Rio History: Bottle Cleaning

Rio History: Bottle Cleaning

By Steve Hathcock

Photo courtesy of Steve Hathcock.

Matt found a bunch of old bottles while renovating an old building in his town’s historic district.

“Some of them are real dirty,” he wrote, “have you ever written about how to clean them? Also, does it hurt the value of the bottle to clean it?”

“Matt,” I replied, “bottles are worth more when they are clean and in near mint condition. Bottles that have been buried in mud or underground for a long time will usually be heavily stained from minerals contained in the groundwater.”

First, gently clean the bottle using a soft brush and warm, soapy water. Spot free liquid soap, such as used in a dishwasher, will remove most of the dirt and crud. Many bottles will be quite presentable at this point. If stains still persist, try Lime Away, Efferdent or Dexter’s to help in removing water stains. A word of caution however, chemicals with muriatic acid can be dangerous if mishandled. Professional bottle cleaners use tumblers and usually charge about $15 per bottle. If you are a rock hound and happen to have your own tumbler, using copper shot for several days will remove all but the most stubborn stains.

Some finds, such as old Civil War era champagne bottles, will take on a beautiful pearl-like swirling color. This patina comes from the lead foil the bottle was wrapped in and will have a tendency to easily flake off when attempting to clean it.  These bottles have their own kind of beauty when left in a somewhat less than perfect condition.

As a collector, I enjoy displaying my bottles in various conditions. Even mixing old with some newer specimens can be quite appealing.The main thing is, have fun with your bottle collecting and don’t be afraid to try your own methods on some that you find. You might even discover something that works just as well as other methods.

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