Upcycle jars without buying yet another product to upcycle jars.
I am a crazy jar lady. (And a crazy cat lady, but this post is about jars…)
I had no idea when I went plastic-free in 2011 that I would develop a jar obsession. I can’t hoard enough jars, although I won’t settle for just any jar I can get my hands on (a good rule to follow for just about everything in life). I use jars for buying food, storing food, fermenting food, packing food for lunch, eating food…
Neighbors give me jars (I have a reputation) and I occasionally score nice ones rummaging through the recycling bins where I live. Over the course of the summer, my daughter MK brought me home six 1/2-gallon jars from the tapas restaurant where she worked.
But almost all of these jars have labels stuck to them. If you are a fellow jar connoisseur, you have no doubt found that the biggest and best jars had once housed something pickled. In other words, the lids smell. Both problems have easy solutions.
Here’s how you get the labels off
1. Try water
If you are lucky, you can soak the jars in water for several hours and the labels will peel right off in one go. I find this technique works only occasionally.
2. If water doesn’t work, use oil
I usually just start with oil and skip the water. Even after soaking in water, inevitably some of the label remains and oil will help remove that. I happened to have a bit of olive oil that had gone rancid, so I used that for the jars in this post. I was happy to find a purpose for it.
Smear the label with oil and wait overnight. Peel off what you can. You may need to reapply more oil and repeat.
In the top left pic, I have just applied oil to the label. I took the middle picture the next day. You can see how the oil has seeped in behind the label over time, where it has broken down the glue. At that point, the label came off completely but left behind some glue residue, as seen in the right.
The back label required a couple of coats. After the oil has soaked through the paper (in the pic on the right), peel the label off.
3. Remove sticky residue
A razor blade or utility knife works really well to remove sticky residue. I use one of my old lames (pictured below) that I had made for scoring sourdough bread. If you don’t have a knife, you can scrub it off with steel wool or a copper scrubber. After I remove as much gunk as possible with a blade, I scrub the rest off with my trusty baking soda.
4. Smelly lids—a tip worth the price of admission
You can easily remove the pickle (or other) smell from a glass jar simply by washing it. This doesn’t work for lids.
I have tried a few techniques to remove stubborn smells from jar lids. I have soaked them for several hours on low heat in my slow cooker filled with baking soda and water—with so-so results. Soaking them in a dish filled with vinegar and baking soda works better.
But I have found that the best and easiest way to get the smell out of the lids is…
…to put them underside up in the sun for several hours. I was amazed the first time I tried this. It works so well and uses no energy or resources.
Upcycled jars at work
Below are a few cleaned-up 1/2-gallon jars storing some kitchen utensils (left), wedding cookies (middle) and homemade granola. I hope MK works at the restaurant again next summer 😉 I could use more of these.