Naked and elegant, a bottle stripped of its label is a thing of beauty to any homebrewer. We’re going to cover the best methods, step-by-step, for removing labels from your craft beer bottles.
How to Remove Bottle Labels
There are a few tricks to getting labels off beer bottles. Soaking is the easiest but is the most time consuming. You can soak bottles in soap, ammonia, baking soda, PBW, or Star San. Use those agents separately and not mixed together! The next method is running them through the dishwasher. And the last resort involves scraping and scrubbing.
As mentioned, soaking is the easiest method of removing labels. Let’s look at the steps.
This is an obvious step but you’re going to need bottles, lots of bottles. 48 – 50 of the 12 ounce bottles is what it takes to package 5 gallons of beer.
When I first started homebrewing, I lived in China. I can remember dutifully consuming large quantities of TsingTao, all for the cause of having bottles to package my homebrew.
If you’re frugal, don’t want to wait, or binge your way through bottles of beer, try asking your local bar if they can save some bottles for you to use.
You can use a bath tub, bucket, or a sink. Fill your container of choice with water and add one of the following cleaning agents along with your bottles.
OxiClean or PBW
OxiClean Free has a unique formula that is activated by water, unleashing bubbling oxygen power for safe, effective cleaning.
OxiClean is my favorite cleaning agent for use in homebrewing. It works well for removing labels. PBW is another good option and works as well as OxiClean. If you’re using this method you’ll likely need to soak the bottles for a good 12 -24 hours before attempting to peel off the labels.
Ammonia can be used for the more stubborn labels. Make sure you wear gloves and don’t mix ammonia with other chemicals, especially not bleach. Also, make sure to work in a well ventilated area.
¼ of a cup of Ammonia in 3 gallons of water is a good mixing ratio. Soak your bottles for 30 minutes and start peeling.
Using baking soda with water can purportedly remove labels in as little as 30 minutes of soaking. While I can’t personally attest to its effectiveness, there are many that swear by it.
Use a ratio of 1 cup of baking soda to 2 gallons of water. This method is quick and effective. And involves minimal scrubbing.
STAR SAN is a high foaming, acid-based, no-rinse sanitizer that is effective and easy to use.
For bottles with screen-printed labels, try soaking them in a solution of Star San. Use 1oz of Star San in 3 gallons of water. Soak the bottles for 24 hours and scrub the print off with a scouring pad.
This “scrubbing” should be more like wiping off the print. If it is difficult to remove, let the bottles soak for longer.
Avoiding Soapy Off-Flavors
Don’t use any soaps with perfumes or added aromas as these can linger and end up in your beer. Lemon-soap beer, yuck!
How Long to Soak
The longer you can let your bottles soak the easier the labels will come off. Try peeling a label after 30 minutes to an hour of soaking. For really difficult labels, 24 – 48 hours of soaking may be necessary. If you have to soak a bottle more than 12 hours, take note of which label it is and avoid those particular bottles in the future.
If you’re in a rush, try using hot water with your cleaning agent of choice and the scrubbing method.
Running your bottles through the dishwasher can be a very effective way to loosen up labels and make them easy to peel.
Load Em’ Up
Load up your dishwasher with your labeled bottles. Toss in some OxiClean in place of dishwashing detergent. Run the washer through a normal cycle but don’t use a heat to dry setting. Make sure you catch the bottles while the labels are still wet or they’ll still be difficult to remove.
Scraping and Scrubbing
Scraping is the fastest method. But I recommend using it mostly for labels that are insanely sticky and difficult to remove.. While giving up and avoiding these labels in the future may be the smartest solution, some will persist. Here’s how.
Hot Water, Soap, and Elbow Grease
Use steel wool or another abrasive metal pad. Soak your bottles in hot water and OxiClean, the hotter the better. After 30 minutes, go crazy with the scrubbing. You can also use a razor blade for scraping but I find that most things won’t stand up to steel wool.
Methods to Avoid
Labels can be removed by placing bottles in an oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. I don’t recommend this method because you have to deal with hot bottles and an increased risk of broken glass.
“Steaming” labels off by placing them in a pot of boiling water poses similar hazards as baking them in the oven. There are easier options.
This method will prove to be far too time consuming. And you have to deal with hot glass. Enough said.
You might be asking yourself, why remove labels at all? Here are a few reasons: it makes the bottle look clean, it’s not really much effort, and it prevents others from falling prey to confirmation biases associated with “lazy” homebrewing practices.
No matter how you remove labels, a small amount of scrubbing will likely be required.
With the methods above you find your bottles looking good and ready to be filled with your next delicious batch!