Tips & Techniques

How to Open the Stuck Jar Lid That's Actively Taunting You

February  8, 2017

A few weeks back, I got into a full-fledged stand-off with a jar of coconut oil. I'd like to go on the record as saying that yes, reader, I emerged victorious. (Please send any congratulatory emails to [email protected].)

I don't know why I wanted to use the coconut oil (I had plenty of alternatives), but I do know that as soon as I realized the lid was stuck on the jar as if it had been superglued ( an evil roommate, perhaps?), that was irrelevant: All I could think about was how satisfying it would be to twist that lid off. (Those of you who can't rest until your stainless steel pans are free of chalky residue may understand me.)

See that bully on the left? Photo by James Ransom

Anyway, after mustering all of my forearm strength and straining many tendons in my neck trying to remove the lid (after all, The Art of Manliness names "brute force" as the first technique for opening a stubborn lid), I took to the internet, consulting America's Test Kitchen, Mother Nature Network, and the sometimes-dubious-but-sometimes-reliable WikiHow.

The next time you're in a fight with a stuck jar, follow this plan:

  1. First, run the jar-lid nexus under hot water, and try twisting again. If you're lucky, this will solve the problem.
  2. If you're still having trouble, do something to maximize your grippy power (a.k.a. traction): Cover the lid with a dish towel or a sheet of plastic wrap before twisting; put on a plastic glove; or secure a strong, fat rubber band around the lid's rim to give your fingers something to cling onto.
  3. Next, try banging the jar's lid on the side of the counter or, more safely, with a heavy utensil, in four spots (like 12, 3, 6, and 9). Some hypothesize that this will dislodge any food obstructions; others say that it will create air pockets that will make it easier to break the vacuum seal. (But in the case of my coconut oil, or a sticky jar of honey, it wasn't a vacuum seal I was fighting against, but rather, gluey congealed oil.)
  4. If none of this is working—and steam is, at this point, spewing from your cartoon ears—take more extreme action: Turn the jar upside down, submerge it in a bowl of hot water for a minute or two, and then use a boosted-traction method to twist it open. I had to refresh the water several times (to maintain its temperature) before the jar budged.
  5. Just shatter the jar on your floor in a fit of frustration and pick out all the glass. (Just kidding! Never do that.)
An open jar of peanut butter, full of possibility! Photo by James Ransom

And, to make sure you never find yourself in this frustrating situation again, take preventative measures, as suggested by America's Test Kitchen: Cover the jar with plastic wrap before screwing the lid back on.

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That is the current state of my jar of coconut oil (since you must be wondering). After opening it up and wrapping it neatly, I'm ashamed to admit that I have not used it. Once. But it is open—so I can! And that opportunity is all I need.

Any good tips for opening stubborn jars? Tell us in the comments below.

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reginaldfournier775 February 7, 2022
You also want to be sure that you put the jar opener where it will be easy to get to. Many people have the electric jar opener on a work surface such as the counter or a table.
naomi March 25, 2017
Well, they don't make jar wrenches like they used to and I can just imagine breaking the tip off a knife and having it fly into my eye - never mind ruining the knife. Also my hands aren't as strong as they used to be. So here's what I've come up with it's very fast and works every time: you'll need a hammer, an ice pick and a new jar lid.
Place ice pick somewhere on the top surface of the lid, bang a hole in the lid with the hammer. This breaks the vacuum seal then you can easily unscrew and get at whatever is in the jar :-)
tamater S. March 26, 2017
I might try that some time. I always have a ton of mason jars in storage anyway. Thanks for that tip. Desperation drove you to it, eh? ;-)
Jason S. February 12, 2017
Can carefully pry back one or more of the lid tabs that are folded under with a good pointy knife, once air gets in it comes right off.
d W. February 11, 2017
I know this is a tacky and rude comment, but when I enlisted in the Army at the ripe old age of nearly 28, I learned to wipe off the edges of anything that had a cover, including the QiWi shoe polish that we used for everything from our boots and shoes to floors in BCT. If one has been remiss in this, we old timers who had to dine on C-rations, still have at least one P-38 to releave the pressure under the cap.
Cindy L. February 10, 2017
Amazing what you learn as you age. The most magic way to open a stubborn jar lid? With a spoon. Last summer in France, while struggling with a lid using all of the known tricks, a dear friend said, "Let me show you." She took a soup spoon and placed the tip under the lip of the lid. Using this as a lever, she popped the seal and "Voila!" the lid immediately opened. So simple and no special gadgets. It is magic!
Sal February 10, 2017
When all else fails, Gilhooli does the trick. Actually, just go to Mr. Hooli right away if you've given it your best shot with your hands. I grew up with an old one which my dad still has, and while my newer Chinese-made unit uses thinner metal and is less polished overall, it does the trick.
daisybrain February 8, 2017
A few people have suggested sticking something under the lid to release the pressure. It also works on an already opened jar to loosen any caked on stuff. I use a church key. Works every time, no muss no fuss.
dunham February 8, 2017
I've tried most of these techniques in the past, but now I just use a pair of channel lock pliers.
Sandra D. February 8, 2017
I use the tip of a thin screw driver under the lid lip to release the vacuum. I also have a very old metal squeeze ratchet style jar/lid opener that I use several times a week.
tamater S. February 8, 2017
I loved this article, and the reader comments. I think I'll forgo the $35.00 (can) Kuhn Rikon Deluxe Gripper, since I see it only works for lids up to 3.5". I often have tried a succession of these tips to no avail. Last week I did the hot water, banging on lid, covering said lid with RV cloth, and taking the jar to my left-handed husband who couldn't get the darn thing off. No dice. I then reheated the lid, and banged the lid on the corners, this time, with a hammer! I finally broke the seal, but of course I then had to transfer the food to a new container, because the lid was trashed. I could look for some green nitrile gloves, which I haven't heard of before, BUT I am committed to, next time this happens, taking the jar with receipt, to the store manager, and asking him sweetly, if he will please reimburse me, or get the jar open for me. And that's what I'm going to do, the very next time, LOL, steam comes pouring out my cartoon ears! :-D
AntoniaJames February 8, 2017
"Steam pouring out of my cartoon ears" -- Love it, tamater sammich (and your user name)! ;o)
Meisenman February 8, 2017
I'm right-handed, and I reflexively grip the lid with my right hand first. But for a stuck lid, and before I resort to other means, I switch to my left hand, with my first finger and thumb encircling the lid (thumb points in the direction the lid will turn). I can get a better grip that way. Failing that, I try other means.
AntoniaJames February 8, 2017
The green nitrile gloves I wear to wash dishes (non-latex, not-disposable work gloves purchased from the Home Depot for $2.37 / pair - and they last for a long time, even with the punishment they get in my kitchen) always do the trick for me - though if stickiness is likely to have contributed, I usually rinse with hot water first. The gloves have a texture in the palm and fingers, and they're invariably within arms' reach since I always use them when working in the sink. ;o)
thzhou February 8, 2017
I use the tip of a spoon wedged under the edge of the lid to break the vacuum seal. Works wonders on unopened jars, especially if the jar is the right shape and the glass provides the fulcrum for your spoon-lever.
creamtea February 8, 2017
this is what I do too.
Niknud February 8, 2017
So I'm not a big fan of single-use kitchen gadgets (looking at you, strawberry huller), but I love my jar opener. I lose my ever-loving-mind when it comes to sticky jars so I made an allowance for the opener. It helps me keep my blood pressure at somewhat manageable levels and keeps me from cursing alarmingly at inanimate objects. I'll put a link here to the one I have, but I think they're all pretty interchangeable.
ktr February 8, 2017
I love my jar opener. I don't use it that often but it is great when I need it. Mine was purchased when I lived 1200 miles away from my husband, was pregnant, and a stuck jar lid brought me to tears.
Matilda L. February 8, 2017
But I love my strawberry huller! :)
Liz D. February 8, 2017
I have a disk of rubbery flexible material that I can use to up the grip on the jar lid. Years ago a local politician handed them out with her name on them, so now everyone I know just calls the thing a "Mary Gojack". My current one is from an insurance company, but it's still a "Mary Gojack".
I've also been known to put the pointy end of a church key under the lid of a new jar and use it to gently pull the edge of the lid back just a tad to break the seal.
The hot water thing works, too