Forget mason jars. Save money and reduce waste by cleaning and reusing all the glass jars and bottles you already buy. Check out this guide with lots of tips to upcycle all your great glass containers.
For the last couple of years, I used to stop by a thrift shop near our home when I had a few extra minutes to pop in and see if they had any mason jars to add to our collection. I knew I could buy them at Target, but I preferred secondhand on principle.
Occasionally I got lucky and found one or two, but jars with tops weren’t easy to come by. I also noticed they were often more expensive than the new ones at Target. What?! I’m all for doing our part to save the planet, but I can’t justify stopping in to a thrift shop to potentially find old Mason jars and pay more for the exact same thing I can buy elsewhere.
Then I had an epiphany, that’s pretty darn obvious in hindsight. Why am I buying mason jars when I can reuse glass jars from things I already buy at the grocery store?
Today, I no longer buy mason jars, even the overpriced ones from secondhand shops. I wash and reuse many of the jars we already buy, especially those for pasta sauce, which are basically the same size as large mason jars.
I could leave wrappers and stickers on the jars, but they really aren’t very appealing to me. I like clearly seeing what’s inside the jar, and there’s something about cashews in a jar labeled as pasta sauce that just doesn’t sit right with me. I know… I’m silly. None-the-less, I remove all labels from the jars after we use up the original contents.
It only took washing one jar, however, to realize that manufacturers take their glue very seriously. They really stick those stickers to the glass. I know the product companies paid their marketing teams a lot of money to develop the labels, but they’re not really my jam.
If you’re up for reducing waste, reusing glass jars, and making the inside of your cabinets just a tiny bit prettier, I’ve got all the details on scraping the labels off of your glass jars and repurposing all the glass jars and bottles you already buy. Here goes.
Types of Jars To Reuse
You can reuse any glass jar that suits your fancy, but I’ve found that some are more useful than others based on their size and shape. Pasta jars are my absolute favorite! They emulate large mason jars. Now that we have several pasta jars from the same company, the lids are also interchangeable so I don’t always have to find just the right top for each jar.
I also love nut butter, pickle, and pizza sauce jars. They are similar in size to small mason jars, and I don’t always need a large jar for every job. I have also used salad dressing bottles, glass honey jars, and little mustard jars. Anything goes if it’s the right size for your needs.
When buying products from the grocery store, I prioritize products packaged in glass jars, particularly in lieu of plastic. I don’t pay exorbitantly more just for glass jars, but all else being relatively equal, I always buy the products in glass jars. It still strikes me as silly that I never thought about this for years and just connected the dots on this habit six months ago!
Tools and Tricks To Clean Upcycled Glass Jars
Get ready to add a little elbow grease. As I mentioned above, manufacturers love their super sticky glue. Taking the labels off of most glass jars requires a bit of muscle and patience. I typically spend a minute or two scrubbing each glass jar, but once it’s complete, I can toss it in the dishwasher any time I need to wash it.
Some manufacturers take it slightly easier on the glue and you can peel off most of the label without leaving much paper or residue. But patience pays here! Depending on the type of glue, you may have a chance of peeling off the label without much residue.
No matter the brand or bottle, I always try to peel off the label before resorting to scrubbing. If you start to peel back the label and see a glimmer of hope that it will come off clean, don’t rush! All hope goes down the drain without a healthy dose of patience.
Slowly peel the label, doing your best to pull it straight across the side of the jar (as opposed to from a diagonal angle). If you start to see a bit of tearing, try to scrape off the remains, without disconnecting the torn paper from the whole label, and reset your “clean, horizontal peeling”.
If you get lucky and peel off the entire label, consider it a giant win. Occasionally this happens and you have a bit of glue residue to clean, but that’s quite a bit easier to manage than an entire label.
When you have to scrub… and sometimes you will…
To scrub off the labels, I use primarily stainless steel scrubbing pads. These work quite well. I’ve also used Brillo pads, though these aren’t quite as effective. Forget standard brushes and sponges; they don’t have enough grit to break down the glue.
I scrub the glass jars and bottles over the sink and rinse periodically until they are squeaky clean. Although it’s a bit of pain to clean them, clean glass jars and bottles are so satisfying!
We keep a small plate next to the sink where the scrubbing pads live along with our dish soap and sponge. The scrubbing pad comes in a sphere shape but ours has entirely lost its form. It is many months old but is still going strong. As long as it doesn’t smell and isn’t covered in food bits, I plan to reuse again and again.
The stainless steel scrubbing pads I purchase come in plastic while the steel wool soap pads often are packaged in recyclable cardboard. However, I find the scrubbing pads perform significantly better and are worth the plastic packaging. I might be able to find the scrubbing pads without plastic packaging if purchased in bulk. I plan to look into that going forward, though we have plenty in our cabinet for now and there’s no sense in buying new before using up what we already have on hand.
How To Store Glass Jars
When not holding food or being put to good use elsewhere in our house, I store the glass jars in a large drawer in our kitchen. I am not stellar about matching tops and jars while stored, so I keep a small box next to the jars for all the tops and find the top I need when I’m ready to use a particular jar.
To the extent you can, I find it’s helpful to collect the same types of jars over time. Pasta jars are my jam, and I always buy the same size jars from the same brand. This makes it easier to match tops and bottoms. I don’t turn down great glass jars just because I don’t have several friends to match, but I do love having lots of jars that are similar.
Flexible, Interchangeable Tops
Like the sock gnome that lives in the dryer and eats single socks with abandon, I’m pretty sure I have a “top gnome” that lives somewhere in my kitchen and steals jar tops ever so slowly. Somehow, I always have more jars than tops. To combat my top gnome, I have three 4.5″ silicone stretch storage tops. These things are the best!
They are a bit pricey. Purchasing one pack of three to start your collection is more than enough. Consider asking for them as a gift when people will be buying things for you anyway. I might be biased, but I think they would make great stocking stuffers or a perfect gift for a Favorite Things Party!
How To Reuse Glass Jars and Bottles
We use upcycled glass jars and bottles for a variety of things including food storage, art projects, office supply storage, playroom organization, bathroom storage and more. Currently, my freezer is full of glass jars filled with pumpkin puree, homemade pizza sauce, and chicken stock from scratch. I love that I can swoop to my basement freezer to grab these things on a whim.
No matter what jars you collect, be patient and collect them over time. Whether you’re fresh on your low waste living journey or have been at the game for a while, there’s no use throwing out things you already own or going to the store to buy a ton of items to “start living eco-friendly, low waste” lifestyles.
Focus on building your collection of reused glass bottles and jars slowly as you naturally purchase products over time. It’s the most affordable and eco-friendly way to make use of the resources we already have at our disposal.
Do you have any other tips for acquiring glass jars and bottles over time? How do you use them? Share in the comments so we can all learn new tips together!