By March 31, 2012 Read More →

Shopping for Used Canning Jars

In my opinion canning is one of the absolute best skills any prepper can learn.  It is a HUGE step in learning how to affordable feed yourself, and of course in sustainability.  Canning let’s you not only grow your own but also to save it for later!  And of course nothing looks prettier on your pantry shelf than rows and rows of beautifully canned green beans.  Canned good could save your life, make great gifts, save you money, and offer you a healthier alternative to running to the grocery store.

Two newer Ball canning jars, one is a half gallon jar the other is a quart sized jar. Half-gallon jars are handy to have.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

As soon as preppers learn how to can, they learn how expensive canning jars are and I see all kinds of questions regarding where to get them, what kind to get and if they can use pre-owned canning jars.  This usually draws two kinds of responses: One that is super cautious, and that lives by the USDA canning guides and use only new ones, and the other that can’t afford new ones so they have learned how to wisely shop for used canning jars. So let me answer that last question for you. OF COURSE YOU CAN BUY USED CANNING JARS AND REUSE THEM. That’s the beauty of canning! You can keep reusing the jars! It fits right in with preppers’ lifestyle of reusing, recycling, and being self-sufficient.

Older Kerr canning jar – perfectly useable.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

First I recommend using new jars while you are learning to can, as they are more forgiving of errors.  I personally stick to either Ball or Kerr brand canning jars.  I prefer wide mouth jars for most things, as they are easier to fill, easier to empty and easier to clean, but if regular mouth jars are on sale I will get those.

Once you have the hang of canning and need more affordable canning jars (canning is an addicting habit) go ahead and start looking for used canning jars.  Here are some shopping tips for finding safe used canning jars:

1. Shop yard sales, craigslist,, estate sales, thrift stores, and the good old classified section in your local paper.  Also let your friends and family know you are looking and if they know anyone who is liquidating their supply (like when grandma has move in with them.)  They will remember that you want the canning jars, trust me.

Make sure what you are using and/or buying is actually a canning jar. Pictured above is two FREEZER jars. They were not meant to be used for canning and only one is clearly marked other is marked but on the bottom as a freezer jar.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

2. Remember what you paid for them new, and do not pay new prices for used jars.  You are not antique shopping, you are looking for cheap useable canning jars.

Older Atlas jar – only problem I have with these is that they are shaped differently than the newer jars, the shape difference prevents a full load in my pressure canner if I am combining them with new jars.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

3. Stick with brands you trust – avoid mystery brands, and jars that were never meant to be canning jars.  I know some people use them – but my batches of food are too valuable to ruin a batch because of an exploding jar. Since mason jar crafts are so popular right now, there are some copy cat jars out there that look like real canning jars but are not made for home canning purposes.  Stick with Ball and Kerr brand jars while you are learning to shop.

All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

4. Run you hand along the rim of the jar, if you feel any rough spots, or chips (as pictured above) pass on that jar, there is a good chance it may not seal and will only make you mad.

All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

5. Pass any jars that have defects in the glass such as, bubbles, swirls, rough or imperfect seams as pictured above.  Older jars were more prone to defects than newer ones so you need a good eye.
6. You may want to set aside any jars that are old enough that they have a slight blue tint to them.  They may have antique value and selling a few of those could pay for three more boxes of canning jars.

Lot of used and new canning jars plus lids and rings I got at an estate sale.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

Box of old unused Mason Jar Caps, in excellent shape kept in a zip lock bag – by examining the lid it appears as if the caps would hold still a seal. I will try to water bath these, as it’s easier to re-batch with water than pressure if the seals fail. If they are not useable I can punch holes in these and use them with a couple of smaller flawed jars as salt and peppershakers.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

Dried mint sealed in a “mystery brand” canning jar with an oxygen absorber.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013


Sometimes you can’t pick and choose jars, the seller just wants them all gone.  You will end up with several boxes of jars. In that case when you get home, clean them up and go through them one by one.  Any that you can’t use for canning you might be able to use for storing dehydrated foods in with an oxygen absorber, like one with glass defects but the rim is fine.  If the jar does fail it’s not going to ruin a whole batch of food. If you are dealing with a chipped rim there are still many uses for that jar such as: a flower vase, a candle container with wax or tallow, or a portable rechargeable lantern with a solar yard light with the stem removed and hot glued to the top of the jar.

Rusty ring – pass on these or use them for Christmas tree ornaments with a picture in the middle and a red bow on top.
All photos by Stephanie Dayle ©2013

If you come across used canning rings – you can reuse those for a long time as well. I stop using mine when they get rusty for obvious reasons so pass on rusty ones and keep the ones that are smooth and rust free. You won’t need many rings as canning jars should be stored without the ring on them. The ring only holds the lid on long enough for it to seal and has a tendency to rust and get stuck on the lid if left for a period of time.

Use your older jars first and save the newer ones for a rainy day, this way if a jar fails you will find out now, while you have the luxury of time to fix it or redo it. As with anything, approach using older canning jars with common sense, if it doesn’t look right to you don’t use it for canning.

About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front and was featured in Marie Claire UK in the October 2012 issue that featured women preppers. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" released in August 2014 and available on "I write articles based on my own experience with emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle I do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts meshed with personal experience. My alter egos are as an full time mom, amateur photographer, and backpacker." Stephanie's past APN articles are featured below on several pages. To connect with her --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

11 Comments on "Shopping for Used Canning Jars"

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  1. Kris Watson says:

    Excellent article! I received, and tried, an excellent suggestion a couple of years ago when looking for jars. I made up fliers on my computer, advertising my desire for canning jars. I listed what I would pay for each size, gave my phone number, and started handing them out. Posted at grocery store bulletin boards, had my mom give some to her hairdresser and nail person. Just saturated the city with my goofy little fliers. Did it work? I received more than 800 jars– ALL FREE!!! The people just wanted to get rid of them, because they were taking up space. They were ALL full of food from 20-30 years ago, probably because the people didn’t want to throw away Grandma’s hard work. I had to dump them, of course, and sterilize them. Removed rusted rings with CLR or Lime-Away soaks. It was awesome!!! I am SO glad you wrote this article!!!!

  2. katlupe says:

    Canning is my favorite activity of all! I usually have two canners going at once. We live without any refrigeration at present, and have for about 3 years now. I buy meat locally, as we do not raise livestock, and then I can that. It makes our grocery budget stretch with good, tasty meals that we know what is in it. 

    My father is the one who taught me how to can as my mother was sick and bedridden at the time. Since then I have canned many, many jars of food. I bought used jars from an older lady who had lost her husband and had no need for so many jars. A huge supply for about forty dollars. Since then, I have picked up used and new here and there. Love to see them all filled!

  3. Chris Watson says:

    This was one of the best articles I have read in some time. Your writing was clear, the information was excellent, and your pictures were superb!

  4. Around Portland, OR, the cheapest place to buy canning jars is at Bi-mart. You can shop for them at Goodwill, but I find that when I get home, I usually notice a chip around the rim, which makes them unsafe for canning. I also find that Goodwill wants a small fortunate for their half gallon jars. They charge $2.99 each! Next door, I can find cases of 6 half gallon canning jars for $9.99 with their brand new lids. 

  5. Thanks for compliments!! And YES posting flyers and ‘wanted ads’ on craigslist for canning jars is a great idea. In fact I may even try that myself this weekend! Keep up the canning!!

  6. don vance says:

    im trying to find lists on shelve lifes of canned food, home canned food , and medicines

  7. Kris Watson says:

    We have a thrift store here that benefits the Rescue Mission. They recently increased their prices across the board. One quart canning jar? $1.48.

  8. Don – someone tried to post a link to this already but it’s not going through. Here is a recap and below is the link.

    “Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 (the Bertrand, was a steamboat heavily laden with provisions when it set out on the Missouri River in 1865 heavily laden with supplies when the boat snagged and swamped under the weight, sinking to the bottom of the river where it sat for nearly a hundred years) were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables. In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier. The nutrient values varied depending upon the product and nutrient. NFPA chemists Janet Dudek and Edgar Elkins report that significant amounts of vitamins C and A were lost. But protein levels remained high, and all calcium values ‘were comparable to today’s products.'”____________________________________________”NFPA chemists also analyzed a 40-year-old can of corn found in the basement of a home in California. Again, the canning process had kept the corn safe from contaminants and from much nutrient loss. In addition, Dudek says, the kernels looked and smelled like recently canned corn.”__________________________________________”According to a recent study cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NFPA, canned foods provide the same nutritional value as fresh grocery produce and their frozen counterparts when prepared for the table. NFPA researchers compared six vegetables in three forms: home-cooked fresh, warmed canned, and prepared frozen. ‘Levels of 13 minerals, eight vitamins, and fiber in the foods were similar,’ says Dudek. In fact, in some cases the canned product contained high levels of some vitamins that in fresh produce are destroyed by light or exposure to air.”

  9. That’s some very good advice. Thank you.

  10. Enjoyed reading this article. When I am in need of jars, I ask at all the garage sales I go to. They often will go get them quickly before I change my mind!