Glass Jars Galore!

My ravings about the joys of reusing glass jars got too lengthy for my “What Do You Reuse?” article, so I decided to give these versatile, durable storage containers their own article!

Glass jars are much better for food storage than plastic containers! We save the jars from peanut butter, salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc., and use them over and over again. They wash so much cleaner so much more easily than plastic, especially with greasy or sticky foods or things that stain, like tomato sauce and blueberries.  Leftovers seem to stay fresh longer in glass. The threaded lids almost never leakGlass does not leach chemicals into food, like plastics do under some circumstances.

My very favorite feature is this: If you put something hot in a glass jar and fill it very full and put on the lid immediately, sometimes it will seal so well that the food stays good (in the back of the fridge) for a couple of months. I’m talking about the jars from spaghetti sauce and such that have a circle that pops up when you break the seal–you can get that circle to pop down again when the jar is full of hot food. I wonder if it’s then shelf-stable, like the original food was until opened, and doesn’t even need to be refrigerated, but so far I haven’t been brave enough to experiment! I love spaghetti and enjoy making my own sauce, but I figure I may as well make a big batch while I’m at it, so keeping it from getting moldy before we use it is an issue.

I’ve become such a glass-jar geek that I actually have two basic categories of jars for leftovers: The ones from strong-flavored foods (like salsa and spaghetti sauce) are for storing strong-flavored foods (notice how many of our recipes contain garlic and/or onions!) or raw onions, as well as ingredients like dry beans that won’t be harmed by lingering salsa vapors.  The jars from milder foods like nut butter are for foods that wouldn’t taste good if imbued with onion flavor . . . but if we mess up and flavor one of those jars, hey, it’s recyclable, and there are always more jars coming!  (I think it’s actually the lid, rather than the glass jar itself, that retains odors; the cushy stuff that helps the lid seal is slightly absorbent.  UPDATE: That stuff is plastisol.)

Glass jars are excellent for bringing lunch to work: They’re unlikely to leak.  (If the food is a very wet kind, I put the jar in a plastic bag just in case.)  They’re safe to microwave–just don’t put the metal lid in the microwave, and use a pot-holder or towel when you pick up the hot jar.  The two-cup jars used for most salsa and nut butters are a perfect size for a serving of soup or pasta.  I’ve transported thousands of lunches in glass jars and only broken two.

Glass jars are great for buying bulk foods in your own containers.  They don’t rip like the plastic bags provided by the store, and the screw-on lids are unlikely to come off accidentally.  In the pantry, you can see at a glance what’s in the jar.  Glass jars are mouse-proof, unlike any type of plastic or cardboard food packaging, as we learned when our home was invaded by determined super-mice!

We also use glass jars to store various small household items.  Our recent bathroom renovation created open shelves, so the things stored there need to look nice and also be protected from shower steam and towel lint.  (I guess it’s towel lint that makes bathrooms so persistently dusty!)  We set aside the most interesting-looking glass jars of various sizes.  The jar from seaweed sprinkles is the perfect size for cotton swabs!  Cough drops in a glass jar look much prettier than a ripped-open plastic packet–but what if we need to read the facts from the packet?  I cut out the important part, placed it inside the jar facing out, and held it with my finger as I put the cough drops into the jar; then I placed the jar on the shelf so that the label is facing the back.

What about the original label of the jar?  Most labels will peel off easily after soaking in hot, soapy water for about 15 minutes.  I used to soak them alongside other dishes I was washing, but I recently learned that the glue may be poisonous, so I’ll be soaking new jars separately from now on!  Don’t put labeled jars in the dishwasher because the soggy paper can clog your dishwasher.  If a label leaves behind a line of glue that just won’t come off, scrubbing with baking soda is surprisingly effective.  The next step is to try Goo Gone, a relatively environmentally friendly product that dissolves most adhesives. Every once in a while, I get a jar whose glue really will not come off; Goo Gone softens it but doesn’t remove it completely.  Usually we have so many jars that I just recycle that one and move along.  When I’ve kept one, the remaining glue isn’t sticky anymore; it just looks sloppy.  The only problem arises if you microwave leftovers in the jar: The glue gets melty as the glass gets hot, so if you have heated your jar hot enough that you need a pot-holder (or, if you’re me when I learned about this, you’re at work and don’t have a pot-holder and use your skirt), you will get glue all over it.  This kind of glue is almost as difficult to remove from fabric as to remove from glass.

Of course, glass jars can break into sharp pieces–they can, but it really doesn’t happen very often, in my (relatively clumsy) experience–about one jar per year breaks in our household.  No big deal.  Plastic food-storage containers can break into sharp pieces, too.

We love our glass jars so much, we dedicated an entire shelf of our dining room china cabinet to storing empty jars!  This way we’re sure to have one of the right size available whenever we need it.


Here are 15 ways to reuse glass jars.
Read here about glass juice bottles and many other things you can reuse!

Visit Your Green Resource and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more articles on saving resources and money!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for tips on all kind of topics!

UPDATE: A decade later, we’re still loving our glass jars and probably even using some of the same ones!  Visit Hearth & Soul for other timeless tips and some timely ones, too!

66 thoughts on “Glass Jars Galore!

  1. Pingback: What Do You Reuse? « The Earthling's Handbook

  2. Rather than using Goo Gone to remove label gum, I use kerosene on a bit of rag. And if that is too slow, I use lacquer thinner. After the gum is gone, either of these solvents can be readily cleaned from glass by dish soap. Though toxic, both of these pure hydrocarbon solvents are relatively mild and are free from chlorinated, fluorinated, or other polar ends that could cause health problems. One precaution: after use, a kerosene-soaked rag should be thrown away, not stored. This is because of the threat of spontaneous combustion.

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  39. Set your clean jar lids in the Sun for 1 to several days (depending on the time of year/the weather). The sun will naturally bleach out any color or odor! If your jar had strong smelling contents, put that out there too. This has worked for everything I’ve tried it on except jars of minced garlic – that even permeates the glass! I’ve never had a jar of raw onions to try it on.

  40. As for lable goo, I first soak off the lable, then scrub the remaining glue with a steel mesh kitchen/pan scrubber & a tiny bit of dish soap as lubrication – usually requires very little effort. If the glue is that cheap, horribly sticky & probably toxic stuff, I scrape it with a scraping razor, also usually fairly easy, followed by the steel scrubber.

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  49. The amount of glass jars in my kitchen is a bit overwhelming for those who don’t share the same love of jars haha! I use them for everything – and I absolutely love how minimalist/clean they make my fridge and freezer look… No thanks plastic Tupperware! 🙂
    Jenna ♥
    Stay in touch? Life of an Earth Muffin

    • Yes, we use plastic containers only for the freezer! I understand that it is possible to freeze things in glass jars, but I just can’t handle the chilly feelings of handling frozen glass–and its extra bulk would be problematic in our small freezer.

  50. This is such great advice, Becca, I’m so glad you shared this wonderful post again. I love using glass for storage. Thank you for sharing this post with the Hearth and Soul Link Party. i will be featuring it at the party this week. Take care and I hope you are having a lovely, relaxing weekend!

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  55. Hi, thank you so much for the great article. I have just started my less-waste journey and I am starting to find/use more alternatives to plastic. I was wondering where you get all these jars from? I have maybe three now, but I want to use them to buy in bulk so I need more. Any suggestions on where I can get a range of different sizes?

    • Our favorite standards are
      Small jars: Simply Nature jam (from Aldi).
      2-cup for spicy food: salsa jar with straight sides—many store brands use these.
      Larger for spicy food: Vlasic pickles.
      For non-spicy food: Smucker’s natural peanut butter. It comes in both 2-cup and a larger size, and we use both.
      For bulk spices or anything that needs a shaker top: Simply Nature spices (Aldi brand).
      These are all pretty affordable things, but if you don’t eat that kind of food you might ask people who do to save their empty jars for you. Buy Nothing or a similar neighborhood group is a good place to ask.

      Enjoy your less-waste journey, and please keep reading here for lots of advice! 🙂

      • Thank you so much for the amazing recommendations!!! I also heard that most thrift stores also have a variety of options, but that sometimes they can be overpriced. Do you have any experience with buying from places like Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc? I am definitely going to try the Buy Nothing site you suggested, but I am also trying to look into other options. Not knowing what has been previously stored in the jars at a thrift store makes me a bit uneasy, but I don’t know.

        • I don’t think I have bought jars at a thrift store, but I have bought them at yard sales if the lids are in very good condition and they are priced at no more than $1 for a big jar. Glass is easy to clean thoroughly, and you can even boil it to sterilize. But the lid needs to be in good condition and seal well. Plastisol, the stuff inside a metal lid that helps it grip the glass, lasts a long time but can hold food residue or can be damaged and cracked.

          • Ok, I will definitely look out for that. Thank you so much for all your informative help. It is sincerely appreciated!!

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