New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning

July 12, 2013(updated on September 20, 2021)
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.


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.


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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483 thoughts on "New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning"

  • 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!!!!!

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

  • 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?

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  • 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?

    1. 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.

  • 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??

  • 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

  • My jelly that was put through the water bath for longer that the recipe called for did not jell. Some from the same batch that was not put through the water bath process did jell. Did the longer time in the water bath cause this?

    1. Typically the water bath does not impact the finished set. I don’t believe it’s the reason your jam isn’t setting as well.

  • Hi. I have made jam quite a bit in the last few years, only using single lids, and not processing them after. After reading more about processing, I bought a ball home canning kit and had a go today. After making jam, heating jars, lids and rims, filling jars and putting lids on and tightening rims to finger-tightness, I lowered them into the boiling pot of water in the basket that comes with the kit. The water was boiling okay, then one of the jar’s lids came off and water rushed into the jar. I was upset but was okay because the 2nd jar appeared to be doing well. When processing time was up, I lifted the jars out after a further 5 minutes, and found water in both of the jars. 🙁 Sooo upset! Why did this happen? Now i am scared about doing it next time! Help!

  • When putting the preserves in the water bath does this cook the contents further?
    Just made brandied figs and wondered if I could have put them in uncooked then filled the jar with the syrup so as not to overcook figs. I’m new to canning.
    I’m enjoying hearing the popping lids ? I’m from Australia

    1. You want to use jars that have been designed for water bath canning. You can use single piece lids, but ideally they should be new. It’s not good canning practice to reuse commercial jam and jelly jars.

  • Hello. I’m new to canning and my concern is my product. Im planning to make cooked garlic in oil. Do I need to pat the bottles and seal dry before pouring the mixture or is it okay to just pour it even if it is slightly wet? Im planning to finish it with a boiling bath. Need your advice on this. Thank you very much.

    1. The the product you’re planning on making is a low acid product and so is not safe to can in a boiling water bath. You need to pressure can that garlic to ensure its safety.

  • I’m canning salsa. The water is very very hot with slight bubbles but not a rolling boil. The stove has been on well over and hour…..Is my salsa safe to take out and store?

    1. Not really. The boiling water bath process always ends up cooking the food to a certain degree, so you will always lose some texture.

  • So I may have made a canning mistake this weekend and I’m having trouble finding answers on the internet, but you may know. I canned crushed tomatoes (which I put in the jar after boiling/reducing for about 20 minutes) using a water bath I set up outside on a large propane burner. When it was time to take them off, I went out and realized a lot of the water had boiled out of the pot – like down to about 2 inches below the jar lids. I took them out and thought “Great, I need to redo this whole thing”, but they were already sealed. Do I need to in fact redo them?

  • I just made pepper jelly and only 3 jars sealed. I didn’t boil them I just flipped them. so since they seal can I put new lids on and boil to seal? the jelly is pretty cool right now. and how long would they have to boil

  • Is it necessary to keep the lid on while doing a water bath. When I do quart jars, the water just pours out during the boiling stage. It looked like you didn’t cover the pot at all. Thanks!

    1. You need to start with a giardianara recipe that was designed for canning. Not all pickles are safe for the water bath canner.

  • How do I prevent the awful burning/scorching that occurs to my electric stove top after each session of water bath canning? I don’t even want to can anymore because of the 2-hour clean up to the stove top afterwards. The pot is 1/2″-1″ larger than the electric coil element and the heat builds up with the long wait for the water to boil (30 min.) and the time to process the jars. My stove isn’t looking that clean anymore…ugh. Does anyone have this problem?

    1. Have you considered getting a smaller canning pot? I cook on an electric stove and I don’t have this problem. But I only use pots that fit the footprint of my burner.

  • I’d like to be able to use the larger one, as I always have. It processes up to 7 pint jars at a time. If I went smaller, it would double the work. There must be some remedy as I’m sure other “canners” use electric stoves with large pots……

  • sometimes after hot bathing canned products the water is not over the top….is this okay………i do spagh sauce for 45 minutes is this too long ?

    1. You either need to use a bigger pot or add some additional boiling water so that the jars don’t boil to exposure during processing. You want them to remain entirely submerged. And tomato sauces do typically need at least 45 minutes of processing.

  • My red pepper jelly and my strawberry jam taste excellent; and they sealed very well. However, both are runny. I know I used the required amounts of sugar and pectin; and I know the pectin was not too old. I timed the boil and the immersion into the water. I wonder if it’s because
    a. I might not have had perfectly dry jars
    b. My husband picks them up to see if they’ve thickened
    c. The lids might not have been dry.


    1. Did you test for set? Cooking times are typically estimates. You also need to check for set to ensure that enough water has cooked out and that the sugar has reached the proper temperature. Additionally, did you use the amount of sugar the recipe called for?

      Damp jars and your husband’s jostling shouldn’t have impacted the set at all.

  • Sorry if you mentioned it already.

    Do you have to put the filled jars directly into the water bath or can they sit for a little bit? We have a ton of processing to do and wanted to fill all the jars and put them in the water bath in groups of 7 one after the other. If we do this that means some will be sitting over one hour filled before we boil them.


    1. They need to go into the water promptly. If you let them sit, they will cool and you then risk spoilage and jar breakage.

  • I just canned some salsa today, first time canning anything, and I didn’t have a tall enough pot to fill much over the top of the jars without overflowing onto the stove. The jars were covered for a couple minutes but by the end of the time (I added some extra time) the water was about 1/3” below the top of the lid. The seals seem to have formed on the lids. Are they safe? Or do I need to start over? If I start over, is it ok to start with the jars as they are again or so I need to get new lids? Thank you!

    1. It’s not ideal. The best course of action is to put the jars in the fridge, since they weren’t fully sterilized. If you reprocess them with new lids in a larger pot, you risk compromising the texture of the salsa.

    1. You don’t need the jars to be boiled in step one. You just need to heat the jars enough so that they won’t break when you fill them with the hot jam. The jars will get sterilized during the processing step. However, if they do boil in that initial step, it’s no big deal.

  • I’ve never canned before….so I made salsa and put them in canning jars. At first I didn’t think about sealing them until later. Can I seal them using the water bathing even though the jars aren’t hot? My friend showed me how to do it by boiling the jars in boiling water for a while and take them out and she flipped them upside down til they cooled off. But some of them did not seal and some did. Is this OK to do?

    1. You can only can salsa recipes that have been designed for canning. It needs to have sufficient acid to be below 4.6 pH. What’s more, you need to do a properly long boiling water bath process (any recipe developed to be canned will include these instructions). Additionally, modern canning instructions will never include an inversion step.

  • I’m canning pickles and my sister said to just fill the water in the hot bath to the neck of the jars. But you said to cover the jars completely. Please advise me the difference and out comes. Thanks

  • I’m wondering if you would address water bath canning and altitude. I live at 3800 ft and have seen charts that indicate I need to add 5, 10 or 15 minutes additional time when using 4000 ft as my guide. That seems like a big difference to me. I want to can some assorted fruit jams, blueberry, apple butter, strawberry, etc., if that has any bearing. Thank you.

  • i am canning Blueberry Jam. The recipe I am using doesn’t have instructions for a water bath, Will the jam last?

    1. If it doesn’t include a water bath processing step, it should be kept in the fridge and used promptly. Don’t trust unprocessed preserves in the pantry.

  • My first time canning dill pickles. I didn’t realize the pot wasn’t tall enough to cover quart jars. The water only came to the neck. I processed them for ten minutes and they sat in the water five minutes. Will they be alright to eat?

    1. They should be okay, but you’ll want to keep an eye on them. Those jars will have a slightly higher chance of losing their seals or spoiling than ones that were fully submerged.

  • Help!! We just followed a recipe for escabeche (pickled jalapenos, carrots, onion, cauliflower, etc.) to the letter and it didn’t say ANYTHING about elevation! This was our first time canning and we just moved from Phoenix to 6700′ elevation in Colorado. The recipe said to process for 10 minutes – we probably did 12 to 15 minutes max. All 12 jars sealed properly, but now we’re concerned that we didn’t process them long enough since we read comments after the fact about adding processing time. Will they be OK? Should/can we pop the seals and reprocess? What should we do?

    1. Do you possibly have the refrigerator space to keep them in cold storage? That’s going to be the best course of action. You could reprocess, but that will give the finished pickle a really soft finished texture. I’m so sorry that your recipe didn’t include instructions to adjust for altitude. It’s such an important reminder for all water bath canning recipes.