Plastic Free July: How to Clean Glass Jars

clean glass jars with labeled removed


If you’re like many of our KnoxFillers, you probably have a small army of glass jars stored somewhere, waiting for you to take on the task of removing their sticky labels. Don’t let those labels intimate you any longer! We have removed labels from more jars than you could imagine, and we’ve got this process down to a science (actually more like an art). 

Watch the videos we recently posted on social media documenting how to remove labels from glass jars and read our step-by-step instructions below. Not all jars are created equal. In Part 1 we start with the jars that only take a little bit of love to remove labels and adhesives – our favorites! Part 2 focuses on removing extra sticky labels and adhesives using boiling water and a homemade paste with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen!

Before you start removing labels, go ahead and rinse the jars so they don’t contain any leftover food – this would make for an icky (and stinky) process. 

Fill your sink or a large container with warm or hot water and a splash of vinegar to help neutralize all the food smells. Take the lids off your jars and soak them in the water + vinegar solution for 30 to 60 minutes. Be sure the labels are completely submerged! 

The simplest labels will peel off easily after soaking but will probably leave a bit of adhesive on the jar. Use a pot scrubber and dish soap to scrub the adhesive. Many less sticky adhesives will come off with some scrubbing. If all the adhesive is gone, then throw your jar and lid in the dishwasher, and it’ll be squeaky cleanSome jars are more stubborn than others and require a bit of elbow grease. Use a dish scraper or a bench scraper (better for tough adhesives) to scrape the glue off the jar – it’s a good idea to steady the jar on a cloth or something with grip to prevent the jar from sliding out of your hand. If there is adhesive leftover, you can rub a simple homemade paste on the glue (“recipe” below) that will help break down the adhesive and make it easier to remove.

The toughest jar labels won’t even budge after soaking. When you’re an experienced jar-cleaner, you’ll be able to spot these jars immediately. You might never see jars the same! 

 If the label feels impossible to remove, use boiling water to help heat the glue between the jar and the label. Fill the jar with water (up to the top of the label) and microwave until the water is boiling OR pour boiling water into the jar and let it sit until it is cool enough to handle. Be extra cautious when using boiling water or microwaving – the glass gets very hot! Use a pot holder to hold onto the glass while you peel off the label, being careful not to spill hot water on yourself. These jars will have a full layer of adhesive under the label and will require a homemade paste that we show you how to make in our video and written instructions below!

Combine baking soda (or baking powder), a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, a little bit of lemon juice, olive oil, and a few squirts of dish soap. Apply this mixture to any adhesive leftover on the jars. We recommend letting these jars sit overnight to let the paste dry and break down some of the adhesive. 

Now it’s time to alternate scrubbing (with a pot scrubber and dish soap) and scraping (with a bench scraper or a dish scraper) until your jar is squeaky clean. Warning: Some jars require quite a bit of elbow grease, but it’s worth it when you see the beautiful, clean jars ready to be reused and repurposed! And of course, we also reuse and repurpose jars without removing the labels – this is up to you! To remove strong smells, try soaking the jar and the lid in vinegar and lemon (either lemon rinds or essential oil). Some time in the sun may help remove smells from the jar and lid, too!

If you want to donate your glass jars to KnoxFill in the future, we ask that you remove labels and adhesives and send us clean jars without any ~funk~ or smell. Many KnoxFillers use donated jars for free to refill at pop-ups and markets. We currently have more jars than we need, so we are not accepting donations at this time. We will update you as this changes. 

We have also heard great things about citrus essential oils for removing adhesives, but we haven’t tried this yet! Let us know how your label removing process goes – we always welcome new tips!

Want to know how you can reuse all the glass jars you've saved? Keep an eye out for our next Plastic Free July blog about how to reuse glass jars!

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