Whether you are a collector of antique and vintage bottles or simply love the look of a few old treasures decorating a sunny windowsill, knowing the best methods of cleaning old bottles will help restore their beautiful colors and sparkling look.
Dirt, Grime and Sick Glass
Have you ever found an old bottle that had a unique style or an unusual shape but looked so dirty or stained you did not know how to clean it? Or perhaps you went on a bottle dig and unearthed a treasure of your very own that looked like it could never come clean. Whether the old bottles have a milky white coating known as sick glass, are coated with dried earth and grim or have dirt etched into the glass there are cleaning methods that often bring the bottle back to original, or almost original, condition.
Popular Methods of Cleaning Old Bottles
Many bottle diggers, antique professionals and serious collectors have there own special ways to clean old bottles. In actuality there are numerous methods that can be used. Some methods are more successful than others depending on the age of the bottle and whether it is just dirty or if there is staining or a mineral deposit on the glass.
Soaking a Bottle
If you dig up an old bottle or find a special treasure at a flea market or garage sale the first thing to do when you get it home is soak it in room temperature water and dishwashing liquid. Make sure to place a towel into the sink, or container, to cushion the glass. The temperature of the water is extremely important since water that is much hotter or colder than the bottle itself can cause it to crack. Allow the bottle to soak for a few hours or overnight if possible. Rinse the bottle with room temperature water. For many old bottles this will remove the dirt and grim that has built up over the years.
A bottle that has contained water, or other liquid, for long periods of time often forms a buildup of a white crusty material caused by the minerals in the liquid. The mineral deposits are often located on the bottom of the bottle or appear as a ring, or several rings, around the bottle at various heights. Many bottles with mineral deposits also have some staining. There are commercial products sold that remove mineral buildups and lime scales. These products generally work well on old bottles.
Bottles that have spent many years underground often contain rust stains that are hard to remove. The following are several methods used to remove this type of stain from old bottles.
- Use a cleaning pad that is non-abrasive to scrub away the stain. A good type of non-abrasive pad is a copper wool pad which is sold at most grocery or hardware stores.
- Scrap the rust stain with a piece of copper. Copper will not scratch glass.
- Remove the stain using a solution of muriatic acid and water. Use caution with muriatic acid making sure to always wear eye protection and rubber gloves.
Staining and Etching
An old bottle with glass that is cloudy with white stains is called sick glass. This occurs due to changes in the glass that occur when components of the glass are removed over time from the liquids inside the bottle. It also can happen to old bottles that have spent many years underground and were subjected to moisture. Using a professional bottle cleaner is the best way to restore a bottle with this type of damage.
Professional Bottle Cleaning
Professional bottle cleaners generally charge between $10-20 for most bottles. However, a bottle with severe etching and staining may cost as much as $50 or more to clean. Professional cleaners use a tumbling system with a polishing compound, water and copper wire pieces.
More Cleaning Tips for Old Bottles
- Only use bottle brushes that have soft bristles.
- Fill an old bottle that has dried paint inside with paint stripper. Cover the top securely using a cork or stopper and let the bottle sit for several days.
- Never try to clean an old bottle with hydrofluoric acid.
- Fill the bottle with a solution of 1 part bleach to 7 parts water and allow it to set for at least 12 hours.
- Fill the bottle with water and add a false teeth cleaner such as Polident.
- Fill the bottle with water or vinegar, add one of the following materials and shake the bottle to get the inside clean:
- Fine grained sand
- B Bs
- Laundry detergent
- Automatic dishwasher detergent
Cleaning old bottles brings back their beautiful luster and sparkle, increases their value and makes them more appealing as a decorative item in your home.