FiveStar Chemical’s PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) product is highly valued in the homebrewing community for its cleaning ability: simply add it–and water–and wait, and your fermenter, keg, or other vessel will be ready to rinse clean the following day, no scrubbing needed.
Unfortunately, it’s pricey, at $5 to $10 per pound. And if your local shop isn’t exactly local, you could be paying quite a bit in additional shipping costs.
Fortunately, PBW isn’t magic. It’s science! A quick peek at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for PBW identifies it’s composed of “silicates, phosphates, and surfactants,” and contains at most 30% Sodium Metasilicate. While the details of the “phosphates” and “surfactants” are not provided under trade secret claims, we can still make an educated guess. “Silicates” most likely represents the sodium metasilicate disclosed in the MSDS, and “surfactants” is likely nothing more than a fancy word for soap or detergent. “Phosphates” have been traditionally used in cleaning, though I’m suspicious there’s really much in the PBW product, as in the US, most governments have enacted bans on trisodium phosphate as it exacerbates algal blooms in lakes & rivers in that way is generally bad for the environment. The products are still lableled as TSP, such as Lundmark’s “TSP” or Red Devil’s TSP/90, but a bit of digging will unearth that they’re really sodium metasilicate.
So, if we want to make our own homemade PBW-like cleaner, what do we look for? Sodium metasilicate (or TSP, if you can find it) and a detergent like Oxiclean, or its generic. Depending on your shopping acumen, you should be able to make this at $2 to $2.50 per pound, a nice 50% to 80% savings over the brand-name.
Mix them up at 30% sodium metasilicate, 70% oxiclean, and clean away!