Cleaning Bottles For Homebrewing
Bottles are an essential part of completing your brewing process. You can go the easy route and simply buy them at a homebrew store but why not save a few bucks. As a bonus, you’ll get to drink some beer before cleaning bottles. Cleaning bottles really aren’t that hard as long as you pay attention.
The first step of cleaning the bottles is to drink the contents. Try to stick with a similar brand if you value consistency as even long necks can vary slightly in size. After drinking the bottle immediately wash with warm water then dump and dry it. An empty twelve pack works fine for storing and drying your bottles till you upgrade your drying equipment.
As for upgraded drying equipment you can either go with a Fastrack bottle dryer or bottle tree. A Fastrack consists of a plastic tray, holder, and slots for each bottle. A bottle tree is a towering post with prongs for each bottle. My preference is the Fastrack for various reasons. Read my review for the Fastrack here if you are curious.
The next step of removing labels is optional but makes your homebrew more professional. Mix up half a scoop of OxiClean Free in a 5 gallon bucket or large tote with warm water. Place bottles in a container and make sure they fill up with enough liquid to sink. Soak for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Almost all labels will come off at this point but some can be stubborn. A quick scrub with an abrasive sponge will remove most remaining residue. If you still can’t get the label off then toss the bottle as some breweries use really strong glue. Make sure to fill the bottles with warm water a few times and dump to remove the Oxiclean Free. Finally, dry your bottles.
The Oxiclean Free is nice as it can remove almost any built up gunk inside the bottle. Simply soak and swirl to remove the gunk. A bottle brush can help but I wouldn’t bother if the soak and swirl didn’t work. Make sure to fill and dump each bottle a few times to remove the Oxiclean. Don’t worry about this step if you have fairly clean bottles and no labels to remove. Feel free to check out my detailed review on Oxiclean Free if you want more details.
Next, you’ll want to thoroughly inspect your dried bottles. Hold the bottle up to a bright light and look in the opening. Look for any cracks or any big bubbles in the bottles. Also look for any mold or bacteria that appeared after drying. Toss any damaged bottles and rewash anything you want to save.
Storage is your next concern for your clean bottles. You can either go the free route with a 12 pack carton or cheap with a milk crate. A 12 pack works fine but will eventually break down. A milk crate will hold approximately 25 bottles and will last forever. Milk crates are cheap so please don’t steal them. Store your bottles upside down to avoid dust and bugs. I recommend a closet in your home that is off the ground as a garage tends to have bugs.
If you’ve completed the above then I’d consider your bottles clean but not sanitized. On bottling day start by inspecting your bottles again just in case. Next, make a batch of Star San according to the instructions. Now use a funnel or sulfiter to coat each bottle in sanitizer. Your bottles are ready to go as long as they stay wet. Click here for a review on my preferred sulfiter, the Vinator.
Some people use a bleach or the dishwasher method for cleaning bottles but I feel those are overkill. I really hate the smell of bleach and the dishwasher barely gets any water into the bottles. I’ve never had an infected beer following my method. Have a homebrew and don’t stress too much over cleaning bottles.