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.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

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October 17, 2012 2:49 pm

I also put all my dried herbs in jars, label the sides with permanent marker (which washes off for reuse with a little baking soda), and use the jars for my herbal extracts, baking bulk items, etc. There are jars all over my kitchen because I think it makes it feel homey too.

October 12, 2012 1:10 pm

I always make my vinaigrette in a leftover glass jar and my sister uses them for tussie mussies (small bouquets). You can give them away if you can bear it and not worry about getting the “vase” back. I recently returned some real canning jars with home-made almond bark in them, a pretty cupcake liner tucked under the ring. My friend got them just in time for fall jam (yes, I am a schemer).

Sherry Caraway
October 11, 2012 12:47 pm

Some men like to screw down the lids of small jars to the bottom of a shelf in their shop to keep screws an other small items in.

Reply to  Sherry Caraway
October 12, 2012 6:56 am

That’s a great one my Dad does that!! I’m goin to do that now

October 10, 2012 1:38 pm

One thing that used to be a problem with freezing in Mason (canning) jars: Yeah, the tempered glass held up to the freezer, but then if you put them in a pressure canner later, they were likely to crack. Segregate your freezing vs. canning jars.

October 10, 2012 11:10 am

We keep a few jars to use in the pantry, but The Farmer takes empty jars to the barn for nuts and bolts.

October 10, 2012 7:55 am

I wish I had read this before I held an intervention for myself and threw half of my glass jars away!

October 10, 2012 4:04 am

Love jars. We pick fresh blueberries and strawberries. I smash the strawberries up a little and put in wide mouth jars in freezer, make sure to leave a little room (an inch) at top. My pantry has rubber maid lazy susans which hold tons of mason jars for rice, unusual flours, nuts, juniper berries, so many different dried foods, raisins, chocolate chips, etc. etc. I also make sandwich spreads for parties, (tuna, chopped beat, egg salad) and present them in jars for parties.Love all the ideas here. I need to move some to my craft room.

October 9, 2012 6:08 pm

Glad to know I’m not alone…I save canning jars, pickle jars, any other food jars and use them for storing nuts, grains, pasta, etc. I also save different size bottles and use them mostly for bud & cut lower vases. Thanks for all the great ideas folks!

October 9, 2012 4:30 pm

I’m completely with you Erika, I save all of my glass jars (I’m starting a wall in the garage). Like you I use them for all kinds of food storage, but I’m also collecting more from friends and family to convert the jars into candle holders for DIY wedding decorations (getting married next summer!). Hanging candle jars are all the rage for that rustic dreamy look and I’ll save tons of money doing it myself with our myriad of leftover food jars. 🙂

October 9, 2012 3:22 pm

I love the idea!!!!!!!