How to Remove Beer Bottle Labels for Homebrew

Are you one of those crazy people who pays for new bottles to fill with homebrew? Sure, they’re not expensive and they’re convenient, but wouldn’t you rather your bottles come full of beer? Luckily, they do! But there’s a catch – they come with an annoying label that leaves a sticky residue on the bottle when you try to remove it. 

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to remove those pesky beer bottle labels when you’re done drinking the delicious craft beer, and it’s no fun serving someone a bottle of your best homebrew with someone else’s dirty faded label on the bottle.

There are different labels and the best way to remove them depends on what type of label you’re dealing with. Plastic labels often leave more glue residue, while paper labels often fall apart and make a mess while cleaning.

So, what is the easiest way to remove labels from glass bottles to reuse for homebrew? Here’s the best method for easily removing the labels from commercial bottles for homebrew! This process works great for even the most stubborn labels, and only requires some simple equipment and a little elbow grease. If you’re a home winemaker, this label removal method works great for wine labels as well.

Choosing Bottles

One quick note about reusing beer bottles for homebrew. Only use bottles with pry-off caps. Luckily, most craft beer bottles use pry-off caps, but there are a few that use the twist-off style caps that a lot of domestic beers use. Those don’t seal well when bottling homebrew, and we don’t recommend trying to use them. 

Try using different shaped bottles, too. I personally always liked the shorter, wider bottles that Sierra Nevada uses for my homebrew, but a lot of my friends use the standard 12-oz bottles that are thinner and taller. As long as the bottles have a pry-off cap, any of these are fair game.

Step One: Drink a Beer

Like every other activity related to homebrewing, I recommend your first step to be pouring yourself a cold, delicious beer. While we almost always recommend drinking a homebrew, this is one of the few instances in which drinking a commercial beer is preferable, only because now you have one more bottle to remove the label from and fill with homebrew! While this step is obviously optional, let’s face it, the reason we homebrew is because we’re beer enthusiasts, and the hobby is a lot more fun with a little beer involved!

Step Two: Soak Empty Bottles

I soak my empty bottles in hot water (there is no need to boil water – hot tap water is sufficient here) with a small amount of PBW mixed in. Many homebrewers use a scoop of OxiClean Free instead, but I recommend sticking with PBW because I’m hesitant to introduce anything to my beer that I don’t need to, and you can buy PBW cheaply and keep it on hand. You don’t usually need to soak the bottles for more than a couple of hours or so, but an overnight soak doesn’t hurt either. Depending on how many bottles you need to soak, you’ll need anywhere from a couple of gallons of water to a whole bucket or kitchen sink full.

I generally do not recommend using any type of dish soap on the bottles. In fact, I recommend to never use soap for any of your brewing equipment. The film never really rinses all of the way off and it can impact the quality of your beer. The last thing we want is a damaged final product! If you absolutely MUST use dish soap, only allow it to touch the outside of the bottles and don’t let it get into the inside of the bottle. 

Step Three: Peel Off as Much of the Label as Possible

You probably won’t get all of it off at once, but peel off as much of the beer labels as possible. For extra sticky labels, you’ll usually still have some stubborn paper and glue residue left.

An image of a beer bottle with the label removed, showing remaining paper and glue residue.

Step Four: Remove any Remaining Glue Residue and Label with an Abrasive

I use these metal scrubbers, but steel wool will work fine (but I wouldn’t use the ones with soap in them). Copper scrubbers and stainless steel scrubbers both seem to work equally well. By the time you’ve removed most of the paper and soaked them in hot water, the glue residue should scrape off easily. While scrubbing, I usually run the bottle under warm water.

If you’re still having trouble removing the glue, mix up a little baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and water and scrub the bottle with it using the abrasive scrubber.

Image of hands scrubbing away remaining label residue with a copper scrubber.

Options for Dealing With Stubborn Labels

For remaining paper and glue that you can’t remove with the scrubber, try carefully using a razor blade or utility knife to scrape it off. Seriously, be careful here. Everything is wet, soapy, and slippery, and no one wants to visit the emergency room because they were trying to remove labels from beer bottles. In fact, we don’t even recommend doing it. If you’re at the point where this requires a knife, it’s probably best to go get a new set of bottles with easier labels to remove.

If nothing else is working to remove the glue residue, you can heat the glue using a hair dryer or heat gun to make it easier to remove. At that point, it might be worth switching to a different brand of beer with labels that are easier to remove. 

People also use nail polish remover or a cup of ammonia solution to remove stubborn labels and glue residue. While ammonia is safe to use at home, it’s a harsh chemical that is likely not worth using. If you’re at the point where you need to wear a mask, protective gloves, and goggles, it’s probably better to just get a different brand of bottles. Remember, bottles are essentially free, so don’t spend a lot of time, money, and effort making them useable. 

Step Five: Rinse Bottles Thoroughly and Dry

After you have removed all of the label, rinse the bottles well to make sure they’re clean. After they’re clean, dry them with a clean towel or paper towel and set them aside and allow them to dry fully before storage. Make sure you sanitize your clean bottles fully with cold water and a product like Star San before filling on bottling day.

Step Six: Celebrate your Success with a Beer

Like every other activity related to homebrewing, I recommend your final step to be pouring yourself another cold, delicious beer. Unlike the last one, this one ought to be a homebrew if you have one on hand. Otherwise, you’ll end up with another labeled bottle and this whole process starts over again! 

This is the best way we have found for removing beer or wine bottle labels, but we’d bet some of you have other recommendations for an easy method to remove a bunch of labels quickly and easily. Leave a comment below or post in the forums if you have found a better way!

Thanks for Reading!

Do you still have questions about removing bottle labels, or anything else beer and brewing related? Leave a comment below or post in the forums! The BrewTogether Community is made up of an awesome group of homebrewers around the world that are always supportive and happy to help answer your questions!

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