(We update this post as we develop our cleaning procedures.)
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. We clean and reuse bottles as best we can at Herbalista and wanted to share with you the methods we have found safe and efficient.
We try to keep separate the bottles that are used by people (meaning they go home with clients) from the stock bottles that don’t go near a person’s lips. We store them separately until they go through the first phase of cleaning.
When a bottle is returned to us, we pour out any leftover tincture, oil, etc into the compost and place the bottle in a box until we gather a few together. We then place them into a very hot, soapy bath. Leaving them to soak for a time allows 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 usually work it free. If parts still don’t come free try a wee bit of soap on a copper pot scrubbing pad. As a last resort we might use some Goof off.
We have a number of different sized bottle brushes with which we can scrub the inside of each bottle. Once they are thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed, they are placed on the bottle wrack for drying. When completely dry we hold them to the light to check for any obvious organic material or residue that may remain. If we see any, we put it through the same initial soak and scrub all over again. Once it appears clean WHEN DRY AND HELD TO LIGHT, we place the bottle into a box for Phase II.
DROPPERS & CAPS
We completely dissemble the droppers– separating the pipettes, the squeeze bulbs, and the plastic rings from one another. We also separate the internal plastic phenolic cone from the caps 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. We use either a mascara wand (purchased from a beauty supply store) or pipe cleaners to clean the inside of the pipettes, squeeze bulbs, and other hard to reach places. After this prewash we place everything into a bin for Phase II.
In order to feel like the bottles and tops have received a complete wash and sanitation for reuse, we use a dishwasher and program it for with the highest heat setting. Since Lorna is not gifted with a dishwasher at Herbalista HQ, the next step involves schlepping all the bottles and various accoutrement to her mother’s house (is there ever a time we stop needing assistance from our folks) to run them through her machine. We don’t use any detergent at this phase, as it could leave a residue and the purpose of the dishwasher is actually to sanitize through STEAM heat. After they have been run through, we schlep them back to HQ for the final stages of this “ever-so-time-consuming-but-totally-worth-it” cleaning protocol.
The bottles are lined up against the west facing window bank to allow for any last bits of moisture to escape. When the bottles appear completely dry (usually in a matter of hours) they are again checked against the light and if clean, they are placed into the bottle cabinet for reuse. If not and seem to still have schmutz on the inside, we put it back into the initial box to go through the entire cycle again.
The tops are laid out on a clean flour sack towel on the table. The blue bottle in the picture here is filled with 70% alcohol. We spritz and wipe them down with a thin cotton towel, fine tuning the bits and pieces. This is a chance to have your eyes on everything and do some good quality control. Anything that seems icky, too scratched up, or loosing its integrity, it goes to be recycled. 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 evaluations of sight and smell) they are put back into the bin for another round of cleaning or put into the recycling bin. 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. We have searched and have yet to find a distributer of just the bulbs. So we’ve taken to keeping the extra pipettes in a cup for tastings of herbal concoctions, which feels like a fine way for them to spend their retirement!
updated on 08.20.21