5 Places to Find Free or Cheap Mason Jars

by Linsey Knerl on 19 June 2013 8 comments

It's summer, which means gardeners across the country will be looking for places to put their extra bounty. If you've taken to canning as a means of preserving your harvest, you understand that the number of jars, lids, and rings you'll need to put away a significant amount of food stores can number the hundreds, and canning jars (especially the brand name "Mason" jars) aren't cheap! Fortunately, you don't have to buy new jars to can your bounty — a used jar works just as well. (See also: 7 Ways to Make Use of Sub-Par Produce)

What to Look for in a Used Jar

While older canning jars are safe to use for food integrity, those that are weak may result in a mess when you attempt to bring them to temperature or during the cooling cycle. Toss out anything that's in less than perfect condition, but remember that there is a market for antique glass jars in any condition.

In general, your used jars should be:

  • Free of nicks, cracks, and chips (especially around the mouth of the jar)
  • Free of bubbles or "thin" places in the glass
  • Genuine canning jars (don't try to recycle an old mayo jar, for example)

Now that you know what to look for, here are the places I've found canning jars over the years for almost nothing!

1. Garage Sales

Depending on what kind of sale you attend, the jars will either be premium-priced or dirt cheap. Usually you can find brand name canning jars tucked among the miscellaneous glassware, and, sometimes, the garage sale holders will be happy to part with a large number of jars for free, if you buy other items. (I would, on the other hand, avoid thrift stores. They have seemed to sense the market for using canning jars as craft and gift staples and have jacked up prices accordingly.)

2. Cellars and Basements of Old Homes

We have lived in no less than five homes during my 11 year marriage to my husband, and every home has had its "skeletons in the basement." Most of these skeletons included loads of papers, dust, and trash, but they also included Mason jars! If you rent your home, ask your landlord if you can clean up the cellar or basement and keep what you find. If you own your home — it's yours for the taking!

The older the home, the more unique the jars you'll find. Don't forget about root cellars and bomb shelters. These often served solely as food storage rooms, and many housewives of the time kept boxes of new jars in with the prepared foods.

3. The Grocery Store

I don't recommend buying from the new canning aisles of your retailer if you're looking to save big bucks. I can say that there are a few select store brands of salsa and spaghetti sauce that stores like Walmart carry that are packaged in 100% genuine, Mason branded jars. You'll still need to invest in rings and lids to use these jars, but you should be using new every year, anyway. If you buy these items regularly, just remember to wash your jars and not throw them out. It's like getting a free Mason jar with each spaghetti dinner!

(Note: Look for the "Mason" logo on any jar before using it as a canning jar. Regular pantry staple jars are not of the same quality.)

4. Your Cupboards

If you've just gotten into the trend of canning, chances are good that you haven't been paying attention to the glassware you've collected over the years. Since more and more gifts are coming in the form of "jars," you may find that you've already received cakes, baking mixes, and even candles in genuine brand-name canning jars.

5. Facebook

I've already shared how Facebook can be a treasure-trove of reasonably priced used items, and since canning jars are expensive to ship, it's my go-to destination for jars that neighbors and friends are getting rid of. Many times, I'll see that boomer kids are cleaning out the homes of their recently departed parents, and they are anxious to clear the homes of all clutter before they put the homes up for sale. This older generation was known for canning, so be on the lookout for jars and supplies that you can buy at a good price. Want to show your appreciation? You may want to offer some jams and jellies in exchange for jars you receive for free.

Perhaps the best tip I can recommend for buying new jars is to buy off-season. Now is not the time for that, but, if you can hold out until after the garden harvest, you may find some on clearance at your local farm supply or organic foods market.

Where do you look for cheap or used canning jars? Share your secrets with us in comments!

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Guest's picture

I love old fashion jars. There is something so cool about them. I've never been able to pinpoint why but I think it goes with the whole antique idea. My great-grandma use to stash hundreds of jars in her basement food cellar. I never understood why growing up but I do now. Reading about jars always brings back fond memories and that musty smell of the basement.

Linsey Knerl's picture

We have lived in so many old homes with these "treasures" to be discovered. It's such a fun piece of history!

Guest's picture
Guest

These are awesome tips! I have done SO many Mason jar crafts in the past. Great info!

Guest's picture

I always end up buying new ones for parties I throw just because I usually need a bunch at once. But then I always end up using them after to send food home with people. I can't seem to hang on to them! I have found some at thrift stores too. These are great tips for what to look for in a used jar! Thank you!

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Jill

I LOVE mason jars and use them for everything. Storage, canning, presents, dishes, decor. I would love to find some cheap ones out there.

Guest's picture

My wife uses mason jars for a variety of things – as a mug to take to work, to hold flowers in, or to store some coffee cold brew! There are so many uses for mason jars, it kind of boggles the mind.

Guest's picture

The Atlas mason jars that Classico is sold in have changed design and now feature a smaller lid. I'm not sure you can actually can with them anymore.

Guest's picture
GuestNita

Jenny,

Try the sites for Ball, Kerr and other canning jars or home stores, which I believe sell two or three sizes of canning lids and rings to fit jars.

Nita in Michigan