To Clean OR Not To Clean, That is the Question: Antique Bottle Cleaning 101

Probably one of the questions I get the most is ‘Should I clean the item I found?’

In the next few weeks I will discuss various ways to clean soda memorabilia.

This week we will discuss bottles. Most bottle collectors like to have the bottles look brand new in their collection.  But, what is the best way to clean a bottle?

   Well, it depends….we will discuss embossed bottles first (no painted labels on them)

First, just good old fashioned soap and water does the best. Let the bottles warm up to room temperature, place them in a bucket or dishpan, add soap and warm water. I sometimes add 409 spray and/or Windex, but BE CAREFUL, that mixture makes the bottles very slippery.  Depending on how much dirt there is, sometimes I will soak them for days, changing out the water and cleaner mixture if the water gets really dirty.

            Next you will need a bottle brush (I listed some on the blog around December 2009), a good scrub brush or sponge with a scrubbing side and old fashioned elbow grease.  Also-a cleanser such as Bar Keepers Friend (a mild version of Comet type cleaner) works wonders. You can buy it at most grocery store chains and hardware stores, also available on line.

            If after scrubbing the inside you still have any sticky mess inside the bottle, try to find a liquid soap made to remove tree sap from hands. It is a little hard to find but I have seen it at hardware stores, also available on line. It cuts through the sticky syrup found in some soda bottles.

            If a bottle has been buried for any length of time, the glass may become etched. The glass may have a rainbow effect and swirl marks etched in the glass. About the only way to remove this is to have the bottle tumbled. (Look up bottle tumbler on line to see what all that entails).  It is similar to a rock tumbler. The bottle is placed in a tube, suspended and usually copper pellets are used to actually remove a thin layer of glass, to make the bottle look new and remove the etching. A tumbler starts around $1000, plus supplies. A professional tumbler will charge around $20 to $50 per bottle. And with tumbling come risks. If the bottle has a small flaw it may crack or break during tumbling. There is no guarantee it will come out in one piece.

Hope this will help you clean those bottles. Next we will discuss cleaning the ACL bottle (Applied Color Label, sometimes referred to as a painted bottle). You have to take special precautions with the ACL bottles.

Happy Cleaning!

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13 Responses to “To Clean OR Not To Clean, That is the Question: Antique Bottle Cleaning 101”

  1. carrie Says:

    Hi! Interesting article. I have an all glass coke bottle (bottled in Dover, DE) with the coke still in it, meaning the cap is still on. I’m a bit afraid to clean it because I don’t want to rust the cap (anymore than it is). Should I forgo cleaning and just leave it be? Or maybe wipe the outside?

  2. cocacolabottleman Says:

    Carrie,
    Good question! You can still try to clean the bottle, but I would not soak it in a dish pan or sink. Instead, try Bar keepers Friend and some water and a good sponge. Rinse well and dry off the cap very well. It shouldn’t cause any damage to the cap for a short rinse off. It just depends on how bad of shape the cap is in, if the metal has gotten thin it might not take much to break the cap. So just inspect the cap and see, then clean it. You could even use windex only, but be sure to hang on to the bottle! It will be more slippery than a fish swimming in butter.
    Hope this helps!

  3. Alan Says:

    I have a pre-1915 coke bottle. Is it still safe to clean my bottle this way? will it hurt it? should I have a professional clean my bottle so it will not get damaged?

    • Alan Says:

      also, can I put it in the dishwasher?

      • cocacolabottleman Says:

        Alan
        I would NEVER put a bottle in a dishwasher to clean it. The temperatures are too hot for bottles, especially older ones. It can cause cracks, etc.
        Doug

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      Alan
      If you are careful and take your time you should be OK cleaning the bottle yourself. But, some early bottles can break in the cleaning process; it is just a part of bottle collecting. Professional cleaning can be expensive and may not be worth it if the bottle isn’t very valuable to begin with.
      To clean it or not OR to have a professional clean it is up to you.
      Doug

  4. Alan Says:

    Doug, can I bleach it

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      Alan
      I am not sure what you want to bleach? The contour cans? If the paint is faded on the cans, the paint may not hold up well to chemicals being applied to them, could cause paint to come off.
      Doug

  5. Alan Says:

    No my 1902 coke bottle

  6. Alan Says:

    Doug,
    Can u tell me how much my 1902 coke bottle is worth
    Alan

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      Alan
      The value depends on condition of the bottle and what City/State it is from. Where is your 1902 bottle from?
      Doug

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