How to Clean Glass Jars for Reuse

I don't care if it's half empty or half full; the glass is here to stay. Glass jar, that is.

In a world full of single-use plastic bottles, glass jars feel are a two-fold treat. While the jar's original contents are bound to run out, the vessel itself is the gift that keeps on giving.  Inherently sustainable, glass jars are refillable, reusable, and recyclable (not to mention upcyclable - if that wasn't a word before, it is now). 

They have helped me tremendously reduce waste and have been pivotal in optimizing my household for greener living.

How I reuse glass bottles and jars

While glass jars have inspired me to make my own beauty/health products and brave a few home decor adventures, I find I mostly reuse glass bottles and jars for food storage and kitchen shenanigans. I love that I can easily store my food and cleaning products in a way that is easy to discern, visually appealing, and aligned with my choice to shop from zero-waste stores.

As a clean freak, I really feel peace of mind knowing my food is being kept in the safest and most hygienic material food can be stored in.

Though glass is a safe, sustainable, and multi-purpose storage container, these vessels need a little TLC from time to time. Suppose the glass jar is fresh from the store. In that case, washing will require label removal, while general maintenance and regular cleaning ensure your glass bottles and mason jars stay hygienic and odorless for maximum cleanliness.

I've whipped up a little how-to so that you're clued up  and ready for a pantry as squeaky-clean as it is sustainable.

Reusable glass jars

 

What you'll need to clean a glass jar for reuse:

  • Eco-friendly dish soap
  • Gloves (if preferred)
  • Hot water
  • Bottlebrush/sponge
  • Steel wool
  • Removal aid: Vegetable oil, peanut butter, or lemon essential oil
  • Odor control: baking soda or vinegar

Step 1 - Soaking

You'll want to soak the jars for a few hours or leave overnight hot water. This step is to get the attached labels saturated and easier for you to remove.

Why remove the labels, you might ask? Well, the labels are much of a muchness. I prefer to remove them as, more often than not, they're added to the glass with toxic, super sticky adhesives that fade over time and can be quite the eyesore when it comes to pantry organization.

Step 2 - Label Removal

Now, here's where things can go one of two ways: pure luck might see you scrape the presoaked label (with your nails or steel wool) off the glass OR you could get the dreaded clingers, as I like to call them. For stubborn labels that leave a sticky residue, apply vegetable oil, peanut butter, or lemon essential oil and leave for 30 minutes.

Step 3 - Stubborn Labels

After 30 minutes, revisit the label with your nails or steel wool and scrub/scrape until all glue has been removed.  You'll need a little patience and elbow grease in some cases so, if the sticky substance is putting up a fight, repeat stages 1-3 including the hot water soak.

Step 4 - Scrub and Soak

Now that we're like a millennial couple afraid of commitment and have removed the label, you'll want to give the jar a good ol' scrub with more focus on the inside of the jar this time.  Prepare warm water and your cleaning liquid of choice. Separate the jar from its lid, place each piece into your soapy water, and soak for 5-10 minutes.

Scrub glass jar

Step 5 - Final Scrub

Once you've soaked your jar and lid, scrub the entire inside of the jar with your cleaning tool of choice (while a regular cleaning sponge will do, a bottle brush or steel wool will work perfectly too, if not better.  Once you've thoroughly cleaned the inside of the jar, scrub the exterior, and don't forget the bottom! Your final wash will be the lids - food residue and odors can cling to the lid's lip, so be sure to give the circumference fold extra attention.

wash glass jar for reuse

Step 6 - Rinse

Rinse with warm water and reuse however you choose fit.

Bonus Tips

If, after cleaning glass bottles and jars, some continue to smell like the previously-stored contents, you can place the jar and lid in sunlight outside or on a window sill for a few hours. If the jar once stored pickled or pungent items and you're still getting whiffs, add baking soda, vinegar, or a paste combining both to the inside and lid of the jar, and let it sit for a few 2-3 hours before rinsing with warm water.

Disclaimer: In some instances, odors will be impossible to remove. In these cases, you can either recycle the lids and use the jar as a drinking glass or plant holder or seal the jar with malleable silicone lids. I love the ones from Earth Hero.

FAQ

How can I reuse glass jars?

What you choose to do with your freshly-cleaned jar is up to you. I've radically improved my pantry with glass jars and use them to store staples like spices, legumes, and cleaning products. I've seen many zero-waste bloggers reuse glass bottles and jars when making their own beauty and household products, as well as repurposing them for DIY craft and decor projects.

Is it safe to reuse glass food jars?

Glass is safe in that it is hygienic but hazardous in that glass is fragile and can be easily broken. It's important to handle glass throughout the washing process carefully or wear gloves for added protection.

How many times can you reuse a glass bottle?

As long as your glass bottle isn't cracked and you aren't washing it in hot water (the expansion caused by heating and cool will make glass bottles more fragile over time), then you can clean glass bottles and reuse them for as long as you want.

Can glass jars go in the dishwasher?

By nature, glass jars are made with thicker glass that can withstand the water pressure of a dishwasher.

Final Thoughts

There's no debate about it: if it's on my shopping list and comes in a glass jar, it's coming home with me. With improved eco-friendly storage, maximized aesthetics and hygiene, and a home more aligned with plastic-free living, glass jars are a zero-waste staple. It only takes a few items easily found around the house to clean a glass jar for reuse and enjoy years more of use before popping it in recycling.

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