Introduction: Garbage Bag + Rice Cooker = Alcohol Still

Picture of Garbage Bag + Rice Cooker = Alcohol Still

A still has two parts, a boiler and a condenser.

A rice cooker/warmer makes a great boiler.
It's got a rubber gasket so all the steam goes out the vent. It's insulated so all the heat goes into the mash.

A plastic garbage bag makes a great condenser.
It's got lots of surface area, cooling and condensing the vapor very quickly.
In my experiments it didn't need to be vented and hardly puffed up at all.

I tested my still by distilling a gallon of "rice wine for cooking" which has salt added to it to keep people from using it as a beverage. I put the bag in a tub to keep it from rolling off the table when it got heavy, and in case the bag leaked.

The whole system works great!
Finally I was able to use up that gallon of salty wine, which I inherited from a friend who moved back to China.

Step 1: Rice Cooker Modification

Picture of Rice Cooker Modification

My rice cooker is a National/Panasonic cooker/warmer.

I pulled that perforated metal cup out of the cooker's steam vent.
I found a chunk of tubing the right size and inserted it into the steam vent.
Then I bunched up the end of the garbage bag and put it over the open end of the tube and tied it tight with a strip of bicycle innertube. The alcohol steam goes into the bag and condenses back to liquid there.

There's an aluminum baffle disk in the lid that keeps bubbles from going out the vent.
If you use a fermented mash that doesn't make bubbles you can remove the baffle and get more steam.

Don't wait too long to shut off your still. Do it by feel, by putting the bag on a scale to see if it's got as much alcohol as you think it should in it, or by putting a thermometer in the steam vent. You can poke the thermometer in through the side of the bag and just leave it there. When the steam temperature starts climbing higher than 176 fahrenheit (78C)you're getting water vapor. You're done.
Unless you're on a desert island and are distilling fresh water from salt.

If you leave your still running unattended , or if you put your friends in charge which is the same thing, you'll get lousy booze from it. It will keep boiling away long after there's no alcohol left in the mash. Eventually it'll boil the pot dry, start scorching the residue, and shut itself off.
When you get back you'll have a bag full of scorched booze that's too weak to be its own painkiller.

Step 2: Rubber Glove CO2 Trap

Picture of Rubber Glove CO2 Trap

Here's my "fermentation vessel".
Just a regular five gallon jug that drinking water comes in.
A rubber glove is held over the neck of the jug with rubber bands.
The CO2 from fermentation puffs up the glove.
The rubber bands should be just tight enough to hold it on there.
If the glove overinflates the gas should leak out around the wrist of the glove.
I put the glass head over the glove because I didn't know where else to put it.
Also it sends the artistic message "This stuff messes with your brain".

A balloon or even a plastic bag works just as well as a vapor trap but doesn't look nearly as cool.
You could also go to a brewer's supply store and buy vapor traps, but then you wouldn't be reading instructables. Please read a beer brewing book especially about the hazards. Many people are killed by bad homebrews containing botulism etc., so you do need to follow certain sterilization procedures.

The jug contains Kombucha - this photo is from an experiment to make Kombucha with a higher alcohol content. It ended up not tasting as good as the regular stuff, but the fermenter worked great.


64bithero (author)2009-01-27

Beware, using this technique you are unable to filter out the first 50 ml of your alcohol (referred to as "heads") which contains huge levels of methanol and other toxins which can cause blindness and the like.

PaulH11 (author)64bithero2017-12-30

There's always methanol present after fermentation, no matter what. That includes the two Fat Tire beers I just drank. Somehow they didn't kill me, so why would the heads kill me if I left them mixed in after distilling those two beers?

shantinath1000 (author)64bithero2009-05-05

Since this was a food grade product to begin with there should be no Methanol in it.

King of the wasteland (author)2010-03-23

Use an airlock from a legitimate source, not a cork for the love of all that is boozy. Also I don't Know where many of Y'all get your information on toxcicity of homebrews and distilations. But , like 90% percent of y'all are wrong. I suggest ya just nut up and read something REAL. The smart ones do. Like the compleat distiller, or the alaskan bootleggers bible. Happy boozin'.....

I like you.

jbuzzard (author)2007-01-29

As long as you use edible foods for your mash, distillation should produce perfectly drinkable results (not accounting for taste) . Poisons can be made if non consumable materials are used in the mash (such as sawdust, antifreeze, or other chemicals). Another potential source of distillation related poisons is the materials used to make the apparatus - Lead-based solders, for instance, are not a good idea. Certainly, producing your own 'fortified' drinks from cheap wines, etc should be perfectly safe. Having said that, I might be concerned about chemicals leaching from a plastic bag condenser.

PaulH11 (author)jbuzzard2017-12-30

This is the only thread I've seen that has a realistic discussion of ethanol and methanol, so I'll throw in my $.02. I can say from experience that the more methanol you can remove, the more pleasant you will be the following morning. I started distillation with a one gallon jug and an electric teakettle, and finished with an industrial operation and reflux still that could produce 195 proof alcohol.

All fermentation causes methanol to be created, pectin makes the situation worse.

The purest ethanol flat out doesn't give me a hangover. The rest does.

I've used a plastic bag condenser before. It works, but it's inconvenient. Everything you need for a better setup can be had for $5 from a hardware store.

Ricopico (author)jbuzzard2010-05-03

 The BLACK plastic bag container is made from (yeah I know originally petroleum!) from the recycled recycled and recycled again plastic waste normally flying about  at your friendly garbage dump / landfill....and thats the reason it is deliberately coloured   Black would look sickening if they tried any other colour that reflected more light. The black it absorbs light making it   decent enough for your garbage. It was made for it isn't their problem if you use it to distill BOOZE!
Now where I live in Asia  we have "rag" pickers....... the poorest of the poorest of the poor  who collect & then  wash plastic bags/ bits of all colours shapes and  thickness that they might find at the garbage dumps, gutters etc.The  water used is what they can get free (normally open drains and gutters),pack them into neat bundles and sell them to the "recycle" man who collects truckloads and delivers it to the manufacturer.... Voila  Black Garbage bag in neat packs of 50's and 100's. The bottom of the recycle chain! 

cabagecookie (author)jbuzzard2008-09-10

I found this gas can in my basement- washed it out with amonia... then water. once i thought it was totally clean I poured water, sugar, and yeast once it was filled... i smelled it and I can kinda smelled a light gas oder. should i dump it?

Caym (author)cabagecookie2010-01-13

most likely ...better safe than sorry

Nos4ah2 (author)cabagecookie2010-01-13

You should dump it without a doubt. Never make anything intended for consumption with anything less than food grade containers.

Wyle_E (author)jbuzzard2008-06-16

Even if you start with edible grains or fruits, you can still get methanol. Most of the online articles I've seen advise "throwing away the heads", dumping the first 25% or so of the distillate. Since methanol boils lower than ethanol, this gets rid of most of the bad stuff.

triggernum5 (author)Wyle_E2008-12-21

Not the first 25%.. Typically the first 5-10% is considered 'foreshots' and should be discarded.. The next 15-20% is usually called 'heads'.. It typically has alot of flavor/body.. The next 40-50% is called 'hearts'.. That is the purest portion.. Really the only thing vodka makers would want to deal with.. And anything worth collecting after that is called 'tails'.. Depending on what you're making, you typically mix in various proportions of heads, hearts, and tails, then toss the remainders into the next batch, and likely redistill your proper mix, and do separations again... As for methanol, the vast majority does come over in the foreshots.. Recipes that use ingredients with alot of cellulose/pectins will produce more than things like sugar/molasses (which hardly produce ANY at all).. Actually pretty much anything you distill would be safe if you didn't separate the phases.. Essentially that wouldn't be much different than drinking the undistilled wash.. A few ounces of pure foreshots on the other hand could be bad!

bazalaz (author)triggernum52009-11-18

The treatment for methanol poisoning is ethanol.  It seems that drinking both ethanol and methanol would cancel out any methanol risks.  I think people discard it because it affects the taste and hangover.  Here is a link to a site with some interesting info

A 10% ethanol solution administered intravenously is a safe and effective antidote for severe methanol poisoning. Ethanol therapy is recommended when plasma methanol concentrations are higher than 20 mg per dl, when ingested doses are greater than 30 ml and when there is evidence of acidosis or visual abnormalities in cases of suspected methanol poisoning.

nobody (author)jbuzzard2007-01-30

The bag is probably HDPE, which is kind of safe but using a thick PP bag would be a better idea.

Punkguyta (author)2007-01-29

Sheesh, what ever happened to putting apple cider in a bottle with some yeast and opening it once in a while to let it vent? Ha ha, I'd like to know how to do this stuff, but it seems too complicated to me.

walkie74 (author)Punkguyta2007-05-11

LOL that's basic brewing for things like wine and beer. What they're talking about here is more advanced stuff--think brandy, whiskey, etc. I want to do this too, but my boyfriend has specifically instructed me not to blow up the house. *grin*

PaulH11 (author)walkie742017-12-30

The only real hazard that comes with distilling is the fire/explosion hazard. 100 proof (which this still would need to distill 2x to achieve) is the point at which alcohol will burn on a solid surface. If it catches fire, you can put it out with water, it isn't like a grease fire where you need dry chemical or CO2. However, if vapors are escaping as opposed to being condensed and collected, there could be an explosion hazard, but it's very, very unlikely.

biggy smalls (author)walkie742008-11-27

it is actually very easy to brew 7-10 proof alcohol. all you need is probably in your kitchen already (exempting a very basic understanding of chemistry). try putting some PURE apple juice in a glass bottle with a stick of cinnemon, some whole cloves, and a dash of nutmeg (if youlike). then just add a few granules of any old yeast to it, cork it and seal with wax, and put it in a warm dark place for 5-7 days. mighgt be better once distilled but you dont need to bother with that.

moomoocows (author)biggy smalls2010-01-06

sealing this is not a good idea. there needs to be a way for the CO2 to vent which is produced when yeast break down the sugars into alcohol. otherwise you can have a build up of CO2 in the bottle which can either present issues for taste or the production. also I'd imagine you might blow the cork. try a one way valve. I did not want to buy one so I drilled a whole in a screw on cap, put a tube into it, then made a loop in the tube and added water into the tube but just enough to create a seal. then as CO2 moves through the tubing it pushes through the water but just like in your toilet no gases, namely O2, can get back into your beverage.

biggy smalls (author)moomoocows2010-01-08

i seal with a cork because it is a permeable membrane which is far simpler and cheaper than anything manufactured for the need. it allows co2 to escape while maintaining enough pressure for self-carbonaton and limiting alcohol production as is my preference when brewing most drinks.

moomoocows (author)biggy smalls2010-01-09

ahh I did not think cork would have the permeability needed to allow enough venting knowing that it does I will have to try it. thanks for defending your style now I know a new way of brewing that can produce different results

whatgives (author)moomoocows2011-05-27

You're right, it generally doesn't. If it did breathe well we wouldn't have bubbly champagne.

biggy smalls (author)moomoocows2010-01-09

of course one should always remember to us a bottle capeable of safely managing the pressure. wire hoods also help excellently.

Punkguyta (author)walkie742007-05-11

not likely unless you're making high proof alchohol, which whiskey is not.

Pwag (author)Punkguyta2011-05-28

Distillation gives you a much higher alcohol content.

nlantz (author)2009-02-16

im suprised no one has really pointed out that by using this "still" for anything with Ethanol will more then likely kill you. because of the hot vapors and high concentrate of said vapors coming in contact with plastic's it breaks down the plastics and they end up in your drink, then once consumed in your liver. all the myths about people dieing are from people who use things with lead "solder, old car rads" or use some crap like this. STAINLESS STEEL AND COPPER ONLY PEOPLE. aluminum also cant withstand the treatment ethenol vapors put on it . not as bad as plastic but it will pit and corrode within a few uses

PaulH11 (author)nlantz2017-12-30

A chemical that's commonly ingested with nothing but water (ethanol) coming in contact with the material it's stored in (plastic) at a temperature significantly lower than the boiling point of water will cause a hazardous condition?

Call me skeptical.

Col. Panic (author)nlantz2011-08-26

Certain types of food or medical grade flexible plastic tubing, sold cheaply at hardware stores, can withstand temperatures much higher than the alcohol vapours. Plastic is sometimes used in laboratory stills, where purity standards are higher even than for drink. For something cheaper and easier to work with than copper, I'd go for some household flexible hot-water PVC.
I agree, however, that the garbage bag is a terrible idea. Just have a longer tube that drips into a glass jar!

lwise4 (author)2014-04-02

I'm sorry, i don't want to sound trollish, but this is an extremely bad idea. First off there is no way to separate the head shot which is mostly methanol - this is one the ingredients in "poor" moonshine that is known to cause blindness. secondly, even if you happen to find a large plastic bag that is food grade it won't be suitable for high proof alcohol because of how solvent it is - it will strip the bag.

PaulH11 (author)lwise42017-12-30

Including the heads with the rest of the alcohol is no more dangerous than drinking straight beer or wine. Beer and wine have every bit of alcohol (ethanol and methanol) that is fermented by the yeast. In distilled alcohol, the water and most other chemicals are left behind as the alcohol is boiled off. Obviously, removing the heads makes a higher-quality spirit, but leaving them in doesn't cause any harm. The real problem with methanol is when it is added to moonshine as an adulterant (it raises the proof of the liquor).

I'm curious where you get the idea that alcohol can melt plastic. Grain alcohol is sold in plastic bottles, and alcohol is water soluble, and plastic is a petroleum product.

Finally, he doesn't describe removing the heads, but that would be pretty easy with just a thermometer at the vent hole, and dumping off the crap that comes out before ~170 F.

Throe (author)lwise42016-04-28

It's probably worth noting that he's starting with a product which could not contain methanol(rice wine specifically intended for human consumption), so what he's doing is perfectly safe, even if he ends up running the still far too long.

It's a good point though, and anyone making their own mash at home should be wary of trying any such condenser/capture container combination such as this. You will capture methanol in your product, and you will injure yourself or others.

ilpug (author)2012-01-20

This... looks dangerous. I generally don't know what I'm talking about, but I think there is a reason that normal stills are made out of Metal and glass. I think the plastic would just degrade into the drink. Also, don't normal stills use a hotter heat source, like flame? I don't know, but your set up looks like it operates at a lower temp, which might result in a less complete chemical reaction, leading to lots of unwanted crap in the brew.

Interesting concept though, fersure.

PaulH11 (author)ilpug2017-12-30

There is no chemical reaction in distilling. It's just warming a mixture of water and alcohol so the alcohol evaporates. Also, only the outside body of a rice cooker is plastic; the inside is a metal pot.

Throe (author)ilpug2016-04-28

No, in fact, for best ethanol distilling, you want to start at a much lower temperature first, so you can capture the heads separately from the final product. The heads of any fermented mash will contain products not safe for human consumption(methanol, et. al.), but all of them distill at a much lower temperature than ethanol. This means they come out first if you distill with a gradual increase in temperature. Starting too hot will cause you to get the heads and the main product all at once, much too quickly. Also, you'll start getting the tailings that much sooner, which are always weaker, as they begin to contain more water as the temperature passes 176 degrees.

bluesharp1359 (author)2010-03-20

 Not so sure about the pipe (to be safe it should be stainless steel or copper) running your distillate into a trash bag that is manufactured from a petroleum base (as most trash bags are). 

Better to use a smaller copper pipe, and run it all the way through a bucket or cooler full of ice or ice water (just keep it cold). Your distillate will then drip out the end of the pipe into your containment vessel. Plus, it will be further from the heat source of the rice cooker. Remember, this type of instrument is just a barely controlled bomb.

Get those alcohol vapors too close to a heat source and you may experience the big bang theory first hand. ALWAYS throw away the first 50 ml that drip into your collection vessel (it should be stainless steel too) as those first drippings (called the heads) are almost pure methyl alcohol. That stuff will make ya go blind.

bluesharp1359 (author)2010-03-20

 You should always sterilize your equipment (and that means all equipment, any pots, spoons, funnels, fermenting pots, air locks, corks, etc) prior to beginning a wine. The danger is not in getting croaked from botulism; the danger is that vinegar bacteria will get into your mixture. It's a real drag to let your 5 gallons of wine ferment for a week or three and then discover it's pure vinegar

If it's apple cider vinegar you can use it for cooking; it's much stronger than what you'll buy in the grocery store. But you're not going to be visiting the land of the homemade buzz.

ktdiddd (author)2008-06-26

When I was living in a dormitory a half century ago we would put a bottle of hard cider on the window and let it freeze. We would pour off the unfrozen portion and repeat the procedure once or twice.. How do you get hard cider? Buy unpasteurized cider and leave at room temperature for a day or two.

Caym (author)ktdiddd2010-01-13

probably longer than that but i suppose you could add yeast and call it good

bowrabob (author)2009-02-22

I wouldn't drink alcahol that was distilled from plastic components.

m.w.oldham (author)2008-10-16

"Many people are killed by bad homebrews containing botulism etc., so you do need to follow certain sterilization procedures." This is an urban myth. No known pathogen can survive the conditions in homebrew that can kill you. Your brew can taste really bad, but wont even get you sick. These people probably put every effort into making rocket fuel "beer" and got alcohol poisoning.

64bithero (author)m.w.oldham2009-01-29

Actually methanol is present in alcohol in all alcohol to a very tiny degree. Undistilled alcohol has a much greater amount.

biggy smalls (author)m.w.oldham2008-11-27

not so much of a a myth as you say. ive researched methods for making vodka. its is one of those few that CAN kill you if made improperly.

jianqiang (author)2009-01-27

maybe I'm just miss informed, and taking the fun out of it, but I'm pretty sure its just cheaper to by rice wine(白酒)than buying the rice cooking wine. But then again maybe the rice cooking wine is already 40-60%

ClayOgre (author)2008-12-25

Not sure if a garbage bag is a good idea. Garbage bags aren't food grade and there might be a possibility of plasticizers or other nasty chemicals leaching into your production...particularly since alcohol is something of a solvent.'s just a thought.

Kaiven (author)2008-08-28

I'm doing this or this years science project. no, I am not going to distill alcohol xD Just salt water

Esmagamus (author)2008-06-02

How strong does it gets? You probably can't do even 40% alcohol in the first run. Beware of methanol: alcoholic drinks have methanol in them and, as it evaporates before alcohol does, it gets into the bag. Methanol=poison!

sumguysr (author)2007-01-30

it might be a good idea to use a copper pipe instead of whatever tubing you used to catalyse some of the nasty stuff in mash and produce a better tasting booze.

lemonie (author)sumguysr2007-02-11

Auto brake-pipe is good stuff, i.e. easily bent, but has narrow bore. W/ref plastics, please note that hot alcoholic vapour will strip placticisers from materials which contain them. For heath implications search for "phthalate plasticisers"

lotek (author)lemonie2008-04-18

if its for drinkin only use copper

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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