How to kill that pickle smell?
October 16, 2011 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Awesome: I'm a homebrewer with access to a steady stream of free food-grade buckets. Not so awesome: Pickle buckets. How do I get the smell out?

I've googled and googled and I'm pretty sure I'm out of luck. I've tried baking soda and bleach, oxiclean and sunshine. Lemon and newspapers. Nothing seems to even put a dent in the smell. I've read all about the great success these methods but I haven't seen any results whatsoever. I don't mind consigning these buckets to other tasks, but my first choice would be to fill them with delicious beer, mead, and anything else I can imagine fermenting.
posted by Perthuz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Once you bleach plastic, I consider that a FAIL in terms of chemical leach.

I am a culinary professional. I opt for glass or ceramic these days for all acid-based applications.

posted by jbenben at 2:27 PM on October 16, 2011

I made a container garden out of pickle buckets. I scrubbed them out with one of those green scrubby sponges and dish soap, and while I wasn't worried about the smell I did notice that the buckets I cleaned and then left out in the sun and weather for a few days while I did other things were totally smell free. Have you given them time to just air out in the wind?
posted by Science! at 2:30 PM on October 16, 2011

jbenben: Thank you for the input. It's common practice I think for homebrewers to use bleach to sanitize their equipment, both glass and plastic. While my preference is for fermentation to take place in glass it's not always feasible. I haven't noticed any ill effects (yet, I guess) but maybe it's time to look at other options.

Science!: I've given one of the buckets a full day in the sun. I'll put it back out for a week or so just to see if more time=less smell.
posted by Perthuz at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2011

How much sodium bicarbonate are you using? For this task I'd be looking at maybe 1-2 cups per gallon of water, per gallon of bucket to clean. Also, I would be using near boiling temperature water (provided it's an HDPE bucket this should be fine). Combine gradually in the bucket (it'll foam up a bit), stir thoroughly, let sit until it gets cool enough to handle then dump and fill with plain water and let it sit overnight.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 2:50 PM on October 16, 2011

Personally, I find pickle-flavored beer a provocative concept. Possibly related: have you ever tried any of the sour beer variants?
posted by fartknocker at 3:06 PM on October 16, 2011

Matt - Not nearly that much. I've been using 2 cups per 5 gallons, but leaving it sit overnight. So far I've seen adovcacy of much more sunlight and much more baking soda. Can't hurt to try both of those things.

Fartknocker - I'm not a huge fan of sours, though I've tried a few very nice ones (I live near New Belgium and they seem to have a knack for nice ones). I HAVE thought about brewing a beer specifically for boiling bratwurst, and one of these buckets might be perfect for that experiment.
posted by Perthuz at 3:21 PM on October 16, 2011

I haven't tried it, but I've heard that soaking in milk somehow reduces the smell of pickles. Might be worth trying.
posted by cali at 3:26 PM on October 16, 2011

I had this problem when a friend gave me 10 smelly pickle buckets to use in my garden this spring. I found that after trying different methods (bleaching some, sun+baking soda washes, sun+hydrogen peroxide washes), that leaving charcoal in a closed bucket placed in the sun for few days worked best. It removed most of the smell and after a summer of use the buckets have no odor.

Removing pickle smell is a common problem when re-using buckets and most feel that the cost of de-pickling the bucket isn't worth it.
posted by bCat at 4:07 PM on October 16, 2011

In my experience, the translucent plastic buckets are much less prone to absorbing odors than the opaque white ones, though both are labeled HDPE.

If your buckets are white, I think there is little hope (though I might try a shielded germicidal lamp to see what ozone could do [direct exposure could degrade the plastic]).
posted by jamjam at 4:45 PM on October 16, 2011

No. No. I also used to homebrew!

Ours science is different now from 20 years ago. Full practice hasn't caught up yet, and you would not get immediately sick right away.... Anyway, google. Bleach bad. Buckets used for pickling bad. BPA. Hormone interceptors. Oh hell. You'll find out in another 5 years or so.

Carry on.
posted by jbenben at 5:13 PM on October 16, 2011

Not worth the effort. Better to get free buckets from a bakery. I use Safeway.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 6:59 PM on October 16, 2011

Generally speaking, I'm jumping onto the "not worth the effort" crowd. I'm a homebrewer (just finished a batch, a few hours ago) and I would simply not bother with the effort it would take to get the smell out of a bucket. Scratched? Stinky? Infected? Throw it away. Spend the few extra bucks to get a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic carboy or bucket at your local homebrew store or order it online. Seriously, the psychic energy spent cleaning and worrying (and, in my opinion, throwing away briny beer) isn't worth the twenty bucks.
posted by jpolchlopek at 7:27 PM on October 16, 2011

You know, I think the "don't bother" crowd is probably right. I've expended more effort than I probably need to on an attempt to save a few bucks, and jbenben hit me right in the "oh God, not the hormones!". I'll try a couple of the things suggested here for my own edification, but I'm not going to use the buckets for brewing. Oh well, chalk it up to a lesson learned.
posted by Perthuz at 7:36 PM on October 16, 2011

Yup, bleach. 10% solution (make sure you have full-strength bleach... iirc, 14-20 molar (?) sodium hypochlorite - which works out to be 6%?) I'm a little hazy on this, but there is definitely "cheap" bleach which is a lot lower concentration (like, 2% or something) and "full strength" bleach. It should give you, at least, a % on the bottle of bleach (although it might not be standardized).

Make a 1:10 volume dilution of full-strength bleach (or if the 6%/2% I recall is correct, 3:10 volume dilution if you have "cheap" bleach) and fill the bucket with that. Leave overnight, and rinse very very well afterwards. You can re-use this bleach at least a couple/few times for multiple buckets if cost is an issue.

Ought to take care of smells from plastic.

Not the right time of year, but when it's full blazing summer, leaving the buckets out in the sun between 10 and 3pm for a couple of days ought to do it, too. And also burn off any residual bleach smell if you're especially sensitive (bleach rinses out, if you smell bleach after filling/dumping the full bucket 3x with clean water, it's likely psychosomatic).
posted by porpoise at 7:37 PM on October 16, 2011

Oh, that 10% bleach solution is also great at rejuvinating tupperware; while you're bleaching the buckets, submerge your grungier tupperware in it. Great way to rejuvenate your tupperware. Same with un-lacquered chopsticks and wooden chopping boards.

Sodium hypochlorite is awesome stuff.
posted by porpoise at 7:43 PM on October 16, 2011

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