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I had my first bottle bomb ever yesterday, after 3 years of brewing. I've had some bottles break during opening, some while bottling, and it's usually not a big deal, though sad. Having one shoot out all over my laundry room is a much bigger problem that I'd like to prevent.

How many times do you re-use bottles, and how do you count if you do? Is there any other way to evaluate the condition of the bottle? This one was a 22 oz bottle bought at my local homebrew store 3 years ago, and appears to be the weakest type of bottle I use.

EDIT: Just for reference, I sanitize using iodaphor in tap water, so I don't believe there's much temperature shock.

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I think it depends on how you treat your bottles. If you sanitize them with heat - through baking or boiling - then you're giving the bottles a finite life span. As for how many heat cycles they can take, I have no idea. And it surely varies from bottle to bottle. If you sanitize your bottles chemically (E.g., Star San), then I think you can use bottles forever provided that they don't get banged around, they don't have manufacturing defects, and they're thick, sturdy bottles. I've tossed some bottles where I saw bits of foreign matter inside the glass. I also don't reuse bottles made from thin glass. "Thin" is subjective, but some bottles are heavier than others.

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I wouldn't worry about thermally cycling glass - unless you're heating part of the bottle over a flame and keeping the other side cool, you shouldn't see stresses high enough to get near ultimate stress, and even if you were at 50% of ultimate stress, you'd have to go through 10^5 or 10^6 cycles before fracture. –  Brandon Apr 7 '11 at 16:03
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I don't keep track of how many times I reuse bottles, but a good way to cycle through them is to throw a BBQ and have friends bring in a fresh batch of bottles. I've definitely reused bottles at least 3 times and have had no contamination problems. I don't see any problems with sanitation if you wash used bottles shortly after drinking to prevent residue from really caking one. It's possible that over time you could scratch the glass from cleaning and bacteria could live there, but it's very unlikely.

As far as resealable growlers and larger bottles, I notice that over time the rubber seal starts to get hard and degrade a bit. You could potentially replace this seal, but I found it not worth the trouble.

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agreed, I was mainly concerned with structural integrity, but thanks for the input! –  Mlusby Mar 16 '11 at 2:01
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I'm still using most of the Grolch and Pelican bottles I was given by a publican back in the 1980s. Overall, I probably loose two or three per year (a couple of lagering lagers burst during unprecedented cold in December) but I need to replace the rubber seals every few years. I wash and sterilise using metabisulphite, and I believe that, properly primed, glass bottles should last for ever. The polycarbonate ones seem durable, too.

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Beer bottles should be able to last indefinitely. For the most part. That being said here are some things to consider.

The glass is sensitive to temperature changes. So if you are using say, the heated dry cycle on the dishwasher and then dropping them in cooler temperature sanitizer immediately, it is going to weaken the glass.

Against popular opinion, thinner glass is actually more resilient to this heat change, due to the fact that less heat is contained in thicker glass and it can adapt faster.

Some micro breweries give cash exchange for bottles for re-use. If they became weaker with time they probably would not make this kind of investment.

The long and short is as long as your bottles do not appear to have a weak point IE a chip or crack you are probably ok.

Last thought, there is some mention of beer stone or other mineral deposits not being cleaned out of the bottles properly enough that may have some effect on the bottle strength. I personally have never seen this so take that with a grain of salt, and a homebrew.

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I don't count, and have yet to have a problem as far as bottle bombs. I would look to sanitation and getting the priming sugar mixture correct before I would consider that the bottles are too old. I have had a couple that broke around the lip during opening or capping, but I just tossed them when I had a problem.

Most of what I bottle any more is given away, though, and I tell people that I don't want the bottles back.

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Wow... I would probably kill someone who didn't give my bottles back. Where do you get your bottles from? How can you have so many that you don't want empties back? –  Jeff Roe Mar 4 '11 at 16:32
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I reuse the bottles from all the commercial beer I drink. –  baka Mar 4 '11 at 16:37
    
You're obviously not brewing enough. –  Mattress Mar 4 '11 at 16:52
    
well, they started stacking up when i started kegging, but no, i'm not. –  baka Mar 4 '11 at 16:55
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Not that anyone brews enough, but since he's reusing commercial beer bottles, maybe he's a heroic commercial drinker. I can't fault that, I have neither enough money nor enough time to drink every commercial beer that could inspire me. –  Mlusby Mar 4 '11 at 19:22
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