Illustration of all the ways to clean a wine decanter.
Illustration by Eric DeFreitas

Apologizing to your downstairs neighbors is probably the first thing you should do after a raucous dinner party. When it comes time to clean dishes, however, there’s an array of options, especially for that fancy decanter you trotted out for the occasion.

Should you rinse it with vinegar? Scour it with salt? Invest in cleaning beads? Or even, drop that wine-stained decanter in the dishwasher, say a quick prayer and move on with your life?

It all depends on the size, shape and overall preciousness of your decanter.

We asked five wine industry experts about the pros and cons of each method. Life is short, after all, and good glassware is expensive.

Vinegar and water

It might be tempting to wash a decanter as you would most other glasses, with dish soap and warm water in the sink or dishwasher. That’s frowned upon by wine pros, however. Dish soap leaves behind residue and faint flavors, while dishwashers are too rough for most decanters.

“I was always trained to never use soap in a decanter,” says Thea Angella Merl, experience curator and lead wine assistant at Rose’s Luxury in Washington D.C. Instead, she rinses her decanter with warm water, pours in near-boiling water and lets it soak for 10 minutes.

“Then, I’ll wrap a bendy kitchen spatula in a soft cotton serviette or cheesecloth—honestly, whatever is closest—and use that to gently scrub all the curved, hard-to-reach sides,” says Merl.

Finally, she pours in a mixture of white vinegar, water and ice. Merl sloshes the contents around gently, “followed by a thorough rinse and a scrub again.”

Salt and ice

If your decanter is relatively sturdy, drop in a few pinches of salt and some crushed ice. Then give it a shake.

“Don’t get too aggressive, but put some hip into it,” says Regine T. Rousseau, an author, International Sommelier Guild Level II and founder of Chicago wine and spirits company Shall We Wine.

The ice and salt function as a sort of liquid steel wool pad, scouring the glass as you shake things up. Afterward, rinse your decanter with room-temperature water, and let it air dry.

Keep an eye on the clock, too. “Don’t wait for stuck-on red wine buildup before applying this method,” says Rousseau. “Think of this as a decanter toothbrush: Brush after every use to avoid decay.”

An Animation Showing How to Clean a Decanter with Beads
Animation by Eric DeFreitas

Cleaning beads

“I personally like to use decanting beads, which are little metal balls that you put in the decanter with very hot water and swirl,” says Nate Rogevich, beverage manager at Majordomo Meat and Fish in Las Vegas.

As the stainless-steel beads swish around the decanter, they pick up residue and sediment like a sponge.

To prevent soap stains and residue, Rogevich uses his beads in conjunction with Cafiza, a powdered cleaner marketed for espresso machines, yet equally effective on glass.

Beads are also the preferred method of Marshall Tilden III, DWS, CSW, Wine Enthusiast’s vice president of sales and wine education.

“They are able to reach every nook and cranny at the base of the decanter,” he says. Tilden finds them particularly effective on decanters with unusual shapes.

You can reuse your beads, too. Just rinse in hot water and let them dry before storing.

Vinegar and rice

If the thought of cold, hard steel or ice inside your beloved decanter makes you cringe, consider using clean, uncooked rice with equal parts water and white vinegar.

The combination works in a similar, gentler manner as the above methods. The solution flows through narrow bottlenecks, while rice “scrubs” the sides clean. The downside here is grit.

“In terms of rice, I do find that it removes slight stains,” says Rebecca Meir, wine writer and sommelier at Toronto private dining service Chef & Somm. “However, it falls short when removing substantial ones. The crushed ice and stainless-steel pearls will work much better as well as quicker,” especially for tough, caked-on stains, she says.

Hot water and foresight

Regardless of which cleaning method you choose, “the most important consideration is to rinse your decanter with warm-to-hot (but not boiling) water as soon as possible after using,” says Meir. “The longer the decanter sits with wine, the more of a struggle there will be when it comes to removing the wine stains.”

In cleaning, as in life, it never hurts to get an early start.