For most of us, we start our brewing adventure by bottling our beer. So, for the average batch-size, we need 50ish bottles and the best source is to just recycle the bottles from the last BBQ we had or another large gathering. Of course, we all have egos so we don’t want somebody else’s name on our beer, which leads you to this page’s topic: how to remove the labels from beer bottles.
So, I’ve researched every last possible way to remove a beer label so that you can get those bottles cleaned up and ready for bottling as soon as possible!
Why are beer bottle labels so hard to remove?
Well, the labels on a beer bottle have a tough job on their hands and have been designed to meet all these needs. They have to stick onto the glass bottle when chilled, dripping wet as well as when stored at room temperature. So, this is why for many beer bottle labels the job of removing them can be very tricky.
Be selective. Not all beer bottles come with such stubborn labels, so before you commit yourself to tackle 50 odd bottles from the same brewery, test out a few brands to see which labels come off the most easily using the techniques below.
So commercial brands that are famous for their easy to remove labels are Three Floyds, Pipeworks & Sierra Nevada. There are more out there, so do a little bit of a home experiment, then stock up on those brands in anticipation for your next bottling day.
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Some useful gear
As you are going to be dealing with a lot of heat as well as friction, and in some cases chemicals, I recommend you have the following equipment on hand:
- wire wool or metal scrubbing brush
- latex gloves
- oven mitts or barbeque gloves
- a clean sponge
- a sieve or strainer
Removing labels without chemicals
Method 1: Soaking
Simply fill up your bath, sink or a large enough container for your bottles with hot water. Make sure that your bottles are fully submerged and leave them for at least 20 minutes. If you aren’t pressed for time and don’t plan on washing yourself that evening, you can even leave them to soak overnight.
If you have chosen the right type of easy removal beer labels, then in most cases the labels will just float off the bottles to the surface. However, more than likely you’ll need to give the bottles a scrub with your wire wool or brush to remove the softened glue and paper. Just make sure you keep the labels moist until you are ready to scrub them clean (drying them out even a little makes it much harder!
Method 2: Steam
Just like when trying to sneak a peek at a letter that isn’t yours, steam can help remove labels. If you only have to take off one or two labels, you could do this by holding the bottles over a boiling kettle, but for 50+ bottles that’s just not a feasible option.
Instead, get your hands on a large pot with a steamer basket or colander which can sit over the surface of the boiling water. If you can also fit a lid on top of the bottles, so much the better. Steaming the bottles for about 30 minutes should melt the glue enough for the labels to easily come off with a little coaxing. Just make sure that you rinse the bottles with warm water and that you use protective gloves to avoid breakages and scolding.
Method 3: Dishwasher
If you are lucky enough to own a dishwasher, then you are going to find this process a doddle!
You can fill up your dishwasher with as many bottles as you can and then select the hottest cycle that you can while using an oxygen-based detergent, or one which will create a lot of bubbles. This should remove a lot of the labels intact and perhaps leave you with a little bit of glue residue on the glass. To get rid of this you can simply put it on for another cycle.
However, be warned that all those labels need to be cleaned out of the dishwasher before your significant other finds out what you’ve been doing. Also, be aware that there is a risk of the paper blocking the outlets on some models. So proceed with caution!
Method 4: Baking
The name of the game is to heat up the label glue until it unsticks, so baking is a great way to do this. If you have a large oven then you can bake bottles in larger batches, but this can also be done on a barbeque grill if you have one handy.
You basically want to get the glue above 212°F/100°F then while it is still hot, remove the labels using a wire brush. Don’t forget to wear gloves and don’t use cold water to rinse the bottle until it has cooled down.
Method 5: Microwave
If you are trying to remove paper labels and not the metalized ones which some brands use, then you can also pop them in the microwave. Make sure that you verify the material of the label as things could really get dangerous if there is exploding glass ricocheting off the inside of your microwave.
30 to 60 seconds is all you should need to get the label glue nice and viscous, then you can scrub or peel them off more easily.
Method 6: Hairdryer
Using a hairdryer is also a method that can be very effective in removing beer labels but only if it’s a model with a very hot setting. You can focus the heat on the label and try to peel it off as you go. To be honest though, I’d only try this if you didn’t have anything else to do that day as it’s going to be very time-consuming.
Removing labels with chemicals
Method 7: Baking soda
A step up from just using hot water is to put some baking soda (16 tablespoons per gallon) into your soaking container. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, will react with the water and this chemical reaction can be very effective in lifting off tougher labels.
Just soak the bottles for about 30 minutes and then scrub away any labels which haven’t already floated off the bottles. Then, give the bottles a thorough rinse.
Method 8: PBW
If you want a little more punch in your overnight soak, then you can use Powdered Brewery Wash. It’s what a lot of commercial and homebrewers use to clean their equipment with, and it makes short work of labels too.
About one or two ounces per gallon (28-56 g/3.78 l) should be enough to have most beer labels helpfully peeling themselves off the bottle while you snooze away in bed. But, you may have to do some scrubbing on the morrow if you have opted to use bottles with more industrial-strength beer labels.
Method 9: Oxiclean
If you can’t source PBW for some reason, you’ll probably find Oxiclean in the local supermarket. Try and get the odorless variety if you can, it’s good to have around the brewery as a sanitizer too!
You don’t need a lot of this stuff to get the results you are after, half a scoop to 1 scoop (spoon normally provided) will be enough for up to 4 – 6 gallons of water. The oxygen bubbles which are released are very good at lifting labels off the bottles if you leave them to soak for a couple of hours and then give them a final scrub.
Method 10: Ammonia
If for some reason none of the other methods I have mentioned work for you, it’s time to pull out the big guns, ammonia!
Make sure that you are working in a well-ventilated room and that you have some protective gloves as this is a real chemical we are working with here! Also, don’t pour bleach into the same bucket of water as ammonia as you’ll gas yourself, and we wouldn’t want that now!
About half a cup of ammonia for a small bucket of water will be enough. All you have to do is place the bottles in the bucket, cover it and leave them for about 30 minutes. In this time the ammonia will literally dissolve the labels, and then all you need to do is rinse them under cold water. Make sure you give the bottles a thorough rinse as the smell will be quite strong and you wouldn’t want to have any of that residue get itself into your beer!
Method 11: Delegate
The last method is perhaps the most intelligent way to remove labels from beer bottles, get someone else to do all the hard work. If you have some children around the house then this is a good way for them to either earn their allowance or to receive a punishment. Just make sure you go with one of the non-chemical and non-heat based methods as I don’t want you to have any accidents on your hands!
Good luck with the beer bottles and happy brewing!