How to De-Stink Glass Jars

Pile of glass jars in a basket

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Wondering how to get that vinegary smell out of an old jar? A solution is at hand!

“When you reduce your waste, you increase your jar consumption. Many of us don’t know how to stop collecting jars and need a 12-step program.” This amusing quote comes from Anne-Marie Bonneau, a.k.a. the Zero Waste Chef, and anyone who has ever tried to reduce kitchen waste at home will be able to relate to her jar addiction.

As soon as you catch on to zero waste living, you won't be able to stop collecting jars. They are the most useful thing to keep on hand, perfect for transporting coffee, storing spices and dry goods, freezing berries, shaking a salad dressing or protein shake, growing a sourdough starter, and packing leftovers for lunch. You name it and a jar can probably do it.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of glass jars is that you can get them anywhere for free. Dig through the recycling bin, put the word out to your friends, ask restaurants for their empties. The downside is that used jars sometimes come with the scent of the food they once held, particularly if it was pickled. It only takes a thorough cleaning, however, to freshen them up and make them as good as new. Here's how to do that.

The glass jar:

Start with a wash in hot soapy water. If that doesn't work, add a spoonful of salt and shake it up. The salt should absorb residual odors. Coffee grounds apparently work as well. Another intriguing tip is to use mustard. Drop a spoonful of prepared yellow mustard in the bottom or use mustard powder. Add hot water, swirl around, and dump. After washing, the smell should be gone. Always store jars without lids to air out.

The label:

Avoid putting in the dishwasher, as a soggy label can clog it. Soak the jar in hot water to see if that works or simmer in a pot of boiling water for several minutes. Alternatively, fill the jar with boiling water and let the heat unstick the label.

If that doesn't work, rub oil over the label and let sit overnight. (Any oily substance can work, such as mayonnaise or peanut butter.) A post on Food52 suggests combining these two steps, by applying oil to the label, pouring warm water over, and leaving several hours. Peel label off slowly and use a scouring pad to scrub beneath it as you go. Bonneau recommends a razor blade, utility knife, steel wool, or copper scrubber. Baking soda is a good final touch to remove residue.

NOTE: Many online commenters recommend strong chemicals like Goo Be Gone, WD-40, TSP, and lighter fluid to remove labels, but when it comes to jars that will be used to store food, it is safer to stick with more natural and edible cleaning ingredients.


The food smell does not leave lids as easily as it does glass. You can try washing in hot soapy water, sprinkling with baking soda, and soaking in vinegar, but Bonneau says the most effective method is the simplest: set them outside in direct sunlight. Not only will it kill the smell, but it will bleach them white again. Like the jars, always store the lids apart so they can air out between uses.