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Cleaning and Sanitizing Canning Jars Prior to Filling Them

Illustration of various glass jars.Cleaning and Sanitizing Canning Jars Prior to Filling Them

It's pretty obvious that canning equipment, jars, lids, etc need to be clean to avoid spoilage and food poisoning.  But how to clean and the definition of clean may need some clarification.

Sterilizing vs. Sanitizing

Most people refer to making surfaces free of germs and safe as "sterilizing". In practice, true sterilization is impossible to achieve in a home, so food scientists refer to "sanitizing" equipment and jars.

They recommend that all jars used for home food preservation, such as jams, jellies, and pickled products which processed less than 10 minutes in a canner should be filled into sanitized  empty jars.  If the jar will br processed for more than 10 minutes in a canner (water bath or pressure canner) then the canner does the job of killing germs and sanitizing the jar.  But in practice, whether the recipe calls for 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 50 minutes of processing common sense tells us we ought to make sure the jars are as clean as we can practically make them.

How to sanitize jars

To sterilize empty jars, put them right side up on the rack in a boiling-water canner. Fill the canner and jars with hot (not boiling) water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Boil 10 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. At higher elevations, boil 1 additional minute for each additional 1,000 ft. elevation. Remove and drain hot sterilized jars one at a time. Save the hot water for processing filled jars. Fill jars with food, add lids, and tighten screw bands.Wash the jars and lids

Many newer dishwashers now have a "sanitize" cycle which is design to accomplish the sanitizing above.  I do this right before I use the jars, and keep them in the dishwasher staying hot until I use them.

How to sanitize lids

Canning lids have a glue around the edge that seals against the jar.  For this reason, we don't warm the lids to soften the adhesive.  Instead we put them in very hot water (180 - 200 F ) (or  85 - 95 C)for about 10 minutes.  I just leave the lids in this hot water over very, very low heat until I am ready to use them.  This not only sanitizes the lids, but also softens the sealing surface to make a better seal.

You don't need to sanitize the rings since they do not come in contact with the food!


Using the approach above, I rarely EVER have a jar sospoil!


Adapted from the "Complete Guide to Home Canning," Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, NIFA-USDA (Revised 2015). Page reviewed February 2, 2017.