Hey Friends! 🙂
I love to decorate with old antique bottles! Usually I can score some cheap old bottles at the local flea markets. Unfortunately, when it comes to flea market finds, “cheap” is usually synonymous with “not clean.” And trying to clean old bottles with bottle brushes is a pain in the you-know-what.
I’ve found an easy way on how to clean old bottles without wanting to shatter the bottles on my kitchen floor out of frustration by combining a few tips I’ve heard over the years. It also uses stuff you probably already have around your house. I’ve found doing this way achieves great results without a lot of time and effort!
How To Clean Old Bottles The Quick And Easy Way!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Dishwashing Soap
Here’s what you do:
Rinse out any dirt or other debris out of the bottles that will easily come out with water, then fill the bottles with vinegar. If the bottles have a lot of calcium buildup, water spots, or just plain something you can’t get off on the outside as well, and completely submerge the bottles in a bowl or bucket filled with vinegar.
Soak the bottles for at least an hour in the vinegar to really loosen up any calcium buildup or whatever else that’s in the bottles.
Once you’ve let the bottles soak for a while, dump the vinegar out and then fill the bottle with enough salt to cover around 1/2 inch of the bottom of the bottle. Add enough dish soap to get the salt a little wet on top.
Now, put your thumb over the bottle opening and shake, shake, shake! 🙂 The idea here is to shake the salt around inside the bottle to make a scrubbing action. If the salt seems to be stuck on the bottom, add a bit more soap or even a little water, but not too much- just enough to get the salt moving around when you shake it. If you add too much soap or water, the salt will not be as abrasive when you shake it around.
Shake the bottle for a couple of minutes (or just until you get tired) and then rinse it out well with water and dry with a soft cloth. Repeat with the rest of your bottles. You may have to repeat the process if the bottles are super grimy or have a lot of calcium reside, but usually once does a really nice job, as you can see from the before and after pics below.
I hope this tutorial will keep you get your bottle collection sparkly-clean in no time!
Please let me know what you think by dropping me a few lines below! 🙂
replace the salt with a little play sand
Hi Kenneth! My dad uses sand when he cleans his hummingbird feeders 🙂 Sand works great too; I just used salt in this tutorial because it’s easier for most folks to get a hold of.
CARL Puckhaber says
We found using BB’s is best!
Katie S says
I was told BB’s scratch.. have you not had any issues with using them? I’ve been wanting to try this method but have been too nervous to do so.
John Mizak says
I wouldn’t use sand, I think it is too abrasive and might damage the glass.
Gerald sutter says
Do you know of any pop bottle tumblers for commercial use near Oregon..
Vera De Pape says
You can also use dry rice to clean bottles 🙂
Thanks for the tip Vera! 🙂 I’ll have to try that!
How do u use the rice. Instructions
Hi Jessie! You use it just like you’d use the salt.
Lorie Auguste says
A trick I learned a hundred years ago was to use ice and salt with just enough water to get things moving. We used it to clean out glass coffee pots. They looked like new after a few swishes. That could probably work here as well and save the cost of the dish soap and vinegar.
Thank you for the tip Lorie! 🙂 Did doing it this way remove hard water stains? I come by some pretty heavy hard water stains with old bottles, so I’m wondering if doing it this way would remove them.
Yes the ice and salt removes everything, as stated you could use it in cooled down burnt coffee pots. Here in Nevada we have very hard water. I use it all the time, good luck.
Charlie Baird says
The ice removes burned on coffee from coffee pots that were left on. Might work in the medicine bottles as well.
Odd Object says
I like this idea, but all my bottles are tiny. Don’t think I can get ice into it. Maybe crushed…a lot.
We always did that after work too. Salt, vinegar, lemon and ice.
But I just used this method and it worked great! Thank you!!!
The calcium was driving me crazy! Lol!
I use some jewelry chain with soapy water, swish it around and around . Works great
Thanks for the great tip Jackie! 🙂
We’re getting some awesome tips here; keep ’em coming! 🙂
I use the pull chains for lights. Works great and easy to grab.
Ice salt w lemon, it helps with calcium buildup.
I used to use rice to clean my baby bottles. I have a bottle that has a really tiny opening. It was hard enough getting the water in and out, I guess I could try the sand. I also soak my bottles in lye. It’s how I clean my insulators. I also use that method when I find cool vintage drinking glasses (clear only). You never know what people had inside them and lye will get it out but be careful and use eye and hand protection. Special chemical gloves and make them long.
Thanks for sharing this Kathy! I have a couple especially dirty bottles that I can’t seem to get cleaned, so I’m going to try using lye on them.
Let me know if the lye works on really dirty ones
Cecelia King says
Perfect way to clean bottles! I also clean mine like that and I can say it’s pretty easy and efficient cleaning way for very dirty bottles.
Thanks so much Ceceila! 🙂
Carla S. says
Try soaking in citric acid ( Fruit Fresh) for hard water stains.
Paul Alleeson says
Oxalic Acid in powdered form, often sold by the pound as “wood bleach”, will do the best job I have found. I have cleaned train smoke hard water stains and other nasty bits off thousands of glass insulators and bottles with this. It is mild enough to use with household rubber gloves when mixed with water in solution. A solution of this stuff will last and can be reused for years in a covered bucket if any loose dirt is rinsed off prior to cleaning. Here is an article on how to use the stuff:
Thanks for the tip Paul! 🙂
Where do you purchase this acid?
Hi Michelle. Another trick I have learned is using denture tablets! Buy anywhere. Break one or two into bottle. Add some water and it begins to bubble. I swish it around, and let it sit a while. then add very hot water to fill and let it sit overnight like my mom did with her dentures!! Works pretty well, and works for me.
Husband and I have used denture tablets for all kinds of things. I use them to clean my bite guard and he used them on his Cpap before he lost weight and quit snoring. I also soak our tooth brushes in it. Great stuff!
Linda Clifton says
Love all neat tips. I have used CLR…spray or pour some into bottles then, let it sit-n-soak overnight. Rinse well in the morn. This usually works quite well however, it is another chemical.
Hi Linda, thanks for sharing the tip! 🙂 I will have to try CLR for some of the more stubborn stains on some of my bottles. And yes, it is a chemical, but sometimes chemicals are the only thing that will do the job unfortunately. I always try to use a natural solution first and use chemicals as my plan B.
I am wondering if you have ever tried to color old bottles? and if so how did you do it? I will clean mine up but wanted to use as decor out in the garden upside down on a post. Let me know
Hi Amy, No, I’ve never tried to color old bottles. The closest I’ve done is to paint Mason jars with chalk paint or nail polish. Check out Pinterest – I’ve seen a lot of bottle coloring tutorials there. I hope that helps! 🙂
My grandmother used to take clear bottles and fill with water and color water with food coloring and put a cork in the bottle. She set them in the windows for a little color in her house.
kathy cornett says
I have a really nice display with food colored bottles. On the ledge of my windows in the sun. Lots of color!
I love seeing colored bottles displayed in the sun – so gorgeous! Thanks for sharing Kathy!
That was an awesome idea your grandmother had Rhonda! I bet it was gorgeous!
Has anyone ever tried using Lime-Away or The Works or other type of bathroom/kitchen cleaner that’s designed for removing calcium and other deposits?
Went to a old bottle show and other than the Oxaclic Acid many of them suggested “Bar Keepers Friend”, a cleanser you can get in most stores! I find it works well for most cleaning. Vinegar works well for the calcium stains. Thank you!
“Bar Keepers Friend” works great on my glass shower doors!
Bb’s also work well to get he yuck out of them. Just enough to cover the bottom
Thanks for sharing your tip! It sounds like it would work really well on bottles that are especially yukky inside.
I haven’t tried this with bottles yet, but I’m sure it would work well. I use vinegar and baking soda mixed like a paste on my casserole dishes. The hardest baked on grease can be wiped off with a paper towel after letting the mixture sit for about 20 minutes.
Well, I found 37 old bottles today (they wash up in the swamps here in Louidiana). There was one that’s frosted on one side and the caked up green mess was pretty attached. I wet the outside with vinegar then sprinkled baking soda on top. Then, I spritzed it with vinegar and let fizz do the cleaning. After a few minutes, I gently rubbed with my finger then wiped it off. ALL CLEAN GOOD AS NEW 🙂 NEXT, I put a mixture inside and shook it to coat inside. Let it fizzle, then rinsed with warm water. VOILA!
It worked! I soaked an old milk bottle for a couple hours and did the salt/squirt of soap/splash of water. Cleaned it right up!
Craig Dlabaj says
What are the sparkly or glittery flakes I see come off of old bottles/vials etc. I googled it and couldn’t find anything about it which I find odd because I see this on many bottles I find.
Rose Rogers says
I wondered that too. I have bottles that shed “glitter”
William MacBeth Slack says
The glitter is the outer layer of the glass breaking down, so go careful with the abrasives. You’ll see a pearlescent finish to older bottles, the first stage of the outer layer breaking down. I use spirit vinegar in a 4ltr plastic milk carton as my bottle wash, re-useable of course. Then the salt as advised on the original post. Rock salt (stolen from the council bin of course) also works really well. Yep, I’m British.
Kathrina Stokes says
Tiny glass beads they work real well I just happen to have almost 5 gallons of them they make for pretty decorations.
Thanks for the tip Kathrina! 🙂
Susie Price says
Thank you, I have been experimenting trying to clean the bottles I have found in a dump on our land from a previous owner, My granddaughters love to look, but cleaning the has been a real chore. Thank you again.
You’re very welcome! I’m happy you found this helpful 🙂
Martha Black says
My sister used to use a powder in her bathroom toilet that fizzed & bubbled, then she scrubbed it good and flushed it. It really cleaned it well. I cant remember the name. Do you think that might work if I can find it. I’ve tried soaking overnight in vinegar & baking soda & I’ve filled with Windex overnight & I’ve tried Clorox soak, but when I rinse and let dry, they cloud back up. I’m so frustrated!
Hi Martha! I’m not familiar of the product your sister used, but if you can find it, give a try on one bottle and let me know how it works out. Thanks!
I have experienced this too. Did you happen to run them through your dishwasher? Apparently, that’s a very bad idea as the dish powder/pods can etch the surface of some glass. I have a glass mug that is cloudy and looks bad, but I keep it because it is engraved with my name and was a gift from a friend. I think it is etched permanently. 🙁
Hudson Shirley says
Instead of bb’s or rice, popcorn kernels work too! I like them because they are bigger and heavier than rice but cheaper and less likely to scratch than bb’s.
Sani flush? I used to use it all the time it’s works really well and it smells good too. I can’t find it anymore, I used to get it at Dollar General.
Maria P. Rodriguez says
Thank you for the tips. Maybe you can help me with cleaning out the glue residues from labels in bottles. Some can be cleaned easily but others can´t .
Goo gone is a product that works great for removing any sticky stuff off of anything.
a hairdryer will warm the bottle and dawn liquid on a water wet white eraser pad will finish the job
Rhoda Fay Gobbi says
WD-40 spray on glue residue.
Does anyone have any experience with cleaning old Milk of Magnesia bottles? I’ve tried just about everything and there is still a gummy film on the inside of the bottle. Even the people who make the stuff don’t know how to clean it out of a bottle. Go figure…
Hi Deliana! I don’t have any personal experience with what I’m about to suggest so take it with a grain of salt. Since it is a gummy film, try something that is made to remove gummy films like Goo Gone. If you try it, let me know how it works! Good luck!
I used common rubbing alcohol (isopropyl), and rock salt (sidewalk salt). The salt doesn’t dissolve in alcohol, great abrasive to remove dirt build up, solution and salt is reusable into the next dirty bottle, and easily rinses clean with water.
Thank you for your tips Roger! I’m going to have to update this post with all the great tips I got from you and my other readers here in the comments!
I wasn’t going to comment after realizing that the comment that I was going to comment on is five years old, but then I realized that the comment thread is still current. Regarding Leigh’s comment about ice and salt with a little water, and more specifically her mention of coffee pots, although the method works brilliantly, you have to be extremely careful, as the abrasion from the salt significantly weakens/erodes the composition of the glass. This method was sweeping through Wawas in the mid-90s when a directive came down to halt the process immediately. The glass pots were being weakened to such an extent that they were inexplicably exploding while on the heater, or due to the slightest taps. That said, coffee pot glass is A) much thinner than most of the bottles that we’re typically dealing with and B) goes through the process much more often. So, it should be perfectly fine for the purpose described in this article, I just wanted to warn anyone who thought about adopting the trick for their common everyday cleaning of something like their coffee pot or the likes. Great article and thread of comments! I have an old bottle featuring the screen printed type of painted label (think of the painted-on 7-Up labels) that was recently unearthed after being buried for most likely decades. Is there a product or trick to remove tough dirt stains from a white painted label? I’m afraid to use bleach because some of the lettering is in red paint. Thank you in advance and this weekend don’t forget to remember.
Hi Steve! Thank you so much for the info about using salt in coffee pots. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt as a result of using this method on their coffee pots so I appreciate that you took the time to comment with this info.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you could use to remove the dirt stains from white painted labels on vintage bottles. I’ve had that problem myself and unfortunately have never come across a way to remedy it. If I ever do come across a way to do it, I will post an update here.
Dara Morgan says
I wonder if magic erasers by mr clean would help clean the labels?
Linda Martin says
Try a sand eraser or gum eraser dust with chalk to lighten dont use water. A drry magic eraser maybe. Go slow with lite pressure
I am so surprised how good that worked!! I was trying all day to clean this one little bottle I had that is my uncles well it’s not his yet but I’m going to give it to him because, he is going to have a really big surgery so now I can give him the bottle that is all clean and beautiful. Thanks Michelle
You’re very welcome Ellie! I’m happy you found this tutorial helpful!
I have an old medicine bottle with a dispensing label on it that I want to keep. Does anyone have any tips for cleaning the outside of the grimy sticky bottle without removing it?
Hi Laura! I’ve never done it myself so unfortunately I can’t help you, but hopefully someone here has and can offer you some advice.
Clear coat spray enamel. Spray can type, spray the lable lightly, but cover it and slightly around the edges of the lable. It will save the label & u will be able to clean up the outside of the bottle with out damaging the label.
Thanks for this great tip Tusc! 🙂
James Trepanier says
Thanks very much indeed for hosting this dialogue.
I find what works well is to use all or most of the methods mentioned. I use the least aggressive approach first and use more aggressive techniques as necessary. Ball bearings work well on bottles and decanters. I understand copper is softer than glass so BBs, which are made of steel and coated in copper are less likely to damage or etch glass.
It would be interesting to try an ultrasonic cleaner.
Soaking bottles in solutions of something like vinegar seem to be more effective if left overnight.
White vinegar is effective to remove dried milk of magnesia though often requires an overnight soak.
To clean paper, such as paper labels, try distilled water and a cotton swab. It is better to use small quantities and dab the swab on the paper, not wipe which will damage the paper fibers.
I prefer bottles with stoppers or caps. Some of the old caps I have have rusted. Does anyone know a method or products that remove rust but not paint? Once the rust is gone, what can the caps be coated with to preserve the painted finish and prevent further corrosion, preferably without either adding a sheen or dulling the paint?
I usually let my bottles soak in a 5 gal bucket of water with bleach or some type of cleaner I have on hand, for days to weeks at a time. Then hand wash & use a bottle brush to get the inside fairly clear/clean. I get Leary of the decades old germs/bacteria so I soak the snot out of them. After a little cleaning up, I use play sand mixed with alcohol or Alka Seltzer & shake & sit over night. For smaller bottles use a tumbler & fill with sand/water 50/50. . Once I feel the inside is clean, I use a magic eraser & dawn soap for the outside. I believe the long & slow way works. Give it a long soak then throw the kitchen sink at it. Lol
Thanks for all these great tips Tusc!
Chris Smith says
I did exactly as you suggested and it worked perfectly. Thanks!
These tips are so wonderful! I need to start cleaning my old Coca-Cola bottles. Some are pretty rough. Thank you!
You’re very welcome Tricia! I’m happy you found these tips useful!
Greg Jordan says
Try aquarium rocks with vinegar, Dawn, and baking soda. Works well without damaging the bottle
Thanks for these awesome tips Greg!