Long ago, another herbalist told me that cleaning old tincture bottles wasn’t worth the effort. She just recycled them and bought new ones, I expect. Even then, that seemed a wasteful approach. Why should I spend my money on new bottles when I have a sizable stash of used ones that, with relatively little effort, I can clean and reuse?
As both a lazy and practical herbalist, I’ve spent the past few years developing a simple and practical approach to reusing what I have, dropper bottles included. This procedure takes a day or more, but most of the real work is done by soaking. The amount of time I’m actively engaged is only an hour or so for about twenty-five bottles. Plus, it keeps those bottles out of the recycling bin and in use, which is better for our environment and my budget.
This method uses sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda, but you can use sodium bicarbonate or sodium percolate, which is found in non-bleach detergents like Oxy-clean. You can choose to further sanitize your bottles using a sanitizing machine, like a dishwasher with a true sanitizing cycle, or with bleach. I generally don’t, but I have on occasion.
Store your clean bottles and parts assembled only after they’ve dried thoroughly. You can store them separately, but that creates more work later when you need to use one. If you have a variety of sizes, you’ll want to match-up the dropper parts now rather than later, too.
- Warm water
- Dish soap
- Sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, or sodium percarbonate
- Bleach, optional
- Rubbing alcohol, optional
- Cotton swabs, such as Q-tips
- A bowl or bucket large enough to fit all bottles and unassembled dropper tops
- A plastic scraper for removing labels
- Large sink or a second bowl or bucket to fit all bottles and disassembled dropper tops
- Towel or drying rack
- Brillo pad, optional
- Remove labels as best you can, ensuring any plastic coverings or sheaths are removed even if they leave behind paper or adhesive. Some labels come right off when soaked in cold water. Some labels need attention from a brillo pad and rubbing alcohol.
- Open and rinse each bottle.
- Disassemble the dropper tops and rinse each piece.
- Put bottles, pipettes, rubber tops, and plastic rings from the bottles and dropper tops into a bowl or bucket with warm, soapy water.
- Let the bottles and parts soak for at least an hour. If you’re lazy, like me, you may leave them for a day or more. That’s okay.
- When the labels have all soaked through and some have begun to come off or at least an hour has passed, fill a sink or a second bowl or bucket with three or four gallons of warm water and 1/4 cup sodium carbonate or about 1 Tablespoon sodium carbonate per gallon of water . The water should feel slippery.
- Remove the bottles from the soapy water and rinse them, removing all labels using a plastic scraper.
- Add the rinsed bottles to the sodium carbonate solution.
- Rinse all dropper bottle parts, including pipette, rubber top, and plastic rings, then add them to the sodium carbonate solution.
- Let the bottles and dropper parts soak for at least an hour. If you’re lazy, like me, and let them soak all day. That’s okay.
- Remove all bottles and parts from the sodium carbonate solution one at a time.
- Use a cotton swab to clean inside each one, ensuring there is no residue or particles left behind. Be sure to insert the cotton swabs into each rubber top, too.
Sometimes, tinctures will go all the way up into the rubber tops and leave behind a residue you’ll want to remove. Use the cotton swabs to rub clean the threads on the plastic tops and outer top of the bottles too.
- Briefly soak each part in a weak bleach solution then rinse thoroughly or use a sanitizing machine, such as a dishwasher equipped with a true sanitizing cycle, to sanitize all parts. This step is optional if you are only using it for another tincture for yourself. It is vital if you are reusing a bottle that had vinegar or syrup or are sharing your tincture with others.
- Set all parts on a clean, absorbent surface to dry. If you have a dishwasher with a good drying cycle or a fan, that may hasten drying.