As anyone who cans yearly can tell you, keeping yourself well-stocked with canning jars is a never-ending struggle. Jars break or chip from being used year after year. And some might accidentally make their way into the recycling bin.
If you share your bounty with friends and family, you already know how hard it is to get those jars back. I happily share what I can with friends and family. But before I release that jar of precious preserves into their hands, it comes with the plea of, “Please, please, please make sure I get my jar back when you’re finished.”
I have a few family members who no longer get canned goodies from me. They’ve been blacklisted because I never get my jars back from them. What can I say, I play hardball when it comes to my jars.
When canning season arrives, you need to make sure you have enough jars to preserve all of that hard gardening work you’ve done. Not having enough jars is the number one canning mistake, according to Cheryl in her article here.
Stocking up on canning jars and equipment shouldn’t be seasonal, in my opinion.
For myself, and many diehard canners, stocking up happens all year long. We’re always on the hunt for a bargain. And it’s easier to spread out the cost throughout the year. No one wants to buy all their jars all at once when the canning season gets started.
We’ll talk more about this later. First, let’s take a look at the best places to find canning jars, both new and used.
New Canning Jars
For some folks, purchasing new jars is the only way to go. You know the jars haven’t been used for anything questionable. You can count on them being unbroken and unchipped, or if a jar is unusable, you know you can get a refund or a new case. Each case comes ready with lids and bands. And if you’re stockpiling for the canning season, they come boxed and wrapped, making them easy to stack until you’re ready to use them.
Even if you decide to use only new jars, finding them at the best price is always important.
The general consensus is that Walmart has the best everyday prices for Ball and Kerr mason jars, lids, and bands. And personally, I have found this to be true. I can always count on Walmart to have the best price.
As of this writing, a case (one dozen) wide-mouth pint jars, with lids and bands, is $10.43, which breaks down to .86 cents apiece. That’s not too shabby.
And it’s this price that I compare all of my other canning jar purchases to, remembering that this price also includes a band and a lid. This is the key to getting the best deal – find the best everyday price for the types of jars you’re looking for and use that price to compare when you’re shopping elsewhere.
For myself, and most of the united states, the best deal happens to be at Walmart. Walmart stocks canning supplies year-round too, making it easy to grab a case whenever you’re in the store.
Target is another good option when it comes to reasonable prices for canning supplies. And if you have a Target Redcard, you save 5%. They will also price match with Walmart. If Target is closer to you than Wallyworld, always be sure to ask them to match that price.
If you’re going to build up your canning jar inventory over the year slowly, you can’t beat a Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off one item coupon. As a rule, I don’t buy canning jars at BB&B unless I’ve got one of those coupons.
The best part is you can stack the coupons. Ask friends and family for their coupons if they aren’t going to use them, and buy several cases at once.
Even if you pop in once a month, coupon in hand, during the off-season, you’ll be well-stocked come summertime.
4. Grocery Stores
Most grocery stores don’t keep canning supplies in stock year-round, but there are a few chains that do. Buying them out of season usually means they’re a little spendy, though.
However, check your local grocery store after the canning season is over, especially if they don’t generally carry canning supplies throughout the year. You can get some great discounts when they’re trying to move product to make room for more seasonal inventory.
5. Hardware Stores
Much like grocery stores, hardware stores can be a good option during the canning season, and immediately after for the sales and discounted jars.
I like to check hardware stores when I’m desperate for a specific size, and I can’t find them in my usual haunts. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little extra, knowing I can walk in, get the jars I want, and head home. There’s nothing worse than running out of jars in the middle of putting something up.
Used Canning Jars
For some folks, picking up used jars is the way to go.
But there are a few things to keep in mind when sourcing used jars. You need to check them over thoroughly to look for cracks and chips. And often, folks will throw in the odd mayonnaise or peanut butter jar, not realizing it’s not a canning jar.
More importantly, you need to know how the canning jars were used.
It’s not uncommon for people to store chemicals in canning jars out in their garage or workshop. Some chemicals can’t be cleaned with simple soap and water, and you certainly don’t want to be putting food in those jars.
You won’t have access to that kind of information in some cases, say if you purchase used jars at a thrift store. It’s up to you whether or not you wish to take that risk.
If you’re purchasing used jars, check them over in person. If you’re buying from someone online, ask for close-up photos of the jars’ mouths, etc.
Most people aren’t out to rip you off. If they’re getting rid of canning jars, it’s more likely they don’t can themselves, so don’t know what to look for or their getting out of the canning and haven’t checked the jars themselves.
When you’re on the hunt for used canning jars, you have to consider that most of these suggestions will be hit or miss.
You’re not going to find canning jars every time. But if you check these places weekly, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for. It just takes a bit of persistence.
Craigslist is definitely a hit or miss option. But it’s one that can lead to spectacular results if you check back regularly and aren’t afraid to haggle. Most people who use Craigslist expect you to ask for a better price anyway; it goes part and parcel with the platform.
This is one where you want to check the jars over in person. If the seller is quite far from you, have them send you pictures of the mouths before you decide to make the drive.
And always inspect the jars when you go to pick them up. It may be necessary to renegotiate the price if it turns out that there are chips/cracks/etc., in several of the jars.
7. Yard Sales
Yard sales, garage sales, porch sales – whatever you call them, they can be a great place to score canning jars. Just be ready to haggle on the price, and point out if the asking price is more than buying new at the store. You’d be surprised how many folks have no idea how much canning jars cost.
If you’re the type of person who regularly stops at these types of sales, put canning jars on your list of things to keep your eye out for. Get family and friends in on the hunt too, if you know they frequent yard sales.
Often communities will have a weekend set aside each summer to have a community yard sale. These are great for canning jars as you can cover a lot of ground without too much driving.
8. Thrift Stores
Thrift stores can be challenging. I often see thrift stores pricing mason jars for obscene amounts, like a $1 a jar. That still leaves you needing to purchase the lid and bands separately. However, if you live in a more rural area where canning is part of everyday life, the prices tend to reflect that. Some chains, like Goodwill, price canning jars relatively cheaply, especially if they get a bunch in all at once.
Check back often if you find decently priced jars at a thrift shop and let them know you’re looking for more. Many times, if you leave your contact information, they’re more than happy to call someone to come get them as they tend to take up a lot of room in a generally smaller retail shop.
9. Estate Sales/Auction
Oh man, if you haven’t been to an estate sale or auction, you’re missing out. Slightly creepy and a little depressing, these sales typically happen right in the home of the deceased. And they can be a goldmine for crafting and canning supplies. You may even luck out and go home with a canner as well as jars.
I went to one estate sale where they were auctioning off the preserves right from the pantry shelves. It was a win-win – you went home with homemade applesauce, peaches, green beans, and pickles, and the jars they came in. If I kicked it with no surviving descendants, I would want to know all of my hard work wouldn’t go to waste. Come on, auctioneer; I worked hard on those peaches; you can get a better price than that!
Most auction houses that specialize in estate sales will list up on their website detailing what’s for sale. Plan to get there early, so you have time to look things over before the bidding starts.
10. Older Relatives, Friends, and Neighbors
It happens to the best of us – there will come a day when each of us looks at all those empty gleaming jars and say, “Nope. Can’t do it anymore.”
When I first got into canning, I received dozens of jars from a family member who could no longer can because of her age. I didn’t have to buy new jars for years, and I always made sure my generous family member got a share of whatever we put up.
Ask around among your family, ask folks at your church. Chances are there’s someone you know with dozens of jars just collecting dust in their basement. And don’t forget them once you’ve put up your harvest for the year. Nothing says thank you or is more appreciated than a gift of homemade food.
11. Just Ask
And of course, there’s nothing better than word of mouth.
Mention that you’re looking for canning jars at every social gathering. Spread the word at church, talk it up at work, tell the gals in your knitting group, post about it on Facebook, tell anyone who will listen that you want canning jars.
And ask frequently, reminding folks once a month that you’re still looking for more jars. Eventually, people will think of you when they find canning jars at a yard sale or finish that last drop of homemade strawberry jam.
Sometimes you’ll get hooked up with the motherload, and sometimes you’ll get canning jars trickling in throughout the year. It’s all worth it come summertime when you find yourself up to your eyeballs in tomatoes that need to be made into sauce.
Eh, It’s Worth a Look
These options are a longshot, but because they’re both online, it’s worth checking regularly. Patience is the name of the game here.
Did you know you can set up detailed searches on eBay and save them? Whenever something new is listed that falls under your saved search parameters, you get an email or text message from eBay.
This is how I slowly collected a full set of my grandmother’s vintage flatware pattern. Patience is a virtue, my friend.
Just be sure to include “local pick up only” in the search filters. You can choose the distance you’re willing to travel – 10, 50, 100 miles.
Set it and forget it. Then when you get a notification, you can decide if it’s worth looking into.
As I said, these options rarely pan out, but when they do, it’s often a large number of jars that’s worth the wait.
This one is under the longshot category mainly because folks rarely give away mason jars for free anymore. But it’s still worth checking occasionally. You may luck out and find someone who wants the darn things gone. And because it’s online, you can check the site frequently without putting in foot traffic.
The One Place I Never Buy Jars
There was a time when you could get jars from Amazon, and the prices were pretty much on par with Walmart and Target. But these days, it’s rare to see those kinds of prices on Amazon.
And what’s more, there are too many dishonest vendors.
I purchased what I thought was a case of 4oz jam jars at the usual price I would pay at Walmart. Two days later, I got my package, which contained two 4oz. jars. I was livid.
I went back to look at the listing, and sure enough, despite their listing photo being a picture of a full case, it noted you were only purchasing two jars in the fine print.
I’m a pretty savvy online shopper and it’s rare that I make a mistake like that. But the actual number of jars was so well hidden that it could only have been intentional to mislead.
A little digging around online revealed that this seems to be par for the course these days. That’s when I washed my hands of Amazon for canning supplies.
Make Jar Collecting a Habit
There are several ways to make sure you have a decent stockpile, ready to go when the garden goes into overdrive.
Buy a case whenever you grocery shop. If you can get a good deal at the grocery store, grab a case with each shopping trip. You’ll be adding an extra $7-$10 per grocery bill, which is very doable, and you’ll most likely have a better chance at getting the sizes you need throughout the year.
Check online once a week at places like eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, or local Facebook sale groups. If you make a habit of checking in regularly, you’re more likely to grab some good finds.
If you turn the search for canning jars into a weekly or monthly habit, rather than waiting until the canning season, you’ll find yourself with plenty of cans on your hands.
And if you’re new to canning, we’ll get you off on the right foot with our Canning 101 – Beginner’s Guide.
Or perhaps you’re an old hand when it comes to ‘putting up’, if that’s the case, here are some delicious new canning recipes to try.