5 Places to Find Free or Cheap Mason Jars
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.
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!