HOW TO CLEAN OLD BOTTLES
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Because most of the bottles I find are old, and many of them still have remnants inside of whatever they last held, it is important that they be thoroughly cleaned before we use them.
An excellent book on the subject, Conservation and Care of Glass Objects by Stephen Koob, Conservator for the Corning Museum of Glass, Archetype Publications Ltd., 2006, ISBN 1-904982-08-5 is available from www.cmog.org .
An excellent write-up on cleaning art glass is available at The Blenko Archive .
Here is how I do it.
1. Wearing 2 pair of rubber gloves, I wash the outside of the bottle with scalding hot water, soap, and a soft sponge removing as much grime as possible. If there is a spot that won't budge, I will use a plastic scrubber like Scotch-Brite 3M Dobie. Remember, if a bottle is flashed the color is delicate and you will need to be gentle if there is external dirt.
2. Then, I rinse the inside with scalding soapy water to remove any loose dirt.
3. Even if the bottle now appears to be clean, I fill it with soapy water and let it sit for a day or two to dissolve any hidden residue. ( The Blenko Archive recommends soaking for no more than one hour.)
4. After soaking for a few days, if there is still some visible residue, I use a denture cleaner like Polident or Efferdent, dissolved according to the package directions, to try and get it off. ( The Blenko Archive cautions that denture cleaners can make stains more pronounced.)
5. If the residue is stubborn, I may use two or three applications of the denture cleaner.
6. If that doesn't work, I try and scrape the debris away using Decanter Cleaning Beads . ( The Blenko Archive recommends using rice.)
7. Most bottles are clean at this point (the best way to determine this is to fill with soap bubbles – dirt will be clearly visible against the opaque white of the bubbles). If there is still some discoloration you will need to determine whether it is IN the glass (and, therefore irremovable), whether it is a permanent chemical discoloration from its time in a landfill (and whether you can live with that), or whether CLR might remove it. ( The Blenko Archive recommends using a 3-5% nitric acid solution for carbonate deposits and a 5-10% oxalic acid solution for iron deposits.)
8. Personally, I have never had to use CLR.
9. Once I am satisfied that all residue has been removed I wash the bottle with scalding hot soapy water 2 or 3 times.
10. Then, to remove any soap residue, I rinse the bottle 5 or 6 times with scalding hot clear water.
11. Once I am sure the bottle is absolutely clean, I rinse it twice more, and invert it to dry. ( The Blenko Archive recommends rinsing with a small amount of rubbing alcohol.)
12. When the bottle is dry, I smell the inside to see whether I missed anything. If it doesn't smell absolutely clean, I will repeat the above steps until it does.
13. Only when the dry bottle looks and smells clean will I use it to store alcohol.
14. If you would like to use a brush on the inside, Justman Brush sells every size and shape imaginable.