Let me just start by saying that I am a complete wine n00b and still fairly n00bish at the beer. I have been looking around this forum and other places for some information on the various steps involved once my wine is ready to come out of the carboy... (ie bottling). Since I have now tried a number of things at home, I thought that I would share them, and people can add their own, jump in with advice, point out that I am wrong and throw rotten fruit (although fermenting fruit might be nicer.) I also had the thought that if I end up posting a few of these types of topics maybe I (or another person) could compile a wine FAQ sticky... so... on to this topic for real...
I was in one of the LHBS and noticed that they were selling bottles. I found out the price and ($14/ dozen) and thought there was no way I was paying that when I could get perfectly good bottles from friends for free. After cleaning almost half the bottles I need for my current batch I went to my other LHBS and bought 12 brand new bottles for $12 (his prices are usually better and he is really knowledgeable and easy going, but 40 mins from my house.) I still had some bottles to lean. Here is what I have tried and what worked and didn't work.
Soaking in dish liquid
- I fill up the sink with warm water and a bit of dish soap and leave the bottles. When the labels are soaked I scrape them off with a kitchen knife, then they go back into the water. I then let them soak overnight and scrub off the remaining goo with a (nylon) scouring pad. I found that adding a drop of dish soap right on the left-over label goo really makes this easier. Pros: not actually that much elbow grease in the long run. Cons: Takes up the sink (I have a double) and I am really not sure how cool it is to use the dish liquid.
Variations of this that are a bad idea
When my husband stepped into help I was happy. He has more grease in his elbows. His brilliant ideas included emery cloth (which seemed to work, but was messy) and sandpaper. I now have some bottles with some unsolicited etching. Good thing I don't plan to give all the wine away!
Boiling hot water
If you fill up the bottle with boiling hot water and let it sit the adhesive will warm up and you can peel the label off. I found this on some site where people are trying to get the labels in one piece. The downside of this is that the bottle gets very hot, you can usually only use the water in one additional bottle, and you kinda have to be careful, because once it tears it can be really hard to get the rest off. As well this leaves some of the adhesive behind and you still have to wash or scrub. Pros: you can keep the label from the commercial wine. Cons: dangerous, waste of time and hot water, kinda a pain.
Suggestions I didn't try
Apparently you can "bake" the labels off. You make sure that the bottles are completely dry and stick them in the oven at 350 for 7-9 minutes. Again this was so that you could pull off the labels intact. The instructions did warn that there had to be no liquid in the bottle or it will come out as steam, and again the bottles get very hot, so you have to take them out with oven mitts.
Also - people seem to be able to do fancy things with a razor blade. I didn't go there either.
And - there was one suggestion that I think involved smashing the bottle. I didn't open the link since it didn't seem to get where I was going.
Some things that didn't work
You know how sometimes you are drinking a cold beer slow and when it warms up the condensation makes the label almost slip off? Well I tried filling a bottle with water and sticking it in the fridge. I took it out a couple of hours later and got lots of condensation, but the label didn't budge. Ditto for just running cold water on it.
I also tried melting the adhesive with steam and with a hairdryer. I am not patient enough for that. I might as well have decided to collect sand and learn to blow glass. The steam or hairdryer may work, providing you have a lot of time on your hands. (In which case I could use a little help sanitizing all my stuff on bottling day.)
Anyway... just my thoughts... feel free to add you own, or comment, or throw fruit.