For routine cleaning of copper and other metals, percarbonate-based cleaners like PBW are the best choice. For heavily oxidized conditions, acetic acid is very effective, especially when hot. Acetic acid is available in grocery stores as white distilled vinegar at a standard concentration of 5% acetic acid by volume.
Brewers who use immersion wort chillers are always surprised how bright and shiny the chiller is the first time it comes out of the wort. If the chiller wasn't bright and shiny when it went into the wort, guess where the grime and oxides ended up? Yep, in your beer. The oxides of copper are more readily dissolved by the mildly acidic wort than is the copper itself. By cleaning copper tubing with acetic acid once before the first use and rinsing with water immediately after each use, the copper will remain clean with no oxide or wort deposits that could harbor bacteria. Cleaning copper with vinegar should only occasionally be necessary.
You do not need to clean copper shiny-bright after every use. With time, the copper should take on a dull copper color, not black, not green or blue, just dull, like an old penny. This copper oxide is relatively inert to wort and will mimimize copper dissolving into the wort, more so than shiny-bright copper.
The best sanitizer for counterflow wort chillers is Star San. It is acidic and can be used to clean copper as well as sanitize. Sanitizing with Star San only takes minutes and should not be left in the chiller more than an hour, because it will start dissolving the copper.
Cleaning and sanitizing copper with bleach solutions is not recommended. The chlorine and hypochlorites in bleach cause oxidation and blackening of copper and brass. If the oxides come in contact with the mildly acidic wort, the oxides will quickly dissolve, possibly exposing yeast to unhealthy levels of copper during fermentation.
Cleaning Brass Some brewers use brass fittings in conjunction with their wort chillers or other brewing equipment and are concerned about the lead that is present in brass alloys. A solution of two parts white vinegar to one part hydrogen peroxide (common 3% solution) will remove tarnish and surface lead from brass parts when they are soaked for 5 minutes or less at room temperature. The brass will turn a buttery yellow color as it is cleaned. If the solution starts to turn green and the brass darkens, then the parts have been soaking too long and the copper in the brass is beginning to dissolve, exposing more lead. The solution has become contaminated and the part should be re-cleaned in a fresh solution.
Cleaning Stainless Steel and Aluminum
For general cleaning, mild detergents or percarbonate-based cleaners are best for steel and aluminum. Bleach should be avoided because the high pH of a bleach solution can cause corrosion of aluminum and to a lessor degree of stainless steel. Do not clean aluminum shiny bright or use bleach to clean an aluminum brewpot because this removes the protective oxides and can result in a metallic taste. This taste-detectable level of aluminum is not hazardous. There is more aluminum in a common antacid tablet than would be present in a batch of beer made in an aluminum pot.
As with aluminum, the corrosion inhibitor in stainless steel is the passive oxide layer that protects the surface. The 300-series alloys (a.k.a. 18-8 alloys) commonly used in the brewing industry are very corrosion-resistant to most chemicals. Unfortunately, chlorine is one of the few chemicals to which these steels are not resistant. The chlorine in bleach acts to destabilize the passive oxide layer on steel, creating corrosion pits. This type of attack is accelerated by localization and is generally known as crevice or pitting corrosion.
Many brewers have experienced pinholes in stainless-steel vessels that have been filled with a bleach-water solution and left to soak for several days. On a microscopic scale, a scratch or crevice from a gasket can present a localized area where the surface oxide can be destabilized by the chlorine. The chlorides can combine with the oxygen, both in the water and on the steel surface, to form chlorite ions, depleting that local area of protection. If the water is not circulating, the crevice becomes a tiny, highly active site relative to the more passive stainless steel around it and corrodes. The same thing can happen at the liquid surface if the pot is only half full of bleach solution. A dry stable area above, a less stable but very large area below, and the crevice corrosion occurs at the waterline. Usually this type of corrosion will manifest as pitting or pinholes because of the accelerating effect of localization.
A third way chlorides can corrode stainless steel is by concentration. This mode is very similar to the crevice mode described above. By allowing chlorinated water to evaporate and dry on a steel surface, those chlorides become concentrated and destabilize the surface oxides at that site. The next time the surface is wetted, the oxides will quickly dissolve, creating a shallow pit. When the pot is allowed to dry, that pit probably will be one of the last sites to evaporate, causing chloride concentration again. At some point in the cleaning life of the pot, that site will become deep enough for crevice corrosion to take over and the pit to corrode through.
It is best to not use bleach to clean stainless steel and other metal. There are other cleaners available that work just as well without danger of corrosion. The percarbonate-based cleaners like PBW are the best choice for general cleaning.
If you have a particularly tough stain, liked burned malt extract, then you may need something stronger. There are oxalic acid based kitchen cleansers available at the grocery store that are very effective for cleaning stains and deposits from stainless. They also work well for copper. One example is Revere Ware Copper and Stainless Cleanser, another is Bar Keeper's Friend, and another is Kleen King Stainless Steel Cleanser. Use according to the manufacturer's directions and rinse thoroughly with water afterwards.