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Home Brew Bottle Sanitization

One of the least glamours jobs in home brewing is bottle sanitizing. Cleaning old beer bottles is not only time consuming but extremely boring. There is no smell of malted barley, no fresh hops, no taste tests, just scrubbing beer bottles and waiting. Hopefully these pointers will make the process of sanitizing bottles a little less painful for the home brewer.

First you need beer bottles. You can buy new bottles from your local home brew shop. The nice thing about this is they are clean, don’t have labels, and are all the same shape and size. You can buy beer bottles full of beer. The plus here is they come with free beer, you can’t beat that. You don’t need to remove the labels but I definitely prefer to remove them. Another great way to store your completed home brew is in a keg system but we will save that for another discussion.

If you don’t have labels on your home brew beer bottles or just don’t care you can skip this paragraph. To remove the labels you will need to soak the bottles. I have heard that OxiClean works very well, not just for bottles but many other home brew tasks, i.e. carboys, kegs, kettles, hoses, siphons, etc.. I have only used bleach. Fill your bathtub, plastic tote, or bucket with the cleaner of your choice and put in the bottles. I use a tote outside and fill each bottle with the hose, then when the water lever starts to rise the bottles don’t float, requiring me to submerge the bottle until the air is released. The longer the bottles soak the easier it will be to remove the labels. Some labels will literally just fall off, others will need a little more work. I peel or scrape the label off as soon as I can so the sticky-glue-white-junk can soak as long as possible. I first use a small piece of plastic to scrape the label off and then use a scouring pad to finish the cleanup.

Once the labels are removed you should rinse the bottles with clean water. Much of the glue and label gunk is floating in the water and can remain stuck to your bottles. You also want to make sure to rinse off the OxiClean or bleach. You can do this in another bucket of water, under the faucet, or with a faucet jet bottle washer.

After the labels are removed and rinsed you need to sanitize your home brew bottles. There are numerous ways to do this. You can purchase a bottle pump called a Vinator Sulfiter with Star San. The Vinator Sulfiter will squirt the sanitizing solution into a home brew bottle and then collect the solution for reuse. Just squirt the bottle 3 to 4 times and drain. This is a very simple method and saves lots of sanitizing solution.

Another option is to just fill a bucket with a sanitizing solution like Star San and dunk your bottles in for a few minutes, pull out and drain. This obviously uses much more sanitizing solution. Remember with Star San you should leave the bottle wet. The moment the Star San drys it is not as effective of a sanitizing solution. Leftover Star San in your bottle will not effect your home brew.

You could also put your bottles in the dishwasher and run with a sanitizer or no soap at all. I am not sure that the jets would clean the inside of the bottles so you may want to save this method for outside bottle washing only.

I recently tried the oven and that seemed to work well. I took small pieces of tin foil and covered the top of each bottle. I set the bottle on their side in the oven and slowly brought the heat up to 350 degrees. I did 200 degrees for 10 minutes, brought to 275 degrees for 10 minutes and then 350. I cooked the bottles for 1 hour and then let them cool. Because the tin foil is on the top of the home brew bottle I am able to let these sit for a while before I bottle. I wouldn’t recommend letting them sit too long as the tin foil is not air tight. I am not sure what repeated heated and cooling would do to the glass bottles.

A few other tips, rinse out your beer bottles immediately after pouring out the home brew. I rinse the bottle with hot water and then stick upside down in a dish dryer. That way they are ready to go next time, just need to be sanitized. A bottle dryer is a very convenient tool to have. You can purchase one or make one out of a bread tray, drilling holes in a piece of plywood, or dishwasher tray.

Hopefully these tips will make sanitizing bottles a little less painful. After all the work you put into your brew you would hate to have it fail on the final stretch. Remember to keep it clean and happy brewing!