Canning is a popular way to preserve foods for longer-term storage. When done properly, canning allows you to enjoy fruits, vegetables, soups, broths, and more for months after harvest. An important part of the canning process is selecting the right jars or bottles to use. Not all bottles are suitable for canning, as they need to be able to withstand high heat and create a vacuum seal. This article will discuss the most common bottle options for canning, including pros and cons of each.
Mason jars are a favorite choice for canning. These jars are designed specifically for home canning purposes. Mason jars are made from heat-tempered glass to allow them to withstand high temperatures during processing. They come in a variety of sizes, from 4 oz to quart jars, to accommodate different food items. Mason jar lids have a sealing compound that lets you create a vacuum seal during canning.
Some benefits of using Mason jars include:
- Designed specifically for home canning
- Durable heat-tempered glass
- Lids create vacuum seal
- Wide range of sizes available
- Easy to find in stores or online
- Relatively affordable compared to other jar options
Potential drawbacks to Mason jars include:
- Not usable with all commercial canning equipment
- Seals may fail more often than commercial jars
- Temperature fluctuations can cause seal failures
- Glass jars breakable if dropped
Commercial Canning Jars
Another option is to use commercial-grade canning jars produced specifically for home canning. These are similar to Mason jars but are made with thicker, more durable glass. Major brands of home canning jars include Kerr and Ball. Benefits of commercial canning jars include:
- Designed for home canning
- Thicker glass than Mason jars
- Lids create vacuum seal
- Range of sizes from 4 oz to quarts
- Often usable with commercial canning equipment
- Seals may hold up better than Mason jars
Potential cons of commercial jars are:
- More expensive than Mason jars
- Seals can still fail
- Temperature fluctuations can cause seal failures
- Glass still breakable if dropped
Some people consider using mayonnaise or other food jars for canning purposes. However, this is generally not recommended by canning experts. Key downsides to using mayonnaise jars include:
- Not designed to withstand high heat of canning process
- Glass may be thinner and weaker
- Lack vacuum seals for keeping out air
- Metal lids can corrode from acidity in foods
- Hard to get a complete seal
- High risk of seal failure and food spoilage
While mayonnaise and other food jars may seem like economical options, the risks make them unsuitable choices for canning. It’s best to invest in proper Mason jars or commercial canning jars.
Some people may wonder if plastic soda or water bottles can be used for canning. However, this is not recommended, for several key reasons:
- Plastic cannot withstand boiling water bath or pressure canning
- Cannot create vacuum seal
- Plastic may degrade over time and leach chemicals
- Screw tops are unlikely to seal adequately
- High risk of food spoilage and foodborne illness
While soda bottles may seem convenient, the risks outweigh any potential benefits. Glass Mason jars or commercial canning jars are far better options in terms of safety and creating a good seal.
Small jam jars are sometimes used for jellies, jams, sauces, and pickles. Benefits of using jam jars include:
- Designed for preserving fruit spreads and condiments
- Lids or caps create seals
- Small sizes good for gifts or using small batches
- Affordable and reusable if seals hold
However, there are some downsides to consider with jam jars:
- May not withstand pressure canning (best for water bath canning)
- Seals can fail more easily than canning jar lids
- Glass may be thinner and more breakable
- Limiting on size – only up to 12 oz capacity typically
Jam jars can work in some cases but are not ideal for all foods or canning methods. Mason jars give you more versatility.
Some people consider reusing beer bottles for canning. However, this carries significant risks:
- Glass is often thinner than canning jars
- Cannot create a vacuum seal
- Metal caps can corrode
- Difficult to fully sanitize and remove beer residue
- Bottleneck shape hard to fill, clean, and cap
- High likelihood of seal failure and spoilage
While beer bottles seem convenient, they should be avoided for canning purposes due to their shape and lack of proper lids.
Like beer bottles, reusing wine bottles is not the best choice for canning:
- Glass is thinner and weaker than canning jars
- No vacuum seal; corks provide poor seal
- Corks can harbor bacteria
- Difficult to fully sanitize and remove wine residue
- Round shape makes filling, headspace, and capping difficult
- High risk of food spoilage
Wine bottles are meant to hold wine for short-term storage, not canned foods. Go with tried-and-true Mason jars or commercial canning jars for best results.
Square Plastic Containers
Some plastic containers like TakeAlongs have straight sides and rubber seals or gaskets in the lid. However, it’s best not to use these for pressure canning or boiling water bath canning methods. Downsides include:
- Plastic deforms under high heat of canners
- Cannot properly seal to create vacuum effect
- Plastic can degrade over time and leach chemicals
- Risk of toxins in plastic leaching into food
- May get food spoilage and mold growth
For canning non-acidic vegetables, meats, soups, etc. the high heat of pressure canning breaks down plastics. Even for boiling water bath canning of jams, the heat exposure can warp and degrade plastic. Glass Mason jars are best.
Plastic Squeeze Bottles
Plastic condiment squeeze bottles, like those used for ketchup, mustard, or honey, are not suitable for any form of canning. Key reasons to avoid include:
- Plastic cannot withstand heat of canning processes
- Screw on caps do not seal adequately
- Squeeze bottles prone to warping and deforming
- Plastic can degrade and leach chemicals into food over time
- No way to sanitize entirely or inspect seals
- High risk of food spoilage and bacterial growth
Squeeze bottles are designed for short-term storage of shelf-stable condiments, not canning. Do not attempt to use them for preserving homemade foods through pressure canning or boiling water bath canning.
Glass Spice Jars
Small glass spice jars are sometimes used for jams, jellies, and pickled items. Potential benefits include:
- Designed to hold dry goods or wet ingredients
- Lids can create seals
- Affordable and reusable if lids seal well
- Come in small sizes good for gifts
However, there are also some significant limitations:
- Not made to withstand high heat of canners
- Thinner glass than Mason jars
- No way to test seals or vacuum
- Metal lids can corrode over time
- Higher seal failure risk than canning jars
If considering spice jars, do careful checks for defects, only use for water bath canning, and monitor closely for signs of spoilage. Mason jars are a safer choice.
Baby Food Jars
Baby food often comes in small glass jars with lids. While these are occasionally reused for jams or jelly:
- Glass is thin and may not withstand canning heat
- Metal lids corrode and seals fail easily
- No way to test seal or vacuum
- Often have wider openings that are hard to fill
- No proper bands to secure lids
- High risk of inadequate seals and spoilage
It’s best to purchase proper 4 oz Mason jars or commercial canning jars rather than trying to reuse baby food jars. The results will be much more consistent and safe.
Considerations When Selecting Bottles
When deciding what bottles to use for canning, keep these key considerations in mind:
- Intended use – What foods do you want to can and in what quantities? This will dictate ideal jar sizes.
- Canning method – Boiling water bath or pressure canner? The bottle must withstand the heat method being used.
- Sealability – Does it have a vacuum seal lid? This is crucial for preventing spoilage.
- Durability – Is the bottle made from glass thick enough to resist breaks and cracks?
- Reusability – Will the seals/lids hold up to repeated canning uses over time?
- Safety – Is the bottle material and seal known to be safe for canning?
- Cost – How affordable are the jars and lids?
Thinking through these key factors can help guide you to make the smartest and safest bottle selection for your canning needs.
Recommended Bottles for Canning
Based on safety, reusability, and effectiveness, these are the bottle options recommended by canning experts:
For All Canning Methods:
- Mason jars – designed for home canning; reusable
- Commercial canning jars – Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest; reusable
For Boiling Water Bath Canning Only:
- Jam jars – for jams, jellies, pickled items; reusable if handled carefully
- Glass spice jars – for jellies, sauces; not as durable long-term
- Mayonnaise jars
- Soda or plastic bottles
- Beer bottles
- Wine bottles
- Plastic containers or squeeze bottles
- Baby food jars
Sticking to Mason jars or commercial canning jars provides you with the best seal, durability, and long-term safety. Canning newbies may want to start with Mason jars until they gain experience with best practices.
Matching Jar Size to Food Item
Selecting the right size jar for the food you want to can is important. Here are typical uses for different canning jar sizes:
|4 oz (half pint)
|Jams, jellies, sauces, condiments
|8 oz (half pint)
|Salsa, pie fillings, sauces, seasoned spreads
|12 oz (pint)
|Sauces, pie fillings, vegetables, pickles
|16 oz (pint)
|Vegetables, pickles, fruits, tomatoes, relishes
|24 oz (quart)
|Vegetables, fruits, salsas, tomatoes, juices, broths, soups
|32 oz (quart)
|Vegetables, fruits, juices, broths, soups, shredded meats
Consider your planned food volumes and recipe yields, and how much headspace is needed for the canning method. This will help determine the ideal jar size for each item you want to preserve.
How Many Jars and Lids to Purchase
When buying canning jars and lids, use this general guidance on numbers to purchase:
- 24-48 jars to start out as a beginning canner
- Combine wide-mouth and regular mouth jars
- Split jars evenly between pint (16 oz) and quart (32 oz) sizes
- Buy 10-20% more lids than jars annually
- Lids are single-use; jars can be reused
- Buy more jars and lids each year as skills improve
Having 2-3 dozen jars of different sizes gives flexibility when learning. Budgeting 10-20% extra lids accounts for any seal failures or damage. Reuse jars annually but use new lids each time for a tight seal. Expand your supply as your canning skills grow.
Where to Buy Canning Jars and Lids
Reliable places to purchase canning jars, lids, and accessories include:
- Big box stores – Walmart, Target, Kmart
- Hardware stores – Ace Hardware, True Value
- Grocery stores – Kroger, Safeway, etc.
- Online – Amazon, Lehman’s, Ace Hardware
- Specialty canning sites – Fillmore Container, Fresh Preserving
- Local kitchen stores – Sur La Table, Bed Bath & Beyond
Look for reputable, American-made brands like Ball, Kerr, and Golden Harvest. Avoid antique jars or jars with zinc lids – purchase new supplies. Buy from stores with high product turnover for best jar/lid quality.
Canning Jar/Lid Costs
Here are typical price ranges for canning jars and lids:
|Typical per-unit cost
|Half pint jar
|$1.00 – $1.50
|$1.25 – $2.00