Want Clean Glass Milk Bottles? Here’s How:

clean glass milk bottlesWhen it comes to milk, we’re all sticklers about squeaky clean containers! If you want clean glass milk bottles, here’s how to make that happen.

NOTE: A lot of raw milk people have gone to using wide-mouth 1/2 gallon Mason jars. Hard to pour out of but you get used to that. And, well, ok, they leak a little… But when it comes to cleaning, they can’t be beat. If you can’t get your hand in there, no worries: the dishwasher will do the job for you.

We, however, use the wide-body-small-spout bottles (shown left) which are just the opposite: great to pour out of and don’t leak when newly capped, but a little harder to clean. Since you can’t get your hand in there, you need a good brush with a sponge on the end. (See next section for brush suggestions.)

The biggest challenge with any milk bottle is that they have to be COMPLETELY DRY before you cap them. Just a few drops of water, even a teensy tiny little bit of moisture in there and, after they’ve been capped for couple of days, it smells like a swamp when you open it. I discovered this the obvious way.

So here’s how to clean and dry milk bottles:

1. Rinse emptied bottles immediately with cool-to-lukewarm water so as not to “set” the milk protein. Hot water will set that protein! My friend Christy calls this “milk glue” and it can be really hard to get off the inside of your bottles!

2. Plan to wash two days before milk pick-up day so you have plenty of drying time.

3. Wash in hot, soapy water, using a good bottle brush. Getting a long enough handle seems to be the trick! (See next section for brush suggestions.) One friend uses salt to clean for a little “grit” with the brush. I thought that was a great idea, especially if you have old milk in a bottle.

4. Rinse well several times, then give a final rinse with hot water to speed drying. Drain upside-down TILTED on a rack, then cap. Drying straight upside-down does not allow the inside bottom to get dry. And it seriously needs two days.

NOTES ON DRYING: Make sure air can get back up into the bottle when set upside down to dry! Placing your bottle on a dishtowel flat on the counter will not allow the inside to dry completely: air needs to be able to get back up into the bottle to dry.

Nor will letting it sit right-side-UP on a counter… unless you have a few days drying time (and no humidity), there will always be a drop or two of water in the bottom. Just a drop or two of water in a capped bottle will bring on the swampy.

If you have any doubts about how dry your bottle is or you have to wash last minute, you can punch an air hole in your cap. Yes, some dust might get in… but you won’t get milk mixed with swampy water back! We’ve done this plenty of times and are still alive!

One friend rigged up a drying rack in her windowsill which accomplished sun drying/sanitizing at the same time.

Brushes for Cleaning Glass Milk Bottles

Finding decent, good-sized bottle brushes locally has been a challenge.  I buy brushes that are long enough whenever I see them, usually $4-$7. I keep a couple at milk pick-up if you want to buy one.

The white one below was my first and worked very well. But it’s just not quite long enough. The black one was my favorite and works beautifully… until I found the pink one. This is my current favorite — the handle “grip” is a huge help!

clean glass milk bottlesYou could order one of these brushes. Looks like these people know what they are talking about, eh? Another friend uses the SIGG Cleaning Brush w/Red Bristles and is happy with it.

Sanitizing Glass Milk Bottles: 4 Methods

To tell you the truth, I don’t sanitize anymore. I just wash and dry and am very comfortable with that. If you would like to sanitize, here are four methods. The only thing I would caution about is, if you use the H2O2 or Iodine (or vinegar as one person told me she was using), make sure you rinse thoroughly so that your milk is not tainted with residue! Not sure what harm that would do but it might cause an off taste.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE: Food-grade H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) is perfect as a disinfectant because its by-product is plain water. (More on this in the next section.)

IODINE: I used to use this method. A couple of drops of iodine (Lugol’s solution which can be found on ebay here — this is NOT iodine tincture) in my final rinse water. If some remains in the bottle, it’s never bothered us. We supplement with Lugol’s, 50-75mg daily so safe to ingest. Just might make the milk taste funny if there’s too much residue.

SUNLIGHT: Air dry in direct sunlight.

HEAT: Place drained jars in a warm (less than 150°F) but turned-off oven. Obviously don’t include the plastic lids. I have done this with our milk bottles that have the hard plastic neck-handles, nothing melted!

Details on the H2O2 Sanitizing Method

Need funnel and approx. 2 oz HP for 4 bottles

Wash and rinse bottles. Then set still-wet bottles alongside lids/caps in the sink.

Pour an ounce (2 Tbsp or 1/8 Cup) of 3% HP into a bottle, then cap (which will also sanitize the cap) or cover it with your hand and shake for a minute to distribute the liquid.

Using the funnel, pour this slightly-used HP into the next container and set the first aside to drain. Repeat on all bottles.

When you have used HP on all your bottles, hold them up to the light. Any remaining organic material will show up as foamy white bubbles. Repeat the hand washing/HP rinse until no foam appears on contact with HP.

When all containers have been treated, rinse well to remove any traces of chemical stabilizers* from the HP. Dry as usual.

*Not all HP has stabilizers added to it. It should say on the bottle of HP if other ingredients have been added.

To deodorize a bottle that has had milk curdle in it, fill with a stronger solution of HP and filtered water and allow to soak overnight.

HP is preferred to bleach because it’s more environmentally friendly and many people believe it is good for their health. Plus, if you see any bubbling, you know you need a do-over!

Transportation Tips and the “Cold Chain”

“A fundamental tenet of handling fresh, unprocessed milk is to maintain what California Organic Pastures dairy farmer Mark McAfee calls the ‘cold chain’. This aspect of risk management begins with the immediate rapid cooling of milk after milking and continues through all the steps of dispensing, transport and storage. The ideal goal for home storage is to hold milk between 35°F and 38°F. There must be no break in the cold chain.”

This means that your milk cannot get above 38°F, even in your car on your drive home from pick-up in 90-degree summer heat. Keeping the COLD CHAIN consistent makes a big difference in fresh milk’s longevity.

Consider using something to cushion the jars inside the coolers, maybe a blanket or cardboard.

Freezer packs save you money in the long run — bagged ice is expensive! The big freezer packs are $2/each, the little ones are $1/each. Keep a bunch frozen and ready to go.

A good quality cooler is essential for transport. Our extreme cooler keeps ice frozen for 3 days! I like that.

If your cooler is too big for the milk by itself, get one of those freezer bags (the silver soft-sided ones). Put the milk in that, then in the cooler.

If you fill your own, fill cold jars.

How to Store Raw Milk at Home

Check temp of fridge; should be 38°F max. Of course, milk also decreases in quality if it is too cold. You don’t want ice crystals in your milk.

Store milk in the coldest part of the fridge possible.

Use the door shelf only for the bottle in current use.

May need to place ice packs next to milk in fridge if you are having spoiling problems, especially for milk that will be stored the longest.

If thawing meat or frozen leftovers, put them around your milk jars to help keep your milk super-cold.

Promptly return bottle(s) to fridge after pouring from them.

To Freeze Raw Milk (on purpose)

Use plastic (to prevent shattering) and leave 1 in. headroom.

Freeze as quickly as possible (the coldest part of your freezer) and shake periodically during freezing to keep cream and cold distributed evenly.

To use, thaw slowly at room temp until there is just a small chunk of ice in the milk.

Shake milk often during thawing to keep it cold throughout.

Fast thawing will result in curdling and/or separation of cream from milk.

Misc. Glass Milk Bottle Tips

Did you know that farm fresh milk dries almost clear, so it is not always apparent where it has not been removed? Me neither.

Containers that are properly washed and dried “keep” clean for several weeks once capped.

If you are washing half-gallon wide-mouth canning jars in the dishwasher, you might want to rinse afterwards to remove any dishwasher soap residue. Sally Fallon suggests using minimal detergent in the dishwasher and putting that soap only in the first wash cup (the pre-rinse cup) so the regular wash becomes a thorough rinse cycle.

Use only tempered glass.

Keep an extra bottle at home for that last little bit of milk on pick up day! Mason jars are good to have around for this.

What To Do With Leftover, Soured or Curdled Milk

Here’s the fascinating thing about raw milk: it NEVER goes bad. It just becomes another food. At least, it’s never gone bad for us and we’ve used it in food and cooking for us and our pets, never a single burp! That’s our experience. So how do we use it? Like this:

Let it sit on the counter for a couple of days until it’s separated: curds on top, greenish-colored whey on the bottom. Strain through a muslin bag or this handy strainer with stand and bag. Now you have curds (aka cottage cheese) and whey (great for making bread with a sourdough taste or fermenting veggies or feed to the pets — TONS of probiotics in here!)

This whole milk cottage cheese is very rich and takes a little getting used to. We love it: add some salt, maybe a little cream to taste. We use it in scrambled eggs, makes them very fluffy. I mix with tomatoes and salt and pepper and basil — the best salad ever! We also put it in our ice cream… that recipe is coming your way soon. A little of that cottage cheesey ice cream fills you right up!

Your pets will love curdled milk: we mix it with their regular food, they eat it right up.

If you don’t want to separate it, simply shake the curds and whey back together and use in your bread making for a sourdough taste. Or in pancakes, muffins, whatever you are cooking that needs liquid. Think of it like buttermilk. It can be substituted in lots of basic recipes.

Need more ideas? Check out Sarah’s list here!

That’s what we know so far. All tips and suggestions welcome!


Sally lives in the Bluegrass area of Kentucky with her husband of 20+ years and two gigantic sons. She is a Weston A. Price chapter leader and blogs to meet like-minded farm food freedom advocates. She's hoping you join us in the real food rEVOLution!
  • Olive Ralph

    Thank you for the tips. Question—I rinse my Kombucha bottles with vinegar. Would that be OK instead of Hydrogen Peroxide to wash milk bottles? Vinegar would also dissolve any soap residue.

  • http://www.fiftytolife.com/who/ Sally

    You know, I really don’t know if vinegar is “as good” as HP, but I’d certainly trust vinegar. I ain’t afraid of no germs! At this point in time, I rinse in cold water, then wash with a good brush in hot soapy, then rinse well and let air dry. As long as I’m washing my bottles a couple of days in advance, there is plenty of time for them to dry.

    The only problem with vinegar is if there were a vinegar residue, you might get some taste in your milk if there were any left in there at all! But I don’t know for sure.

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  • Priscilla Wallace

    Any way you can post/share a photo of your friend’s drying rack? That sounds interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this helpful info., I’ve passed on a link to it.

    • Sally_Oh

      Well, I can’t remember who said that now… let me think about it. We thought about rigging one up. It would look a lot like the boot racks outside a home — you can see it here: http://www.euro-webonline.com/world_cultures/welly-boot-stand. If we make one, I’ll take a pic. And if I remember who told me they did this, I will take a picture of hers!