Cleaning old beer bottles for brewing

Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

Bottles like this, filthy on the inside, can be cleaned with a bit of effort and good technique
I've been home brewing beer off and on for more than 20 years. It was my first venture into fermenting and making my own anything. I used to turn up regularly to parties with a crate of homebrew. It's a financially rewarding pursuit, each bottle of beer costing about 70c to make, while they retail for $5 or more. The trick is to set yourself up right.

Cleaning bottles is the least fun part of the process by far. It's the type of job that you only want to do once. To avoid going through this process more than once make sure that you rinse the bottles a couple of times to ensure that they are clean after you've used them, and stack them away in a cupboard somewhere near where you bottle your beer.

The newer 750ml screwtop bottles can be used but are of poor quality. They are made to be recycled, not reused. The glass is thin and they often break. I use them, but dislike them. My favourite bottles are the old long necks, 750ml thick glass. By using bigger bottles you don't have to clean so many and are encouraged to drink with someone else. Nothing quite like sharing a bottle of beer! The old bottles (and even the new Coopers ones) are designed for reuse and are like gold for homebrewers like myself. I've collected old bottles from the side of the road, full of mud and gunk, and taken them home with the idea that I'd clean them one day. That day has come.

Large collection of old beer bottles being filled with water and left to soak
I started by gathering all my old bottles and cleaning the dirt and labels from the outside. Kai them helped me fill all of the bottle with water to soak - at least overnight before internal cleaning.

After tipping half of the water out I add small (5mm) rough edges stones to the bottle using a funnel. I give the bottle a good shake for a minute or so and then empty the bottle through a tea strainer to retain the stones for the next bottle. I find that this gets rid of the majority of caked on gunk that has stuck to the glass.
A small hand full of rough-edged stones, about 5mm in diameter, are added to the dirty bottle half-filled with water

After shaking the stones around in the bottle for a mintue or so I drain the water out through a large tea strainer into a container so I can reuse the stones for the next bottle

I add some clean water to the bottle and give it a bit of a final clean with a good quality bottle brush
The next step is to fill the bottle about a third with clean water and use a good quality bottle brush to a bit of a scrub. Tip out the water and hold the bottle up to the light to carefully inspect it. If you wouldn't drink out of it, give it another clean.

Clean bottles are then put into a crate, by the time the crate is full (12 bottles) I've had enough, and stack them into a cupboard in the shed. The cupboard is within arms reach of my bottling bench where I refill the bottles with freshly brewed beer (more about that later).

I carefully inspect the bottle to make sure it's clean (this is the same bottle as the first photo)

Clean bottles are stacked in a cupboard in the shed ready for bottling


Linda said…
I love the stones idea! I'm going to try tihis with my vases.
Unknown said…
Nice job Richard. I use the soaking method for old bottles, but never tried the pebbles.

Will have to try it when I get some stubborn ones.

Cheers Gav
serendipity2000 said…
Great idea Richard. I've showed my son your stone cleaning method who is our household brewing champ. He loves it. Will let you know how it goes.
Timbo said…
This is a good idea. Too often family members visit us (From Melbourne to where we are now, near Byron) and we just box the beers up.

I learnt the hard way that even bottle cleaning solution doesn't work. I had to use a skewer.

But this is an awesome idea.

Given how many we have, this saves chucking a bunch out (I think I have around 300 to clean).

Needless to say, now I rinse in hot water right away dry, then store upside down so they just need a rinse in hot soapy water then into the oven before use)

Tim M
Using stone to clean the bottle is really good tips.
As I see it, it's quite difficult and a lot of things to do to make that glass cleans. But, if there's a will there's a way...good work!
Have you noticed an increase of bottles rupturing under pressure at all?

Commercial beer line cleaners that are used in the hospitality industry use a very similar method, all be it smaller particles to fit through the lines. it breaks down the material and the solution breaks down and kills the yeast.

Have you thought of using a beer line cleaning solution in conjunction with the stones. I use Bracton Twin for old bottles, brings it back to a complete static clean state. Plus I dont know what has been in the bottles previously, so I 'nuke it', then return to normal sanitiser there after.
Anonymous said…
That gravel idea is inspired.
I am just getting started home brewing and bought a stack of bottles for a song on ebay; Trouble is they have been stacked in someones shed for years and by the look of them may have been through a flood or two. Soaking and brushing just doesn't quite do the job.
Off to get some gravel.

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