Kitchen Hacks

A $0 Trick to Make Your Stinky, Stubborn Jars Smell Clean Again

August 30, 2018

If there's a glass jar in our house, there's a good chance it's being used to store any number of goodies: batches of minced garlic I like to whir up in my Vitamix, quick pickles, decanted gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), a variety of dried spices, remnant soy bean or red pepper pastes.

Because the contents of these jars are usually pungent, I normally don't have any problems using them interchangeably with one another. It's when I need to fill them with milder things like smoothies and jams that I run into trouble.

For the most part, a simple soak with hot water and Dawn usually does the trick. I know baking soda and vinegar are popular deodorizers, too. But when the smells are especially stubborn (Hotline! Alert!), the culprit is not usually the glass jar itself, but the lid. Depending on whether it's a standard screw top or a glass lid with a rubber gasket, the lids are usually what harbor the odors and need some extra TLC.

Shop the Story

Even after a soak in a hot, sudsy, vinegary solution, with a follow-up spin through the dishwasher, smells don't always disappear. I usually have to rely on a multipronged approach to get them fresh and clean again, incorporating a tactic my own mom shared with me that works every time.

The sun! There's nothing like good ol' fashioned sunlight to do the heavy lifting for you. It's believed that the sun's powerful UV rays work as a natural disinfectant, and I can see (and smell) the proof for myself when I line up glass jars, their lids, plastic containers (with lids), cutting boards (plastic and wood) out on our balcony for a few hours in the middle of a sunny day. Even kimchi stains, whose tenacity alone warrants a separate cutting board altogether, seem to lighten considerably with a little time in the sun.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Mason jar lids will fit a lot of jars, including most standard peanut butter and similar sized jars. Gaskets for French style jars are now available in silicone, which lasts better and absorbs less than rubber.”
— Smaug

If I run into an especially malodorous jar that's adamant against relinquishing its smells, off to the recycling bin it goes! The rest can stay with their fellow sunbathing friends.

A Dressing for Those Now-Clean Jars

Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Paul Whewell
    Paul Whewell
  • Vicki May
    Vicki May
  • Matt
  • Smaug
  • W J Freeman
    W J Freeman
Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Paul W. August 13, 2019
I have a ceramic French butter keeper that smells like rancid butter. I cannot get rid of the smell. Any suggestions?
W J. August 13, 2019
As a chemist, I can tell you that rancid odors and flavors are caused by oxidation of unsaturated fats and oils to ketones and aldehydes and/or short chain acids such as butyric acid, which likely predominate in rancid butter. This oxidation occurs slowly through the formation of peroxides at the unsaturated fatty acid double bonds. It is natural and in the case of butter, meats, fats, and oils containing double bonds, unavoidable.

Since your butter keeper is ceramic you may have more options to remove the offending odors. In a lab situation, I would suggest a soak in a potassium permanganate-sulfuric acid bath, but that is impractical and unavailable for home use, not to mention hazardous.

I am presuming that you have already subjected the offending ceramic to multiple trips through a dishwasher but still detect the offending smell. Dish washing detergents are highly alkaline and very hot, with powerful solublizing abilities. (BTW, it is the chemical action of the dishwasher pellet that does the actual cleaning, not all that sloshing, swirling, and spraying. A dishwasher is actually a hot chemical treatment chamber.)

So here is what I would do in order of increasing severity of treatment.

1. As the theme of this article suggests leaving the container in strong sunlight for a few days may help. The sun is a powerful source of UV, which can and does destroy organic compounds. However getting equal exposure to all surfaces, nooks and crannies can be problematical. So you would need to be very patient and diligent in turning the container for maximum exposure.

2. Soak the dish in household ammonia. The idea here is to attempt to form water soluble salts and eneamines with the malodorous compounds, which can be then washed away with soap and water. (Worth a try, but I don't hold out much hope if the dishwasher did not remove the smell.)

3. Liberal use Easy-Off oven cleaner spray, then place the wet sprayed butter keeper in a large plastic bag overnight. This is a strongly alkaline solution (wear gloves and glasses and spray in a well ventilated area.) Again the idea is to solubilize the offending malodorants, for removal when the dish is subsequently washed. (Again, this is worth a try, but likely will only be marginally better than what the dishwasher can do.)

4. Last and most severe treatment. Owing to the ceramic being heat proof, you could place the dish in a self cleaning oven and run the clean cycle. The high temperatures will pyrolyze and eliminate any organic compounds in or on the dish. In a lab situation, I used to do this frequently with impossible to clean glassware, by taking it to the glassblower for an overnight trip through the annealing oven. Worked like a champ every time.

Treatment with things like vinegar, dish soap, or, in my opinion, more laughably vinegar and baking soda, which from a chemist's POV does nothing useful except foam, are likely to be ineffective or you wouldn't be asking the question in the first place.

Hope this helps. I will be interested to hear how this works out for you.

Paul W. August 13, 2019
Thank your for your response. I will try these in order of suggestion. If I have success, I will let you!
Paul W. August 21, 2019
Thank you for the suggestion of using the sun! I have placed the butter keeper outside in the sun every sunny day that we have had since your suggestion. I make sure to turn it and tilt it to allow the sun to shine on all the surfaces. And the smell is almost gone! I’ll continue doing this, I’m sure it will finish the job! Thank you!
Vicki M. January 5, 2019
As far as lids specifically, many of them are not meant to be re-used. You can find replacement lids with or without gaskets, made of metal or plastic, anyplace that sells canning supplies. But on sitting things in the sun specifically, I could not agree more. Everything from Instant Pot sealing rings to musty luggage from a 3 week ocean cruise becomes odorless after a few days in the sun!
Matt August 31, 2018
You're not supposed to reuse the lids. They're designed to be used once.
Smaug August 30, 2018
The gaskets are usually replaceable, though inclined to be badly overpriced unless you can find someone who sells in quantity. Mason jar lids will fit a lot of jars, including most standard peanut butter and similar sized jars. Gaskets for French style jars are now available in silicone, which lasts better and absorbs less than rubber.
K January 5, 2019
Oh, where, please? My old rubber rings are dropping like flies!
Smaug January 6, 2019
Amazon has them and is probably your best bet. I've gotten them in the past at a local hardware store. Sur La Table carries them, but are not known for low prices.