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:
1. 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.
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.