One thing’s for sure– herbalists go through a lot of bottles. For a profession where environmental impact rates high on the list of our concerns, the last thing we want to do is add to a bunch of bottles, caps, and droppers to the mountainous landfills. I clean and reuse bottles and wanted to share with you the methods I have found safe and efficient.
When a bottle is returned to me, I pour out any leftover tincture, oil, etc and place the bottles into a hot, soapy bath, leaving them to soak for a time to allow the labels and any residue to loosen. The labels will practically fall off, and for the more stubborn parts, simply use the label bits that did come free and rub that over the remaining adhered label. That will work it free.
I have a number of different bottle brushes with which I scrub the inside of each bottle. As for the droppers, I dissemble them, separating the pipettes, the squeeze bulbs, and the plastic rings from one another. I use phenolic cone lined caps and these cones are popped free with the use of a pointed set of tweezers. These bits and pieces are all then immersed in a soapy, hot bath for a soak. I use my favorite tool, a mascara wand (purchased from a beauty supply store) to clean the inside of the pipettes, squeeze bulbs, and other hard to reach places. After this prewash I pack everything into a bin for the next step.
In order to feel like the bottles and tops have received a complete wash and sterilization for reuse, I like to use a dishwasher and program it for the heavy duty wash with the high heat setting. Since I am not gifted with a dishwasher at my own house, the next step involves schlepping all the bottles and various accoutrement to my parent’s house (is there ever a time we stop needing assistance from our folks) to run them through their machine. I use a simple eco-friendly detergent with the above mentioned settings.
After they have been run through, I schlep them back home for the final stages of this “ever-so-time-consuming-but-totally-worth-it” cleaning protocol. The bottles are lined up against my west facing window bank to allow for any last bits of moisture to escape and the tops are laid out on a clean towel. The blue bottle in the picture above is filled with 95% alcohol, which is the same alcohol I use for making my tinctures. I spritz them all over and wipe them down with a thin cotton towel. To reach the inside of the squeeze bulbs I again use that trusty mascara wand. Finally, all is reassembled to be used once more to dole out sweet, sweet herbal medicine
For any bottle or top that doesn’t pass muster (using organoleptic evaluation– sight and smell) they are put back into the bin for another cleaning. You will find that over time, the squeeze bulbs loose their integrity (notice in the photograph that some are starting to look a bit grey) and they will eventually get pulled. This is a bit frustrating, because the pipettes and ring are still completely fine. I have searched and have yet to find a distributer of just the bulbs. So I’ve taken to keeping the extra pipettes in a cup for tastings of herbal concoctions I’m making, which feels like a fine way to spend their retirement!