Cleaning Old Bottles: Simple Ways to Restore Their Brilliance

Updated December 13, 2021
Vintage dirty bottles

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. Get a step-by-step guide for multiple ways for how to clean old bottles including a materials list.

Popular Methods of Cleaning Old Bottles

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 grime, or have dirt etched into the glass there are cleaning methods that often bring the bottle back to original, or almost original, condition.

Many bottle diggers, antique professionals, and serious collectors have their own special ways to clean old bottles. In actuality, there are numerous methods you can use. 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.

Soak the 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.

Person hands in gloves cleaning and washing glass flasks

Soaking Materials

For this method, you need:

  • Dish soap (Dawn recommended)
  • Bottle brush
  • Towel

Instructions for Soaking Bottles

With your dish soap at the ready, follow these simple instructions to ensure your bottle gets some TLC.

  1. Make sure to place a towel into the sink, or container, to cushion the glass.
  2. Fill the sink with room temperature water and a few drops of dish soap. 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.
  3. Allow the bottle to soak for a few hours or overnight if possible.
  4. Rinse the bottle with room temperature water.
  5. Use a bottle brush to clean the inside.
  6. For many old bottles this will remove the dirt and grime that has built up over the years.
  7. Dry off your bottle and check your progress.

Bleach Method

When it comes to removing grime and bacteria from old bottles, bleach is a to-go for many antique enthusiasts.

Bleach Method Materials

Cleaning with bleach is pretty easy because you only need one ingredient.

Guide to Cleaning Old Bottles With Bleach

With your bleach at the ready, the rest of your cleaning adventure is pretty simple.

  1. Fill the bottle with a solution of 1 part bleach to 7 parts water.
  2. Allow it to set for at least 12 hours.
  3. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Clean With Polident

Polident is great for cleaning false teeth. Well, you can use it to clean your old bottles too.

Materials for Cleaning

To clean the inside of your old bottle, grab:

  • Polident tab

Steps for Using Polident to Clean Old Bottles

The way you use Polident to clean your old bottles is pretty similar to cleaning teeth.

  1. Fill the bottle with water.
  2. Pop the Polident tab in the bottle.
  3. Allow the tab to work its magic.
  4. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Use White Vinegar

When you are looking to just clean up and shine an old bottle, you can use a mild acid and an abrasive to get it clean.

White Vinegar

Materials for Cleaning Inside Bottles

To get all that gunk out of your bottle, you want to try.

How to Clean Old Glass Bottles With Vinegar

Once you have your white vinegar, detergent, and abrasive agent, it's time to get cleaning.

  1. Fill the bottle with white vinegar.
  2. Add either laundry detergent or dishwashing detergent.
  3. Drop-in sand, rice, or BBs.
  4. Shake vigorously.
  5. Repeat until all the gunk in the bottle is removed.

Remove Mineral Deposits

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.

Mineral Deposit Removal Materials List

To remove these stains you need:

  • Commercial limescale remover
  • Towel

Instructions for Removing Mineral Deposits

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.

  1. Following the instructions on the cleaner, add a bit to the bottle where the limescale is located.
  2. Allow it to sit for the recommended time.
  3. Rinse and dry.

Get Rid of Rust Stains

When it comes to how to clean old bottles with rust stains, you need to pull out some bigger guns.

Vintage translucent medicine bottles

Rust Stains Materials List

For these stains, you need to have on hand:

  • Copper wool pad
  • Muriatic acid
  • Protective gear

Cleaning Old Bottles With Muriatic Acid

Bottles that have spent many years underground often contain rust stains that are hard to remove. Use this method to remove this type of stain from old bottles.

  1. 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.
  2. Scrap the rust stain with the copper wool pad until the rust is gone.
  3. For stubborn rust, grab the muriatic acid.
  4. Dilute the muriatic acid with water per the instructions.
  5. Allow the bottle to soak until the rust is gone.
  6. Use caution with muriatic acid making sure to always wear eye protection and rubber gloves.

Remove Paint

When you have an old bottle with paint inside or outside, you need to remove it to get the paint clean. Thankfully, it's not that hard.

Glass jars in red and blue paint

Materials to Remove Paint From Bottles

To remove paint, you need to have:

  • Paint stripper
  • Cork or stopper

Guide to Removing Paint From Inside Bottles

Once you have the paint stripper ready, it's time to get down to business.

  1. Fill an old bottle with paint stripper.
  2. Cover the top securely using a cork or stopper and let the bottle sit for several days.
  3. Pour out the paint stripper.
  4. Rinse and dry.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

Restoring Bottles With 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.

Cleaning Tips for Old Bottles

When it comes to cleaning old bottles, there are a lot of different methods that you can use. However, when it comes to cleaning old bottles, you want to keep these tips in mind.

  • If cleaning a bottle with a bottle brush, only use bottle brushes that have soft bristles.
  • Never try to clean an old bottle with hydrofluoric acid.
  • Keep the age of the bottle in consideration when it comes to cleaning. Some methods will be too harsh for these bottles.

Best Ways to Clean Old Bottles

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. Now that you have a few ideas for cleaning, it's time to give it a try.

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Cleaning Old Bottles: Simple Ways to Restore Their Brilliance