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After a couple year hiatus from home brewing, I'm ready to get back into it and I have been diligently consuming some local microbrews and saving the bottles in preparation. When I brewed before, for me, cleaning and sanitizing the bottles was the most dreadful part of the operation.

In the past, I've used a bottle sprayer, followed by a soak in sanitizing solution, then another spray, but I feel like I spend a lot of time cleaning end up making a mess.

What are effective and easy ways to clean bottles?

I'm not opposed to spending some money if it makes cleaning significantly easier.

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10 Answers 10

up vote 9 down vote accepted

For cleaning, I rinse bottles with hot water immediately after pouring them out into my glass. They don't need any sort of washing with soap at that point. I keep them off to the side until I have a whole bunch ready for de-labeling, which is an overnight soak in a sink full of PBW. Most labels just slide right off the next day. A quick rinse and the bottles go on the shelf for later filling.

When it's bottling time, now I just need to sanitize. For that I use a Vinator. It's fast, effective and neat. One or two pumps, and go. I usually sanitize one bottle ahead so I'm filling one while the other drains, sitting on the neck of the Vinator.

enter image description here

You can see me using it in several of my Youtube videos, like this one on bottling from taps (get to 4:25 to see the Vinator in action).

Which segues nicely to to @David PGB's suggestion about kegging. You can keg and still bottle off 6-packs for friends. I've been doing it for years using the method in the video I linked above. I also answered a different homebrew.SE question on the subject and described how to do it on the cheap.

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I found the ultimate way to clean really dirty bottles.

  • Get Hydrogen Peroxide from a chemistry lab store.
  • Put it inside the bottle (0.5 cm at the bottom)
  • Wait half a day or more
  • Rinse with water.

All hard dirt is now gone.

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Like others have said (and John Palmer as well, IIRC), if you rinse your bottles after pouring, you minimise the work you need to do on bottling day.

What I do is this:

  1. Fill up both basins in the sink with warm water. Place your unsanitised bottles to the left of the basins, and prepare a drying area (eg a towel) to the right.
  2. Add no-rinse sanitiser to the basin on the right. (I use One-step).
  3. Submerge 6 bottles (or as many as will fit) in the rinse basin.
  4. Grab two bottles out of the rinse basin, empty them by swirling the water out (to create a vortex in the bottle mouth and allow air to get through -- this is a trick that will save you a lot of time cleaning bottles), then submerge them in the sanitiser basin. Repeat until the rinse basin is empty.
  5. Repeat step 3 (6 bottles into the rinse basin).
  6. Empty the sanitiser basin as per step 4.

Repeat 3-6 until all the bottles are sanitised. I find this takes me about half an hour or so for one batch.

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I use Grolsch bottles.

For newly bought bottles: place them upside down in a pint glass of water. After 5 minutes, the lables come off easily. Remove remaining glue with a sponge or scrub pad.

For my own labels I use milk as glue. They come off easily when they get wet.

As others have said before, rinse the bottles right after use (or at the end of the night). Put an inch of water in the bottle, close it, and shake it good.

Afer that I place the bottles in the dish washer. My dishwasher has a sani rinse and a drying option, which I use.

If there is something still stuck after dishwashing, use a bottle brush. Happens to me with about 1 in 30 or 40 bottles.

Let open bottles dry (at the Window with air blowing through, or in the Texas sun).

Close and store for use. I just grab them as they are from the shelf when I bottle.

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The lazy way;

  1. Soak bottles in warm/hot water with chlorinated TSP - that nice pink powder. Leave for 24 hours.
  2. Rinse in hot water. They should be clean now. If not, repeat!
  3. Sterilize in oxy-clean/one-step aka H202 - this is good stuff because it is not poisonous and degrades into O and H2O. unlike that nasty pink stuff that disolves bottle skunge.

You may want some rubber gloves for steps 1 & 2. I have never met a bottle that did not shine after a sufficient application of TSP.

Note, if you have flip top bottles, you may want to remove the tops (gently bend them off) when soaking in caustic chemicals or else it may reduce the life of the rubber.

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My take is mostly a combination of a few of the above answers, but I'll mention it anyway:

  1. Collect bottles from friends. I don't always have enough empties on hand to rely on having washed them just after drinking, so I often end up with quite a few that have been sitting in someone's garage for a while.
  2. A day or two before bottling day, rinse them all out briefly
  3. Put them in a tub full of oxiclean water. I have a plastic tub I bought from walmart a while back that I use to store my misc brew supplies, so I just empty that out, put a few scoops of oxiclean in it, and fill it up with warm water.
  4. On bottling day, take them out of the tub and rinse them off (inside and out). It takes probably 30 seconds per bottle to get the oxiclean film off of them, but I've never had any problems with off-flavor because of it. 95% of labels just fall right off as I pick them out of the bucket. The rest come off with a quick scrub. At worst you might need to spend another 30 seconds wiping off the glue residue from where the label was.
  5. Fill up your bottling bucket with starsan water, and use that to fill each bottle 1/2-3/4 of the way full. This has the added benefit of sanitizing your bucket, tubing, and bottling cane as well as the bottles themselves.
  6. Fill up the bottles, which should now be clean and sanitized, with delicious beer.
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A lot of good points, so instead of repeating, I'll simply add the most ingenious modification to my bottling brush I could have made:

enter image description here

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I have an HDPE (food-grade) bucket I bought at a home improvement store that I keep filled with an Oxy-Clean solution. Whenever I pour a beer, I rinse out the bottle in the sink then stick it in the bucket. When the bucket gets full (every couple of weeks), I spend maybe ten minutes rinsing the bottles and sticking them on a bottle tree (the labels usually fall off, although I do have to scrub the adhesive residue off with a green scrubby pad). Once they're dry, I stick them in a box upside down. On bottling day, I just pull out a box and give each bottle a couple quick squirts from the Vinator and stick it on the bottle tree. Then it's bottle, cap, and back in the box (right-side up this time). All told, I spend maybe an hour per batch cleaning bottles, spread across two or three weeks.

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This is what I do:

  • rinse bottles with water, twice, at most three hours after consumption
  • de-label with a dishwasher, scheduled for late night cycle for grid-friendliness. putting them in a way that the opening will not be obscured by the rods so that water can get inside
  • sanitize in an oven, at 250 degrees for 40 minutes. This kills everything.

I am actually looking for high-pressure compressor to clean bigger pieces of dirt from inside of older bottles. Anybody has an idea?

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This works, but is probably overkill. Cleaners such as Oxiclean and PBW will remove a lot of the crud and labels without any scrubbing if left overnight, and StarSan is a no rinse sanitizer that sanitizes the bottles in a few minutes. –  mdma Jul 3 '13 at 14:51
    
in fact.. it's not that much of a hassle, because I do not need to sit there.. I heard about oxiclean, going to check if we have it in our country. –  Pavel Radzivilovsky Jul 8 '13 at 13:49
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well..... kegging would solve most of the concerns you brought up. I agree with you that bottling can take a big chunk of "brewing time". Kegging is considerably "faster". However if that is not an option to you, I would highly recommend a no-rinse sanitizer such as Iodaphor or star san. Switching to a no rinse sanitizer made a big difference in time for me. I carefully rinse the bottles after using them and flip them upside down to dry. Before bottling, I give them a quick soak in some detergent of some kind (oxiclean), and rinse with hot water. Then I spray sanitizer mixed to the "no-rinse" specifications into the bottles using an avinator. They go directly onto my drying rack and are ready for use in 2 min.

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Thanks! I've considered the kegging route, but it does take away some of the fun of giving away 6-packs to friends. –  John Naegle Dec 5 '12 at 16:20
    
bottling off the keg can be quite simple. I find it easier to carbonate in the keg, then bottle a 24 or so for parties or gifts. –  David PGB Dec 10 '12 at 1:59
    
I presume that bottling off the keg is pretty much the same as getting a growler from a brewery, in terms of freshness, life expectancy, etc? –  object88 Jul 30 '13 at 16:21
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