How to Clean Beer Bottles for Homebrew

Updated on August 30, 2017

Don't buy bottles, reuse them

One of the first issues to come up when you get into beer brewing is where to get bottles. Homebrew stores sell new ones; however, they aren't very cheap. There's no reason to pay for empty bottles when you probably throw them away on a daily basis. Clean used bottles are just as good as new ones, and they're free.

Pop tops, not twist offs.

From my experience the most important factor is that the bottle has a pry off top. Twist off tops don't seal well with a wing capper, which can cause your beer to not prime (carbonate) properly and/or spoil. I have heard of some people having success capping twist offs with a bench capper, but I have no experience with that so I can't recommend it.

Some common beer brands with pry off/ pop tops include Corona, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, Heineken, Modelo, and Becks. The majority of craft brews and Mexican beers have pop tops. Most macro brews, such as Budweiser, Miller, and Coors have twist off tops.

Step 1: Soaking

Once you have accumulated enough bottles to brew beer (a five gallon batch yields around 50 twelve ounce bottles) you will need to soak them overnight in a solution of OxiClean or a generic version of it, which can be found at the dollar store. I don't have any large watertight containers so I use the bathtub in my guest bathroom to do this. Plug the tub and turn the water to mostly hot. If you have sensitive hands you might want to use gloves for this. As the tub is filling add 2-3 scoops of your oxygen cleaner, more or less depending on the size of your tub/container. It doesn't have to be exact, just enough to make the water "slippery".

Once the cleaner is mixed evenly and you have a few inches of water in your tub/container begin filling the bottles with the cleaner/water solution. I set mine upright at this point so I have room to clean them the next day, but if you want to leave them laying down to save water that's fine. Either way fill the bottles with the solution and run just enough water to fully submerge them. If you're married go ahead and cook a delicious dinner before your spouse finds that the tub is filled with beer bottles.

Leave the bottles to soak overnight.

soaking to reuse beer bottles and remove labels
soaking to reuse beer bottles and remove labels

Step 2: Cleaning and removing labels

Once the bottles have soaked overnight they will be ready to clean. Get a steel wool pad, a trash can, and a chair. You will also need something to transfer the bottles to you dishwasher if you have one. If you have a bottle brush you can use it too. I don't own one and on the rare occasion that I can't get a bottle clean without a brush I just toss it.

Again, you might want to use gloves for this as the cleaner can dry out your skin. First dump a little more than half the water out of the bottle, then plug it with your finger and shake it vigorously for a few seconds. This should be all it takes to get the inside of the bottle clean. I've used this method on many batches of beer and have never had one contaminated, and I've cleaned some pretty filthy bottles. Occasionally one will still have visible staining after shaking it a few times. I just throw those away.

Now you'll need to remove the labels and glue unless you are using a bottle with the label painted on, like Corona. By now some of the labels might be coming off on their own. Use your fingers to peel off what you can and throw it in the trash. Now Dip the steel wool in the water and scrub off the rest of the label and the glue. I drink Samuel Adams and Modelo regularly and have found that Sam Adams cleans up really easy, where Modelo takes a little extra work. Even the harder to clean bottles can be scrubbed clean and shiny in less than a minute. Once the outside is clean rinse the bottle with clean tap water inside and out and set it aside. Repeat until all of the bottles are clean. Remember that you will only have to do this once, from now on you can reuse your label free bottles.

how to remove beer bottle labels
how to remove beer bottle labels
clean beer bottles with steel wool
clean beer bottles with steel wool

Step 3: Sanitizing beer bottles

There are many ways to do this, but I'm going to focus on the two I am familiar with. If you have a dishwasher you are in luck. Just put the rinsed bottles in (I can fit about 55 in my dishwasher, using the short bottles on top) and run high temperature wash and dry with no detergent. If your dishwasher has a sanitize cycle all the better, but it's not necessary A regular high temp wash kill anything in the bottles. If you don't have a dishwasher you'll need to put in a little more effort. No rinse beer brewing sanitizers are available at homebrew stores and online. Just follow the directions on the container. Before I learned I could sanitize with the dishwasher I just used bleach.

Sanitizing with a bleach solution

Rinse out the tub/container you used to clean the bottles and begin adding hot water. One of the most respected books on homebrewing, How to Brew by John Palmer, suggests using one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water and soaking the bottles for 20 minutes, others suggest using two tablespoons per 5 gallons and soaking for 10. I myself used the Palmer method. After soaking rinse the bottles will. Palmer says to rinse with boiled water, but the times I sanitized bottles with bleach I just took a chance and used tap water to rinse and had no trouble. I still sanitize my brewing equipment with a bleach solution and rinse with tap water. I have yet to have any problems.

Now your'e ready for bottling beer. Rinse the empty bottles a few times right after you drink them and store them upside down to make your life easier in the future. Be sure to comment with any tips or experiences you'd like to share.

sanitizing beer bottles
sanitizing beer bottles
how to sanitize beer bottles
how to sanitize beer bottles

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Geckodave 

        7 months ago

        Sterodent makes a good cleaner for demijohns

      • profile image

        M. Larsen 

        24 months ago

        A 20 min. soak in water with 1/3 cup of Washing Soda per 5 gal of water will remove labels with very little effort.

      • profile image

        D Kristof 

        2 years ago

        After I soak the bottles the labels usually slide off, but there's some adhesive residue left behind. Instead of using steel wool and risking scratches, I use a paper towel. I have had very few that required any great effort.

      • profile image

        gdgilbert 

        3 years ago

        I've tried the oxy-action type suggestion but found baking soda a far better solution to removing labels.

        Three dozen bottles, ~half a cup of baking soda and hot water into the bath tub. Left for 45 minutes and every single label came off with great ease.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        3 years ago from Oklahoma

        I've brewed beer a few times, and find this article very helpful.

      • profile image

        TheWineBrewer 

        4 years ago

        Hey I got a great video showing how to easily remove labels and glue residue here:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr9E3xhSZqQ

      • profile image

        TheWineBrewer 

        4 years ago

        Hey I got a great video on cleaning bottles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK69p7FP43w

      • rick combe profile imageAUTHOR

        rick combe 

        5 years ago from USA

        Yeah, the dishwasher makes life a lot easier. The service station by my house sells 24oz Heineken, Modelo, and Coronas. I've been buying these lately to take even more work out of bottling.

      • JustforWhat profile image

        JustforWhat 

        5 years ago from USA

        This is a good primer for bottle cleaning! I typically rinse my used bottles thoroughly as you suggest at the end of the article and store them in boxes. Once I'm ready to bottle I spray well inside and out with Star-San and let it drip for a few moments before filling. No problems yet for me either! I've had my fair share of issues with the lady over tying up the bathroom before!

      • Kyricus profile image

        Tony 

        5 years ago from Ohio

        Nice write up. I wish I had a dishwasher to do mine in. No dishwasher in the house, so I have to hand wash and sanitize mine. It's a real PITA. It's enough to make me seriously consider kegging.

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