You can purchase unlabeled clean bottles for your home-brewed beer, but you have another option. Removing labels from beer bottles is cost-effective and benefits the environment. You’re not adding bottles to the landfill. It’s also not hard to remove the labels, but it does take some time. Here’s what you need to know about removing labels from store-bought beer bottles.
Get Your Supplies
Along with your empty beer bottles, you’ll need a few other supplies. It will make it easier to remove stubborn labels and sanitize the bottles.
Sanitizing old bottles is crucial. You don’t want to pour your home-brewed beer into a dirty glass bottle. Not only will it alter the flavor of your beer, but it can also spread germs and bacteria. Here are the supplies you’ll need.
- Stainless steel scrubbing pad
- Baking soda
- Star San or a similar sanitizing product
- Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW)
- Dish or paper towels
- Gloves and goggles
- Medium-sized bucket
You can find PBW at any home brewing store. It’s inexpensive and removes any lingering odors left behind by the original beer.
Removing Beer Bottle Labels at Home
One method may work better for you than others. Sometimes, you have to try different ways to take labels off beer bottles before you find the one that works best.
Method 1: Soaking
If you noticed the labels start to fall off while you’re drinking the beer, soaking the bottles in cold water is an easy way to remove them.
You will need a large bucket, sink, or even bathtub, and a few gallons of water to soak the bottles for a few hours. Stubborn labels may need to soak longer. A couple of days should do it.
Make sure the bottles are entirely submerged. If you are only cleaning a few bottles, a bucket will probably work fine.
The water will dissolve paper labels leaving some glue behind. A quick wipe down with stainless steel wool easily removes any leftover residue.
A quick tip. Don’t try to flush the paper labels down the drain. It can result in a clog that’s often expensive to remove.
Method 2: Use a Cleaner
Sometimes, it takes more than soaking bottles in water to get stubborn labels off. Some manufacturers use different adhesives to keep their labels firmly attached.
Almost any dishwashing soap will do the trick, but OxiClean seems to work best. It is a little more potent than some bargain-priced dishwashing soaps. It costs more, but it may be worth it if you are cleaning more than a few bottles.
The cleaning process is simple. Fill your sink with warm water and add the dishwashing soap. You want to use warm water; it helps the soap dissolve faster, especially if you use OxiClean powder.
Give the powder a few minutes to fully dissolve before tossing the bottles in the soapy water. You may even want to stir the water first to ensure the powder dissolved completely.
When you are putting the bottles in the sink, make sure they are completely submerged. Chances are, you won’t be able to put all of your bottles in at once. It’s okay; you’ll just repeat the process for all of the bottles.
Let the bottles soak for about a couple of hours. The glue will loosen, and the labels should fall off without a lot of scraping. Grab your steel wool or razor blade and use a little elbow grease to finish the job. You need to get any remaining paper and adhesive off the bottle.
Run the bottle under water to remove any residue, dry, and set it aside. Do this for all of the bottles you plan on filling with your homemade beer.
Method 3: Use Baking Soda
Almost every kitchen has a box of baking soda in a cabinet or refrigerator. It’s inexpensive to buy if you don’t have any, and you can find baking soda at any grocery store.
Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is an effective way to remove labels from beer bottles. Baking soda reacts with water, causing the glue to loosen and making it easier for you to peel the label off.
You want to add 16 tablespoons of baking soda for every gallon of water. It seems like a lot, but you’ll be glad when the labels seem to fall off the bottles. Let the bottles soak for around 30 minutes. Afterward, use a scrubber to remove any residue and rinse the bottles off.
Method 4: Use PBW (powdered brewery wash)
PBW has one purpose: to clean glass jars and bottles. The alkali cleaner effectively removes sticky labels, even screen-printed labels that are notoriously difficult to get off.
Powdered Brewery Wash is a little more expensive than dish soap and baking soda, but it does make it easier to get labels off of beer bottles. Your home brewing supply store will have the cleaner available.
You want to add between one and two ounces of the cleaner to a gallon of water. The amount you use depends on how hard the labels are to peel off. Go ahead and add two ounces of PBW to the water; it ensures you aren’t spending a lot of time scrubbing residual glue and paper off the bottles.
Give the bottles an overnight soak for at least 12 hours. You can let them soak longer without any problem; it only removes more of the label and glue. Scrub the bottles, rinse them off, and set them aside to dry.
Method 5: Clean with Star San
Star San is a product that commercial brewers are familiar with, along with experienced homebrewers. The cleaner/sanitizer is acidic and can burn your skin and eyes, so you may want to wear protective gloves and eyewear.
It is stronger than OxiClean and Baking Soda, making Star San a good choice for stubborn labels. You can find it at almost any home brewing store but be prepared for a slightly higher price than most PBWs. However, it’s worth it when you don’t have to spend hours scrubbing the labels off.
Star San contains phosphoric acid, which is odorless and tasteless. It is unlikely to affect the flavor or aroma of your home-brewed beer. It’s one of the reasons commercial breweries use the cleaner. The other is its effectiveness.
You want to add around ½ cup of cleaner to a gallon of water. Let the bottles soak for 30 minutes or so before you start wiping them down. The labels and adhesive should come right off. In most cases, you don’t need to use steel wool or another type of scouring pad.
The solution can also be stored for up to four days in an airtight container. You don’t need to waste the cleaner. If you have more bottles to clean than you can fit in the sink, you have some extra time to get every one of them cleaned. You want to get the mixture’s pH level around three or possibly lower to ensure effectiveness after storage.
Method 6: Use Ammonia
Sometimes not even Star San is enough to remove beer bottle labels. In this case, ammonia will do the trick. It is a harsh chemical, so get your safety gear ready. You don’t want to splash ammonia in your eyes or mouth. It can also burn your hands, so wear gloves when you are cleaning the bottles.
Ammonia is safe for home use, but you want a well-ventilated area in which to work. Ammonia fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, and other health problems. If you can’t ventilate the area, consider wearing an inexpensive face mask. You can also go all out and purchase a gas mask. But, unless you plan on using ammonia regularly, a face mask will work fine.
A bucket works best with ammonia. You may not want the chemical in your kitchen sink or bathtub. It’s one more thing you have to thoroughly clean before you can safely use it again.
You don’t want to use a large bucket. You’ll have to pour in more ammonia, increasing your risk for splashes or inhaling the fumes. Look for one under 20 ounces. You can’t clean as many bottles at a time, but your safety is key.
Fill the bucket with water and pour in ½ cup of ammonia. Put the bottles in and cover the bucket. Let the bottles soak for about an hour before removing the lid. Don’t forget to wear a face mask; the fumes will build up in the sealed container.
The ammonia solution is strong enough to dissolve the labels and glue thoroughly. There shouldn’t be a lot of scrubbing, only rinsing the cleaning solution off. You want to rinse the bottles several times before drying. The last thing you want is an aftertaste of ammonia in your beer.
Method 7: Use Your Dishwasher
Your dishwasher can help remove beer bottle labels. The combination of soap and hot water also sanitizes the outside of the bottles. It is a quick and easy way to remove labels, but you will have to do some scrubbing afterward.
The dishwasher can also help sanitize the bottles. It’s something you have to do before filling them with your beer.
The dishwasher won’t sanitize inside, you have to do this by hand, but it is an excellent way to get started. If your dishwasher comes with a sanitizing cycle, use the setting, but don’t add soap. It’s designed to run on hot water alone.
How to Sanitize Beer Bottles
After removing the labels from the beer bottles, the next step is to sanitize each one inside and out thoroughly. As previously mentioned, your dishwasher works great on the outside, but it can’t get inside the bottles. It’s especially true for narrow-necked bottles.
You will need a few items.
- Bottle brush
- Bucket, sink, or tub
The bottles may look clean and new after removing the labels, but germs and bacteria still live inside the bottle. They probably won’t make you sick – the alcohol in the beer will kill most bacteria – but it can ruin the aroma and flavor of your freshly brewed beer. Most often, you’ll notice a ‘skunky’ taste.
Step 1: Clean the Container
Whether you are using a bucket, sink, or tub, you want to thoroughly clean it before sanitizing the bottles. Soap and water will work fine; just be sure the container is well-rinsed.
Step 2: Add Water and Sanitizer
Fill the bucket, sink, or tub with hot water. The water doesn’t need to be boiling, but you do want it hot. The goal is to sanitize your batch of bottles, and only hot water will do the job.
After filling the container, add the sanitizer. If you don’t have anything like Star San on hand, ordinary household bleach will work fine. Follow the directions on the sanitizer; if you are using bleach, it’s one tablespoon for every gallon of water.
Step 3: Soak the Beer Bottles
You don’t need to soak the bottles overnight to kill bacteria. Twenty minutes is more than enough time to sanitize them thoroughly. Make sure the bottles are entirely submerged, so the liquid gets inside.
Step 4: Clean and Rinse
Use the bristled bottle brush to get inside the bottles. You want to scrub in a circular motion, reaching the base of the bottle. Rinse the bottles with warm water. The dishwasher is another option. You can fill the racks and rinse all of the bottles at once. The hot water from the dishwasher also kills any bacteria you may have missed.
Step 5: Dry and Store the Bottles
Allow all of the bottles to thoroughly dry before putting them in storage. Leftover moisture will turn into mold and mildew. You also want to store the clean beer bottles in an airtight container to prevent dust and dirt from getting inside.
Now you are all set with plenty of unlabeled craft beer bottles waiting to be filled with your home-brewed beer.