New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning

stock pot and trivet

For years, there has been a something missing from this site and that was a post that detailed the basics of boiling water bath canning. I didn’t do it in the very beginning and then, as time went on, I felt a little embarrassed about writing that kind of post so late in the game. Whenever people would ask me for it, I would refer them to other websites. However, I’m happy to finally be filling in that gap with this post here today.

pot with trivet inside

So, a little disclaimer to start out with. I’m going to detail my particular canning workflow. This might not be exactly how you do it in your kitchen and that’s okay. We all find ways to make it work with the tools, equipment and space that we have. In the end, the most important things are that you get your jars hot, that you fill them to the proper headspace, and that you process them for the amount of time prescribed by your recipe. There’s a good deal of flexibility in the rest of the details.

filled with jars

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, any pot can be your canning pot as long as it’s tall enough to hold a rack and your jars, and that it allows the jars to be fully submerged in the water. I like this one, but the best pot to use is the one already in your kitchen. Once you’ve picked out your pot, position a rack in the bottom. I have a silicone trivet pictured here, but any round rack, collection of old canning jar rings or a hand towel will work. Then put your jars in the pot.

filling with water

Then, fill up the jars and pot with water. I like to use the hottest tap water available, as it speeds up the boiling process a bit to start.

all filled up

It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but at this point, I only fill the pot enough to just barely cover the tallest jar I’m using. This should be more than enough water for the processing stage, because once you lower your filled jars in the pot, they will displace enough water to sufficiently cover the jars (sometimes, you need to remove a little water from the pot to prevent overflow. If this becomes necessary, use something heatproof, like a Pyrex measuring cup so that you don’t burn yourself).

white vinegar

It is always a good idea to pour a generous glug of white vinegar into your canning pot before you start heating it. This will prevent any minerals present in your water from depositing on your canning pot or jars. I don’t live in a place with particularly hard water, but I still do this because it keeps my pot in good shape and makes it easier to clean.

canning pot on stove

Now the pot is ready to go on the stove an come to a boil. I do all of this before I ever apply heat to my preserves. That way, the canning pot has a head start on my product and the jars will be nice and hot when I’m ready to use them.

lids

Here’s where my practice diverges a little from what the  canning books will tell you. Almost all instructions (even those printed in my cookbook), will instruct you to take out a small saucepan, place the lids in it, cover them with water and bring it to a very gentle simmer. While this is good in theory (you don’t want to over soften the sealing compound), I rarely do it in practice.

Instead, I watch my heating canning pot. When it reaches a boil, I turn it down to a simmer and drop my lids in. Everything stays nice and hot until I need to use it. The sealing compound gets to the perfect level of softness and I am a happy canner.

Recently, the experts at Ball Canning announced that it’s no longer necessary to simmer lids prior to canning, as the Plastisol sealant doesn’t require softening. Instead, just make sure to wash your lids in warm, soapy water before applying them to filled jars. More information about this can be found here.

removing hot jars

When the product is ready to go into the jars, I slide the canning pot off the heat and pull out the jars with a handy jar lifter. Just a note: These jars are hot, but not sterilized, because I turn the heat down to a simmer as soon as the pot boils. This works because the filled jars get boiled for at least ten minutes (and often longer) during the processing step.

However, if your recipe calls for a processing time that is shorter than ten minutes, you either need to increase the processing time to ten minutes, or you need to actively boil your jars for at least ten minutes before filled, to ensure you have sterilized jars.

ready to fill

Now you fill up your jars, leaving the amount of headspace required by your recipe. If the recipe doesn’t tell you how much headspace to leave, go for approximately 1/2 inch. That’s typically enough for most products.

filled jars

Before applying the lids and rings, wipe the rims with a damp paper towel (I use the hot water from the canning pot as my dampening water, as the heat helps remove any stubborn sticky spots. If your product is super sticky, a little white vinegar on the cleaning cloth will help).

Then, center a lid on each jar and secure it with a ring. Don’t over tighten the rings, because there needs to be enough space for the oxygen in the jars to escape. The term for this level of tightening is called “finger tip tight” meaning that you only tighten as much as you can with the tips of your fingers. I always tell my canning students that you turn just until the ring meets resistance.

processing

Once all the jars have lids and rings, lower them into your canning pot. Make sure the jars are fully submerged and are covered with about an inch of water (you need that much to ensure that they won’t become exposed during boiling). Turn the burner to high. When the pot returns to a boil, set a a timer to the prescribed amount of processing time.

You do want to maintain an active boil throughout the processing of the jars, but make sure you control your boil. If the pot is madly rolling, the chances that you will burn yourself increase. Turn it down a little, to minimize splashing and injury.

removing finished jars

When time is up, turn off the heat. If you have an electric stove that stays hot for a while, slide the pot off the burner. You don’t want the water to be rolling when you reach in with your jar lifter. Then, lift your jars out of the pot and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool (if you have countertops made from marble, granite, stainless steel or some other surface that stays cool, the towel is really important so that you don’t shock your jars).

If you find that your product is leaking out of the jars when you pull them out of the canner, put the jars back in the water and let them cool gradually in the pot for five to ten minutes. One of the reasons that liquid loss occurs is that rapid cooling causes a powerful pressure differential that can forces product out of the jars. By letting your jars cool more slowly, you reduce the force of pressure and more product stays where you want it.

all done

Once the jars are out of the canner, leave them alone and let them cool. Hopefully, you’ll hear a symphony of popping and pinging lids. This is good, it means that the seals are being formed. However, don’t freak out if you don’t hear those noises. Jars sometimes seal slowly and quietly. Once the jars are cool enough to handle, remove the rings and test the seals by holding onto the edges of the lids and lifting up an inch or two. If the lids hold fast, the seals are good.

Sealed jars should be stored in a cool, dark place without the rings. If the jars are at all sticky after processing, make sure to wash them before you put them away. Any sticky residue can attracts ants and other pests, so make sure your jars are squeaky clean.

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464 Responses to New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning

  1. 201
    Sara says:

    I am trying to send some dilly beans to my husband who is deployed in Rota Spain, will they be safe to eat after shipping?

  2. 202

    […] New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning – Food in Jars […]

  3. 203
    Emma says:

    hi, once you open the jar how much time do you have to consume it? i’m thinking of making hot chili sauce and canning it, but I don’t know how long will it hold up safely once I open a can. I imagine maybe a month if I keep it refrigerated? thank you

    • 203.1
      Marisa says:

      The open time of preserves varies depending on the recipe. But typically at least a month.

      • Heidi says:

        I made fig preserves for the first time last night. I added lemon juice and jalapeño. Tuwords the end of the cooking time I added more jalapeños cooked it on medium about another 10 minutes. I did not do a water bath. All the lids sealed. Should I still do a water bath and if so can I still do it or is it to late? Thank you for your help.

        • Louise says:

          You should still do the water bath. You spent so much time on your fig jam it’s worth it to prevent spoilage

  4. 204
    Lynn says:

    do you have to dry the jars inside and the lids before putting the jam in?

  5. 205
    Elsie Boddie says:

    Please tell me how long should I can my ? jelly?

  6. 206
    Shari says:

    Do you have to water bath jam the same day you make it or can you wait until the next day?

    • 206.1
      Marisa says:

      It is better to do it the same day as you made it because it needs to go into the jars hot. If you cool it and then heat it again for canning, you can ruin the set.

      • rachel says:

        if you do cool it first because you forget to do the water bath, and you stick them in when you remember, (5 hours later) will they be ok? if they are runny after that, will they gel back again or are they ruined? thank you!

  7. 207
    Jay says:

    I’m new to canning and I’m a little lost, after the jam is put in the jars and you place the lid and then finger tight the ring you boil the jars again, after they cooled you remove the ring and check the seal… you then say that the jars should be stored without the rings. Are you not suppose to screw the ring back on? I would like to ship my jam and I’m lost

    • 207.1
      Marisa says:

      Typically you leave the rings off for storage. If you’re shipping your jars, it’s fine to replace the rings.

  8. 208
    Roxie Brooks says:

    If a person wants to hwb peaches but doesn’t want the peaches really soft, would 10 minutes be long enough to hot water boil? My hubby and I do not like mushy canned peaches.

  9. 209
    Laurie says:

    Can I cook my prepared fruit and refrigerate then re-warm for canning later? Thanks!

    • 209.1
      Marisa says:

      That is not ideal. It’s better to prep the fruit, sugar it, and put it in the fridge at that point. Ideally you want to cook and can your jam on the same day for best set and consistency.

  10. 210
    Cheryl Pryor Pigford says:

    I canned salsa yesterday eve. Out of 12 pints 7 did not seal. I think it’s poss my water bath was not simmering high enough. I read to repeat the process so I put them back in a water bath this morning. Then I read further that you should unjar and start from scratch. What should I do?

  11. 211
    Casey Reas says:

    I am new to canning. I have started a little tomato crop in my back yard. I am wanting to can them but I am not sure how long they will need to be processed in the water bath. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I have been told by some people that you don’t need to boil the jars, but I am not sure.

  12. 212

    when canning pickles what is the fill line for the liquid? do you fill it completely or stop at the threading on the jar? i think we put in to much liquid because the lids popped up.

    • 212.1
      Marisa says:

      You leave about 1/2 inch of headspace, typically. And the lids will be popped up when you take the jars out of the water, but they should pop down again as the jars cool.

  13. 213

    We just canned pickles. all but one lid popped. What would cause this. did we make the lids to tight or could we have put to much liquid in the Jars?

    • 213.1
      Marisa says:

      You might have over tightened the jars. You might have overfilled them. There might have been something on the rim of the jar that prevented a good seal from forming. It is hard to diagnosis the reason a jar didn’t seal from far away. It happens to all of us. Just put that jar in the fridge and eat it within a month or so.

  14. 214
    Janice Bruce says:

    One of my jars broke(the bottom fell out, as I was putting it into the hot water bath. I continued to process the other jars in that water which had the pickle juice in it. Will that affect the pickles in the other jars?

    • 214.1
      Marisa says:

      You might end up with finished jars that smell faintly of vinegar and spices, but beyond that, no harm is done.

  15. 215
    Rick says:

    I went by your steps. I was canning quart jars, This was my first time. I got towards the end the steps putting the completed jar in the canning pot & just with in a few seconds one of them just broke inside the canning pot, the bottom of the jar came completely off & also broke around the middle of jar, what do I do next time?

    • 215.1
      Marisa says:

      Sometimes jars just break. You might not have done anything wrong.

    • 215.2
      Chantel says:

      If you dont have a tray, towel, trivet or collection of old jars sitting on the bottom of your pot to keep your jars off the bottom or direct source of heat then your jars might break off at the bottom. Another reason could be your jar had an unseen crack or chip in it already or you used a jar not made for canning. Hope this helps.

  16. 216
    Kim says:

    I am new to water canning. I made blueberry jam, put in jars (sterilized, etc.) and put in water bath. I didn’t have anything to put at the bottom of the pot. I tried a towel but it kept floating up and tipping over the jars. So, I just took the towel out and boiled away. I added additional time for boiling and the jars “popped” and appear sealed. Why do you need a trivet or towel or something on the bottom of the pot? Is it to help keep the jars from breaking and I just got lucky? I just want to be sure that these will be safe to eat later. (I can buy a trivet for the future). Thank you.

    • 216.1
      Marisa says:

      The trivet is there to protect the jars from the direct heat of the stove, to allow water to better circulate around the jars, and to act as padding to help prevent breakage. Your jars are safe, but you got lucky.

  17. 217
    Carole says:

    I would like to can spaghetti sauce but I don’t have a canner.Can I use a large pot with a wet towel in the bottom or can you suggest something else.

    • 217.1
      Marisa says:

      Please go back and read this blog post. You’ll find that I expressly answer the question you’re asking within the body of the text.

  18. 218
    Sue says:

    After you put the filled jars into the canner pot and bring it to a boil, do you put the lid on the pot or leave it off so you can see how it’s boiling?

  19. 219
    Portia says:

    My husband made jalapeno chili sauce while I was away, and did not put the jars through the water bath that I would normally have done. It has been about 10 days. Is it too late to now complete that step?

    Thanks for any insight you can provide.

    • 219.1
      Marisa says:

      Once you ascertain that the sauce is still good, you’d need to open up the jars, reheat the sauce and can it like you normally would.

  20. 220
    Marybeth says:

    My jars of salsa pinged and sealed while still in the water bath, after I took the lid off and turned off the heat. Is this okay??

    • 220.1
      Marisa says:

      That’s fine. Though often that’s a sign that they’re not fully submerged in the water. And ideally they will be fully submerged.

  21. 221
    Stacey says:

    I am new to canning and I was wondering a couple things. Firstly, how long do pickled beets need to be in the hot water bath (500mL jars if that matters)? Secondly, what do you do if the lids do no seal after the hot water bath?

  22. 222
    Penny says:

    First time canning tomatoes today. And I’m just not quite sure I got it “right”. Should i have all my tomatoes ready to go and then start the sterilizing, etc? I ask because I was roasting my tomatoes in batches and ended up with some sterilized jars that had cooled by the time my tomatoes were ready to be put in the jar. Also, when I removed the filled jars from the water bath, some were boiling inside. Is that okay? Thank you in advance.

    • 222.1
      Marisa says:

      Both the jars and the tomatoes should be hot. Fill the hot jars with the hot tomatoes and put them into a hot (but not boiling) water bath.

      • Alicia says:

        As I’m reading all this great info I came across this. I just put my bottles in an already boiling water bath? Is that a big deal?

        • Marisa says:

          Ideally you don’t want the water at a full rolling boil, as it can lead to thermal shock and jar breakage.

  23. 223
    Paula says:

    Canning is overwhelming!
    If I wanted to try canning tomatoes (I’ve never canned anything in my life!), would I cook the tomatoes first so the skin comes off and then sanitize jars? And what about green beans?

  24. 224
    Bonnie McDonald says:

    Peaces initWhy does the water in my canner, after water bathing peaches, have the color of the peaches in it?

  25. 225
    Donna Barton says:

    I my boiling bath and boiled it for 35 minutes when I pulled thejars out of the water My Salsa had moved all the way to the top of the jar I had about an inch open space at the bottom what did I do wrong

  26. 226
    Michelle says:

    Made pickles and didn’t have water covering. It was almost to the top. They did pop after coming out . Is that ok? What happens if you accidental push the top and it pops and stays?

    • 226.1
      Marisa says:

      Neither situation is ideal. The jars will probably be fine, but do have a slightly higher chance of spoilage.

  27. 227
    malinda brymer says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS VERY PRECISE AND COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDABLE TUTORIAL!!! I can’t wait to get started! I just decided I wanted to begin canning my own preserves and such as I seem to spend a fortune on them at boutiques and craft bazaars – I looked up canning basics on pinterest and the pin for this one just jumped out at me and after reading it I need look no further! Thanks again!

  28. 228
    Kim says:

    Hi. I am new to making jam and wondered if I messed up. The lids were still wet on the inside when I put them on (I didn’t dry them). Sealed my jams, they jelled and look great. I removed the bands to be sure it was dry under there and you can see water drops on bottoms of lids inside jars. Will these be safe to store/eat? Thank you in advance.

    • 228.1
      Marisa says:

      They’re fine. It’s not a big deal if the lids are wet and having some condensation under the lids is entirely normal.

  29. 229
    Harvey says:

    Question ? I have done Hot water Bath in the past but do not remember why it is important to make sure the water in canner is 1 or 2 inches over the Jars ? We just canned 120 Qts of Tomatoes and all of them seal very nice. But I only fill the canner to the neck of the Jars with water to Boil. Mom says that they will be ok but don’t do that again, do I have any worries. ?

    • 229.1
      Marisa says:

      Because you need the heat of the water to penetrate fully and that is best done with fully submerged jars. There is a slightly higher risk of spoilage with unsubmerged jars.

  30. 230
    Joni says:

    This is a great article for us beginners!!! It all sounds so easy until you actually do it. I can’t wait to taste these fresh peaches in the middle of the winter. I live in Michigan….

  31. 231
    Kathy Breckenridge says:

    If you are not sure everything went properly can you take the peaches out of the jars and freeze them?
    Is there anyway to “save ” the fruit form going bad. Guess I am just nervous that I did things proper. My jars are sealed and tight,and were processed in a water bath. Thks

  32. 232
    Michelle says:

    Hi Marisa!
    I have canned your tomato jam, one of the jars looks like there was some leakage. It was sticky around the rim. When I lift the jar by the lid, the seal is good. Is this safe to keep on the shelf?

  33. 233
    Christel says:

    Just wondering why you store the jars without the ring?

    Thanks

  34. 234
    Michele Eastland says:

    Hi there, any idea how long homemade spaghetti sauce needs to process for in the boiling water??

  35. 235
    Sophia says:

    Hi so I’ve tried the water bath. and yet my jars still wont seal!!! I make my apple butter than I heat up the jars and the caps took one out at a time and than filled them up, than I put the lids on and the rings than I stuck them back in the hot water on the stove for 20 minutes and than I took them out and I checked on them the next day and still wouldn’t seal. but I took one of the jars an stuck it in the fridge and it sealed it. What am I doing wrong?? I used a noodle pan cover the jars to sterilize them. and a sauce pan for the lids and rings. please help!!!!!

  36. 236
    Hanadi says:

    If my product isn’t heated before filling the jar, how long does it have to boiling after the seal is placed on?

  37. 237
    Lorrie says:

    New to canning and want to pickle cauliflower and green beans. A friend told me she doesn’t hot water bath. Is this safe? How can I tell when water is boiling when the lid is on? Any good recipes for both of these food items?

    • 237.1
      Marisa says:

      You need to use a water bath for pickles. And you tell that the water is boiling because steam will be coming out of the pot. As far as recipes go, check out the recipe index on this page.

  38. 238
    Lorrie says:

    A friend cans green beans , cauliflower, and peppers without water bath. Is this safe?

    • 238.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s not safe to do anything without some kind of processing step. High acid foods require a water bath canner and low acid foods require a pressure canner.

  39. 239
    Kelly says:

    I’ve heard some people say you have to put a lid on the pot while it’s boiling to ensure that it stays hot enough but I didn’t see you mention a lid. Do I need a lid?

    • 239.1
      Marisa says:

      Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. I typically put a lid on the pot to help maintain the boil, but it’s such a small detail that I figured I’d leave it up to the individual user.

  40. 240
    Kristin says:

    I am making a Large batch of spaghetti sauce, is it ok to fill and lid my jars while I wait for the other batch to finish processing??
    Thanks

  41. 241
    Donna says:

    Help! I’m new at canning I followed the directions for water bath! I filled applesauce in jars! My water wouldn’t’t boil! After hours of waiting I took bottles out! So I believe it’s my burner! I’m thinking applesauce is not good! Oh……one of my jars popped! Please advise me! Thanks Donna

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