Your preserved food is only as safe and sanitary as the vessels you put it into. An important step that must not be overlooked is sanitizing and preparing the Mason jars, lids, and rings. A question I get a lot is, “How do you sanitize jars for canning?”
A quick note: sanitizing and sterilizing are not the same thing. Sanitization allows a small number of microorganisms, where sterilization allows zero microorganisms. Remember, when canning, you are not performing open heart surgery. You only need to sanitize for canning. You do not need to sterilize your jars. With some of the methods below, sterilization may occur, but remember, the goal is just sanitization.
With that out of the way, there are several methods for sanitizing canning jars. This information comes from my book, The Prepper’s Canning Guide. Trust me – you’ll love the delicious recipes and simple instructions even if you aren’t a prepper.
How to sanitize jars in the dishwasher
If you have a dishwasher, this is easy. Just run it on the sanitizing cycle right before you begin canning. The dishwasher will keep the jars hot until you are ready to fill them. The heat from the dishwasher will also make the rubber on the jar flat more pliable and ready to seal.
How to sanitize jars in a water bath canner
Assuming that your jars are clean and all you need to do is sterilize them, you can use your water bath canner for this. Place the jars in the canner, on the rack. Pour in enough water that it goes over the openings of the jars and fills them. Bring the canner to a boil and allow it to boil for 10 minutes. Then use your jar lifter and remove the jars, placing them upside down on a towel or drying rack to drain. You can reuse the hot water for canning once the jars are filled and lidded.
How to sanitize jars in the oven
You can also use your oven to sanitize your jars. (Remember, you don’t have to sterilize your jars in the oven – we are just sanitizing.) Preheat your oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your jars in a roasting pan and slide them into the oven for at least 20 minutes. At that point, you can turn off the heat, but leave the jars in there until they are ready to be packed.
Warning: (this is kind of a “duh” but I’ll say it anyway!) The jars will be hotter than heck when you take them out of the oven – take care not to burn yourself when filling them and placing them in the canner! Sometimes I use this method – when I do, I leave the jars in the roasting pan while I fill them and then use my jar lifter to move them from the roasting pan to the canner.
Sanitizing the lids
In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer enough water to cover your flats and rings. Do not bring the flats to a rolling boil, as this could damage the sealing compound. Keep the lids in the hot water and remove them with sterilized tongs or a lid lifter (a cool little magnetic wand) when you are ready to put them on the jars.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the rules!
Sometimes all of the canning rules sound overwhelming! Please don’t let them scare you. I’m providing you with the best practices so that you have all the information you need.
Another reason not to panic is this: nearly all canning recipes have to be processed for more than 10 minutes, which, in conjunction with the pre-sanitization you have performed, should help you to keep your food safe and healthy.
Do you have more canning questions? Maybe the following articles will help.
How to Can Food in a Boiling Water Bath
Pressure Canning with a Glass Top Stove: 3 Solutions
How to Sanitize Jars for Canning
How to Adjust for Altitude When Canning
A Guide to Making and Canning Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Like an Italian Grandma
When pressure canning do these methods apply other than the jars being clean to start with?
Hi – yes, you should still sanitize your jars, even if your pressure canning. 🙂
I’m confused the ball canning book I have says the jars and contents will be sterilized during the pressure canning process,it’s also in the instruction book I got with the A/A canner I got. Are we talking about the same thing?
Hi, Lo Kilgo – I’m sorry for the late reply. I somehow missed your question.
It’s true that some books feel that sterilizing the jars during the pressure canning process is sufficient. My personal choice, and therefore my recommendation, is to sterilize them before adding the food contents to the jar – it’s just an extra safety measure and up to the canner’s discretion.
I hope this helps to clarify things! Please let me know if you have any further questions. 🙂
I have a two part question about sterilizing the canning jars: First, if I am understanding you correctly, sanitizing and sterilizing the canning jars are two different things. If you run your jars thru your dishwasher on the “sanitize” cycle, then they are still not sterilized. Is that correct? If so, I assume then you must still sterilize them afterwards (unless you choose to let the pressure canning method take care of that for you.) Second, can you sterilize your jars ahead of time and then store them or must you sterilize them immediately prior to their use for canning? Thank you for any info you can provide – I’m a “newbie” canner!
I use the dishwasher method and consider that sufficient. I wait until I’m ready to fill them to remove them from the dishwasher, then pull them out and process them right away.
Generally I recommend sterilizing/sanitizing immediately before canning. If you put them in a cupboard, they’re likely to get dusty.
I hope this helps – feel free to ask further questions if this doesn’t clarify things enough. 🙂
Thank you for confirming that you can sterilize canning jars in the oven. I bring my oven to a higher temp (350) and keep the jars in there for 30 min to ensure that they get above 225. It sounds like I am over doing it a bit.
Yes, my mother and I have used the oven for sterilizing jars for over 25 years. After we sanitize them, of course.
Because we use the regular stove to cook and can our foods, we have the jars in a smaller countertop oven that holds 12 pint size jars or 16 8-oz jars. We lay the jars down on their side with the mouth to the front and we take the out with a sterilized pair of tongs covered with a non-slip coating and place them on a tray covered with a clean towel. We don’t even have to touch the jars, as they are hot and then replenish as we take the hot jars out, for the next batch.
I hope this helps those of you that use the oven to sterilize.