Fifteen Uses for Glass Jars

Fifteen Uses For Glass Jars

Some people collect plastic containers. I collect empty jars. Much to my husband’s amusement irritation, I have an entire cabinet in our kitchen filled with jars of different sizes. Why put them in the recycling bin when they’re sure to be useful?

When I’m planning to save a jar, I always remove the label. Most of the time a soak in hot water will do it; for stubborn glue, dribble on a little olive oil or vegetable oil and use a scrubby sponge.  After I sterilize the jars and lids in the dishwasher, here are a few ways I reuse them:

1. Make salad dressing.

Put the ingredients in a jar, screw on the lid tightly, and shake until your arms ache to emulsify the dressing. I always have a jar of mustard-and-garlic-laced French vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

2. Make pickles.

The easiest path to pickles is to reuse pickle juice by adding new vegetables (or even hard-boiled eggs if you like pickled eggs). Top the jar up with vinegar and water until the liquid reaches the top of the jar. Cure your new pickles in the refrigerator – the longer you leave them in the brine, the more pickle-like they’ll get.

3. Mix drinks.

An empty jar with a tight-fitting lid makes an excellent cocktail shaker. I’ve made many a margarita in an old jam jar.

4. Serve iced beverages.

I drink my morning iced coffee out of an old mason jar (I hear the Pioneer Woman does the same). I love the retro look, and the lid is convenient if I need to take my java to go.

5. Pack lunch.

Empty jars work perfectly in lunch boxes. Use tall, thin jars for liquids (juice, smoothies, cold soup) and short, squat jars for anything that needs a utensil (pasta salad, stew, leftovers).

6. Store utensils.

Is there anything more charming on a kitchen counter than an old jar with a bouquet of wooden spoons sticking out of the top?

7. Make butter.

Put room-temperature cream in a jar, tighten the lid, and shake until the curds separate from the whey and butter is born. Your arms will hurt, but fresh butter tastes really, really good.

8. Make refrigerator jam.

Even those of us who are too lazy for real canning can make homemade jam. Simmer ripe fruit with sugar and a few strips of lemon peel until it’s sticky and delicious. Pour it into a clean jar, put on the lid, and stick it in the refrigerator. If the jar was clean and the jam was hot, it will keep at least a month. You do have to keep the jam refrigerated if you’re not going to sterilize it in a hot-water bath.

9. Make pudding.

Mix up a simple cornstarch pudding (chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, lemon, whatever) and pour it into small, clean jars to set. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

10. Bake a cake.

Yes, you can bake cakes, cobblers and lots of other delicious desserts right in a jar. For ideas, see the excellent blog Food in Jars.

Empty jars make perfect storage containers for rice, barley, wheat berries, quinoa and any other grains. The lids keep critters out and they look great lined up on pantry shelves. Use masking tape and a permanent marker to label your goodies.

12. Store leftovers.

Why buy plastic containers? Empty jars hold refrigerator leftovers just as well, you can actually see what’s inside, and they’re free.

13. Pack doggy bags (er, jars).

When friends come over for dinner I always offer them some of the leftovers. Everyone’s happy to take home a jar for the next day’s lunch.

14. Feed your neighbors.

When I make a big pot of soup or stew, I fill a few jars and take them across the street to our friends M & K, whose house includes two working parents, three hungry kids, and constant visitors. As a reward, M brings us soft seeded breakfast rolls every time she bakes. We’ve gone from neighbors to friends over the years and this ritual helped get us there.

15. Stay organized.

I have one jar for pencils and permanent markers (everything gets labeled before it goes into the refrigerator, freezer or pantry) and another for kitchen twine (the ball of twine stays in the jar, the end sticks over the side for easy pulling).

How do you use empty jars in your kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.

About the Author

Erika Kerekes is a food entrepreneur who blogs about food, family, friends, and dealing with diabetes at In Erika’s Kitchen.  Her Not Ketchup Paleo line of gourmet condiments are available at and on Amazon. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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Nicole Kapise-Perkins
Nicole Kapise-Perkins
October 9, 2012 3:04 pm

I read a great idea yesterday for holiday luminarias: use jars instead of paper bags. Half-fill a jar with fresh cranberries, stick a candle in the jar (anchored by the cranberries)and volia! A lovely, mostly non-flammable, red glow for your porch steps.

Erika Kerekes
October 11, 2012 8:23 am

I LOVE that idea.

Nancy F.
Nancy F.
October 9, 2012 2:06 pm

I started collecting and keeping jars a few years ago myself and love using them for soooo many things. And now thanks to this great post Erika, I’ve got even more ideas of how to use them.

Lou Ann Mallon
Lou Ann Mallon
October 9, 2012 1:48 pm

I give them to a gal who cans tons of stuff ~

October 9, 2012 1:24 pm

These are good tips, thank you! I was just looking at assorted jars that have arrived in the house and wondering how I could re-use them so they don’t end up in the recycling. This post really helps with that!

Heather Irwin
Heather Irwin
October 9, 2012 10:32 am

To label the contents of jars, if you don’t have any masking tape handy, just write on the glass with a Sharpie. The ink comes off with rubbing alcohol.

Erika Kerekes
October 9, 2012 12:41 pm
Reply to  Heather Irwin

Excellent tip Heather – thank you!

Mrs. G
Mrs. G
October 9, 2012 7:44 pm
Reply to  Heather Irwin

If you don’t keep rubbing alcohol in the kitchen, another option is a wet index finger dipped in baking soda.

Nancy Rose Eisman
October 9, 2012 9:44 am

Erika, you’re brilliant! This is the most creative and useful post I’ve ready anywhere in a long time. I accummulate glass jars too and your ideas will definitely help put them to even better uses (not sure that’s even a word – whatever).

Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious
October 9, 2012 9:22 am

So glad to hear I am not the only kook with a jar collection! Great ideas, Erika!

October 9, 2012 9:11 am

Terrific ideas here, Erika! My jars are usually relegated for canning, however some of the options presented here may mix that up a bit. I particularly like the reaching out to neighbors. Brava!

Leslie Macchiarella
October 9, 2012 8:58 am

Such great ideas for glass jars! Thanks! Ice cream is fun for the kids to make in glass jars with some ice cubes thrown in to the liquid ice cream recipe and then shake-shake-shake!

October 9, 2012 9:23 am

Do you have an ice cream recipe to do this in a mason jar?

Erika Kerekes
October 9, 2012 10:07 am

Ice cream in a mason jar!?! I can’t wait to try that one.

October 9, 2012 8:55 am

Great post.. I just started canning for the first time this year. Im obsessed with Mason jars.. I collect them from Antique stores too!! Pickles from my very first organic garden this year!!