Ahh yes. The formidable used bottles. We have all been there making cider or beer on the bootstrap with our left over used bottles, or those bottles that our friends all dropped off hoping for a few full ones in return. How do we clean these oft grungy castoffs? Well here is my method that I have used with some great success. I have included a list of supplies that you may find helpful.
- A cleaning agent such as 1 Step or Oxi-clean Free
- Carboy and Bottle Washer
- Scouring Pads
- Beer Bottle Brush (If ordering buy a couple and save on shipping, they wear out pretty quick)
- A Sanitizer like StarSan
- Bottle Rinser (Sulfiter)
- Bottle Drying Tree
SOAK IT BABY!
I start the process off with a good Oxygen-based cleanser like 1 Step or Oxi-clean Free, I mix the appropriate amount (Yes read the label) and then throw all my old dirty bottle, and yes some of my equipment as well what ever fits in the bath I let everything sit while I prep and gather other things for about 15 minutes. I then do a good rise using this little beauty a Carboy and Bottle Washer, I love this thing as it sends out a powerful blast of water that scours the inside of the bottle removing any residual crud.
UGH, Removing Labels
Everyone hates this and to be honest sometimes I remove them sometimes I don’t. So…. there are lots of different label types out there, some that are held on with water soluble glue (Paper Labels) and somewhat are held on with adhesive like a sticker. Labels can be paper or vinyl. I much prefer removing labels that are paper and are held on with a water soluble glue. Labels that are held on this way almost fall off in the time that I let them soak in the oxygen-based cleaners. If not, I use a scouring pad and a little elbow grease that I mentioned early and get to it. Peel the label and then do another soak, then scrub, scrub, scrub! Eventually you will get all the residual stickiness off, I will uses a steel scouring pad at times to help (I get a pack at the dollar store), however it will probably be ruined by the time you are all done.
GIVE IT A SCRUB
After my labels are all scrubbed off and I have blasted the inside of the bottles I visually check them for cleanliness. On occasion I use a bottle brush like this Beer Bottle Brushto scrub the bottles out, they don’t cost much and will wear out over time. I have found it best to order a few at a time and save on shipping. However after all the work above, I have to say 95% of my bottles come out pretty clean.
Sanitation (YES I still do this)
Now that your bottles are clean it’s time that you sanitize them, I know this seems a little tedious as you just got done washing and rinsing them; however why go through all this work then spoil your hard earned beverage by not thoroughly cleaning AND sanitizing your bottles? I go through this process even with NEW bottles, as there is a lot of funk left over from the factory and I have no idea how long and where these bottles have been sitting. If in doubt clean it. I mix up a solution of StarSan and add it to my Bottle Rinser (Sulfiter), this rinser attaches to the top of your bottle tree for a one stop process. If you do not have a bottle tree I highly recommend getting one like this; Bottle Drying Tree at Amazon. I like it because it will hold 45 bottles at a time, a good amount of bottles for the home hobbyist. a it really is not that expensive and will save you a lot of headaches in the future. There is no reason to rinse the bottle after you have hosed down the insides with sanitizer and in fact you should not as the sanitizer needs to remain until it drys to act effectively.
So that’s the process I use to clean out my bottles. Last, the equipment will be broken down if needed and I also add them to a sanitizer bath for a few minutes, take them out, and let everything air dry. Not that we have our stuff clean lets move on to the next process, like filling them with CIDER!