Decanters and carafes do more than add elegance to gatherings in your home; they also serve to aerate the beverages they contain as well as allow sediments to settle. Therefore, these fine pieces of crystal and glassware deserve the best of care so that they might serve you for a lifetime. Properly caring for these special containers takes an understanding of the agents you can use to clean them. Here is a guide to cleaning chemicals for your personalized liquor decanters and carafes and how to use them safely and appropriately:
Items you will need
Proper care requires that you have a small selection of cleaning chemicals at your disposal. These are all inexpensive items, and you will need them to do the job well:
- Isopropyl alcohol – also known as rubbing alcohol, use the highest concentration available to you at your local pharmacy.
- Bleach – choose a non-scented household bleach available in the laundry aisle at retail and grocery stores.
- White vinegar – ordinary vinegar that is appropriate for cooking or cleaning is sufficient for cleaning glass or crystal.
- Distilled water – this can be purchased by the gallon in the beverage aisle at most grocery stores. Be sure not to accidentally purchase purified water, as it still contains minerals that cause spotting.
- High-quality liquid dishwashing soap – most any name brand is acceptable, but avoid formulations with bleach or other added cleaning agents.
- Sodium percarbonate powder – this is available in a variety of brand names as well in generic formulations; it is marketed as an oxidizing product for use in cleaning organic-based laundry stains.
A list of stain-causing elements in decanters and carafes
There are several chemicals contained in alcoholic beverages that can stain crystal or glass. Some of these include:
- Tannins – these substances are found in wine, and they are powerful enough to tan leather (hence the name) as well as stain glass or crystal.
- Acids – a number of acids are contained in alcoholic beverages, and over time, they are able to discolor glass.
- Sugars – sugary substances that are found in wines, particularly, can adhere to crystal or glass.
- Pigments – these are also more likely to originate in wines, particularly as a downstream product from grapes.
While you don’t have to necessarily know which stain is on your decanter or carafe, it is helpful to understand some of the underlying chemistry as you move forward with cleaning them.
Using alkaline based cleaners
Alkaline cleaners are powerful, but you should use them with great caution. This class of chemicals includes bleach as well as some dishwashing soaps. They are able to react with certain compounds and render them effectively colorless, though the actual staining agent may still remain on your glass or crystal. Many alkaline chemicals also can increase the “wetness” of water by reducing surface tension and which is the key to allowing water to act by dissolving the substance itself.
The downside to these agents is that they will also permanently etch your glass or crystal if left in contact too long. If you use these cleaners, be sure to apply them for a limited time only. If you want to make repeated applications, first rinse the decanter or carafe in vinegar, a weak acid, so that it can neutralize the effects of the alkaline chemical.
Using alcohol cleaners
Isopropyl alcohol is an excellent all-around choice for dissolving stains caused by pigments. It will not harm your glass or crystal, and it is safe to use repeatedly. Its biggest negative is that it can take quite some time for alcohol to dissolve pigments. Patience is needed, and you may also need to use multiple applications of alcohol since it evaporates quickly; inserting the decanter’s stopper will help slow down the evaporation rate. If you are using alcohol to clean a carafe, you can cover the opening with a flat object such as a notepad to help prevent evaporation.
Using sodium percarbonate
Since sodium percarbonate is a powerful oxidizing agent, it can act upon tannins, sugars and other organic chemicals. It works by dissolving into hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate when placed into water. Hydrogen peroxide is an all purpose bleaching agent that is safe for use with glass and crystal. Sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda, is another water “wetting” agent, but it is also a fairly strong base that can etch glass. Therefore, if you use sodium percarbonate, be sure to rinse your container after a few minutes of soaking to prevent etching.
Using distilled water
Distilled water is not actually a cleaning agent, but it works well for drying your decanter or carafe without leaving spots. You should never use a cloth, paper towel or any other material to dry a fine piece of glassware or crystal; it can actually introduce scratches into the material that will eventually be visible.
Instead, rinse your decanter or carafe with distilled water, and then allow it to air dry. Don’t use regular water, as it will spot your glass or crystal.