Introduction: Stove Top Distiller

Picture of Stove Top Distiller

I had a two batches of over-ripe kombucha and water kefir. Did I dump them? Nope. I distilled them (I recommend dumping it instead, it doesn't exactly make good salad dressing when distilled). Here's an instructable on how to make a simple stove top distiller that can be used for a variety of distillation tasks. I plan to use it further to distill citrus oils.

Step 1: Bend the Copper

Picture of Bend the Copper
Copper tubing is used in this distiller because it's sold at the local hardware store. With copper prices being what they are, it is only used for the condensation coil rather than all auxiliary tubing. Copper is necessary (aluminum may be a possible alternative?) because it facilitates good heat transfer between the steam and cooling water.

The key to bending the copper is to bend it as few times as possible, and to use sand to prevent it from kinking:
  1. Drill the bottom of a container so that it fits over the copper tube.
  2. Cap the bottom of the copper tube with tape.
  3. Fill the container with sand.
  4. Rotate the tube to transfer sand into the copper pipe. Refill as necessary.
  5. When full, remove the bottle and tape the copper tube.
  6. Wrap the tubing over a wine / glass bottle.
  7. Pull the coil apart slightly to add gaps.
  8. Remove the tape.
  9. Rotate the coil to empty sand.

Step 2: Bend the PEX

Picture of Bend the PEX
Because copper has become more expensive, PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing is being used more and more in homes for water piping. There are two types available: red and white. White is used for cold water and has a lower working temperature. The pipe used below was what I had at my local hardware store and is rated for 180 ºF (82 ºC) at 100 PSI (6.9 bar). This is well below the temperature of distillation, but that's okay because the pressure involved is probably no greater than 1-5 PSI.

I tried different methods of joining PEX but it's horrible. Unlike HDPE it cannot be cut and joined. The next best method is heat bending and using sand to prevent kinking.
  1. Tape one end closed.
  2. Put container over other end.
  3. Fill with sand.
  4. Tape container end closed.
  5. Heat over flame and rotate.
  6. When flexible, bend and hold until cool (lazy: tape it to the floor).
Surprisingly, the tubing keeps its shape and does not soften, despite clearly exceeding its recommended operating conditions.

Step 3: Make the Chiller

Picture of Make the Chiller
The chiller body is made using an HDPE jug because it is found everywhere and because it melts at a temperature higher than boiling water. This particular jug was from an oil change and the top was removed and the body was cleaned before drilling.
  1. Remove the top of the jug leaving just the base.
  2. Clean the jug.
  3. Drill a hole 20-25% of the remaining height somewhat smaller than the PEX tubing for the outlet.
  4. Attach the PEX tubing to the copper coil (hand pressure is sufficient).
  5. Put chiller into container.
  6. Make and use a support for the heat exchange coil out of spare steel / coat hanger.

Step 4: Lid Preparation

Picture of Lid Preparation
To drill a center hole in the lid (slightly smaller than the PEX Tubing):
  1. Trace the lid.
  2. Square the circled trace.
  3. Cross the square.
  4. Dent the lid.
  5. Drill the lid.

Step 5: Assemble and Distill

Picture of Assemble and Distill
The distiller body is made up of a paint can because this was available at the hardware store, was inexpensive, and could be sealed.
  1. Fill the paint can with fluid. Try to fill no more than 2/3rd to allow for boiling bubbles.
  2. Hammer the lid shut using a rubber mallet.
  3. Put the paint can onto the stove top.
  4. Connect the chiller assembly.
  5. Use plumber's putty to seal the very top.
  6. Add water and ice to the chiller tank
  7. Distill.
In about 1 hour, I got 4 cups of distillate. The first batch smelled fruity because of some aromatic esters, but the last batches smelled like vomit because of butyric acid from the kombucha. Hopefully citrus will be more pleasant. The one upside, the distillate attracts flies so it's a good way to catch them if they fly around the house.

Lastly, don't forget to wash the copper when done, especially when distilling organic acids!

Comments

Tecwyn Twmffat made it! (author)2016-11-27

https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Distill-Alcohol/

stubbsonic (author)2014-03-16

I'd be inclined to splurge on the extra copper because heating the plastic might be a little toxic.

Crosslinked Polyethylene (PEX) is safe to use on domestic hot water lines, in terms of health risks (using it straight out of the water heater may exceed the pressure and temperature rating, risking an explosion of steam [they warn about this specific circumstance on the high temp rated PEX]). Using it in a system with the business end open to atmosphere (so close to atmospheric pressure) and the fact that water boils at 100°C (and the physics associated with evaporation and boiling), there is no risk of explosion or exceeding the safe working temperature of PEX.

With copper, however, you will be dissolving some of that copper into the distilled water, along with whatever kind of solder you used. This will be miniscule, of course, but more significant than contamination from polyethylene.

moonshine88 (author)2014-03-14

hey this is exactly what i started my um "special water" making with (my user name explains "special water"!) then i went bigger and better now im up to 20 gallons and a thump keg hehe. idk what this "kombucha " stuff is but i see it popping up all over even on cl!

vreinkymov (author)moonshine882014-03-14

kombucha is fermented tea. A blob-looking patch of bacteria and yeast digest some tea and sugar and create a bubbly, acidic, and slightly (0.5 %) alcoholic mixture. When it goes bad (too smelly / acidic) it's not drinkable, otherwise I prefer it to soda pop.

With vinegar, that blob is referred to as the "mother". Is it the same word used for kombucha?

pickmeuproadie (author)2016-05-30

PEX plumbing pipe uses specific fittings sold under the tradename Sharkbites (and assorted generic sellers). The fittings are usually $4-$7 each, and they have various fittings for PEX to other materials like copper. Take a look at your local Home Depot, Lowes, or plumbing supply store.

The crosslinking in PEX makes it blister, char, and burn before any usable and maintainable bend is introduced. That is the difference between a plastic milk jug and PEX components. However, they also sell clip-on bend holders for use in tight spaces where the radius of the bend needs to be less than the PEX will naturally do along its length.

blkhawk (author)2014-03-15

Your distilling apparatus could be safer if you replace the plastic pipe with a 1/4 inch copper pipe. You could also install a compression fitting on top of the can to permanently and elegantly attach the pipe. You would need to drill a hole and secure it with a brass nut. On the other end of the fitting you could attach the copper pipe by compression. I paid US$6.00 for one at a hardware store to make a solar still for a science fair project for my daughter.

neo71665 (author)2014-03-15

I hope any of the poison coming out of this isn't gonna be consumed by a human. The only safe part of it is the copper coil. Galvanized steel heated leads to zinc poisoning, alcohol vapors will strip chemicals from the plastic, good how to to show just about everything you don't want to do.

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Bio: I'm an Engineer. I like hiking, flea markets, and electronics.
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