Cleaning the Milker

A reader asked me to go over my procedure for cleaning our milking machine, so I am going to do that.  So few people use small milking machines today (for one or two cows) that it’s actually sort of hard to find information about how to clean them.

To refresh, this is our milking machine.

That’s an older photo. The motor (on the left) now lives permanently mounted in the barn, but we do still use the yellow cart and haul the rest of the stuff, including the bucket and milker, from the house to the barn and back, twice a day.

I am usually the draft horse, but Dave was doing so on that particular day.

Cleaning everything begins with cleaning Frances.  The larger white bucket in the cart contains warm water with a little dish detergent and a splash of Clorox along with a sponge.  I toss the sponge about once a week and get a new one.  All that is for cleaning her.  In addition, there is a clean dry cloth, a fresh one every milking, that I use to dry her teats thoroughly. I don’t want any wash water getting in the milk.

The dairy, where they milk between 80 and 90 cows twice every day, has a spray system to clean the cow’s udder, and then Jason uses paper towels to dry her off.

To learn to do this, I went down to the dairy and watched him work, and then adapted what he does to my own limited circumstances. He has the high tech stuff. I do low tech.

When I’m finished milking Frances and remove the inflations from her teats, I spray her teats well with teat dip.  Teat dip is expensive. It’s also relatively hard to find in smaller quantities. I finally looked carefully at the label on the teat dip that Jason uses (the dairy buys it in fifty gallon containers), got the ingredients, and then went online to see if I could find somebody who’d figured out the ingredient ratio.

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup 2% chlorhexidine

1/4 cup glycerine

water to fill 1 quart jar

A gallon of chlorhexidine (about $20) and a pint of glycerine (about $6) will make enough teat dip for my one cow for a couple of years. So making it myself saves me a tremendous amount of money and makes teat dip a negligible expense.  Because it’s so cheap to make, I’m not tempted to skimp on it. I keep it in a spray bottle and use it liberally.

After milking and bottle feeding babies, we haul the cart back to the house. If there is any milk left in the bucket, I strain that (using one of those permanent coffee filters) into glass gallon jars.

This milk has been sitting in the refrigerator for a day or two, which is why you can see the cream which has risen to the surface. It’s the only photo I had, and we’re not milking right now, so I couldn’t take a new one.

But those jars are what we store milk in.  We have a refrigerator in the basement just for that purpose. I can store  9 gallons in there.

After handling the milk, I rinse out the bucket and take both the bucket and the milker back to the laundry tub where they live. While passing through the kitchen, I flip the burner on under a tea kettle half-filled with water.

Jason has a fancy inflation/tubing cleaning system at the barn.  I don’t have such a thing.  They exist for home use, but they’re expensive and you have to have a vacuum motor like the one we have in the barn to use one, which would add about $500 to the cost.

The principle is that you want to put hot water and detergent through the milker to clean it.  To do that, you need to have the inflations upright.

I asked Dave one day, after struggling to keep them upright, if he could figure out a way to hang the claw so that the inflations stayed upright. He solved the problem in about two minutes.  His comment was “Try this and I’ll make something more permanent after we tweak it.”  That was about six years ago. Those are the same two coathangers.

All he did was cut a wire coathanger along the bottom, bend the ends to fit around the inflations (see the red arrows) so they would hook in place and put a hook under the counter.  It works perfectly and cost nothing.

But you also need to force water through the milker and I don’t have it hooked to a pump.  So Dave got me a garden hose and sprayer.  That is cold water.

I begin by using the sprayer to force cold water through each inflation, one at a time.

I then use my thumb to block off the tubing at the far end, and do it again. This makes the water flow in reverse, and it comes out the inflations.  I had to practice a little bit to figure out how to do that, but it works.

Then I grab the dish detergent. They make special milking machine detergents but I decided to try the plain stuff first and see if I had any problems. I’ve had none.  Milk keeps for several weeks in my frig, so I must be doing something right.

I put exactly one drop of detergent in each inflation, and an additional drop in the bucket, which is sitting on the floor beside me.

Then I get the now-boiling tea kettle. The industry standard is to use water that is at least 160 degrees to clean milking equipment. Obviously, hot water from the tap won’t suffice, so I use a kettle. My inflations and tubing are made of silicone, so they are impervious to boiling water. If they were rubber as most of them are, I’d probably go with slightly cooler water, closer to that 160 degree standard. I do exactly what I did with the hose and sprayer, only backward.

I put my thumb over the end of the tubing and pour boiling water down one inflation until it comes back out the others, and then change to a different inflation (to back wash the first one).  If I wait and do that at the end, I will burn my thumb.

Then I pour boiling water down each inflation in turn, letting the hot water drain out the tubing.  I use the entire half kettle of water, reserving just a cup or two which I pour into the bucket.

I repeat the whole process with the cold water sprayer one more time and hang the milker up to dry.

The white bucket isn’t in the laundry tub yet.  That photo is “after.”

But you can see how the milker hangs. That is where it lives.

At this point, I put the bucket in the tub (it fits nicely even with the milker hanging there) and scrub it using the burgundy-and-white brush you see hanging there. That brush is never used for any other purpose.  Remember, I’d put a drop of detergent and hot water in the bucket earlier, so I just scrub with that.

Then I dump that soapy hot water into the white wash bucket, and rinse out the milk bucket.  It lives on a shelf on the opposite side of the laundry room.

I wash out the little white udder-washing bucket, get a new sponge if necessary and it stays right there until it’s needed again.

And finally, I clean the lid and the pulsator.

See Minnie?  She wanted to be in the photo.

There is a gasket in the lid. The entire thing gets covered with milk.  It comes apart.

I wash both pieces just like I’d wash any other dishes in the kitchen.  Hot soapy water and a good rinse and they go back on the shelf above the laundry tub.

The pulsator comes apart.  They’re all different, but they all come apart.  The blue thing, which is the pulsator itself, cannot be submerged and doesn’t get milk in it, so I clean the exterior of it and that’s all.  The black rubber part comes apart as you can see.

You can also see the white crud that forms on it.  That’s milk.  It dries and you have to get it off. All three of those pieces can be submerged in hot water and scrubbed.

This is a handy little brush that was made just for cleaning.  Here’s something similar.

It gets in all the little crevices.

About once every couple of weeks, I break down the claw and clean it well.

The green part, which is clear plastic, is screwed onto the red part, which is stainless steel. They unscrew, and then I can use the little brush to scrub that. The narrow end of the brush fits down in the holes coming from the inflations. There is a gasket in the plastic part where it screws onto the metal part, and I remove that and scrub it well too.

This is a little bit of a PITA but doesn’t have to be done but about once a week or even two weeks.

I also scrub out the laundry tub itself every few days with Clorox.

I once timed myself cleaning the milker.  I already had a tea kettle boiling (sometimes I manage to be organized and heat the water before going to the barn). From the time I walked in the door, to the time I was done with the last step took exactly 8 minutes.

It takes a whole lot longer to describe it than it does to do it. And I wasn’t that fast in the beginning, of course.

Considering that it takes less than 10 minutes to milk Frances, and then about 8 minutes to clean the machine, it’s a huge improvement. I used to spend about 45 minutes milking before we got the machine.

And finally, this is not the only way to do this. It’s the way that works for me. Some people put the milker in a bucket and use a vacuum motor and suck water through the milker.  That would work if I had an outdoor setup. Some people splurge and get the automatic thing. Some people have a milk room set up in their barn.  One woman did an elaborate automatic setup in her kitchen.  I used to lay the milker and tubing on a towel-covered shelf before I decided to just hang it.

The cleaner it all is, of course, the better. Milk will last longer in the refrigerator. The cow will be healthier and not so prone to mastitis.

Here’s a Youtube video of a woman cleaning a goat milking machine (only two inflations). She’s using the moter/bucket method.  Maybe I’m entirely too fastidious, but I cringe at all that equipment in that shed/garage.  My laundry tub is not used for anything except my milker and the milker lives in the house where barn dust does not accumulate.

Here’s one that is better. At least she has a dedicated room away from the barn area to hang the milker.







7 thoughts on “Cleaning the Milker”

  1. My brother-in-law had a dairy and when my mother died, I lived with my sister so I grew up around milking and cleaning and more cleaning. More recently, I’ve began buying milk from one of my friends. She and her husband have two milk goats and one very productive milk cow. As it turns out, I like making butter and cheese; although, I’ve had to have a lot of help from my other friend who makes the cheese and butter to sell at the farmer’s market. I’ve helped my friend with her milking and since I wasn’t familiar with her small operation, I’m sure I was more in the way than a help, but her husband broke his ankle and she needed someone to help with some of the work and I volunteered. She has a set up very much like your setup with her equipment being kept in her laundry room and she has a huge sink like your sink that she uses only for her milking equipment. Because her barn is quiet a way from her house, she uses a thing called a gator, which is like a small truck but it’s open. That part was a lot of fun. The milking is amazing and I had forgotten how big those cow boobies can get. I will tell her about making her own teat dip. One of her goats had a udder tear from trying to jump a fence so she was treating it with antibiotics and the vet came often to check on it. Her refrigerator in her garage is full of milk. I am lactose intolerant but my grandkids drink the milk I buy from her and I also cook with it and make butter and cheese and keep some cream for baking and her milk stays fresh seemingly forever. I’ve had some friends who think I am crazy for buying unprocessed milk and maybe I should boil it but my grandkids love it fresh and they swear it has a richer flavor than store bought.

    I don’t know if you’ve been asked this but do you pasteurize your milk? And if you do, does it change the flavor?


  2. I don’t know if you’ve been asked this but do you pasteurize your milk?

    I hate to be Debby Downer, but you should be pasteurizing milk – especially if children are drinking it. I pasteurize ours and I milk the cow. It’s impossible to sterilize a cow’s teats. They lie down in their own shit. Remember that when you’re looking at raw milk.

    I don’t care what the raw milk people say. They are simply ignoring facts in favor of their little fetish. Pasteurization laws came into being because young children were dying from raw milk.

    I do make raw milk cheeses but they are hard cheeses and they age more than 60 days (that’s the law in KY to sell raw milk cheese, so I go by that even for us).

    One of the latest Instant Pots has a pasteurization setting on it. Mine does not. I put it in a kettle and heat it to 161 degrees for a few seconds, and then cool it as rapidly as I can.

    Frankly, we cannot tell the difference. The richer flavor isn’t from being raw. The richer flavor is butterfat. A milk processor only leaves 4% butterfat in whole milk. Frances’ milk is at least 5% and sometimes probably up near 6%.

    I do store it raw because there’s no point in pasteurizing milk that I’m going to use in cooking.


  3. That was so interesting I read it twice.

    Is chlorhexidine the same stuff that’s in Hibiclens? I love that stuff.


  4. Thanks again for this. One of my other questions was about pasteurization as well so thanks for that too 🙂 You mentioned you make hard cheeses … if you are taking more requests for blog posts I would love that to be covered. I have made all the easy stuff (buttermilk, butter, sour cream, cream cheese) but would love to make hard cheeses as well.
    My girl calved on Monday. Twins. Both stillborn 🙁 . I have put two one month old calves on her last night. Any tips to get them sucking? The dairy where I get them ween then very shortly after birth so they are out of practice.
    Thanks again


  5. Any tips to get them sucking?

    You gotta be kidding. Frances doesn’t nurse babies. 🙂 We bottle feed them. I have no idea how to handle calves that actually nurse a cow.

    I’m sorry about the calves.

    Hard cheeses are. . . well. . . hard. I’ve done a lot of trial and error, although I’ve only made one cheese that was absolutely inedible and went straight to the pig pen. It also requires some fairly serious equipment. I’ll see what I can do about putting together something about it. In the meantime, I did go over the basics here.


  6. This was very interesting. I also would like to make some cheese. I wish I had a cow but my husband knows me well enough to know I’d feel bad for her in crappy weather and try to bring her in the house when it’s cold. That guy literally ruins all my fun. 😉 Anyway, I’d also really love a cheese post. My Grandmother used to make her own. I actually still have her cream separator.


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