Getting the labels off bottles and jars
We are surrounded by useful and often attractive glass bottles and jars; it is a shame to waste them. You may want to reuse bottles and jars simply for storage or re-purpose the glass for a neat Pinterest idea, but first you must think about getting the labels off bottles.
The best way of getting labels off bottles and jars:
- Save a bunch of glass bottles and jars to process at once.
- Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaning powder (5-7 scoops for a large sink).
- Soak all of the bottles and jars for several hours.
- Check on the bottles to see if the solution is dissolving the glue.
- Some bottles and jars will be stubborn; give the label surface a scrub with steel wool or even a blade so the solution can soak in. Let them soak some more.
- Scrub off all of the labels and glue with the steel wool.
- Give the bottles and jars a final rinse.
Reasons for getting the labels off bottles
I am a homebrewer. I am always getting the labels off bottles because having to buy bottles all the time is a drag. It was important to me that I find an effective way to get the labels off bottles on a large scale. I tried many different methods, but when I started using oxygen-based cleanser, I stopped experimenting. This method is by far the easiest way I have found.
Related post: Cheap and Easy Homebrewing
Once I found an easy method to get the labels off bottles, I started saving all kinds of glass containers to reuse and re-purpose. I use them to store food, office supplies, and garage stuff. I also learned how to cut the bottles and jars to use in little decoration projects.
I made three of these hurricane lantern candle deals for my friends with some glass jugs and some scraps from installing a butcher block counter top. I thought they would use them on the garden walkway, but, to my delight, they are using them in their dining room. Of course, for this project, I had to also cut off the bottom off the jugs. The best way for cutting bottles is a topic for another time.
These yard-sale candles were giving me fits. They floated around the house for ages since we had nothing that could hold them safely. I decided to embed them in plaster inside some pickle jars. The solution is not very elegant, but it worked.
Detailed instructions for getting the labels off bottles and jars
Collect a bunch of glass containers to process at once.
This method of getting labels off bottles is pretty easy, but the solution takes a while to work. You will also create a bit off a mess with all of the soggy, disintegrating labels, so it makes sense to do a bunch at a time. Start stashing all of the glass containers that you might want to reuse.
Gather your supplies for getting the labels off bottles and jars.
Once you have enough glass containers for a batch, make sure that you have steel wool, oxygen-based cleaner, and a sharp blade. It is also a good idea to have a couple of boxes and towels to keep things neat and organized.
I like to clamp a razor blade into a pair of vise-grips for scrapping the more stubborn labels. I find that this tool is more comfortable and effective than those little razor blade holders that you can buy.
In getting the labels off bottles, know your enemy.
There are many different types of labels and glues. Most labels will come off easily after soaking for a while. However, foils and glossy papers will prevent the solution from penetrating into the glue. Bottles with foil or glossy paper labels will need some extra abuse with steel wool or even a blade so that solution can start to soak through.
Plastic labels present unique problems.
Plastic labels can only be removed mechanically. Also, the glues used with plastic labels do not dissolve easily. For these labels I recommend the following:
- Use a razor blade to start peeling back the label.
- Use pliers (or tough, stubby fingers as shown below) to grasp the label and pull it all the way off.
- Use a solvent (like paint thinner) to dissolve the glue.
Fill a large sink or bin with warm water and oxygen-based cleaner and let them soak.
For getting the labels off bottles and jars, you simply need to make sure that the oxygen-based cleanser solution can access and dissolve the glue. You may even realize that some of the labels are floating to the surface on their own, leaving only a bit of softened glue on the bottle.
As you can see, this sink it totally full. If I am going to go through the trouble of getting the labels off bottles and jars, I am going to do a lot of them at once. As I go though the process, I may decide that some bottles are being too stubborn to bother with and toss them into the recycling.
This bottle was not being stubborn at all. The label basically floated away on its own. This is a win-win since Victory beer is excellent, and the bottles are cooperative. I don’t buy beer based on the label and glue, but there are worse ideas.
Scrub the labels with steel wool.
Once the labels and glue have softened enough to make your job easy, start scrubbing the bottles with the steel wool. The steel wool will not leave any noticeable damage on the surface of the glass. You will also notice that pesky dates and numbers printed on some bottles scrub away easily.
As you get the labels off the bottles and jars, set them aside neatly. I like to use a milk crate for this so that I don’t create a big mess that can fall over easily. If you tilt the box the right way, the remaining solution can drip out of the bottle. Dispose of all of the labels and label remnants before draining the sink; you don’t want to put all that crap down the drain.
When the bottles are stacked neatly, they will not roll around, get knocked over, or fall on the floor. For you homebrewers out there, it is good to know that 25 twelve-ounce bottles fit perfectly inside a standard milk crate. You can even put another milk crate on top and flip the whole thing upside-down so that the bottles can drip dry.
Give the glass containers a final rinse.
With fresh, clean water, rinse off all of the bottles and jars, and give them a final inspection. Run your hands around the bottle to feel if any glue residue remains. Stack the bottles so that they can drip dry.
Getting the Labels off Bottles conclusion
Whether you are making wine, organizing your garage, or storing food, you don’t need to go to the container store, brewing supply store, or Target. Be economical and sustainable by reusing bottles and jars that you already have or can find easily.
Below you can see the final result. I was able to get the labels off a lot of bottles and jars at one shot. Now I have the bottles I need for brewing and few odds and ends for storage and little projects.
Glass is a uniquely useful material. It is attractive, easy to clean and/or sterilize, and abundant. If you are faithful to one brand of pickles, you might have the solution that you need to finally organize all the random fasteners in your garage or junk drawer. Think twice before you chunk those bottles and jars into the recycling.