Cleaning Your Fermentation Vessel

Welcome to my Fermentation Facts Series. One Friday per month, I will address questions from you, my readers, as it relates to the basics of fermenting vegetables (and some fruits). Down the road I will tackle topics related to fermented beverages but for now, let’s keep it simple and not terribly overwhelming.

Today I am talking to you about cleaning your fermentation vessel and parts!

I actually get a lot of inquiries about the proper method of cleaning a Pickl-It.  Do you leave the wire on, take it off? Should you bleach it? Use a sponge?

Having a sterilized vessel is certainly very important in the art of fermentation. If there is even a trace of bacteria or another organism in the vessel you are using, you can foul up the ferment royally. However, you don’t have to go overboard with the cleaning protocol either.

First, never use bleach. You don’t want that stuff going into your body or into your ferments. Think about it…bleach kills bacteria. You WANT bacteria in your fermented foods. Don’t set them up to fail by leaving traces of bleach behind.

I have tried a few different sanitizing routines and have found one that works really well. It holds up to the “stink test.” You know the one. You sniff your Pickl-It after a good washing and it still smells like pickles or garlic.

Here is what I do:

  • I remove the wire from the jar and lid of the Pickl-It and wipe it off if needed. Otherwise, I do not clean it.
  • I rinse the Pickl-It jar, lid, weights (if using), gasket, and airlock in hot water.
  • I add some white vinegar to the jar, fill it with hot water, and let it soak for about an hour. I also soak the lid, weights, gasket, and airlock in a bowl of hot vinegar water.
  • After their day at the spa, I dump the water out of the Pickl-It then scrub any “residue” out of the jar with a dedicated Pickl-It cleaning sponge. I then put it in the top rack of my dishwasher. I also put the lid and weights in top rack of the dishwasher.
  • I sniff the gasket and airlock and if all is well, I rinse them in hot water, scrub them with some natural soap (again using the dedicated Pickl-It sponge) and let them air dry on a new dish towel.
  • When my Pickl-It is in the dishwasher, I run it on the hottest wash and heat dry as well.
  • Bam! Cleaned and sterilized.

I realize that this might seem wasteful in terms of water usage. Why not just hand wash everything and call it good?

While it would still be sterilized if you hand washed everything, I have found that the lingering odor of previous ferments has a more difficult time leaving the Pickl-It without that run in the dishwasher. Washing it in the dishwasher alone doesn’t cut it either plus it leaves a little film from the previous ferment. I personally find that I have to do all these steps faithfully otherwise I end up rewashing everything anyway!

What about flip top bottles for things like water kefir and kombucha? Ahhh, so glad you asked!

Source: Lisa’s Counter Culture

Well, this is where I get a little lackadaisical. I have two sets of flip top bottles. One I use for kombucha and one I use for water kefir. Since I have a pretty continuous supply going, once the bottle is empty, I add a little vinegar and hot water to it, swirl it around, let it soak for a few minutes, then rinse it out. That’s it. I’m not worried about getting it super sterilized since the same product is going to go back in it.

Sometimes I do get some build up. You know what I am talking about. That fermented beverage sludge that sticks to the bottom of the bottle. If it starts to become an issue, I just use a bottle brush to loosen it up and then proceed with the above mentioned cleaning method. Easy peasy!

I hope this helps some of you develop a fermentation vessel sterilizing routine!

How do you clean your vessels? Any sage advice you can share?

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