Before: Glue, gunk, and label residue that just won’t budge.
Aside from thrift shopping, one of the best and most affordable ways to acquire glass jars for storage in your pantry, fridge, or anywhere else around the house is to simply reuse a glass jar from the grocery store. This works especially well for those of us who don’t have access to everything in bulk (package free) or who don’t make all our food from scratch. Sure, the jars won’t all match or be the same size. But zero waste isn’t focused on aesthetic perfection in the home. It’s about using what we already own to protect our Earth and her inhabitants.
Whether it’s a jar from pasta sauce or salsa or tahini, reusing a glass jar at home is far more sustainable than tossing it in the recycling bin. Many recycling facilities in the U.S. don’t turn recycled glass back into new glass jars or bottles. They grind the glass into small pieces and use it as landfill top cover to prevent the lighter pieces of trash from blowing away. This is considered ‘recycling’ but we all know that’s a serious case of green washing. Don’t even get me started on this. Glass has an infinite recycling life cycle and it is a beautiful material. And yet, it is used to maintain our landfills?!*Fuming* Ahhh, I said don’t get me started!
So, you have glass jars at home that you want to reuse. Maybe you’re like me and you want all labels removed immediately. Done is done. Or maybe you leave the labels on for as long as possible until they start to peel and fade because you don’t want to deal with removing the bits of glue and paper that seem to have fused to the glass.
Well, I’ve been doing research at home. Testing different methods. Cursing the brands that seem to use plastic and cement as labels. Sometimes you get lucky and you can peel a label off cleanly, no help needed. This is the unicorn of jar labels. Other times… well, that’s why this post exists!
A newly discovered trick, the freezer is now my go-to method for removing labels. Just stick the whole jar in the freezer for 12+ hours. (I actually don’t know how many hours is the minimum time required…just leave the jar in there for a while.) The cold air will seal the label and the glue/ adhesive together, making it much easier to peel the label off without it tearing or leaving behind a lot of residue. If you have some paper or glue left behind, place the jar in a bowl or pot and pour hot or boiling water over the jar. Let the jar soak for a few minutes and then wipe off remaining glue with your hands, a rag, or a metal scrubby. The extra-hot water against the ice-cold glass is another trick that helps dissolve the glue. Finish up my letting the water cool and strain it to remove any label or glue pieces. Then reuse the water for your plants! A circular hack.
The obvious hack and by far the most common method, sometimes all a label needs is water and a little elbow grease. But warm water alone usually doesn’t cut it. Boiling water and soap is the secret to this hack. The boiling water and soap together dissolve the glue better than warm water alone. Put your jars in a large bowl with a few squirts of dish soap. Heat water on the stove or in an electric kettle, then pour it directly onto the jars. You want enough water to cover the jars. Let them soak for a few minutes while the water cools, then use your desired tool(s) to remove the label and the glue. Dish brush, rag, non-serrated butter knife, or metal scrubby all are good kitchen items to remove stubborn labels or adhesives. Reuse the soapy water for washing other dishes!
If you don’t have a freezer, don’t have enough time to freeze a jar before you want to use it, or soap + boiling water aren’t cutting it, go for oil. Saturate the entire label in an oil of your choice: I usually go for canola oil, olive oil, or a bit of crunchy peanut butter. (The grit of the peanuts helps!) Other oils that help to cut through adhesives are essential oils: try 10 – 20 drops of lemon or orange essential oil. Leave your oil of choice on the label for 30 minutes or longer. The longer you can wait, the better chance you’ll have of the label coming off cleanly. Remove the the label slowly. Tackle residual pieces of glue/ adhesive by rubbing them with more oil using your hands. For extra tough spots that wont budge, fill a bowl with hot water and soaking the jar for a few minutes. Again, use your desired tool(s) to remove the label and the glue. I can’t think of a method to reuse oily water, any ideas?
I used all three methods to get the glue and labels off of the four jars in the pictures. But patience and experimentation paid off! I keep one at the office, one in my car, and the other two in my kitchen for packing lunches.
After: The jars are sparkling clean and ready for a new life!