The Etiquette of Canning Jars

returned jars

If you’ve been reading this website for any length of time, you’ve picked up on the fact that I have an unhealthy interest in canning jars. It started in college, when I picked up wide mouth quart jar with the intention of using it to hold pens and pencils. Soon enough, I was picking up a jar or two nearly every time I dropped into a thrift store.

It took me years to actually use my stash of jars for its intended purpose. When I finally did start making jams and fruit butters, my very first inclination was to share my homemade treasure with friends. Except that to do so meant giving my beloved jars away. I was torn.

Since then, I’ve developed a set of guidelines so that I feel good about sharing my canned goodies. A two-pronged canning jar etiquette, if you will.

For canners:

Never give away a jar if you can’t bear the idea of never seeing it again. I keep a stash of anonymous, newly bought jars and process about half of whatever I make in those jars. That way I always have some that I don’t mind passing along. This also ensures that I keep some of what I make for myself (before I learned this trick, I’d find myself giving away everything I made, defeating the essential purpose of preserving).

There is also nothing wrong with placing a tag on your jar with a request that it be returned. Most people just aren’t aware that you might like the jar back when it’s empty and so there’s no harm in making them aware of this fact.

For recipients:

The most important thing to do when someone gives you a jar of homemade jam, jelly, pickles or chutney is to enjoy it. Don’t tuck it a cabinet and save it for good. Help that product achieve its destiny and eat it all up.

Once the jar is empty, you have a couple of choices. If you have plans to put the jar to good use, feel free to do so. Make your own batch of jam, use it for desktop storage or transform it into a drinking glass. However, if you plan to toss it into the recycling bin when it’s done, stop right there. Do not set canning jars out with your other bottles and jugs. You see, mason jars are made out of extra sturdy stuff so that they’ll stand up to rigors of multiple rounds of canning. Recycling it is a waste of a jar.

Instead, wash out that jar and take it back to the cook who originally gave it to you filled (with the ring attached, if you still know where it is). This act shows your friend that you enjoyed their hard work, that you respect their resources and that you are a worthy recipient for future batches.

Exceptions:

If someone from far away mails or hand carries you a jar of deliciousness, you are under no obligation to return the jar to them (jars are heavy and the shipping costs add up fast).

How do the rest of you handle the back and forth of canning jars?

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76 Responses to The Etiquette of Canning Jars

  1. 51
    rcakewalk says:

    This is spot on, Marisa. If I ever get canning from someone, I always ask if they’d like the jar back (or since I can, if we trade it’s usually a wash). Funny, that I have never seen canning “etiquette” articulated anywhere before… you are just a regular Emily Post, and one that needs to be heard by all who love to can and receive canning!

  2. 52
    Hettar7 says:

    I’ve only canned for the past couple of years. Didn’t give anything away the first year. Too scared and new to trust the results. The second year, I gave a few jars of salsa away. The jars got accidentally thrown away by someone other than the recipient, but they actually went and got some new jars for me. Since then I’ve given other goods away. Some jars I’ve gotten back and some not. I did get very sad when I went over to a relatives house and saw that they hadn’t touched any of the canned goods I so lovingly and proudly gave them the year before. Right now, I don’t give enough away to start requesting jars back, but it that changes I think attaching a nice informative note on the jar would work very nicely. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone by demanding they clean out and bring back a jar, but I hate to think of the jar being thrown in the trash. I didn’t know that canning jars weren’t recyclable. That makes a note attached even more of a good idea. Thanks for posting this, everyone who receives or gives canned goods should consider “canning karma”.

  3. 53

    I love this post. And I always turn my empty mason jars into drinking glasses. This has nothing to do with this post in particular, but do you know anything about canning homemade baby food? I haven’t been able to find an answer anywhere on the blogsphere, and have a little niece I’d love to make some food for. Of course, there’s a fear of having it spoil and getting her sick, which would be a nightmare. Do you have any tips?

    Cheers, Adrianna

  4. 54
    Castal says:

    I like it best when I get jars back and they are filled with other goodies! For instance, one time I canned a batch of strawberry jam, and some plum/crabapple jam… I got back a jar of dilly beans, and a nice little jar of bath salts! That is one way to make sure that your gifts are appreciated; just keep giving the wrapping back to each other! (and since the jars are sturdy glass, the contents don’t matter)

  5. 55
    Steve says:

    I share my canned goodies year round with those folks who are good enough to return jars. Those that do not only get canned goodies for gifts on special occasions/holidays, in that case I consider the jar part of the gift.

  6. 56
    Ali F. says:

    I’m in my second year of canning and my first gifties to my family were returned nice and washed, which shocked me until I clued in that continuously purchasing jars was unnecessary. Then I made my new neighbors stacks of jellies for Christmas and not one was returned and I was disappointed. I learned my lesson, non canners need instructions because it’s not a familiar world for them. It’s pointless to get mad, it’s not common knowledge anymore.
    I love mailing away jars to a friend up north, I send him jams and fruits, and he returned the jars filled with salsa and chili.

  7. 57
    Hanna says:

    Agreed! My mom and sister in law and I have a communal jar system, we all can together sometimes and trade goods so we are all expected to contribute to the jar stash. I didn’t know they weren’t recyclable!

  8. 58

    I’m just getting started with my canning obsession and hadn’t even considered the etiquette of what to do with canning jars you get as a gift. Great post!

  9. 59
    Amber says:

    I just had to pop in my two cents about canning jar etiquette:

    My gramma makes chili starter, a delicious combination of tomatoes, onions, spices, vinegar, sugar, and who knows what else, based on a recipe my great gramma from Poland had gotten from her mother…

    Until she recently acquiesced to sharing the recipe with my mother, the only way I could get some was to return the canning jars she’d sent the batches in last season!

    If I lost a jar, God help me, I’d better find her another one, because it meant I wouldn’t get my beloved chili fix! :)

  10. 60
    Marc says:

    The “jars are not recyclable” statement didn’t sound right to me, so I asked the people that make Ball jars (Jarden Home Brands). They responded with this: “Ball® canning jars are recyclable. Ball® canning jars are not tempered. They are annealed.”

    I also contacted the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California, which operates the city of Berkeley’s recycling program. This is what the representative replied: “They’re perfectly recyclable. Glass jars that foods like pasta sauce and pickles come in are heat-resistant glass, too….”

    Given these two responses, I’d like to get more background on how you determined that the jars aren’t recyclable. Are you perhaps confusing them with “tempered” glass, like Pyrex, that is often not accepted by recyclers?

  11. 61
    Cate says:

    I just started canning this year and I’m definitely a little skittish about giving homemade goodies away, lest I don’t get my jars back! We’re on a limited income and they can be quite pricey. However, since I’m mostly just making things for us to enjoy, I don’t feel pressured to give things away to many people. My MIL has canned for years (she gave me the idea!) and I ALWAYS return her jars. Recently, though, we just started trading. I might not always get “my” jar back, but I always end up with the same size!

    I did send my Nana, who lives in Louisiana (we’re in KY) two jars of jam as a thank-you for helping us out with the down payment on our house. She can toss those empty jars in her front yard for all I care! ;-)

  12. 62
    nicole says:

    I’m just getting into canning now. I am considering gifting some things at Christmas so I’m glad I found this post. I’m afraid some people wont give jars back. I’m just trying to figure out how to ask for the jars back when i gift it, without the ‘free refills’ thing. hmmm…

    • 62.1
      Marisa says:

      Nicole, it’s a tough call. When I’m working on something I know I’m giving as gifts, I always use jars I don’t care about.

  13. 63
    Cynthia says:

    I bought cheap do-it-yourself business cards. I typed the following verse and taped it to the back of each jar I’ve prepared as holiday gifts or church bazaar offerings. I’ll let you know how it works out.

    Making jams & jellies & treats for you
    Brings me joy beyond belief!
    Enjoy the jar’s contents & savor each bite
    Then return the empty jar to me.

  14. 64
    nicole says:

    thanks for the info. I’ll see how this round of gift giving goes

  15. 65
    Tamara says:

    I consider the jar part of the gift. That way I am never disappointed when I don’t get the jars back.

  16. 66

    [...] about such things (which I’m certain you ARE) is canning queen Marisa’s take on preserving jar ettiquete…i do so love the world wide web don’t [...]

  17. 67
    Serene says:

    I don’t worry about getting my jars back, but I do try to return them to people who give them to me. My problem is that whole giving-away-too-much-of-the-stuff thing. I don’t leave my family enough of the fruits of my labor, as it were.

  18. 68

    [...] to reuse, or we’d take them home and use them ourselves for our canning projects.  Because home-canning jars are not recyclable, it made ecological sense and they would be a cute addition to our [...]

  19. 69
    Jannell says:

    Maybe it’s just the way my family is, but I was never taught to give the jars back! In my family (including extended) lives close and we share goods all the time, but we all just reuse the jars in our own canning after we’ve received something. I was reading your post and thinking of all the times I’ve been given jam, peaches, or something else, because I have never once given the jar back (unless I had canned something of my own and sent it back). I haven’t expected to get jars back from others either, because I consider the jar part of the gift.

    It’s something that hasn’t ever even occurred to me because to me, it’s common knowledge that you reuse the jar, and eventually pass it on filled with goods. BUT your post has me thinking that it’s maybe time to start returning jars. It’s the nice thing to do.

  20. 70

    I don’t mind giving and getting and reusing jars. What I hate is the idea of it going to a landfill or a recycling center, when it’s perfectly good for repurposing and/or reusing. I know some people who simply are not familiar with canning and toss them out as they would an empty salad dressing bottle, etc. Love that you wrote this article.

  21. 71
    Robin says:

    I am shocked, but pleased, to find this information online. My husband and I had a discussion about this topic just today. We disagree that jars should be returned. He say that everyone knows that they should. I say that when someone gives you a gift, it is not expected to be returned unless that was the arrangement. Who is right on this one? I guess it is a matter of opinion.

  22. 72
    Charity says:

    I have to be honest, I try to give people grace with them not returning jars but some people are just downright too expensive anymore. I have a few friends that drop hints all the time for my handmade goodies and when they come to the house I gladly share. But after years of never getting the jars back, I get really annoyed thinking of all the cases and cases of jars that I have had to purchase, to replace them. I love to share the bounty from my garden and the goodies that I make. However, the jar non returners end up making this more expensive for me than if I had just gone out and purchased cases of food and then delivered it straight to their home. I was taught growing up that you return the jar within 3 months, no exceptions. I was taught it is the same thing as if someone brings you a plate of food as a gift. You con’t consider part of their dishware and spoons as something to keep, you return it clean (or filled with a treat if you will) to that person. We were taught dishware is to be returned within the week. I have quit giving food to anyone that I have to hunt down and get my dishes or my canning jars back from.

  23. 73
    Mitch says:

    Random Treat vs Gift- my rule only…The etiquette I use is when I receive a canned good for ‘no special occasion’ is for me to return the clean jar to the treat giver. This shows them that you enjoyed their hard work increases the odds that you are randomly treated again. Likewise, if I ‘randomly’ give a jar away to a friend or relative who I see regularly, I expect the jar to be given back. If a person does not give the jar back then the likelihood of me choosing him/her for another random treat decreases. The exceptions to the rule are: 1) if I give a jar to a stranger or an acquaintance, or 2) if I give a jar as part of a proper gift (birthday, Christmas, etc), then I do *EXPECT* it back (regardless of the recipient). I do get some of those back and that is a sure sign that those recipients will be added to my list for future acts of random kindness.

    • 73.1
      Mitch says:

      sorry correction…

      …if I give a jar as part of a proper gift (birthday, Christmas, etc), then I do NOT expect it back (regardless of the recipient).

  24. 74

    […] it keeps the glass out of the landfill, and it keeps your canning costs down. See this post at Food in Jars on the etiquette of canning […]

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