Plastic carboys are a popular choice in homebrewing. Whether you’re trying to save money or you prefer the lightweight nature of plastic, it’s not an uncommon to use plastic. However, many brewers are worried about the possible downsides of using these convenient containers.
Plastic carboys are OK for homebrewing as long as they’re BPA-free and without any scratches or leaks. Plastic doesn’t ruin the flavor of homebrew, nor does it wear out quickly with proper usage. However, plastic carboys are hard to clean without scratching, and they break easier than glass.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of a carboy is any vessel with a large body and small neck, that is then enclosed in wickerwork. But, Merriam Webster has since broadened the definition to a large container for liquids.
This essentially means a plastic bucket can also be defined as a carboy. It is also a very common practice for homebrewers to use plastic buckets along with traditional carboys. The below information will also pertain to using plastic buckets.
Can You Use a Plastic Carboy for Homebrewing?
Not only can you use plastic carboys for homebrewing, but many people recommend the practice. Plastic carboys have been known for their convenience, so why not give it a try? Like all other brewing containers, there are a few issues that are worth mentioning.
Below, you will find numerous advantages and disadvantages of using a plastic carboy when you brew at home:
Pros of Using Them
- They’re much lighter than other forms of homebrewing containers. Plastic weighs a fraction of glass, which can be a major relief if you have joint problems. Nothing beats carrying several plastic containers as opposed to one or two glass containers.
- You won’t have to spend as much money buying plastic carboys in bulk. Plastic is almost always cheaper than glass, making it one of the cheapest alternatives for homebrewing. You don’t need to break the bank to start homebrewing, so many beginners start by using plastic carboys or plastic buckets.
- Plastic carboys usually have bigger necks than other types. Since structural issues do not constrict them, plastic can be shaped in almost any way. Plastic carboys have necks of all sizes, so you’ll be able to find the perfect size to fit your homebrewing needs. This choice makes it harder or easier to pour.
- You can modify a plastic carboy, unlike glass. Northern Brewer points out that you can add all sorts of mods to a plastic carboy that you couldn’t do with a glass version. These alterations include adding a spigot, spout, hoses, and so on. You’ll have much more control over the container’s shape and size than you would with glass.
- Plastic buckets are easy to store since some of them stack or collapse. If you’ve ever looked into having portable sources of homebrewing, then plastic buckets’ stacking ability can’t be ignored. Low-end models are made to collapse, but make sure they don’t break at the seams.
- Conical Fermenters are typically made of high grade PET plastic. These fermenters typically sit on a frame to keep them standing. These are great for accessing and cleaning trub. Some conical fermenters can even be pressurized which is great for fermenting lagers at higher temperatures.
Cons of Using Them
- Cheap plastic carboys are known to scratch when they’re brushed abrasively. If you get a budget-friendly plastic carboy, you’ll probably notice a few scuff marks along the container’s sides when you clean them. Try using a soft sponge or brush rather than steel wool or a hard-bristle brush to avoid this scratching.
- Some plastic carboys aren’t BPA-free, which is a huge issue. By now, the vast majority of plastic is made to be BPA-free, but that’s not always the case. If you notice that the model you’re looking at isn’t BPA-free, then you should move onto the next container. Chemical leaching can disrupt the endocrine system.
- Storing your plastic carboy in the sun can deteriorate the material, unlike the durability of glass carboys. Plastic becomes brittle under excessive amounts of heat exposure. If you leave a cheap carboy in the sun, you’ll likely experience chips or flakes. However, high-quality plastic carboys don’t have this issue.
Tips to Homebrew With a Plastic Carboy
Homebrewing with a plastic carboy doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it offers all sorts of conveniences. In this section, we’ll explore a handful of tips that can make your homebrewing journey a bit easier.
Try out these suggestions when you’re using plastic carboys:
Get a Wide Neck to Pull Out Ingredients
Since plastic comes with a wide neck, you can pull out the ingredients easily. According to Kegerator, you can pull out the muslin bag without an issue if the neck is wide enough. There’s a lot of expansion and pressure involved in this process that could be dangerous if the neck isn’t wide enough on the carboy.
Add a Spigot to the Carboy
As mentioned earlier, you can add a spigot or spout to the plastic carboy for your convenience. This addition makes it easier to pour the brew, but it can also be easier to filter out ingredients and modify it. You can drill a hole to add the spigot, but many carboys come with spigots already installed.
Use Cleaning Tablets for Easier Maintenance
Cleaning tablets make it much easier for you to keep your brewing kit looking spotless. Try the Craft Meister Growler Cleaning Tablets if you don’t have some at your home.
All you have to do is toss a tablet in the plastic carboy, shake it up, and let it work its magic while you sit back and relax. Once they’re done, pour out the liquid (much easier when you’re dealing with plastic) and wash out the inside with water and a soft sponge.
Keep the Spigot Clean
Although it’s a small component, you can keep the spigot clean with hot water and alkaline solutions. There are many different methods.
Regardless of how you do it, you can’t neglect the spigot. Remove it, wash it and the hole, and replace it once everything’s dried. Failure to do so will result in mold, mildew, and bacterial growth.
If you’ve been homebrewing, then you know that mistakes aren’t rare. Whether you’re using the wrong ratios or improper tools, you can end up producing a brew that was nowhere near what you envisioned.
Here’s a list of some mistakes that you can avoid:
- Just because it’s lightweight doesn’t mean you should toss it around. Plastic is a bit less durable than glass, in most cases. If you drag a plastic carboy when it’s full, it could develop tears and scratches that ruin the container.
- Don’t leave your plastic carboy in direct sunlight. It can withstand warmth and be outside, but direct contact with UV rays can make low-end plastic carboys break.
- If you’ve never modified a carboy, stick to buying pre-modded containers. For example, instead of making your own spigot and adding it to the carboy, get one that already has a spigot. You’ll be able to avoid cutting errors, saving you time and money from having to get another one if you mess up.
Recommended Plastic Carboys
Carboys are an essential component in homebrewing. You can use plastic or glass, but there’s no reason to fear plastic when properly cared for. Why not have a combination of both plastic and glass to see which one best fits your needs?
Traditional Plastic Carboy
This 6 gallon plastic carboy is great for all around use, but might be difficult to clean because of its skinny neck. Make sure not to use abrasive brushes when cleaning this. If purchasing second hand make sure you check for scratches that can harbor bacteria.
Conical Fermenter Fermzilla
This conical fermzilla fermenter is great for accessing the yeast trub for easy washing and re-use. You can’t get this from any glass fermeter. It costs a bit more but if it makes it easier to save yeast than it can pay for itself.
Some of these can also pressure ferment which can prove useful if you can’t get the temperature down. It could also save money when brewing a lager as you don’t have to pay for cooling costs.
Some people love primary fermentation in plastic buckets. It’s much easier to access, which can be a negative if you are curious but its also incredibly cheap when just starting out. Buckets are much easier to clean than narrow neck plastic carboys
I actually love using the plastic buckets with the spigot for bottling. It makes it much easier.
Environmental Concerns and Saving Money
When it comes to brewing in plastic, as long as its PET there are no health concerns. However, the greater concern for the environment becomes a problem. Make sure you are recycling whenever you can.
Plastic really has me at odds since its the cheapest option but its terrible for the environment. But as long as you are responsibly disposing of old plastic than you should be OK.
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