The Most Clever Ways to Reuse Empty Wine Bottles
After the last pour, how do you use the glass bottle that remains? Take inspiration from our best ideas—home décor like vases and tabletop centerpieces, decanters for everything from soaps and salad dressings, and hostess gifts for someone special—all from your emptied bottles.
Observe a bottle and imagine the possibilities: a vase for flowers, a set of upcycled tableware, or a terrarium that sprouts tiny, but hardy, plants under glass. Rarely do everyday objects inspire such a wealth of ideas. But ordinary glass bottles continue to enchant—and thanks to decades of accumulated detritus, continue to be collectible.
Experts may prize age and provenance, but the true value of these humble vessels is their unadulterated beauty: Cleaned and stripped of their labels, and most often long-separated from their stoppers and caps, bottles are pure instances of color and form, and are nearly as multihued and variously shaped as history itself. Fortunately, because the shape of a bottle is bound to its function, with neck length and height dictated by the contents, standardized production has never bred conformity.
Flea markets, thrift stores, and estate sales are all great sources for bottles. Which colors, shapes, and sizes would you collect? Bottles in a variety of greens are common, because the raw materials needed to make the color have historically been affordable and widely available. But they come in rich yellow, blue, and purple hues all the same. A bottle's age can be determined, in part, by its mouth and bottom. For instance, the "snap top" (so named because the top was broken off the blowpipe after the bottle was made) and pyramidal bottom of an amber flask date it to the early 1800s. Brown vessels are often used for beer and ale because the coloring protects the bottle's contents from spoiling. Reconsider this function for preserving oils, salad dressings, or soaps in your kitchen. Clear bottles, with a speedy wash and dry, will display family photographs or the flicker of a candle beautifully. Once you open the bottle, it will only last so long—so why not prolong its use in your home?
Cut Them Into New Tableware
Maybe you can't blow glass at home (yet!), but with a bottle cutter, you can certainly transform it. And this is the tool all your empties have been waiting for. We tested a handful, and Home Pro Shop's bundle ($33, amazon.com) stood out for its ease of use. Rest the bottle snugly on the rollers, turn it to etch the glass surface (with a dull cutting knife that stays far from fingers), and dunk it from boiling water to ice water and back again to break the glass at the scored line. Smooth the edges with the included sandpaper, and it's ready to fill with blooms, a votive, or (full-circle alert) wine.
Paint a Collection of Vases
Transform everyday vessels into elegant vases by coating their interiors with glass enamel. Any container will do—buy up old bottles at a flea market, or try kitchen cast-offs, such as jam jars. We used white enamel, which yielded different shades of green depending on the tint of the glass.
Dishwasher-safe enamel paint is sold at most crafts stores. Wash the bottle inside and out with soapy water; let dry. Pour in a small amount of the paint's surface conditioner, which primes the glass for the enamel. Swirl to coat fully, then pour out excess. Stand bottle up- right, and dry 1 hour. Pour in enough enamel to easily coat the inside. Swirl, and return excess to container for reuse. Dry bottle upside down on a paper towel for 48 hours, periodically wiping excess enamel from the rim with a damp cloth during the first hour.
Grow and Tend to Terrariums
It's easy to see why the popularity of succulents has skyrocketed in recent years. The plants look modern and require little maintenance—just several hours of sun and not too much water. To showcase their beauty at home, go beyond the terra-cotta pot with this display idea. Sprinkle an inch of cactus soil in a clean glass bottle. Divide the succulents into single-stem plantlets, each with roots. Using chopsticks, place the plantlets in the bottle one at a time. Use the chopsticks again to nestle each plantlet into the soil. Once the plants are situated, keep them indoors and out of direct sunlight. These desert plants require only a drop of water every two weeks or so.
Display Your Photographs
Family trips may end and memories may fade, but photographs are meant to last and last. Wrap decals around pale-glass bottles and votive holders for table decorations with a charming sea-glass look. These super-thin clear printable decals come on a paper backing. Give them a coat of clear varnish, then soak them briefly in water—they will slide off the backing, ready to be applied to glass' smooth surface. Trim the edges more precisely once they're applied.
Turn Up the Heat
The next time you go to a party, leave the wine behind and show up with something hot—hot sauce, that is. Depending on how much spice your friends like, you can infuse vinegar with mild long peppers, spicier Thai peppers, or five-alarm habaneros. Our clip-art tags are all the wrapping bottles need. To make the sauce, sterilize half- or three-quarter-liter glass bottles by using the sterilize button on the dishwasher or boiling them for 10 minutes. Wash peppers, cut a slit in each (you'll need about 20 per half-liter bottle), and insert into bottles. Meanwhile, heat 2 to 3 cups white vinegar, or rice vinegar for a Thai version, to just boiling. Funnel into bottles to fill; let cool, and cork. Refrigerate. For giving, print tags and attach them with twine.
Think Like a Mixologist
Spread holiday cheer with batches of homemade cocktail mixers for Bloody Marys, Cranberry Cocktails, and Apricot-Ginger Fizzes. Prepare your preferred drink according to its tag instructions, then decant into a decorative bottle. Print the label with recipe and storage instructions, and assemble as indicated on tag. Fasten it to the top of the bottle using ribbon or twine. Store, refrigerated, for up to one week.
Light Up the Party
At outdoor parties, guests will notice lighting from the moment they arrive. Bars and buffet tables must be adequately lighted, but they're often located far from electrical outlets. An easy, inexpensive solution is to gather clear bottles and fill them with lamp oil and wicks. Arrange the bottles under a large hurricane for protection; we set these on a sturdy glass cake stand (make sure the bottles are evenly balanced on the stand).
Shampoo and Liquid Soap
When it's kept in an attractive glass bottle, soap doesn't have to stay hidden beneath the sink. Decorative bottles and pour spouts are available at housewares stores; vintage bottles work well, too, as long as they are perfectly clean. Simply fill the bottle with dishwashing liquid, shampoo, or anything similar and top it with the spout. Then begin to buy your detergent in quantity, and refill the bottle as necessary.
Set Candles Aflame
Here's an elegant update to the classic candle in a bottle. Choose beautiful vintage vessels from a flea market or an antiques store. Clean them with warm, soapy water and a soft-bristle bottle brush; to absorb the moisture, insert rolled-up paper towels inside the necks. Then place a dripless candle in the opening of a wide-neck bottle (secure with candle adhesive), and set a tall hurricane glass over it or leave them open to the air. Use smaller bottles to hold matchsticks or a spray of evergreen boughs, such as juniper and yew.