So before the days of garbage service, it was very common to throw a lot of unused items in a hole in the ground or on burn piles. And that is how I came to inherit a huge box of vintage bottles. I didn’t get the whole story but I do know that they were dug out of the dirt near my parent’s house, which use to be my Grandparent’s house that was built in the early 1900s.
My parents moved to their house back in 2005 and sometime around there these bottles were all dug out of the dirt. You can imagine what kind of condition they are in considered they were buried in mud for over 50 years! There were broken bottles, these were thrown away (using traditional garbage service) but any bottle that was whole made it into this box. Now fast forward to now and I had long thought this box of glass bottles had been thrown away years ago. But when going through my parent’s garage we uncovered the box and I volunteered to take the whole thing. I would love to use some of the bottles as a display in our house.
But first, they needed to be cleaned.
And as you know most vintage bottles are hard to clean. Most had narrow necks which make getting scrub brushes into all the nooks and crannies challenging. So today I wanted to share my little secret for getting those hard to reach spots on the inside of any bottle that has a narrow neck.
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Materials Needed to Clean Vintage Bottles
- Metal Ball Chain
- Steel Wool
- Dawn dish soap (or your preferred soap)
- Large Pot
- Scrub Brush
Now, these bottles have been sitting in a box for over 10 years and before that in the ground for 50 + years, they were filthy and grimy. To start I took a large pot, filled it with water and a couple of hefty glugs of vinegar (no need for measuring here). I turned the stovetop on to warm the water/vinegar mixture but not bring it to a boil. I let the jars sit in this mixture for the better part of a day and some overnight (I was lazy and was done for the day!)
After they had cooled or sat overnight I took the scrub brush and some Dawn dish soap (the blue kind, the only one I will use, it’s the best!) and generous cleaned the outside and what I could reach of the inside. DON’T throw out your vinegar/water solution, it will come in handy later. Some of the jars were rusty on the outside so the steel wool came in handy on those tough areas.
Now The Secret
This is a fan pull/ball chain and you can find it for about $3-$6 at your local hardware store or Amazon, the price will depend on the length and how many come in a package. In my case it had a ring on the end, I just detached the ring and put the chain inside the bottle and shook it vigorously around with some of the water/soap/vinegar mixture. The chain helps break up any hard stuck-on dirt and then easily comes back out of the bottle!
And there you have it! It’s such an inexpensive product that can get at that hard stuck-on dirt and leave you with beautifully clean vintage bottles that can be used in your home decor or crafting.
Oh thank you for this excellent article. I was lucky to be able to collect old bottles when we moved into our new home aftet my husband got transferred. At the time of collection, the general consensus was that ‘sick’ bottles could not be cleaned to clear glass again. I maintained that the day will come when somebody has a solution. Al last. Now I can retrieve my bottles and start cleaning. Eureka! I have found it. The solution to my problem! Thank you Amy.
June! I woke up to your message this morning and it made me so happy! I am so glad this helped. Where there is a will there is a way! And I love using my bottles in my decor now that they are all clean!
Excellent post. Will try it soon. Sounds like a winner.
Thank you so much!
Thank you much for this advice my father collected bottles his entire life. Many I now have with the dirt still intact. Some from the 1800s and now have found an area in my own yard that bottles are buried that I am slowly unearthing. I am very excited to use your process to start cleaning these beauties.
I am cleaning out my attic and came across a rather large box of vintage bottles (about 50) that my husband had drug home. I want to keep some for crafting but dreaded the thought of getting them clean. Like yours, they were in the ground and covered with grime. You have made me very excited now to get to work on several projects since I read your article. Thank you for the excellent suggestion about the pull chain (which I am sure if I look long enough I will also find in the attic). I am going to subscribe to you as I am sure you will have lots of fun things I can use to make my days brighter.
Thank you so much for the kind words, Barbara! I am so glad this was helpful.
Thanks! Have collected old dirty small bottles from sales – now I can use them!!!!
I aquired a very beautiful and hefty vase from an estate sale. It has a large, scalloped opening, large enough to fit my hand in it. It looks as if water had sat in it for years. I have tried so many ways to get the “water marks” off and it hasnt even budged. How/will this method work for me? Thank you for your response.
Hi Michelle! Thanks so much for your comment, I am not sure if it will work to remove the watermarks, I have never tried but I do know that vinegar and baking soda may help to get the stains out and neither will damage the vase
Hi..I just read your “trick” to cleaning old yucky bottles. The chain is a good idea, but I have another solution. I have been using BBs, about 20-30 of them, and some water, to clean the algae and film, that grows in my hummingbird feeder. I put the BBs in along with some water, and just shake. The bottle comes clean. I carefully pour the water out, dry the BBs on a paper towel, and store them in a small plastic zip bag until I need to use them again. I have been using them over and over again for years now.
It appears that you didn’t remove the rust stains in those bottles.
A slightly easier trick (which I came up with and frequently use) is go to your local store (Walmart, Sporting Goods, Army?Navy, etc.) and buy a package of regular BB’s. They are copper-coated and less likely to scratch the glass, and you don’t have to sacrifice a chain you might need for something else.
I had also considered aquarium gravel, but thought that was more likely to scratch.
I’m here in California my family home was built in the 1900’s , I too have bottles with dirt I think if makes them interesting to leave them as they are. Thanks for sharing
Great article! Just what I was trying to figure out! (And, BTW, I totally agree with you on the original Dawn dishsosp!) Thank you!
I can’t wait till tomorrow morning, I’ve collect old bottles (and very old beer cans) for years and I did manage to get them clean enough but have always wished I could find a remedy to remove that cloudy look, Im actually excited to try it. Thank-You for posting your method.
Hi there Amy! I am so glad I came across your article. My husband and I have recently came across a large amount of old bottles and I have been soaking and cleaning for what seems like for days now… some we have even pulled from our home land, after we did some excavating and now it seems like any chance we get we go looking for new places we can search and of course usually come home with a 5 gallon bucket (or 2😁).
I hope I can get mine as clean as the ones here in your photos.
Thanks for such useful info!
To save time and money, go to your yard and grab a handful of gravel ( the small size/or sand) put it in your bottle and swish it around with your cleaning solution. I know the idea of using dirt may leave some squeamish, however once you dump your bottle, you can just wash it again if it bothers you. An older lady told me that this is how she would clean out her baby bottles in the old day, and in a pinch has helped me with my children’s water bottles. I’ve also gotten in the habit of keeping small marbles in the house for said purpose for my water cooler jugs and blue camping jugs.
Hi: Will this solution work for old foggy ink bottles??
It definitely wouldn’t hurt to try
Sand and water is also a great cleaner for old and dirty bottles of any kind. Not toxic nor expensive.