Washing Vintage Bottles

Get vintage bottles *really* clean with these simple tricks & common tools.Lately, I’ve had this obsession with vintage bottles. It started when I found this beauty at a thrift store, and wanted to use it for a photo shoot (here).

The problem with most vintage bottles that you find is that they were considered about as special as a tin can back in the day.   My Nanny and my husband’s grandmother used glass bottles for things like sprinkling water for ironing, or as a rolling pin for biscuits, or as a water sprinkler in the greenhouse. I also like to imagine that they made homes to lightening bugs and rolley-polleys by my parents generation.cleaning vintage bottles (17 of 17)


Since they were essentially ‘trash’, they are often found encrusted with dirt or dug out of junk piles. As a result, vintage bottles tend to be pretty filthy inside and out when you find them. Old canning jars (my other obsession) are pretty easy to clean, but bottles…not so much. The tiny neck makes it nearly impossible to really get anything in there to scrub down except for a bottle brush. And they don’t reach all of the corners. I can’t stop loving them, and I *really* wanted to be able to actually use some of my favorites.

I’m a little stubborn, and so I put together some ideas that were passed on to my Mom from her Grandmother, and came up with a very simple little “kit” for washing my bottles. You may have everything you need laying around your house. I was very, very happy with the sparkling clean-even-in-the-tiny-cracks end result.

cleaning vintage bottles before after

This is what I used:

  • a bottle brush
  • a 1″ inch strip cut from an old washcloth
  • something long and pokey. I used a knitting needle, but you could use hanger wire or anything else long and pointy.

And this is what I did:

I started with my bottle brush, since it seemed like the sensible place to start. But right away I noticed that it wasn’t angled to be of much use. So I bent it into the shape of the bottle and was able to scrub down the sides.

cleaning vintage bottles (4 of 17)

But the reach was so limited that the bottom of the bottle wasn’t touched. That’s when I remembered my Mom showing me a trick that my Great Grandmother taught her. She was a dairy farmer’s wife, and she would wash the old fashioned milk bottles by dropping a wet rag in, with just a bit of soap and hot water in the bottom, and sloshing it back and forth. Vigorously.cleaning vintage bottles (3 of 17)

Clearly, a whole washcloth was not going to fit down the neck of this bottle, so I cut about a 1″ strip out of an old cleaning washcloth. I was able to poke it down inside the bottle with about 1/2 cup of very hot water and a small dab of dishsoap.

cleaning vintage bottles (5 of 17)

Let the sanitizing begin!
cleaning vintage bottles (6 of 17)

*slosh*slosh*slosh* I sealed the opening with my thumb and shook it vigorously. I could tell that the agitation action of the washcloth strip coupled with the soapy water was making a difference. cleaning vintage bottles (7 of 17)

But how do you get a soggy strip of washcloth out of a tiny bottle opening?  With a bottle brush, of course. cleaning vintage bottles (8 of 17) cleaning vintage bottles (9 of 17)

I was mostly happy with my progress, but there were still some stubborn little dirt clods stuck around the inside edges. Drat. One more step was needed. I redid the washcloth/soapy water setup, and grabbed a big knitting needle that I keep in my sewing supplies (It does a great job at turning narrow apron ties and such). I was able to apply focused scrubbing pressure with the end of the needle all the way around the base of the bottle…cleaning vintage bottles (10 of 17)…until it was *squeaky* clean.
cleaning vintage bottles (11 of 17)

I was SO pleased at how this little experiment turned out that I power cleaned an embarrassing number of vintage bottles, and have even put the antique glass maple syrup pitcher to use. I love being able to get things *really* clean so that I can enjoy using them in the kitchen.  cleaning vintage bottles (2 of 17)

Hope you found this useful! Any other vintage bottle lovers out there besides me?

To pin!

Get vintage bottles *really* clean with these simple tricks & common tools.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Heather says

    Thanks Gwen! I see these 3 interesting bottles in a catch-all corner of my grandma’s porch every time I’m there to mow grass. I look at them often, pick one up, and then think–“nah, that’ll never come clean”. Well, maybe it will! Next time, I’m bringing them home:)

  2. says

    I clean my old bottles about the same way. But how do you keep the lettering from washing off the outside? Some of the paint is oxydized on mine so I can’t really clean the outside well. Just wondering if you’ve experienced that.