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Zero-Waste Methods to Get Your Jars Stink-Free and Label-Less

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Nov. 19 2020, Updated 9:38 p.m. ET

When making the transition to a zero-waste lifestyle, it can be tempting to buy every Mason jar you come into contact with — despite the perfectly good tomato sauce jars filling up your recycling bin. But when it comes to reducing waste, it's always better to use what you have rather than buy new items — yes, including that pickle jar that still reeks of pickles. So to help you avoid the temptation of walking out of Target with a full case of matching Ball jars, here are a few tips for getting the smell out of the ones you already have — without creating any waste.

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So many common kitchen items are available to purchase in jars. For example, there's jam, mustard, artichokes, salsa, pasta sauce, coconut yogurt, nut butters, mayonnaise... the list goes on. So if you're looking to build up your jar collection, next time you go grocery shopping, look for which items you can buy in a glass jar instead of plastic. Not only will you have one less plastic item to recycle (and pray that it actually gets recycled), but you'll also have a fancy upcycled jar once you finish scooping all the peanut butter out with your fingers. (Did I say that out loud?)

Additionally, if you plan to use the jars for shopping in your grocery store's bulk section (or if you just want them to look all clear and perfect in your pantry — no judgment), you'll probably want to smoothly remove the labels as well — more on that later.

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So without further ado, here are a few different methods for de-stink-ifying your jars.

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1. The Baking Soda Method

You probably have an open box of baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, sitting in the back of your fridge to absorb odors — but the fridge isn't the only place where baking soda can work its stink-absorbing magic. One method of removing the smell from jars is to make a paste of baking soda (not from the box in your fridge though!) and water (Hunker recommends three parts baking soda to one part water). Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl, and then use a washcloth or sponge to apply the paste all over the inside of the jar and lid. Let sit overnight and then rinse off.

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2. The Vinegar Method

Vinegar may have a pretty strong odor in itself, but it's also weirdly amazing at removing other odors. Fill a jar with distilled white vinegar and water (Good Housekeeping recommends equal parts of the two ingredients), leave the lid off, and let the mixture do its thing overnight.

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3. Sunlight

Sometimes, getting the smell out of lids can be even harder than getting it out of jars. So if baking soda and vinegar aren't enough to combat that pickle jar lid, leave it to nature. Simply put the lid out in the sunshine for a day or two, and it should wind up odorless.

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Now that your jar is stank-free, here are a few different methods for removing the label and the glue that held it onto your jar.


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1. Baking Soda and Oil

Baking soda also works wonders when it comes to removing labels from jars. Make a paste of baking soda and any cooking oil in equal parts, and then brush it onto the label. Let sit overnight, and then scrub off with an eco-friendly sponge or washcloth.

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2. Heat

There are a few ways to remove labels using heat. One method involves boiling water, filling up the jar (using caution!), and sealing it. The heat from the boiling water will permeate the glass and loosen the glue, making it easy to peel off the label. If this method isn't strong enough, and you still have a pot full of boiling water leftover, use it! Add a few dashes of dish soap to the boiling water, and then gingerly dunk the jar into the pot. The label should float right off.

Another popular method is one that wine aficionados often employ when trying to save labels from fancy wine bottles. As explained by the Wall Street Journal, simply put an empty wine bottle (or jar) in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Once the bottle or jar is hot, carefully remove it from the oven, and the label should clearly peel off.

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3. The Freezer

Jars must like extreme temperatures, because according to blogger Jane and Simple, the freezer helps with removing labels as well. Simply remove the lid and place the jar in the freezer overnight, and by morning, you should be able to cleanly peel off the label. If a little glue or part of the labels is still stuck to the jar, top things off with a little heat à la method No. 2.

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And finally, don't let all the picture-perfect pantry photos on Instagram make you think you can't go zero waste if your kitchen isn't filled with rows and rows of glass jars. There are so many ways to reduce your waste in the kitchen, and whether you're bulk shopping with name brand Mason jars, repurposed pickle jars, or upcycled plastic takeout containers, you can still make a difference.

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