Cleaning old glass bottles

justjudeMay 18, 2004

This is hardly your usual household cleaning query, but I didn't know where else to post it. If anyone can recommend a better site, I'm willing.

Here's the thing. We live in a 100 year old house with a large back yard, which was once obviously used for dumping trash. There's a lovely garden there now, but whenever we dig deeply (as we have been doing to put in a new walkway), we unearth all manner of unusual stuff.

Recently we have dug up quite a few intact glass bottles. I'd like to get them as clean as possible and use them as little vases, but I'm having trouble getting them clean. The insides have become etched from lying in the dirt for 100 years, and the dirt that is in the etched part just won't let go.

Here's what I have tried (all involving scrubbing with a toothbrush): Hot water, hot water and liquid detergent, hot water and liquid detergent and bleach, hot water and liquid detergent and bleach with marbles in the bottle to shake around.

What else might work? I know I can't remove the etching, but I would like to get the dirt out of it.


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I would try hot water and white vineger. And if that doesn't work, then use hot water and baking soda. I bet they are pretty.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 8:04AM
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Try hot water, rice or salt and a little vinegar. If that doesn't work try laying the bottles out on a piece of tin in the sun. I know sounds wierd, but a friend of mine swears by that. I have never done it, but may try this in the near future. My friend tells me that the "old people" in her family would lay the bottles on the barn tin roof to clean them out and it works every time. Sounds like this may be an old wives tale, but you never know, some of the tales have worked for me.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 9:31AM
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False teeth cleaner......the kind you put in a glass, it fizzes and you put your teeth in....can't remember the name.
With old bottles, part of the charm is the etching and the irridescent look....but I don't think mud adds to the charm....
Linda C

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 12:09PM
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I got an old bottle clean with automatic-dishwashing detergent and hot water once. Just shook it up a bit and it cleaned it very well.

Strange tip that our DS found once is "Tang" - the breakfast drink. He read that it cleaned the inside of a stained old dishwasher and we tried it and it really brightened up the inside of our old dishwasher! I'd give that a try, couldn't hurt!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 12:15PM
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"You'll wonder where the mud stuff went,
When you clean your jars with Polident!"
Works great...just break one up and drop it in!! Even the cheapy denture cleaning tablets from the dollar store work well!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2004 at 2:49PM
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That's what I was trying to remember!! Polident!
( it's hell to get old!)
Linda C

    Bookmark   May 20, 2004 at 11:59PM
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I put sand in them with soapy water and shake. Works pretty well. Vinegar and baking soda sometimes too.

That efferdent stuff is great on vintage linens.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2004 at 1:07PM
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The Polydent didn't work at all (maybe because ours was old--I found it under the sink, probably purchased for a similar but long-forgotten project).

Now I'm trying straight white vinegar. I'll keep you posted!


    Bookmark   May 21, 2004 at 10:02PM
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A glass worker once told me that the etching won't come off. I have a small really old, "sunburned" glass vase. It is a lovely very pale lavender, but is cloudy on the inside. The glass guy said that is from age, and it is there to stay.

BTW, denture tablets are great for cleaning drains too. It works better than the caustic stuff like Drano. Put 4 or 5 of them in a smelly drain at night, and it will be fine by morning.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2004 at 6:16PM
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I also have had no luck in cleaning out that cloudy, iridescent layer from inside some antique milk bottles. At one time or another I have tried most of the tips you have suggested.
I would love to know just exactly what is it that causes that iridescent layer to form in the first place. Anybody know?

    Bookmark   July 5, 2004 at 2:27PM
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It is a change in the chemistry of the glass, as I understand it. The glassworker who told me it was permanent said that glass gets a matte finish on it from age and the chemistry of whatever it contained. The only way it could be smoothed out would be to heat the glass in a kiln just enough to cause the surface to melt a little. In the case of my sunburned glass, it would also take the color out. Also, there is a danger that the shape of the object would change from the heat. I've decided to let mine be - at its age, it's entitled to some flaws. :-)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2004 at 6:23PM
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Thanks Greenlady.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2004 at 9:20PM
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I'd try sticking one in the dishwasher and see how it comes out.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2004 at 2:11PM
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The cloudy, irridescent look, nor the purpling on old glass can't be removed. That's what shows that it's old glass!
Remove the dirt and enjoy the lovely patina.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 12, 2004 at 12:40AM
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If you are into collecting antiques, those sunburned glass items are GREAT finds!!!!!

I have washed a million old bottles - all the tricks mentioned have a time and place where they worked - but the amethyst color is lovely and permanent!


    Bookmark   September 22, 2005 at 1:40PM
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I have had great success cleaning old bottles using masonry sand, the very fine type used for mortar, combined with vinegar. Agitate the mixture until the patina only remains. Works well in cleaning hard-to-scrub vases too.


    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 1:15PM
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Tips from a bottle collector and digger: Be careful with sand since it can easily scratch glass - bottle collectors use bits of copper wire instead. (copper will not scratch glass) Soaking overnight in an ammonia solution is good for dirt and grime. Try also LimeAway or similar product in grocery store for certain types of whitish deposits although most iridescence or "stain" can only be removed with tumbling or polishing. Bottle brushes (often found at grocery or hardware stores) are invaluable for cleaning the insides of old bottles.

See also this antique bottle cleaning page.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 10:22AM
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Thanks a lot all of you. I will try everything until something works. I have a bottle that is 2 1/2 feet tall but only has a 1/2 inch mouth. Be pretty hard to find a bottle bruch for that! lol! Thanks again for the suggestions

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 12:39PM
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Hi. All the methods you have posted here work to some extent, depending on the type of dirt, soiling or hazing, and the bottle itself.
Mineral hazing or mineral etching can never be removed unless you use drastic measures (ie) heating the glass to just below the melting point. This in itself causes many other problems, warping etc. I have over 1000 bottles from the 1600s to the 1950s. I do not clean them past just getting the dirt & grime off. Some embossed bottles that are clear I clean a bit more so they can be read.
But other than that. Enjoy your bottle with it's patina.
That is just one part of it that makes it old and desirable to most collectors

    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 12:23PM
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You might try looking for a birdfeeder brush to reach into the longer bottle. Though I have one I haven't used it for the purpose you are talking about. I bet it would work though!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:21AM
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Many bottle diggers, antique professionals and serious collectors have there own special ways to clean old bottles. 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 dish washing liquid. 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.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 6:47AM
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Just soak the bottle in ketchup for 1 week. YES YOU HAVE TO USE A LOT OF KETCHUP.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 12:43PM
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I tried a few different methods and when none worked to my satisfaction I had a thought, I want to use these old milk bottles I found under my grandmothers house as milk bottles again and if I can't then I will just sell them off so after many attempts and failures I tried spraying oven cleaner into them and letting them sit(carefully not to get any on the lettering) and to my surprise they look like brand new bottles soooo happy!!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 12:16PM
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Try filling it with Coke or Pepsi and letting it sit for a few hours. I had an old milk bottle from the 40's or 50's that had some kind of dirt inside that I couldn't get out, even with a bottle brush. I filled it with Pepsi and sat it on my desk. For three hours, it kept bubbling. After it stopped, I poured it out and washed it with dishwashing liquid and water. It was sparkling and spotless!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2014 at 1:57PM
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