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.