Cleaning ACL Bottles

Earlier I discussed how to clean antique bottles that are embossed. (Be sure and read that entry also for helpful cleaning hints)

 Now, I will cover how to clean ACL (Applied Color Label) bottles, sometimes referred to as Painted Label bottles.     With cleaning ACL bottles a little more care and time have to be taken.

First, let’s discuss the ACL process.  The paint used on the bottles are actually ground colored glass that is baked onto the bottle. A silk screen with the drink name or design is used to apply the ‘paint’ while the bottle is still hot. If multi-colors are used the bottle has to pass the various silk screens and have the multi-colors applied. Then the paint is baked on, passing through an oven.

            ACL soda bottles began to appear in the 1930’s. This process still in its infancy, these early bottle ACL labels did not hold up well. In fact any bottle made from the 1930’s to the early 1960’s may have ACL that will come off easily and extreme care must be taken while cleaning.   I found this out the hard way. 30 years ago I found a 3 color ACL (the more colors a bottle label has, usually increases the value)  I rinsed it under luke warm water and was shocked to see the label lift off and float off the bottle. As soon as the label hit the sink it disintegrated and went down the drain. I went from having a $100 bottle to a worthless bottle in 2.3 seconds flat.

            Many things make the ACL unstable, exposure to the sun, weather, being buried, etc.  You should always check a small spot on the label before you do any major cleaning.  If it comes off easily, try to clean all around the label with a damp cloth.

            Most soda bottles made from the mid 1960’s to the 1990’s have a better quality ACL process and should be OK to soak, etc. (be sure and check an area first, exposure to sun, etc. can still make the ACL unstable even on these newer bottles) If in doubt, than don’t clean it.

  If you check the ACL and it seems good, I use the same methods as described in the embossed bottle cleaning. Soaking in warm water with soap, Windex or 409 (or all three).

Let them soak for a day or two, changing out water if needed.  Bar Keepers Friend does wonders on cleaning the ACL labels. (Don’t use comet, too abrasive).  A soft sponge will be needed as well as bottle brushes to scrub the outside and inside clean.  ACL bottles can not be tumbled to be cleaned like embossed bottles can.  The process would take off the ACL paint.

  I hope this helps you out with cleaning those bottles you might have lying around.

Happy Cleaning!

18 Responses to “Cleaning ACL Bottles”

  1. Michael Shugg Says:

    I have been told the best way to clean bottle with petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and just a lot of elbow grease I have never tried this yet

  2. cocacolabottleman Says:

    First, let me say it was great meeting you at the Springtime in Atlanta Convention. Hope you had a great trip home to Australia.
    I have tried using petroleum jelly before with less than desirable results. If you have an embossed bottle that has been buried and looks frosted, the jelly will give it a nice glossy look. But, the bottle will be slippery, show finger prints, etc. I never had much luck with Vaseline on bottles.
    Take Care,

  3. Michael Shugg Says:

    Hi Doug,
    I must say meeting you and your kind words make a great friendship

    I also was so please to meet you and ever-one else at the convention. And here in Australia Coca Cola is not a very big hobby. It all in the USA. I attended the Atlanta Chapter last year (2009) and was so impressed with friendly nature of the club. That is why I joined the club after spending the days and visiting Coca Cola places. I feel I need to attend a convention to get the real feeling of Coca Cola. So I decided to join in at Spring time in Atlanta 2010. And let me tell you it was well worth the trip back to the states. I will return back as soon as possible. With so many miles between us (Australia and USA) I do hope our friendship will stretch that far. Now with email and internet I feel I am apart the Coca Cola Family.
    Happing collecting and take care

  4. cocacolabottleman Says:

    You will have to come back to the National Coca-Cola Club Convention in 2011. It will be here in Atlanta and is a GREAT convention. Usually a very large crowd with lots of great people and a lot of great Coca-Cola Collectibles.
    We are very glad you were able to make it over to see us and be part of the Coca-Cola Club family. Hope to see you again!
    Take care,

  5. glenn g gunnell Says:

    I read your notes for cleaning of the painted label bottles ,you said these bottles cannot be cleaned like embossed bottles, after many months of playing with this I found a way to clean these bottles, it may not always get them back like new , but most time helps, i have been doing these bout 5 or 6 years, thanks glenn

  6. gino Says:

    hi mate,
    have a few ww2 coke bottles that have been recovered from the bottom of the ocean, they are whitish in apperance and scuffed, can these be cleaned or polished up, if so how? thanks.

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      Well, bottles that have been buried or in salt water can be cleaned. First try a vinegar solution and let them soak. Scrub them with a scrubber sponge after they have soaked. This will not remove all the issues your bottle has. There are people who have a bottle tumbler (similar to a rock tumbler) which will remove a thin layer of glass and any scuffs and scrapes with it. It usually runs around $25 to $40 per bottle. Do a search on the internet for bottle tumbler for more information.
      Hope this helps!

  7. Kirk Says:

    I would be curious if you have ever come across a method to purposely remove ACL. I have a couple different bottles that are new and of little value, but I like the graphics and display them on a shelf in my kitchen. Unfortunately on a couple of them, there is a bar-code in ACL on the side that distract (and cheapens the look). I tried sanding one off, but it scuffed up the side. It was with interest that I read your article to learn that it is actual ground colored glass that is baked onto the bottle.

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      I don’t know of any way to remove ACL completely. Once the ACL is fired on, it bonds with the glass, making it nearly impossible to remove all signs of it being on the bottle. I think you are stuck with the bar codes. I agree, they do take away from a bottles appearance.
      Glad to hear you found some interesting info on the blog.

  8. Tracie Says:

    I am wondering did they make Fakes in all of the years? I have a heavy green glass10oz. Coke bottle with Coke in white and it has one of those Ping marks in the glass at the bottom of it. its perfectly round. This bottle came out of the ground that use to be a real working junk yard.
    Thanks, Tracie

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      I don’t think there are ‘fake’ Coke bottles out there. There are some that were made to look like an older bottle as a commemorative bottle from The Coca-Cola Company. When you say green, do you mean the light green Coca-Cola bottles are OR is it dark green? A few glass companies made bottles using the incorrect color glass, etc. which was not supposed to be done, but people working there did it anyway.

  9. Tracie Says:

    I have been cleaning out bottles with CLR and it seems to work better than anything else. I was wondering if it will etch the glass inside the bottle? Also what is the best book to get with helping to determine the value of the bottles.
    Thanks, Tracie

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      CLR is pretty strong, so be sure and follow the directions, don’t make it stronger than it says. On older bottles, it could etch or discolor the glass. As far as books, there isn’t one source for a good value guide. Bill Porter has a list of embossed contour bottles that show if they are rare or not, but no prices for values.

  10. Tracie Says:

    My daughter and I would say the bottles are light green and dark green.
    Also how do people decide which price to sell their bottles for?
    How do you know how valuable a bottle is?
    Our Coke bottles range from dark green and 6 1/2 0zs. and light green and 26oz and the bottom of it says Cincinnati, Ohio. The clear one is embossed Coke block letters and Coca-Cola in script letters. The bottom of it says Not to be refilled and theirs a 70 and a M with a Hexigon around it and a number 12 beside it.
    Thanks, Tracie

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      The bottles you have sound like they are from the 1960’s, 1970’s. The Not to be refilled is from 1970. Although your bottles are close to 40 years old, many collectors think of them as ‘newer’ bottles and they don’t have much value at this time. Also many bottles were made at this time which affect the value. Bottles from this time period are worth a few dollars each, maybe a little more. They will need to be in mint condition to be worth that too.
      Hope this helps,

  11. Tracie Says:

    Thanks for your reply, I appreciate your information.

  12. Bob Says:

    I have coke bottles from 1980’s. The ones where teams won championships. When I wash them they look great but when they dry they look a little faded. What do you think would be the best thing to try on them to make them look new? I have not tried anything yet. Thank you

    • cocacolabottleman Says:

      Some people use coat bottles with mineral oil to bring out the faded labels. It is a messy job though. I have also heard of people coating bottles with a polyurethane, but I would test a bottle first before I did a lot of them. I have never done it and don’t know how it will turn out.
      Good Luck

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