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Cleaning a Copper Whiskey Still

A clean still is a safe still. Trust me, you don’t want your still to develop a dark brown turning into green coloration. Better keep it safe and clean it because even though copper is an easy to work with material, it reacts to oxygen - it oxidizes. It is important to clean the inside of your still before using it the first time and also after every use. The outside can also be cleansed and polished, but it’s about aesthetics more than anything. Good news is that you can use some homemade recipes or you can purchase a mixture from the specific stores.

Let’s focus first on cleaning the outside of the still. Here are some of the methods I recommend:

1. Mix 1 tbsp. of salt and 1 cup of vinegar with just enough flour to make a paste out of it. Apply the mixture on the outside of the still and wait for about 30 mins. Wash with warm water afterwards and repeat if needed.

2. Cut a lemon in half and dip it into salt and polish the copper using a circular motion. Then rinse with warm water.

3. Use a rag on which you smudged some ketchup. It might sound weird at first, but ketchup’s acidity removes the tarnish pretty good. Also, rinse afterwards with warm water.

4. You can also mix ketchup with lemon juice and a bit of tartar cream. Use the paste by scrubbing the copper still and rinse with warm water.

5. Then, there’s the chemical option. You can buy some Tarn-X from a depot store, but be cautious to wear gloves, goggles and a mask. Tarn-X is an industrial tarnish remover and smells really awful. The process is basically the same.

But no matter what type of cleaner you use, be sure you rinse the copper properly. Cleaning the outside of the copper still is a temporary solution, because in time, the material will develop a patina either way. For a more natural look, there is always the option of not doing anything and let nature take its course. 

When it comes to the inside of the still, it needs regular cleaning to avoid transferring flavors from one lot to another. I admit that after moonshining for a few hours, the last thing I wanna do is to clean after myself. However, rinsing the still with water and drying it completely is enough for everyday clean. Nevertheless, after repeated use, the copper reacts with sulfides so you need to clean the inside of the still periodically to remove the black film reaction and keep the copper surface active. Okay, let’s get started! It shouldn’t take more than 10 mins cleaning the inside. Fill the still with ½ of gallon of water and scrub the still with a toilet cleaning brush (clean, new one, that you use only for this action). Discard the water and rinse the inside one more time, with clean water. Let it dry really well.

My final thought on this is that taking good care of your copper still will make it lead a long life of producing the finest moonshine, so act responsible!

Posted by Jason Stone on


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