Preparing wine bottles for bottling wine is sometimes glossed-over or minimized by some home wine makers. That’s not a good thing. That’s a bad thing! Starting out with clean and sanitized wine bottles is paramount to having healthy wine. The alternative can lead to a spoilage and embarrassment. Learn more on how to clean wine bottles.
Cleaning Your Wine Bottle
Even if the wine bottles are new, out-of the-box they should be thoroughly rinsed to wash off any box dust that may have made its way inside.
If the wine bottles have been used then there is the dirt and grime to deal with as well. This can be cleaned off with regular dish soap. Clean the wine bottles as if you were cleaning the dishes. A wine bottle brush comes in very handy during this step. You may also find that it helps to have two wine bottle brushes to entice others to pitch in as well.
If the wine bottles are extremely filthy with dried crud and dirt, you may want to clean them in two steps. The first step would be to clean the pieces of dirt. The second, to clean the surface grime and rinse. Having this second bath of water will help to leave the serious filth behind.
Sanitizing Your Wine Bottles
Many beginning wine makers confuse “cleaning” and “sanitizing” to mean the same thing, but they are very different.
Think of “cleaning wine bottles” as getting rid of what you can see and “sanitizing wine bottles” as getting rid of what you can’t.
When you are sanitizing a wine bottle you are destroying the mold, germs and bacteria that may exist on the glass. You are making the glass as sterile as possible. Sounds serious, but it’s really very simple.
There are several products that can sanitize your wine bottles with little effort on your part. Some that we recommend are: Basic A, One-Step and Star-San. You mix any of them with water to create a sanitizing solution. In addition to the wine bottles, these solutions can be used to sanitize gallon glass jugs, wine carboys, and even plastic fermenters.
All three products are oxygenating-type cleansers. What this means is that the sanitizing of the wine bottles is actually being done while the solution dries or evaporates from the wine bottle’s surface. And, no residues are left on the wine bottles.
What this means for you is that these cleansers are quick and require no rinsing. Just submerge the wine bottles and let them drain and dry. One product that works perfect for drying is a Bottle Tree. Just as the name sounds, it is a single column with pegs. Each peg holds a wine bottle. Not only is it handy it’s also a great space-saver.
It should also be noted that the traditional solution of sodium metabisulfite and water can be used for sanitizing wine bottles, but only if the wine bottles are new, or the wine bottles were washed right after being emptied. Cruddy, scavenged wine bottles with “questionable backgrounds” should always be treated with a cleanser similar to the three mentioned earlier, not sodium metabisulfite.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.
How to remove wine labels.
I fill a couple of bottles with very hot water in my sink. Then start filling the sink with very hot water. When hot water reaches up 1/3 up the bottle turn off hot water. Lay bottles down with the label in the water and let soak for 1/2 to 1 hour. Use a sharp paring knife holding the bottle (at the neck) at 45 degree angle and scrape down. Labels come off easily. If any residue is left over use a brillo or sos pad to clean it.
For bottles with silk screen print (imposible to remove except with an atom smasher), use a 5 gallon plastic bucket…..fill several of the bottles with water so they dont float, and place in the bottom of the bucket… add enough water to cover all the printing to be removed…..now, don safety glasses and rubber gloves, and add about 1 cup of sulfuric acid type drain cleaner (Liquid Fire is one brand)…..always add acid to water, NEVER the other way around…..pour slowly and at low level so as not to splash (it helps to pour onto the side of one of the bottles)…..let soak overnight, and rinse with a spray bottle with baking soda water as you raise each bottle from the bucket….place in the sink, and any remaining paint can usually be scrubbed off with a scratch pad……rinse very well, wearing gloves the whole time, and let air dry……while this method works very well, it is probably not for some people……but it does remove the silk screening, especially on special bottles the you would like to re-use……
Draino, I believe is basic not acidic. I don’t know about any other products.
Paint stripper, paint it on and let sit out of sunlight for 20 min.
I want to check with you on my cleaning and sanatizing wine bottles. I first soak them in dish soap and chlorax solution. removing all labels. Wash in the dishwasher. and store. when ready to bottle, I rense with the step-one( Hydrogen peroxide solution) drain, and then rense with a bottle renser on the faucet ( very hot water). drain and rense with meta solution and drain. then I bottle. Is this ok? I have not had any problems with spoilage yet. Knute
If by chlorax you are referring to chlorox or any other bleach based solution, it is a very risky idea for many reasons. The primary reason being that chlorine based cleaners, bleach included, can and likely will cause cork taint (i.e. 2,4,6-trichloroanisole ( TCA). Contact directly with the bottle is next to bottle suicide considering commercial wineries will not even use chlorine based cleaners to clean tanks in much earlier stages in the winemaking process.
If you have to get rid of ANYTHING that you see, recycle the bottle and move onto another. It is not worth the risk of contamination and cross contamination to subsequent bottles of wine. After you finish drinking a bottle, rinse it, drain it well, then let it dry thoroughly. I store my bottles upside down (so to avoid dust accum.) in wine boxes. When ready to use, sanitize and fill’er up. If you like wine, you’ll have plenty of bottles to reuse. A votre sante!
I rinse bottles immediately after emptying, then soak for 1/2 hour in solution of 1/3 cup clorox to 5 gal water, then rinse immediately prior to filling with new wine. Have never lost any wine in 10 years and saved a lot of money not buying expensive products.
Knute, everything you are doing sounds good except for the fact that you are using both the One-Step solution and sodium metabisulfite before bottling. Both are not necessary unless you absolutely want to. One or the other is fine.
Usually I wash the bottle after the wine is gone and when I have 36 bottle
I load them in the dishwasher upside down you must remove the top
tray for this. Place each bottle in the peg use a non bleach washing
solution on normal cycle. When done I let them sit in there until complete
dry. Remove them an sanitize them with meta. Have not had any problem yet.
You may want to stay away from the bleach products, The chlorine can be traced to Trichloroanisole, or TCA, which makes wind "corked" or cork tainted.
I get used empties from a local winery. I rinse them when I get them. When getting ready to use them, I wash with One-Step and a bottle brush, let them drip dry a while on a bottle tree and then sanitize them with K-Meta. Just before bottling, I rinse with spring water. I don’t want an overload of K-Meta in there.
I get bottles from a local wine bar. I rinse them, remove labels and then I put foil over the opening secured with tape. I then store them in garage and barn. I have yet to make any wine, but when I do if I wash bottles and sanitize the them will that be sufficient? I cannot hoop a bottle washer to any sink in my house and I have reservations about putting them in dishwasher. I just have doubts about water getting inside the bottle.
You are so right, people are kidding themselves, thinking that a dish washer is getting bottles clean!
George, it sounds like everything is on the right track. Your best course of action at this time would be to get a wine bottle brush so that you can scrub the insides of the bottles with soapy water. Once the insides are grime-free, you will then need to sanitize them. This can easily be done with a soaking in a bath of one of the many sanitizers we offer. Basic A is a good one:
Wine Bottle Brush
Does it make any difference whether I use sodium or potassium meta… to extend storage life?
Robert, you can use sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite or campden tablets to preserve your wine at bottling time.
I am experimenting with placing French oak sticks in my 5+ gallon carboy during the racking
process, just before the last rack and then bottling. How long should the wood be left in the wine?
Dave, when using oak chips such as the type that we sell, allow the wine to age with the oak chips for 1 to 9 months. Monitor the wine`s flavor throughout the aging process to determine when to remove the oak chips.
I have been using One-step cleanser/sanitizer for years for my bottles and carboys I start by rinsing them with hot water then using the One-step. Air dry for a day. I bought a gun cleaning rod and with a use of a paper towel I dried my bottles completely. Then for storage I cap each bottle with a paper towel so no dirt or air gets into the bottles. They are ready to use immediately with no prior prep.. never had any problem doing it this way.
After many years of cleaning and removing labels from recycled wine bottles, here is the method that I have found to be the easiest.
You will need: Lots of very hot water / scotchbrite or brillo pads / mrclean magic eraser pads
some kind of a razor scraper with handle / cooking oil spray / a mild cleanser / a bottle brush.
1. With the bottles dry and cool, use your razor scraper to scrape the labels off one small stroke at a time. Push downward while holding the bottle at a 45 degree angle on an old towel in your kitchen sink.
2. Some labels will come right off, these will be the paper labels with water based glues.
3. On other labels, especially on those with gum based glues, running cold water over the sticky spots while scraping actually works better as it makes the gum less gummy !
4. Scrub off the leftover glue residue with a scotchbrite or brillo pad and a little spray type cooking oil. (It works wonders on both water and gum based glues)
5. Once you have most or all of the glue removed, give the entire bottle a good going over with one of mrcleans magic eraser pads and a bit of scouring powder, or baking soda and a little dish soap.These mrclean pads are truly magical and if you haven’t used one you will be amazed at what they can do. This will remove all traces of glue and cooking oil and also get rid of any shiny ghost images of where the old label was.
6. Wash and rinse the inside and outside of bottle using very hot water, a mild cleanser (baking soda) and a bottle brush if needed.
Using baking soda and very hot water as an inside cleanser works great as the soda is easy to rinse completely out and leaves no aftertaste.
7. Rinse-rinse-rinse the inside and outside of the bottle three times or more with very very hot water.
8. Drain bottle (no need to completely dry) and add 1/2 cup of prepared sodium or potassium meta-bisulfite sanitizer solution (mixed at 1/4 cup to 1 gallon water) to the well rinsed bottle.
9. Leave sanitizing solution in the bottle, dry off cork area and cap bottle with a 3 inch square of saran wrap. (Yes, the annoying clingy kind)
Wrap and squeeze to seal then tape the saran wrap around the neck with some vinyl tape, scotch tape, or a good quality rubber band.
10. Place the clean and sanitized bottle in your bottle storage area to await your next bottling session. After a few days with the sanitizing solution in there, you can rest assured that the inside of the bottle is totally sterile.
11. On bottling day, after making sure that you have enough bottles for your batch, remove saran wrap from about 5 bottles at a time, dump out sanitizing solution, and rinse out well with very hot water, drain well.
12. Fill the bottle with your new brew and cork.
Joe, good tips on removing the labels.. I think you’re pretty off base with your sanitizing method though.
I have been making wine with kits for 10 years. Regarding de-labelling, cleaning & sanitizing the bottles I do he following:
De-labelling: I use a heat gun to soften the labels and most will peel off quickly. I usually have some glue residue remaining so I use either GoGone, WD-40 or both. The remaining residue will be softened by one or both and can be scraped off with synthetic scrubber (the kind used on pots and pan in the kitchen. Following this step I spray each bottle with a jet spray bottle washer and if necessary use a long bottle brush to remove remaining wine residue and/or dirt. Next, I fill my sink with very hot water and soak them for about one hour. After this, I remove each bottle and spray the insides with the spray bottle washer again. If you are able to detect some exterior residue from the labels a Brillo pad or other metal type pad can be used to remove it. I then spray the exterior with Windex which usually removes and brightens the exterior of the bottle. I then place the clean bottles on a shelf for later use. Before I use them for bottling the wine I place them I my electric dishwasher (pots & pans cycle followed by the heat dry cycle) to complete the sanitizing of the bottles. I remove them from the dishwasher, cover them with a clean, dry towel and proceed with filling them with wine, insert the corks, apply the shrink wraps, labels and place them in one of my racks for further aging. Before I had the dishwasher, I used the Step One sanitizer in each bottle, therefore, if you do not have access to a dishwasher, I recommend the “Step-One step” before bottling the wine. Lastly, I highly recommend mixing a meta-bysufate solution to your finished wine before bottling. This should remove any foreign “bugs” within completed wine.
You can get adapters to go from faucet threads to garden hose thread to hook a bottle washer to any sink faucet. I found a quick disconnect adapter at Home Depot (or Lowes… don’t remember) to make it easy.
Folks, label removal is very fast and effective my way. I have an outdoor area that I have mounted my bench grinder/wire buffer on a work bench. Buffing any paper or plastic label off is less than a 30 second procedure per bottle for me. The glue residue cleans easily with dish soap and a brillo pad. I usually buff off many cases of bottles at one time, store and finish cleaning and sanitizing when I’m ready to bottle. I used to soak, scrub, and labor on those labels for hours. Now a hour has 10 cases of bottles ready for final cleaning. Be careful not to buff too hard as you can cause a dark gray spot in the glass. If that happens, I make sure they get used for my personal consumption.
I have been using flip top bottles for my wine for over 20 years . It’s a lot easier than corking and no problems so far.Acetone and lighter fluid work good on glue residue. Any comments?