Ask Wine Wizard

I picked up two very old glass carboys at a flea market and I don’t know what used to be stored in them. Should I still use them for winemaking?


Tony Gallagher — Via e-mail asks,

I picked up two very old 10-gallon (38-L) glass carboys for free at a flea market. One is dated 1935 and the other dates well before that, I suspect, since the mold seams do not come up to the lip of the carboy. I am considering using them for making wine sometime in the future. They are both stained on the insides and I have no idea what they were used for originally. My concern is that they may have been used for storing toxic chemicals like gasoline.

A friend once picked up an old bottle that was used to store gasoline. He wanted to use that bottle for storing water or wine but after considerable cleaning, he couldn’t get the smell of the gasoline out. What’s the best way to neutralize any potential health dangers as well as the odors of glass carboys previously used to store liquids other than those used for human consumption? Or should I refrain from using any old carboys since I do not know what their previous uses were?


I have three remonstrative but kindly meant words for you: don’t go there. Though I’m known among my friends and associates as an antiquities enthusiast, when it comes to winemaking, I have no trouble putting historical curiosity aside. I choose to use new equipment instead of charming old bottles encrusted with mysterious matter or “moonshine” jugs of questionable pedigree. I’m confident in saying that the carboys might contain toxic (or just plain smelly) residue that you wouldn’t want in your wine and consequently the digestive tracts of those you know and love. When you don’t know, it’s best not to take any chances.

When we can pick up new bottles and new carboys relatively cheaply, there’s no reason to jeopardize the quality of our hard-won wine because we want to save a few dollars. It’s better to let an old jug, rusty pail or patina-stained carboy make its way into an antique collection, country cottage, or backyard garden where its beauty will be better appreciated than in the cellar.

To ask a question, e-mail [email protected]. The Wiz will select several questions to answer in each issue, but can’t reply to each letter personally. Sorry!

Response by Alison Crowe.