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Reusing Tincture Bottles: Sterilizing vs. Sanitizing

Recycling is a fine way to deal with a number of used tincture bottles. Some of our customers would like to reuse them, or even re-sell them. So we set out to answer your questions about sterilizing vs. sanitizing bottles for reuse.

As you may have guessed at some time or another, sterilizing and sanitizing are not the same, though many people tend to use these words interchangeably. Here’s what we can tell you.

“Sterilization” is the process of killing all bacteria and microbes with heat. The effectiveness of sterilization is determined by the level of heat used. 160°F will kill almost all pathogens on a surface that are known to be harmful to human life. However, there are microbes that may withstand temperatures up to 867.2°F. This means that it is impractical to achieve 100% sterilization. So forget trying to “sterilize” your bottles. It’s not even necessary.

“Sanitization” is the process of killing 99.9% of all bacteria and microbes on a surface that are harmful to humans. Sanitizing can be accomplished through use of chemicals or heat. There are some varying opinions about just what temperature must be reached for sanitizing. Some resources we found said 150°F was enough. Others said 160°F, while another source stated that the water must be between 165°F to 180°F.

GOOD NEWS! You may be able to use your dishwasher to sanitize your tincture bottles. Most consumer dishwashers use a 167 °F (75 °C) thermostat in the sanitizing process. If your dishwasher has a sanitizing feature, it uses an extended hot-water rinse to kill germs.

The National Sanitation Foundation has set a standard named NSF/ANSI Standard 184, which means that dishwashers bearing this certification kill 99.99 % of bacteria when operated on the “sanitize” setting. In order to be certified, they also must reach 150°F during final rinse. Adding soap or dish washing detergent aids in sanitization, acting like a catalyst. According to the Journal of Extension, many modern detergents, when used with water at a minimum temperature of 130 degrees, will kill most harmful bacteria and viruses.

Note: Don’t dry them with a towel because… well you guessed it, towels are not sanitized.

What to do with Packing Peanuts
If you would like to know how you can recycle packing peanuts, read our post about that too.

Resource References
NSF International / nsf.org
Assoc of Nutrition & Food Service Professionals / anfponline.org
Wikipedia Online / wiki.org
Minnesota Dept of Health / health.state.mn.us
San Francisco Gate News, Home Guides / homeguides.sfgate.com
Arizona Department of Health Services / adzhs.gov
Lincoln NE Safety Information / lincoln.ne.gov/city/health
Journal of Extension / joe.org