The Etiquette of Canning Jars

May 20, 2010(updated on October 3, 2018)

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.


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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81 thoughts on "The Etiquette of Canning Jars"

  • I’ve decided that those who return jars I am very willing to consistently give canned goods to. People who don’t return jars just shouldn’t expect to receive many more gifts from me, if any. Most of my family has learned to comply with what I call canning karma.

  • I this is a good starting point. The only thing that I will add is that for family that live far away I offer an “exchange program”. If they bring me back the clean jars on their next visit (or hand them off on my next visit) then I give them full jars in exchange. Since I prefer driving when possible and tend to fly Southwest when I do fly (meaning I don’t have to pay to check a bag) tucking a jar or two into my luggage isn’t a big deal. I have had my luggage searched multiple times but the jam has always made it through. I’ve actually had a couple of family members take me up on the “exchange program” and even had people call ahead to make sure I reserved a favorite flavor for their next visit.

  • Yes! I actually find I’m reluctant to give things to people who don’t return jars (and are likely just pitching said jars in the recycling bin). Which means my mom is a frequent beneficiary of canned goods, as she saves up all of the jars and brings them back on her next visit. People who return jars rocket to the top of my “to share with” list… Good idea to process half the batch in generic jars – will have to start doing that!

  • Can you help with jar identification? I am the recipient of several many canning jars, including some great squat, square ones, and what I think are jelly jars with metal flat lids. Would love to know their origins. I can provide photos! And you are so right, whatever I can in these jars stays with me, I would never give them away 🙂

  • I also do the generic jar/special jar thing; and I would only give a special jar away to certain friends who ALWAYS make it a point to return jars. They also get much more of my bounty.

    But I do send a lot of jars to friends & family in far-flung destinations; most of them do not can, so I usually ask them to make sure they do not toss the jar into recycling – bring it into work, to your church, to a yard sale or flea market, or an antique shop – someone will be *thrilled* to have it. Often times I will put “jar use” tips on the back of a tied-on label: home storage tips like nails, paper clips, spices, dried chiles, Qtips or cotton balls, or as a unique and funky gift wrapper, filled with pretty tissue paper, for a special piece of jewelry for a canning friend. Canning jars are practically duct tape – a million uses and counting!

  • Marisa, such a needed post! I wish everyone read your blog and got this message! As one who purchases canning jars, I appreciate the cost. Especially the unusual jars. It would be nice to know they were reused in an appropriate manner and the food enjoyed!

  • I absolutely am delighted when people return jars. When they ask I tell them they are more likely to get a returned jar back full. I have come to learn that some people regularly return jars and others never do. It is costly to keep buying Mason jars if you do a lot of canning. A few years ago an elderly neighbor who no longer cans brought me a large box of jars she found in her garage – I was grateful. Maybe I need a small note on my jars to remind people to return or reuse the jars.

  • My compagnion’s grandmother stocks up the whole familly’s pantries with delicious canned goods but if you don’t bring back the jars not only do you not get anymore but you’re in for it!
    One should never anger a cook!
    We all enjoy her love and labor all winter, she litterally feeds about 20 people.
    Show respect, give back the jars!!!

  • I usually include instructions on the tag. Something like, Repurpose, reuse or return to the canner. Do not recycle. My family members all know to save the jars and rings. For friends that I mail jars to – they can send it on to a thrift store or something else.

  • I include with all of my stuff (even if they are someone who has gotten a jar of something from me before) a note that says that if they like what was inside, to let me know right away, so I can make a note to give them more the following year. But that they have received a jar with “unlimited free refills”, but they have to return the jar to get it refilled.

    Some of my friends have actually purchased sets of canning jars, and we tie different colors of ribbons around each set, so we know what belongs to whom, and have a tag with a hole punched into it with the name of the recipient and what the jar should contain. I keep those jars separated from my main collection. That way, I know that, for instance, Kathy will always want 12 quarts of applesauce, and each year, when the applesauce is ready, I give her the canned applesauce, and she returns the previous year’s jars. It works best this way for long-distance canning, because I generally only see my long-distance friends and family once or twice a year, so we don’t pay shipping costs, we just do the switcheroo.

    Since I keep track of returns, the ones who don’t return, don’t get any more stuff. I’ve had more than one friend ask if I had any extra XYZ this year, and I’ve said, “I do, but I don’t have any extra jars, what did you do with the one from last year?” 😉

  • This is so true…

    I have no problem with guys reusing my jar and I’m happy when this arrived. They don’t need to return the jar if they use it.

    But I’m so sad when I know the jar is going to the recycling bin.

  • Are canning jars really not recyclable at all? Not that I would recycle them, but sometimes they break and I usually recycle the broken glass. On the note of recycling, I wanted to ask you if you have any suggestions for what to do with the used lids? I find that I always have way more used lids around than I really need, but they aren’t recycleable and I am really trying to waste less. I know they can be re-used as coasters or under candles, but I am looking for a good way to reduce the number I use or recycle the metal or something. Any suggestions? Thanks!!

  • I am new to canning so I only have the initial jars I bought. I have been struggling with the thought of giving stuff away because I am scared of having to buy more jars! I do think that come christmas time I am going to put labels with reuse or give back advice on them…When I started canning (oh 2 months ago or so) I had a mild anxiety attack over some canned good I had bought at the farmers market, do I bring those jars back? do I just use them for myself? will the farmer blacklist me if I don’t bring them back? should I fill them and give them back with my next purchase? My husband thought I was crazy…(I ended up saving them for canning in myself, but have yet to go back to that farmer!)

    anna- I have visions of windchimes, and vegetable markers, and some sort of fridge magnet series for my eventual stash of used lids

  • Great post! When I gift jam, I tell recipients that the jar comes with a lifetime refillable warranty. If they return the jar, they instantly get more jam. This not only helps get jars back, but it lets me know who appreciates it enough to put in a little work for more. It sorts the “jam-worthy” from the non jam-worthy.

  • I’ve always given away jars with the expectation that I’m not getting them back. It’s my friends who’ve surprised me by doing so (which probably says something about how cool they are).

    A question, though — you suggest the recipients return the jar AND the rings for re-use. I thought that you were always supposed to use a new lid each time, though; wouldn’t the ring be part of that?

  • “Canning jars are practically duct tape – a million uses and counting!”
    LOVE that!! Thanks for the other tips – especially the generic/special idea.

  • Good Read! I am a ‘new-er’ canner! This will be my second season. Last season, lots of family were returning my jars to me and I couldn’t understand why!? Why would they not want to lovely jar! Now I get it 😉

  • Absolutely agree with this! Please return canning jars to the person who gifted them to you. Besides being reusable, they are becoming pretty expensive as well. And I understand your having “special” jars. I have several that belonged to now departed relatives. Some date back to the 1940’s. I wouldn’t part with those for anything.

  • totally agree with your comments. i have some generic jars i use if i give to people and i keep sorta cute jars for home canning.

    as for the giving back, i don’t think i’ve ever gotten any back!

  • I must admit that I get so excited about the results of my effort that I tend to give away more than I keep. I have begun scouring estate sales for canning jars to reduce the expense and now instruct the recipient of my efforts that if they return the jar and ring, I will keep them in the list of those I share future batches with. If I never see the jar/ring again, they will miss out on future goodness or I will give them the option of paying for the jars they didn’t return.
    I figure I have to keep my cost down so I can do what I love and those who benefit from it should help me in this area.

  • Kim W – Rings are reusable, but the lids are not. When a lid is sealed it forms an indent on the rubbery part around the edge. If you try to reuse a lid, that rubbery part might be all bent out of shape and lose it’s ability to seal. Rings, however, can be used multiple times. Sometimes they get bent out of shape, but you can totally use them over and over until they are unworkable.

  • I rarely get jars back and this is an excellent idea. I think just the smallest bit of education that these jars are different from the ones at the grocery store and cost more too might go a long ways in behavior change. I think we’ve all gotten used to the jars being a negligible portion of the cost of sauce or jelly at the store and we don’t realize that canning jars are different.

    Thanks so much for this post!

  • Og my I can’t tell you how many jars I have given away filled with goodies never to be seen again. And guess what?? I am the only person I know that does any canning so I have never been gifted with a canning jar of yumminess.

  • when i give away home canned food, which i love to do, i am shamelessly uptight. i lay heavy on the fact that the food MUST be eaten, if they don’t like it, no offense whatsoever, please return it to me to polish off. i always ask that my jars be returned. friends they may be, but they can buy drinking glasses and pen holders at the thrift store for 25 cents a piece. i need my jars for higher purposes.
    re: the former issue. i myself have returned a jar of jam to a friend when i didn’t like it. and i have to admit, even though she was a friend and i knew deep down she would understand and appreciate it, it felt hopelessly rude….
    oh well. so it goes!

  • I completely agree. I always ask my recipients to recycle the jars back to me. Great blog!!

    P.S. I can’t wait to try the strawberry rhubarb jam.. yum

  • I think one of our lovely creative and crafty friends here needs to create a beautiful tag we can attach to the jar educating our recipients. Alas, I am not particularly graphically crafty. Anyone? Anyone?

  • Seriously, that little squatting jar in your picture? What’s it called and where can I get some?
    I re-use lids as “casual” sealers for stuff I keep in the fridge, or if I’m transporting soup in my lunch – they work fine for any use you would use Tupperware for, but not for long term storage of food or reuse in canning.
    Rings should not be reused after they start to rust – they may lead to damage of jars if they rust onto the glass.
    Jars are ready to recycle when they develope chips on the lip of the jar. Jars should never be used for canning if the lip has a chip as they will not seal.
    When returning jars to the gifter, it’s nice to include a little something, a flower, a handmade gift, a piece of candy, so the jar does not go back empty. It’s a nice thank you and encourages repeat gifting. And, of course, the jar should be clean.

  • My mother taught me that you should always return something you’ve borrowed (food container, canning jar, gift bag, etc.) filled — so I return people’s canning jars with some concoction of my own in them. It feels that the universe is in balance when I do that.

  • I verbally request the jars back when giving the items. Family always complies gladly. Neighbors, I have found, don’t get it. No more pesto for them! And everyone knows that I’ll take any canning jar from anyone at anytime. I have no shame about that.

  • I really like the tag idea other readers have put forward. I try to keep it lighthearted when I give my coworkers their Christmas jam and ask for the jar back. One of my coworkers actually apologized when his daughter adopted the empty half-pint as a drinking glass! Other uses for Mason jars include candle holders and vases, which were the centerpieces at my wedding.

  • How much do you pay for a jar in a 2nd hand shop? I spotted some quart size jars that just looked like average Ball jars to me that were priced at $1/jar. That seemed high to me, but I’m not an expert.

  • Wow – did this topic elicit responses or what?!!!
    I used to give away more goodies than I do now. If I didn’t hear a comment on my gift like wow, that was delicious marmalade – ixnay, no more goodies for you! It’s hard work and expensive from an equipment/labor standpoint and I am more possessive now of my products AND I make things more for my own use and Fair entry. My list of people that get canned items is down to about five and they generally return jars. People that I batch can with i.e. tomatoes, peaches usually bring their own jars on canning day.
    I too look for jars at estate and garage sales and have a nice collection of the older ones, including the blue, which are so beautiful. We love marbles in the old jars in a window sill.

  • I totally agree with these rules! I have already learned the “can a few things in jars you don’t care about” lesson the hard way, and so I have two piles: the ones I love and the ones that are free to disappear. I would add one thing to your list of rules, though. If it the recipient isn’t going to reuse the jar, and it isn’t practical to return it, PLEASE donate it! I have started buying my jars at charity shops, and I would love to know that the ones that get away end up back in that cycle. 🙂

  • hi marisa,

    heard you on lelo’s radio show. i am “the marie” who asked about coffee grounds !!

    i have heard that it is not good to use jars from thrift stores because there could be bacteria. that bacteria is not killed by the sterilization before filling. not even sure where i heard this. have you ever heard this ?? what is your opinion ??

    loved your interview on lelo’s show.

    best wishes, marie

  • I have a “jar fairy” in my apt.
    An elderly lady who lives down the hall from me knows that I love to make jams & jellies so every once in awhile I will arrive home and find one or two empty jars next to my door.
    One of the nicest gifts I enjoy receiving.
    But alas, I have handed out more jars than I have received back.
    Not exactly cost effective but I just can’t help myself and I continue to share.

  • Wow. I guess I’m old-school. I give and receive canned goods and no one gives empty jars back – it’s just assumed that the giving and receiving equals out.
    My mother and mother in law return jars to me because they don’t can anymore and don’t have any use for the jars. But I’ve never asked for jars back and I usually count on buying a few flats of new jars every canning season.
    I never thought about what non-canners would do with the empties. So I’ll consider that next time I give canned gifts because I would hate for the jars to be tossed when I would gladly use them again.
    Seriously, my mind is still bending about this.

  • I also have a policy that if someone returns an empty jar I’ll replace it with a full one. Once someone gets a second jar for just giving me the empty back they always return them.

    I also have some jars I love that never get given away or sometimes go to my mom. It’s funny how you love certain jars isn’t it?

  • Ugh! I sent four jars of pickles and chutney to my parents’ beach house for Thanksgiving and after dinner, they tried to recycle my jars. I was so mad!

  • I don’t think I have ever—EVER—had a canning jar returned to me. Seriously.

    I might have to start enforcing the rules around here!

    Great post. Thanks for spelling it all out.

  • over the years i’ve had different relationships with my jars: when handing a jar over i usually say that the recipient will be sure to get a refill if i get the jar back. that works sometimes and not others. there are people that always give me jars back and people that never give them back yet i continue to give them my homemade goodies.

    i’ve been through getting stressed about wanting the jars back, because i’ll give good jars, wecks, etc…but then finally i’ve come to realize it’s about the giving. those people who don’t give jars back give back [to me] in other ways, or maybe they really just don’t get it. but i’ve found that releasing my desire to hold on to jars has deepened the joy of giving for me. …and the jars will always come back around one way or another. it’s karma!

  • I’m southern and the rule of thumb is “return the jar the same way you got it (full)”- that being said, I’ve gotten jars of soup, pasta sauce, with a bag of homemade cookies taped to it and with a box of lids on top (what a great idea?!- more refills for you!). I also have a friend who runs estate sales- anytime she finds jars in good shape, she keeps them aside and calls me whenever she gets a box full- once a year or so, I have a new supply!
    The best “returns” I ever got were from a co-worker. Her daughter had been collecting jars all year to make candles for xmas gifts. I don’t know what her friends got that year, but on December 27th, I had a huge box of 37 jars- because Anne knew I wouldn’t leave them sitting in my mother’s garage all year!

  • 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.

  • I totally agree with your rules, though I never expect to get any of my jars back if I give them to anyone. I love the old antique canning jars, and now that I’ve learned some tips on how to identify what era they’re from I love to look for them at yard sales and flea markets. I try to plan my canning so that I make enough batches for friends/family – and I only give to those I know who will enjoy & appreciate it!

  • I only have one friend who cans- and she just “can” jam by turning the jars over to make a seal. She LOVES my pickles but I have never gotten a jar back from that family. I know they have kids and will probably make jam in the jars, or the kids will use them, so I haven’t worried too much about it. But it is a bit funny when she asks for specific things!
    Other than her I don’t know anyone else who cans, at all. I have mentioned to a couple of close friends who have asked for specific things to return the jars, but nothing yet. And no one else has ever returned a jar to me. Ever. When I first started canning I bought some of those super fancy jars, thinking they were for gifts. Well, after not getting a couple back I have rethought this plan! You guys a right, keep the jars you are attached to. Now I just put a pretty label on a plain jar for gifts.
    Love the post.

  • 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!

  • 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”.

  • 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

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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! 🙂

  • 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?

  • 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! 😉

  • 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…

    1. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    1. 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).

  • Came to this site because I turned the jar of brandy my aunt gave us into a cup and he made me feel really bad for not knowing I was supposed to return the jar. Would they want it back still even without the lid?.
    I’m sorry I sinned in the canning community

  • Does anyone have a a cute sticker or label asking to return the jar? I usually include a note to “trade in” the empties for full jars of goodies. But would love something cute that is easy to print and stick.

  • I realize most people who read this blog are canners so you’re all pretty much on the same page, but I hope you realize that if someone has never canned or didn’t grow up in a home where canning took place, they probably have no idea about this “unspoken” etiquette of giving back the jars. Don’t assume your recipients just somehow know without ever being told — ask for the jars back or have it written on the label.

  • When I start canning, I ask around to see who’s got the types of jars that I need – quart and pint sized jars for tomatoes, corn, and chow-chow (a Southern type of kimchi, if you will) and I use the smaller 8 ounce jars for jams and jellies. I don’t mind sharing, I just don’t like it when someone “gives” me jars and then always expects a quart of tomatoes and a jar of jam in return. Canning is very time time consuming and labor intensive and the whole reason for canning is to use what you get from your garden and save money on groceries. Does anyone else feel this way?

    1. I agree that anyone who gives you jars shouldn’t expect anything in return (and honestly, anyone who expects a quart of tomatoes has lost their mind. Those are too much work and too precious to be shared). I do make an assortment of jams each year that I share with friends/family/neighbors, but that is my choice.

  • Thank you for the article! After a season or 2 I realized that jars do not necessarily get returned so I do the same as you, keep the jars that I don’t want to part with and give away the new ones. I give the people that do return jars a full one right away 😀