*The tutorial is toward the bottom of this post if you’d like to skip ahead.

One person’s trash is another’s treasure. This phrase has become especially true for me since beginning my journey to an earth-friendlier life. And one of my favorite treasures to rescue is glass jars. Jars can be incredibly useful when transitioning to a more waste-free lifestyle. They are excellent for purchasing and storing food items bought in bulk. And upcycling them instead of purchasing new ones is great on a few fronts:

  1. You reduce waste by not throwing them away in the first place.
  2. You reduce resource consumption by not purchasing new jars.
  3. You save money.

It’s a simple concept- just remove the label from a spaghetti sauce jar and you’ve got a beautiful mason jar equal to the cutest ones sold at HomeGoods or Amazon. The same goes for caper jars, nut butter jars, mustard jars, salsa jars, the list goes on and on. Some of them are downright adorable. That is… until you are standing over your sink with water and bits of paper label everywhere, adhesive stuck to your fingers, and a jar that looks like a mutant modern art project.

So how DO you remove the label from that jar?

Well- there isn’t just one technique that works. Some labels will come right off in your dishwasher. Some adhesive is easily scrubbed away with a sponge. Others are so stubborn that you give up and just put the darn jar in the recycle bin. But over the last year of experimentation, I’ve found a few steps that work quite well for just about any jar. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Peel as much of the label off as you can with your fingers. Sometimes this is enough- it falls right off and you think, “Couldn’t all manufacturers just stick their labels on this way?”.
  2. Put it in the dishwasher. Of course, this step is going to get skipped if you don’t use a dishwasher.
  3. Scrub the label with a sponge or washcloth. If you make progress, great. If not, move on to the next step.
  4. Soak the jar in a bowl of water for about a day. You can also try skipping this step and moving to steps 5 & 6. I often do this when I’m feeling impatient.
  5. Scrub the adhesive with a bunch of baking soda and only a touch of water. Too much water will prevent the baking soda from being abrasive and effective.
  6. Scrub the jar with steel wool (the kind without chemicals if possible). If this doesn’t work, move to the next step (or go back to soaking it in water if you skipped that and then repeat steps 5 & 6).
  7. If the steel wool and baking soda scrubbing fails, you need to use vegetable oil (canola, olive, vegetable, coconut, any kind works). It will help with even the most stubborn adhesive. I usually dry the jar off, place it on a washcloth to protect the counter, and then slather the oil all over the sticky adhesive area with my fingers. I’m not gonna lie- it’s a little gross. But it’s effective. Leave it like this for about a day. (Totally weird, I know.)
  8. Use steel wool and/or baking soda to scrub the canola oil & adhesive off of the jar.
  9. Wash the jar in soap and water and triumphantly add it to your collection.

In writing it out, I realize that this process might look intimidating or just nuts. Removing labels from jars is typically not something that gives immediate gratification; it requires a bit of patience. I’ve created a little project corner on top of my toaster oven where I can leave a bowl with a soaking jar and it won’t get in my way. I tackle the project a little bit at a time, when I’m cleaning my kitchen, so that I’m not spending too much time on it. Also, when I first started out and I had jars coming out of my ears, I had to limit the number I worked on to about two or three at a time. That way my kitchen wasn’t littered with projects.

For me the effort has been worth it. My cabinet of bulk foods in recycled glass jars is actually quite attractive and pleasant to look at. And many times when I open it, I’m hit with a sense of satisfaction. It makes me happy on a daily basis that these items did not become waste, but are instead something useful and beautiful. So go give it a shot. Do a little at a time. Find a jar you like the look of and let me know how it goes!