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Shopping for Used Canning Jars

Canning is one of the absolute best skills anyone can learn. 
It is a HUGE step in learning how to affordable feed yourself, and of course in self-reliance. Canning allows you to not only grow your own, but also to save it for later! And of course nothing looks prettier on your pantry shelf than rows and rows of beautifully canned green food. Canned goods could save your life, they make great gifts, save you money, and home canned goods offer you a healthier alternative to running to the grocery store.

As soon as people learn how to can, they learn how expensive canning jars are and have all kinds of questions regarding where to get the best prices on them, what kind to get, and if they can use pre-owned canning jars. Let me answer that last question for you. Of course you can buy used canning jars and reuse them. That's the beauty of canning! You can keep reusing the jars! It fits right in with a lifestyle of reusing, recycling, and being self-reliant. 

Older Kerr jar, still completely usable.

First I'd like to recommend using new jars while you are learning how to can, as they are more forgiving of errors. I personally stick to either ball or kerr brand canning jars. I prefer wide mouth jars for most things, as they are easier to fill, easier to empty and easier to clean. However if regular mouth jars are on sale I have no problem in purchasing those. Once you have the hang of the practice and need more canning jars (canning is an addicting habit) go ahead and start looking for used canning jars. 

Here are some shopping tips for finding safe used canning jars: 

Shop yard sales, craigslist, freecycle.org, estate sales, thrift stores, and the good old classified section in your local paper. Also let your friends and family know you are looking ask  if they know anyone who is liquidating their supply. When the time comes they will remember that you want the canning jars, trust me. I have been called, several years after asking, by my friends wanting to know if I still want canning jars because they have found some.

Make sure what you are using and/or buying is actually a canning jar. Pictured above is two Ball Freezer jars that were only manufactured for a short period of time. They were not meant to be used for canning and only one is clearly marked as a freezer jar on the front, the other is marked, but on the bottom.

Remember what you paid for them new, and do not pay new prices for used jars. You are not antique shopping, you are looking for cheap useable canning jars.

Older Atlas jar - only problem I have with these is that they are shaped differently
 than the newer jars, the shape difference prevents a full load in my pressure canner if I am 
combining them with new jars. 

Stick with brands you trust - avoid mystery brands, and jars that were never meant to be canning jars. I know some people use them - but my batches of food are too valuable to ruin a batch because of an exploding jar. Since mason jar crafts are so popular right now, there are some copy cat jars out there that look like real canning jars but are not made for home canning purposes. Stick with Ball, Kerr and other known brand jars while you are learning to can.    

Run you hand along the rim of the jar, if you feel any rough spots, or chips (as pictured above) pass on that jar, there is a good chance it may not seal and will only make you mad.  Pass any jars that have defects in the glass such as, bubbles, swirls, rough or imperfect seams as pictured above. Older jars were more prone to defects than newer ones so you need a good eye.  

Authentic Ball Blue Jar

You may want to set aside any jars that are old enough that they have a slight blue tint to them. They may have antique value and selling a few of those could pay for three more boxes of brand new canning jars. The newer reproductions, even though they are a limited edition have no collector value - yet, but they do look nice. Click here to see the new blue jars.

Lot of used and new canning jars plus lids and rings I bought at an estate sale .

Above is a box of old unused mason jar caps, in excellent shape kept in a zip lock bag - by examining the lid it appears as if the caps would hold still a seal. I will try to water bath these, as it's easier to re-batch with water than pressure if the seals fail. If they are not useable i can punch holes in these and use them with a couple of smaller flawed jars as salt and pepper-shakers.

Dried apples sealed in a "mystery brand" canning jar (left) with an oxygen absorber. 

Sometimes you can't pick and choose jars, the seller just wants them all gone. You will end up with several boxes of jars. In that case when you get home, clean them up and go through them one by one. Any that can't be used for canning you might usable for storing dehydrated foods with an oxygen absorber. If the jar does fail it's not going to ruin a whole batch of food. I love using mystery brand jars up this way.  Click here for an article on How to 'Dry Can' Safely.

If you are dealing with a chipped rim there are still many uses for that jar such as: a flower vase, a candle container, a liquid soap dispenser or you can make a portable rechargeable lantern. Use a solar yard light with the stem removed, then hot glued it to the top of the jar.Or you can purchase solar lights specially adapted for canning jars! Click here to see a few I found!

Solar light specially adapted for canning jars.

                               Homemade solar light canning jar lantern.

Rusty ring - leave them behind or use them for christmas tree ornaments with a picture in the middle and a red bow on top.

If you come across used canning rings - you buy those and reuse them for a long time as well. I stop using mine when they get rusty for obvious reasons so pass on buying rusty ones for canning purposes and keep the ones that are smooth and rust free. 

You won't need many rings, as canning jars should be stored without the ring on them. The ring only holds the lid on long enough for it to seal and has a tendency to rust and get stuck on the jar if the lid is left on for a period of time. 

Use your older jars first and save the newer ones for a rainy day, this way if a jar fails you will find out now, while you have the luxury of time to fix it or redo it. As with anything, approach using older canning jars with common sense, if it doesn't look right to you, don't use it for canning.

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  1. Really good article. Thanks! I've been collecting used jars for quite a while. So this year I'll tackle canning small batches of local fruit and veggies. Will be happily following your blog, so keep those articles coming!

  2. Great article. This winter, I acquired a life-time supply of canning jars. Boxes and boxes for FREE. When you see real estate investors cleaning out rental property or houses for rehab work, stop by and ask. Old houses are the best locations. Many have boxes of grandma's jars stored in the attic or basement. Most are regular and not wide-mouth. Plan on lots of cleaning, but remember the price is right. All jars that did not meet my standards went to the recycle station. Also, I have two women who took the good ones I didn't want (too many of some sizes, or too large for my needs). Now I need a source for cheap good lids.

  3. I find that Bi-Mart stores frequently have good sales on lids regular lids, Nancy. Another thing you may consider is Tattler Lids - which are more expensive but reusable.

    Thank you both for kind comments!

  4. When my granmother died there was 10'000 canning jars at the house My mother and aunt had about 5 or 6 thousand apeice and did not need any more. I believe that they were given to a church or community group to distribute. this was back in 1959. We filled most of the jars every year from the garden no refrigation just the ice box.

  5. I have a ton of those blue jars (not the new) and the wire bale jars and I use them almost daily!
    I have a glass front corner cupboard that I put all my lovely old jars in and I fill them with all my everyday cooking stuff!!!
    My dehydrated leeks, onions, & celery. My nuts, dried fruits, & choc. chips. My cornstarch, cocoas, & honey/golden syrup.
    I even have larger jars that hold all my brown sugar, specialty rices, powdered milk, specialty pastas, etcetera.

    So, YES, those antique jars have value!!! :)

  6. Oh yeah...we have learned, over the years, that the LIDS boughten at dollar stores are NOT worth it !!!
    The jars seem fine but the lids just don't seal.


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