What methods flopped?
I started brewing by soaking empties in a sink full of hot water, this worked but the water cooled too quickly. I then tried filling a bathtub full of hot water and running the shower on hot also, this worked better but wasted a lot of water. I tried using a product called Goo Gone which works really well for anything less than a 6-pack, but is hard to wash completely off. I have learned a trick to Goo Gone though.
What methods worked best for you?
I think the most effective method I have found is to soak bottles in a warm-hot PBW solution and let them sit until the solution cools. I then use some sort of 'scraper', be it a straight razor, paint scraper or even a butter knife; Something metal with a fairly sharp edge on it. Very lightly I scrape on the glass where the glue/label is and most of it comes off with little effort. Make sure there is some fine mesh screen in the drain, you don't want label confetti to get into your drain.
Goo Gone Trick?
I use the Goo Gone trick to finish stubborn bottles where the label comes off, but there is glue residue. When there is no paper left all you need is 1 drop of Goo Gone. Massage this drop into the glue residue with your fingers. The glue will start to ball up and fall off. When the Goo Gone seems to stop working rinse under warm water with some dish soap. If you still feel rough glue spots use 1 more drop Goo Gone on your finger and start massaging the bottle again. Rinse, repeat. When I use Goo Gone I try to avoid letting it get near the neck of the bottle.
What commercial bottles are the easiest/hardest to clean?
Easiest Bottles are hard to remember... Sam Adams aren't too difficult, although I know I have come across bottles easier than Sam, where the labels willingly fling themselves off the bottle and into a neat stack by the drain; I just cant remember which. Sierra Nevada comes to mind, I think those labels were fairly easy to remove. The only thing I don't like about Sam Adams for home brew is the signature scibbled across the neck.
By far the hardest labels I have tried to remove come from either 'Organic' or 'Gluten Free' beers. You know those earthy/crunchy beers that use 100% recycled materials, are gluten free, or are vehemently 'organic'. For some reason these beers seem to use industrial strength adhesive on their labels. They require the most work to get off IMHO.
How do you prefer to adhere your homebrew labels?
Laser Printer, Whole Milk, Paintbrush
- Color Laser Printer: You need to use a commercial laser printer instead of a home-based inkjet because laser printer ink is water resistant. Inkjet printed images will run from condensation even. Laser printed images are colorfast in water. Go to Fedex or any print shop and request full color LaserJet print (on glossy paper for quality).
- Design a rectangle/oval label for a single bottle in Photoshop or Gimp.
- Print a single test page on your home printer, cut out and apply to test bottle to make sure you like the layout.
- If you like the design on the test bottle, tile the design and take the file to Fedex. Be sure to plan for the amount of tiled pages you need to print, I like to make extras. Assume 8 labels per page, 5 gallon batch means 56 labels. 56/8 is 7 sheets. I would print at least 1 extra sheet, so ask Fedex to print 8 sheets of 8 labels (64 labels to account for errors) on Color Laserjet.
- Use 'print to scale' and 8.5"x11" to ensure a scale print and tile your label to get the most prints per sheet. Consider filling in empty space with either a back label or a neck label. (Make sure to account for curvature on the neck).
- Take printed labels home, line up all the sheets, clamp together and cut out each individual label.
- Whole Milk: Whole milk has a higher percentage of fats or proteins that have better adhesive properties than 1% or skim. You need these proteins to provide the 'glue'. Go with whole. Please note that this is NOT water-safe.
- Fill a shallow saucer with whole milk, coat each cut out label in the milk and apply to a clean and filled bottle. Hold label steady for 4-5 seconds. Label shouldn't move due to surface tension or capillary action. Once dry the proteins act as a glue.
- Paintbrush: Used to spread the milk on the label and bottle. Bristles apply even pressure to ensure a thin coat of milk between the label and the bottle.
The nice thing about these labels is that they will rinse right off in warm water and leave no residue. This allows you to reuse already cleaned bottles. There are negatives however. Although these labels will stay put in warmer temperatures for bottle conditioning and colder temps like refrigeration, you should expect the labels to saturate and start falling off if you throw them in a cooler full of ice water. Anything WET will cause these labels to delaminate and peel off the bottle.