bacterial organisms in less than five minutes, but because some organisms may take longer, it is best to let items soak at least 10 minutes to kill the majority present. Alcohol does not kill bacterial spores, and viruses are only killed after exposure of an hour or more, but these microorganisms are not a concern to brewers. As with all sanitizers, the degree of effectiveness is dependent on the initial cleanliness of the surface.

Alcohol as a sanitizer has limited uses in brewing. A major limitation is that all types of alcohol are reasonably flammable even at a 70 percent solution. Isopropyl and methyl alcohol are much more toxic if consumed than is ethyl alcohol, and are undesirable in finished beer because of this, let alone their undesirable flavor. Isopropyl alcohol is the most effective sanitizer of the commonly available alcohols, with ethyl alcohol being a close second. Methyl alcohol is not a very effective agent compared to the other two and this fact, combined with its toxicity, means it is not often used as a sanitizing agent (4,5). For these reasons, ethyl alcohol is the more favored alcohol for sanitization, but is rather expensive because concentrated forms are highly taxed.

Alcohol is useful for sanitizing equipment and surfaces used in yeast culturing and propagation. Isopropyl alcohol at a concentration of 70 percent is an excellent, inexpensive choice for sanitizing work surfaces, bottle and flask necks, instruments and your hands. The alcohol can be applied to surfaces in a number of ways, the easiest being with a small spray bottle. A piece of gauze or cotton soaked in alcohol can be used to wipe down surfaces such as tables and container openings, or instruments can be soaked in alcohol until needed. Alcohol such as isopropyl and ethyl are safe to use on most surfaces. Don't use alcohol to sanitize tubing because it can dissolve the plastic to some degree. Some plastics, such as HDPE, are generally resistant to alcohol. Metals and glass also are unaffected.

It is often stated in homebrewing lore that you can simply gargle with vodka or some other high-proof alcoholic beverage and then use your mouth to start a siphon without fear of contamination. But based on the effectiveness of alcohol, this does not seem to be such a wise idea. First of all, alcohol's ability to kill bacteria, i.e., denature proteins, is constrained by the total amount of organic material present, which for the average mouth is a fair amount depending on when the last meal was consumed. Second, an 80-proof beverage such as vodka is only 40 percent alcohol and most organisms are not killed in less than five minutes at this concentration. For this method to be effective, you would have to gargle with 120 proof rum or something of equal strength for 10 to 15 minutes, by which time you probably would have forgotten about brewing. Rather than risk contamination, use a small tube that fits into the end of the racking hose and suck on that to start the siphon. Once the siphon starts, remove the small piece of tubing before the wort reaches it and you don't risk contamination.