A Simple Guide To Metabisulfites & Wine Making

Sodium Metabisulfite, Potassium Metabisulfite and Campden TabletsI have a quick question that I can’t find the answer to. I’m hoping you can help me out. Which is better, campden tablets, sodium metabisulfite or potassium metabisulfite? I’ve looked in several places but don’t understand why you need all 3 to make wine.
Hello Shaun,
Thanks for the great question. This is an issue that perplexes many wine making hobbyist, so I’m glad you brought it up. To answer it, I have put together a simple guide to metabisulfites below.
The first thing to understand is that all three of these wine making ingredients do the same thing: Campden tablets, sodium metabisulfite and potassium metabisulfite, they all add sulfites to a solution. Whether it be wine or water the result is the same. Regardless of which of the three you use, the result is the same. Sulfites are being added to the liquid.
So what’s the difference? Honestly, not much. The main difference between sodium metabisulfite and potassium metabisulfite is that one will leave residual amounts of sodium in the wine and the other will leave some potassium.
Many home winemakers will lean towards using potassium metabisulfite instead of sodium metabisulfite in their wines as a means of avoiding more sodium intake in their diet. But in reality, this is somewhat futile.
If the normal recommended dose of sodium metabisulfite is used—1/16 teaspoon per gallon—the residual sodium being added is equivalent to one slice of pickle per case of wine. Not enough to affect the flavor and certainly not enough to affect your diet.
Potassium metabisulfite is slightly stronger than sodium metabisulfite by volume—17% stronger—but this is not enough to be taken into account if you are only making 5 or 10 gallons of wine at a time. With either we recommend the same dosage.Buy Campden Tablets
Now that we have cleared that up, what makes Campden tablets different from potassium and sodium metabisulfite? Again, not much. Campden tablets are nothing more than potassium metabisulfite in tablet form. The tablets are measured in a dose for one gallon of wine. You simply use one tablet per gallon.
So in the case of tablets, it’s a matter of convenience. If a home winemaker is only making a gallon or two of wine at a time, they may want to use Campden tablets instead of having to measure out a 1/16 teaspoon dose for each gallon. They are just a way to keep things simple.
As to your question as to which one is best to use, in reality, it just doesn’t matter. I say, ‘pick one and go with it’. Many home wine makers will use sodium metabisulfite for sanitizing their equipment and wine bottles and then use the potassium metabisulfite to go directly into the wine for preservation. But in reality, if you don’t want to buy both… not a big deal.
Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

85 thoughts on “A Simple Guide To Metabisulfites & Wine Making

  1. I have been using potassium metabisulfite for years as a preservative. However, in my last Cab Sav I beleive I put more that the 1/16 teaspoon per gallon. I am getting an aftertaste in my wire that I associate with the potassium metabisulfite.
    Question, will time in the bottle help to remove this taste ?

    • No. Unfortunately, sulfite can be tasted when it reaches a certain concentration. You need to account for all sulfite added during the wines life. It does not go away but becomes bound. Only free sulfite can protect the wine but total sulfite (bound plus free) is what you can eventually taste. The goal is to add as little as possible but enough to protect. The best bet is to test the wine for free sulfite and add only what is absolutely needed.

  2. We have been using the commerical fruit steamer for juce extraction.Do you have any comments relevant to this procedure. Thank you– we enjoy your news letters very much. Herb

    • Hi Herb,
      As an avid brewer with over 20 years under my belt, I’ve been using a steam juice extractor for the past 8 years with very good results. The only times I don’t use this type of juice extraction is when I’m trying to ensure the condition of flavonoids and other nutritional compounds in the juice that might be damagef by the heat of the seam, such as elderberry juice for flu season, even when it’s being used in brewing. I currently have three gallons of apple cider that is processing in this fashion. Hope that helps!

  3. Dick, if the aftertaste if coming from excessive potassium metabisulfite, it will not diminish too much over time. Your best bet would be to let the wine breath in a carafe or similar for an hour or so before consuming to allow the sulfites to escape from the wine.

  4. A steam juicer is great for extracting juice, particularly when you are dealing with your harder fruits. You can find more information about using a steam juicer on this blog by typing "steam juicer" (in quotes) in the search field above and to the left on this page.

  5. Hi, I made a 5 gal. batch of blackberry and apple wine. they are still in 5 gal. containers. they are crystal clear but were supposed to be bottled 6 mo. ago. Did I ruin them or can I bottle them?

    • I see no one responded to this, but you are fine. You could age the wine for a really long time in 5 gallon carboys so long as they’re air-locked. I hope you didn’t throw it out.

  6. I have talked to people who are allergic or maybe sulfite intolerant…not sure. I’m wondering if there is a way around using sulfites or some alternative. I’d like to make wine that they could enjoy as well. Well, can ya’ help me?

    • Some people pasteurize and then rapidly cool their fruit before adding additives and yeast. Not sure how much this would affect the flavor, but it is an option to kill off wild yeast and bacteria. I would suggest pectic enzyme as well to reduce haze in the final product. As for bottling, you could use potassium sorbate to keep fermentation from restarting in the bottle. I have used this method to make hard cider that won medals in competition.

  7. Is there anyother way to sanitize the wine than using any of the sulfites. My Mom used to make tropical fruit wine just by adding the sugar and the yeast and allowing it to ferment without any sulfites. I am afraid that my mom did not know anything by the name of sulfites. What say you

  8. James, there is no reason that your wine is bad because it has not been bottle yet. The wine is aging in bulk, just as it would in the bottle. The only thing I ask is that you do not disturb the wine until you are actually ready to bottle. Just let it be.

  9. Holger, you can make wine without sulfites. The problem is with the wine keeping. The clock is always ticking with this wines. So if you plan on making wines without sulfites, plan on drinking them quickly–a few months–and keep them in a cool place.

  10. Denfield, you can sanitize the equipment with all kinds of materials, but there is not anything other than sulfites that works to sanitize the juice itself. See previous post as well.

  11. We "simmer" all our fruit for 15-20 minutes, this "kills "all bacteria. A person in a wine supply store told us this. and do not use anysulfits—-we have been making wine for over 10 years and have not had a "failure",

    • At what temperature and for how long? Increased temperatures volitize the esters in both fruit and wine and will contribute a “cooked” taste. It doesn’t take much heat either.

      • Bob, 2 years out but an answer coming your way. I have used both pasturizing heat (147-155F) for 15 mins on fruit juices without any scorched tastes, or carmelizing flavors. I constantly stir, don’t let it ‘plop or bubble’, use a high temp flexible plastic spatula on a stainless pot (of whatever size you need). Usually takes 10-15 mins to come up to temp on 2-3 gallons of fruit puree, then ~15 mins at 147-155 F (usually 153) and I am constantly stirring, and constantly adjusting the flame along with using a Hanna Instruments digital flip thermometer. Then I turn off the burner, cover with glass lid, remove from that burner and move to another cool one, and let it slowly cool down. YOu can ice bath the pan in the sink, but I find that is a waste of time since I simply prepare the night before and keep covered, and thus ‘pasturized’ for 24 hours, and then use the next day. Has worked great for 15-20x 6 gallon batches of melomels.

  12. Great website, so much info how could you not make wine right. Thank you for all the great info.

  13. I am slightly confused with gallon and tea spoonful measures. Can you explain it in terms of grams of metabisulphite and liters of fruit juice?

  14. Shishir, the amount you use is very small. I’ve converted teaspoons and gallons to grams and liters for you. It converts to .08524 grams per liter, or 85.24 milligrams per liter.

    • The amount is often written on the package, for instance JD Carlson comes with instructions on the label, for must and for sanitization. I believe its 1/4th teaspoon for 6 gallons must, and 2 ounces (oz) per 1 gallon of santization liquid (H2O, tap, filtered, distilled, etc). Hope that helps.

  15. The questions and the answers are very interesting and helpful.My wine seems to always come out cloudy at first. It finally clears ofter setting for some time.My friend who taught me how to make wine , has wine that always comes out almost cristal clear. What am I doing wrong ?

    • Walter, you can add fining agents to your wine, you can filter your wine, and you can add pectic enzyme ~1-24 hours prior to pitching your yeast starter (or hydrated and fed packets of dry yeast). Most I know doing meads with fruits, and wines with grapes use pectic enzymes. Friends that do more serious wine making both use pumps for transfers which they use a filter in line with it as well. One guy I know that does commercial mead filters to ultra fine (1/100th of a micron) and has the most crystal clear traditional meads you can imagine. However, I often feel a bit of the flavor loss is a cost he considers to get customers to buy with no ‘dust at the bottom’, since most will not understand how to properly pour, and also complain about the wine being ‘dirty’. Just depends on your needs, who you are gifting the wine to, and dealing with their expectations and brain power to grasp what it is that is in the bottle and how to store, use, and enjoy the efforts/products.

  16. Walter, most wine’s will clear up nicely on their own when given enough time. Some more so than others depending on what kind of wine it is. If you are not satisfied with the clarity of your wine I would suggest taking a look at the clarifiers listed on our website. If you wine already looks clear but not clear enough, I would in particular recommend using the Kitosol 40.

  17. Been making wine since ’77 and do not use any of the sulfites. Have not had a problem with spoilage, even after 8 years of ageing.

    • Z.Richard
      Can you tell me how do you make wine without preserative of wine.
      How you keep or storage your wine for few years.
      Please if you can email to me your experience about making red wine.
      My email is : [email protected]
      Thank you

      • I used to make fruit wines without sulfites. I would pasteurize the fruit (3-4 gallons of fruit) by heating to 145 deg F. and then let cool on its own. This kills nearly everything, without changing the flavors very much and allows the fruit to break up and I would get a lot of juice. Then I would start the fermentation when the temperature was down below 90 deg. This would give a great start to the fermentation process and the alcohol percent went up quickly and I had no problems with contamination. That worked well for 10 to 15 gallons of wine, but now I make 60-70 gallons and I just can’t be troubled with heating all that fruit, so I switched and I now I use K-metabisulfite and get good results.

        • Wayne, thank you. Various altitudes and temps as well change things for folks say living on the coastal areas at sea level, and maybe the Rockies at 9K feet.

          As for scaling up, yes it is a major PITA to do 100s of lbs of fruits, both processing, pasturizing, handling. This is where finding a quality fruit processor/juice maker comes into play, and there are plenty out of California near Lodi. Find a good supply store or kit maker near you, and buy from them if possible for smaller quantities.

  18. opened wine after two days to add yeast & noticed some mold in one of the pulp bags , is this a problem. I used campden tablets to start. thanks

  19. Garry, yes this is a problem. Your best course of action would be to remove the visual mold. This add another dose of sulfites. You will need to add another pack of wine yeast, but wait 24 hours before you do so.

  20. In my first winemaking effort I bought a kit and followed the directions very carefully. The wine is very good except when you inhale the vapors it seems to go through your sinuses and nasal passages very quickly. I’ve been told it may have too much metabisulfites. Is this harmful and how can I neutralize it?

  21. Kevin, it is more likely to be CO2 gas from the fermentation that is still trapped in your wine. Usually in the directions there will be a step to degas the wine. This is done by agitating it. I would suggest stirring your wine vigorously but without splashing, so as to not introduce oxygen into the wine. You should see bubbles rise out of the wine. Do so until the vapors are gone.

  22. This is the first year we used wine conditioner we used a 1/2 bottel in each 5 gal carboid and then added simple syrup to sweeten more. We bottled and then in about a week the corks started to pop. Is there anything we can do to stop this cork poping?

  23. I have read that Sod/ Pot mtabisulphite solution can be stored and reused for sanitizing the carboys and bottles etc. How long can the solution be stored and ow often can it be used?

    • shishir, in a closed container (bucket with lid, bottle with sprayer) that is sealed, it can last a long time, weeks or months even. I however out of habit, and due to not wanting to question the validity/quality of a sanitizer like Star San, I mix a new bucket up each day/time I process (feeding yeast with staggered nutrient additions for instance, a 24, 48, 72 hour increment process)… Buy star san in large dispensers, and use it via the label warnings/instructions and you will have good results.

  24. Paul, the only choices you have is store the wine in a refrigerator or put the wine back into a fermenter and allow the fermentation activity to complete then rebottle.

  25. Shishir, you can keep this solution for very long periods of time. It is very stable. The only exception to this is if you add an acid to the water along with the sulfite. Then it will not store more than a day or so.

  26. how imperative is degassing as it relates to the finished product? If, indeed imperative, when is the best time. My wine is in the secondary fermentation stage and is slowly approaching the end of fermentation.

    • The main purpose of degassing is to assist with clarification. If there is dissolved CO2 when ever temperature changes you risk gas bubbles forming round suspended particles stopping them falling out – it may well also also interfere with ionic interactions of some fining agents. You wine will clear faster and and cleaner if you degass. Over time it will degas itself but clarification can be considerably slowed.

    • Mike, if you haven’t already moved to ‘vacuum and degassing’ transfers, I recommend it. There are DIY solutions, kits/systems you can buy, and plenty of information on YouTube about this topic. Basically it is a process of racking, and degassing at the same time, effectively eliminating the drill/wand and/or the paddle/spoon steps, and makes for a very very clear product. Your local supplier, or online sellers will have more info.

  27. Mike, you do not have to degas a wine at all, however the expected results is a wine with some bubbles rising in the glass, and a touch of carbonation on the tongue. You may want this for some wines: Lambrusco… Zinfandel, maybe. Degassing should be done after the wine has cleared, but before you add the last dose of sulfites before bottling.

  28. I completely overestimated the amount of Sodium Metabisulphite after pressing grapes and cannot get the yeast to take. Can I remove the excess in any way?

  29. Alf, your only hope of getting your fermentation going is to splash the wine must around in a way that allows the sulfites to dissipate. You did not say how much you added, so I’m not sure how far off your are. It is possible that you add so much that the flavor will affected even if the fermentation starts, so watch out for that as well. Here’s some information that should help you out.

    How To Save A Wine With Too Much Sulfite

  30. I added 1 tsp sodium metabsulphite directly to 6 gallons of wine instead of potassium. Is my wine hosed?

    • Shane, regardless is it was sodium-based or potassium-based bisulfite, you added more than you should have. Either would have been fine, however the dosage should be 1/16 teaspoon per gallon. For 6 gallons, that comes out to 3/8 of a teaspoon. The wine will not ferment with that heavy of a dosage of sulfite. There is something you can do to remedy this. Sulfite wants to release from the wine as a gas if given an opportunity to do so. By agitating and splashing the wine, you should be able to get the sulfite level low enough to allow a fermentation. Here is more on this subject:
      How To Save A Wine With Too Much Sulfite

  31. Great questions and even better answers, but I have one more. Potassium Metabisulphite seems to have a shelf life of one year or less and after that I only use it for sanitizing.
    My question is do Campden tablets have a similar shelf life issue?

    • Tim, our recommendation is to use the campden tablets, sodium metabisulfite and the potassium metabisulfite within two years.

      • Ed, is that resealed or open to the air life spans? Seems to me that without O2 and/or air circulating, moisture restricted (maybe a ready-pac silicon insert/pouch?) in a glass jar things would last indefinitely.

  32. I am making a wine kit. It came with packets of metabisulfite and
    potassium sorbate to add after fermentation. I mistakenly used
    the metabisulfite packet to sanitize my equipment, so now only
    have the potassium sorbate to add after I rack the wine into the carboy.
    My question is, should I add sodium metabisulfite (1/16 tsp per gallon)
    along with the potassium sorbate at this time? I measured the packet of
    potassium sorbate and it measured 2.5 teaspoons of powder.

    • Karen, yes at bottling time we would recommend adding 1/16 teaspoon of either sodium or potassium metabisulfite for each gallon of wine to protect from spoilage.

  33. I have made wine from kits quite a few times. It’s time to try without the kit. I ordered (and will be picking up this evening) 6 gallons of Chilean Merlot Grape Juice from a local Wine and Hop shop. I understand adding K or Na metabisuphite at 1/16 tsp per gallon and then wait 24 hours before adding yeast. Do I need to add more when it comes time to bottle? It is a merlot so it will be in secondary for a while and in bottles for about a year. I certainly don’t want to add too much. Also, what are your feelings on adding oak?
    Thanks in advance,

  34. So It has been a while since I have made any wine. I made 2 batches after doing some reading when I was younger I made wine with bread yeast and they killed them selves off at about 10% alcohol or so, but now i did 2 batches just to see the difference in bread yeast and wine yeast i read wine yeast should taste better but i think it just cost more to no real difference. Anyways my questions come in where I just added my meta and sorbate but the wine is very dry so i wanted to re-sweeten it. I realized after trying it that you shouldn’t really use cheery in wine it seems to resemble the taste of cough syrup without the sugar. So i though why not just use another type of juice to sweeten it. Would this be ok I haven’t tried this before? The original blend was strawberry, cherry and blueberry and it has a very strong alcohol taste after having fermented for 5 months so im not worried about deluding it . I just want to get rid of the cherry taste without ruining the wine.

  35. I mistakenly added the potassium metabisulfite and the yeast at the same time. Do I wait 24 hrs and put another yeast pack in to start fermentation?

    • Mike, yes that is exactly what you need to do. Wait 24 hours and add a new packet of yeast.

  36. I have an allergy to sodium sulfate. Added 4 Campden tablets in primary fermentation and left him a 24-hour ventilation .. Is sodium sulfate evaporate completely after 24 hours but no longer be its subsequent impact

  37. I just started a batch of blueberry wine last night. Previously we used campden tablets (sodium metabisulfite), We put 1 tablet per 2 & 1/4 gallons of water. I was only able to buy powder this time and put one tsp per 2 & 1/4 gallon. The wine has not started fermenting overnight. Did I put to much of the chemical, can it be saved?

  38. I regularly filter before bottling. Will this remove any gas left in wine and will any air introduced have a bad effect ?

    • Roger, filtering the wine will assist the gas in leaving the wine. After filtering the wine, you can add sulfites to help drive out any oxygen that is introduced during filtering the wine.

  39. Good day Ed,
    I am a small craft cider brewer and due to demand we are expanding. as such I’m moving my cider batches from 7 gal buckets to 250 gal fermenters. In reference to your original post I was wondering how much camden or sodium metabisulfate to add to a 250 gal batch? I’m guessing it would be less per gallon than the smaller batches. while I’m here, I use potassium sorbate at the end of fermentation to preserve my batch and I’m wondering the same about the potassium sorbate.
    Thank you – Mac

    • Conor, even when making a batch as large as 250 gallons of wine the dosage per gallon remains the same.

  40. Hendricks is my preferred tipple, but I wanted to try another unusual gin. This is absolutely fantastic, Fever Tree tonic only, none of your cheap harsh tonics and don’t waste it on those who think supermarket gin is acceptable! Love it.

  41. I added potassium metabisulfite directly into the juice, without creating a solution with warm water first. The juice has been standing for 18 hours now and I plan to add yeast soon. Is this a problem? The juice was previously refrigerated and in a cool state, almost room temperature when I added sulfite directly.

    • The most important factor is: was the juices sealed up during the 18 hours, or was it left open so the sulfite gases could escape? You want the container to be left open. You can cover the opening with a thin clothe but nothing more. The fact that you added the potassium metabisulfite directly to the juice, or that the juice was cool has little-to-no bearing on anything.

  42. I’m on my second wine-making kit. I’ve got a reasonable amount of experience making beer, but actually like red wine much more. I bought one of the cheaper kits ($90) for a Pinot Noir the first time around with the idea of moving up the price ladder if the wine came out well, and it did. I just degassed 6 gallons of Malbec from a somewhat more expensive kit ($120). My question is as follows: The first kit had the wine settling for 12 days before bottling, whereas the recipe for the Malbec recommends 28 days. Is it really necessary to wait 28 days? Last night I racked the wine three times, from the primary fermenter to a glass carboy, back to the primary fermenter (where I performed the degassing operation with the help of a power drill) and added stabilizers, then back to the glass carboy for settling and clarification. The whole operation is in my coolish basement (used a thermal jacket and thermostat during fermentation). Can this wine be bottled in less than a month? And why do different sets of directions have such wildly varying recommendations for the clarification/settling stage? Thanks.

    • Leigh, unfortunately since we do not have any information on the kits you are making the only advise we can give you is to follow the directions as stated.

  43. Can i used sodium metabisulphite after the fermentation
    Someone says that sodium metabisulphite is used only for sanitizing
    Also can i used sodium metabisulphite with potassium sorbate together

    • Deepak, as the article states, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite and campden tablets are interchangeable. All three can be used for, sanitizing equipment, purifying juice before fermentation and at bottling time to prevent spoilage. Potassium sorbate is different from the sulfites mentioned above. Potassium sorbate is used to prevent re-fermentation when you back sweeten your wine. So yes, you can and want to use both a sulfite and potassium sorbate together.

  44. I was making a 15L/4gallon pineapple wine and on first day i added a full tbsp around 5gm of potassium metabisulfite to it, leaved it for 24 hours by covering with a cloth. After 24 hours i added 5gm wine yeast but after 24 hours fermentation not started so i added more 5gm yeast but nothing happen. Later i read that you should add only 1/4 tsp or 1gm potassium metabisulfite to 5-6gallon/20litre to kill and wild yeast.
    Its about 72 hours now but nothing happen and fermentation not started yet. I think the added large quantity of potassium metabisulfite killing my wine yeast or stopping it from multiply.
    My yeast is in good condition bcoz am making ginger beer/small batch of wine with it and it start fermentation in 2-3 hours so yeast quality is not an issue.
    This was the first time am using potassium metabisulfite so am confused how much quantity i should add to a 15-20litre/4-5gallon of wine must
    I should wait or throw it away?
    PS: sorry, English is not my first language.

    • Shyam, the fact that you added way too much of the metabisulfite is why your fermentation will not start. Sulfites damage the yeast. The good news is that the sulfites want to leave the wine, you just need to give them the opportunity to do so. What you need to do is rack the wine in a splashing manner to encourage the sulfites to leave the wine. The following article will discuss this issue in more detail.
      Too Much Sulfite

      • Thanks for the reply,
        I splashed wine for about 72 hours but nothing happened but was not in the mood of throw it away so i put a small fish aquarium air pump for 6-7 hours by covering everything with a cloth. After removing air pump i added few more yeast and waited 2 hours to see effect and boom. Yeast started working and finished within next 3 days from 1.070 to 0.998 at 28 degree Celsius bcoz i added lot of yeast and yeast nutrients in first three days. Now i added more sugar to increase alcohol content and yeast is working fine. There is no sign of any mold or bacteria in wine (I was fearing bcoz i added air pump to it).
        Thank you again for the help and covering everything in the deep. I learned a lot from your blog and comments.

  45. If a little Potassium Metabisulfite gets in to the primary fermentation from the airlock will it kill the fermentaion?

    • Only if the fermentation is going along very slowly, and even then, it may have little effect. A normal fermentation will not be phased at all by this small amount.

  46. Can you use a Camden Tablet to preserve the wine instead of using Crustacean Sulfite as the preservative?

    • David, Yes, you can use campden tablets at bottling time to prevent spoilage. The campden tablets, sodium metabisulfite and the potassium metabisulfite al all interchangable and do the same thing.

  47. Hi i by mistake put 1/4 teaspoon of sodium meta-bisulfite per gallon, i am yet to introduce the yeast, what should i do kindly suggest

  48. Good Day.
    I add sodium metabisulfite on my wine every time I racked it, say, 5 racking before I bottle the wine and add little amount before corking or sealing..
    My question: Is there bad effect on health on too much sodium metabisulfite on wine? Thanks a lot.

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