Reduce, Reuse, Redecorate How to Clean Old Glass Bottles

Published on November 5th, 2014 | by Julie Finn

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How to Clean Old Glass Bottles

How to Clean Old Glass Bottles

Do you ever see old glass bottles, maybe at a flea market, maybe scrounged from an old dump site (we have one of those back in our woods, sigh…), and think, “That bottle would be so great… IF it wasn’t covered in 50 years’ worth of grime?” Here’s how to clean old glass bottles so they’ll look like new.

It’s actually not *that* hard to clean old glass bottles. It takes some babysitting to clean them, and some TLC, but it’s not like you’ve got to stand over the sink and scrub for half an hour like you’re dealing with a casserole dish after a delicious lasagna dinner. The key to how to clean old glass bottles is to be quite gentle. Although they may not come out perfect and sparkling in the end–they HAVE spent five decades lying in a field, after all–they’ll certainly come out loads better and ready for their second life with you.

How to Clean Old Glass Bottles

Here’s what you do:

How to Clean Old Glass Bottles1. Do your research. Don’t you craft with a national treasure! If you happen upon something precious, then even cleaning it could do harm. For bottles, I like to start with this bottle identification site to narrow down what I have, and then research on from there–I don’t feel like I have to figure out *exactly* what I have, necessarily, but I do feel like I have to make sure it’s not valuable before I fool with it.

The bottles in these photos, for instance, are all from the 1960s; I’ve got a Coca-Cola bottle (a hobbleskirt bottled in Cincinnati, in case you’re interested), a Sprite bottle, and a stubbie ale bottle from Louisville, Kentucky.

2. Soak the bottles. Pour a quite generous glug of vinegar into the bottom of a large pot, then fill it with water. Also fill the bottles with water (so that they won’t float), and gently settle them down into the pot.

Heat the pot (but don’t let it boil!) for a couple of hours, then turn off the burner and let the bottles soak overnight.

How to Clean Old Glass Bottles

I actually used too much water here (it’s hard to clean bottles AND take photos!), but it still worked just fine.

3. Scrub the insides of the bottles. Empty the water from each bottle, then pour an again quite generous amount of salt into the bottle, and pour in just enough warm water to make a saltwater slurry–you want the salt to easily flow around, but not to dissolve.

Put your finger over the opening of the bottle, then shake it like a Polaroid picture. Shake vigorously, turning the bottle around every which way, and watch in amazement as the salt gently scours away all the rest of the grime and residue from the inside of the bottle.

When the inside of the bottle is squeaky clean, rinse out the saltwater very, very well–don’t want to leave any residue after all that work!

4. GENTLY scrub the outside of the bottle. Probably, those first two steps are all you’re going to need to get your bottles looking nice. My bottles start off in such rough shape, however–remember that back-of-the-woods dump site?–that they’ll sometimes need some abrasive action on the outside, too.

You don’t want to risk scratching your bottle with a scouring pad, so the trick here is to use something like this dish scrubber upcycled from mesh produce bags. A scrubber with plastic… um, scrubbies?… won’t scratch your glass, but will get those last bits of dirt off your bottle.

Remember that you’re working with old stuff, here, so don’t expect perfection–even in my After photo above, there’s definitely still some discoloration and some scuffs on these bottles. But your bottles are clean, so you can craft with them, and they’re sanitary, so you can store spices in them, and they’re gorgeous, so even if you do none of the above, you can still sit them on your windowsill and admire them every sunny day.

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About the Author

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now. Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.



11 Responses to How to Clean Old Glass Bottles

  1. Zombie Dad says:

    Great idea for cleaning bottles. I’ll give you a better option than salt for cleaning the insides: sand. It won’t dissolve, scrubs gently without ruining the interior and can be reused if you’re feeling patient.

    • Julie Finn says:

      Ooh, that’s smart! And I bet you can use it as the abrasive for the outside of the bottles, too. Having my own private 1960s-era dump at the back of my property, I often find myself cleaning up an entire bucketful of glass bottles, and I bet the sand would really come in hand in that situation.

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  5. Rosalin says:

    After washing with soapy water, rinse well, and fill your bottle one fifth of the way with white vinegar. Fill the rest with water, let it stand overnight, and in the morning thoroughly rinse it out.

  6. zechony says:

    You need to correct your link to your etsy site in your About The Author section 🙂 I found it though, but the link is broken.

  7. Pingback: Sustainablog | Jeff McIntire-Strasburg has been blogging a greener world via sustainablog since 2003!

  8. Sloane says:

    I have a few old bottles that use to have calligraphy ink in them. After using this process will the clean jars be safe to put items such as spices and herbs in?

    • Julie Finn says:

      I don’t think so, just because those bottles wouldn’t necessarily have been food-safe to begin with. This process will clean them, but it won’t remove any contaminants, such as lead, from the bottle itself, nor would it remove any contaminants from the ink that have leached into the glass. I’d only trust bottles that were originally used for food or drinks, and whose provenance is known.

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