Can’t Get The Lid Off the Pickles? Don’t Call For Help — Use These 3 Hacks for Opening Jars
Sorry: grunting and swearing won’t do the trick.
Picture this: You’ve had a long, stressful day at work and all you want to do is melt into your couch and binge-watch HGTV while armed with some deliciously salty snack. Luckily, you just did a grocery shop — so there’s a big bag of your favorite tortilla chips in the cupboard, plus a brand new jar of salsa. You pick up the jar, your mouth watering a little in anticipation of that impending spicy crunch… only to find that it won’t open. The jar lid is stuck! No matter how much you pry and grunt, the salsa remains impenetrable. Why is opening jars so darn difficult?
Whether they’re holding salsa, pickles, or jam, sometimes those pesky glass containers just don’t want to budge. With any luck, there will be someone around with big muscles (or a big ego) who demands that you hand the jar over to them. (“Give it, I got it. Give it, I got it,” Ellen DeGeneres once described their aggressive jar opening offer.) When that other person is able to open it in a cinch, you feel compelled to protest: “Well, I loosened it!” But did you really?
If you don’t have the upper body strength to wrestle sticky lids off jars but still want to impress your friends and family, it’s your lucky day: We’ve got three hacks that’ll ensure you never have to ask for this type of favor again. (We don’t want to inflate the egos of cocky jar-opener types any further.) Keep reading to discover how you can open even the most tight or stubborn of lids all on your own.
Why are jars so hard to open, anyway?
The reason jars often feel so impossible to open is because food manufacturers make a point to minimize the amount of air that gets in, in order to better preserve the integrity of the product. As mathematician James Hind of Nottingham Trent University explained to MEL Magazine of pickles: “They tend to fill the jars at a warm temperature, so that when they cool, the small amount of air at the top also cools. As it cools, it shrinks a little, forming low air pressure. This reduces how much air there is to oxidize the food and keeps the lid on tight.”
Once you’ve brought your jar home, it’s hard to remove the lid due to the vacuum seal that was created by the change in air temperature when the pickles were placed in the jar. “As you twist the lid to open it, you’re having to raise the height of the lid, so you’re making the jar a bit bigger,” Hind told MEL. “This means you’re lowering the pressure in the jar even more, and you have to fight against the suction force that’s pulling the lid back down.”
Once the lid has been twisted an adequate amount, the lid’s spiral no longer perfectly fits the jar’s spiral, so some air can finally leak into the jar. “That pop you hear is a pressure wave in the air from this rebalancing,” Hind noted. (It sounds as if that pop is satisfying for both us and the pickles.)
So, can you actually hurt yourself opening a jar? You can hurt yourself doing just about anything, this included — especially if you’re elderly or have weak hands. Prying open a jar puts pressure on the fingers, wrist, and arm. Plus, if you’ve got arthritis, or any pain and stiffness in your joints, it’ll be that much harder. That’s why you need these hacks!
Hack 1: Get a grip.
It might sound like common sense, but sometimes all you gotta do is improve your grip. (Especially if your hands are particularly well-moisturized, or the jar is slippery.) There are plenty of items in your kitchen that can be used to get a good grip: try a dish towel, rubber gloves, a piece of plastic wrap, or a piece of silicone (e.g. a heat-resistant mat or drawer liner). Placing any of these items over the lid of your jar will assist you with grip, and make it much easier to twist and open. If you want to test out this method for cheap with a product specifically intended for jar help, try the Norpro Red Silicone Flexible Jar Opener (Buy from Amazon $5).
Hack 2: Give it a bath.
This one is simple — but so effective. Running your jar lid under hot water in the sink (just be careful not to burn your hands) will help loosen it quickly. Alternatively, if you’d rather avoid the rush of hot water from your faucet, put the jar (lid first) into a bowl of hot water for 30 seconds. This method may be particularly helpful for sweet products like jams and jellies, as the warm water helps dissolve crystalized or sticky sugar. Keep in mind that the lid will be hot to touch afterwards — so twist it off with a potholder or dry dish towel to protect your skin.
Hack 3: Cut to the chase.
I have used this hack myriad times, and it has never failed me. It’s yet another example of breaking the seal, and only requires an implement you probably have in your kitchen already. Take a butter knife and tap the back of the blade (not the sharp end), against the edge of your jar lid — maybe three times around the circumference, to start off with. (More hits may be needed, depending on how tight the lid is.) Granted, this hack will leave little dents in your lid, so it’s not ideal if you want a picture-perfect jar at the end of the process; but I guarantee, your lid will pop off quickly and satisfyingly.
Gadgets That Can Help
If you’re still having trouble opening jar lids, there’s no shame in purchasing a gadget to help get the job done. Many retailers sell jar-opening devices that do all the work of applying the necessary grip for you. Here are some of our favorites.
- EZ Off – Easy Grip One Handed Jar Opener (Buy from Amazon, $26). This cabinet-mounted jar opener is easy to install and can be hidden beneath a kitchen cabinet, cupboard, counter, or shelf. Just press the sticky back onto your surface of choice and secure it with three screws. To open jars with this tool, you’ll only need to use one hand — the cabinet does all the work of stabilizing the jar and gripping the lid for you. Plus, the EZ Off is versatile and can be used to grab any lid size or type in its V-shaped mouth, from a small water bottle to a giant tub of spaghetti sauce.
- Dycem Non-Slip Cone-Shaped Bottle Opener (Buy from Amazon, $12.99). This dome-shaped bottle opener will fit comfortably into the palm of the hand, and its flexible and grippy material makes opening smaller items a breeze. This tool will improve your grip, prevent slips, and help ease pain in arthritic hands when twisting off caps of ketchup and RX bottles. Note: the size isn’t adjustable, and this implement isn’t big enough to open large jars.
- OXO Good Grips Jar Opener with Base Pad (Buy from Amazon, $15). This simple opener works by using sharp “teeth” to hold on to the jar lid while you twist with the large handle; it also comes with a base pad to put under your jar to keep it in place while you work. Just slide the jar opener over your lid and twist counter-clockwise to loosen.
- Hammacher Schlemmer The Automatic Jar Opener (Buy from Hammacher Schlemmer, $29.95). For the easiest option of all, let a robot take over. This AA battery-powered automatic jar opener will pry the lids off your jars with the touch of the button. See the power of technology in real time as two padded, curvy arms press in on your jar’s exterior while the motor spins the lid to untwist it. This is ideal for people with arthritis or diminished hand strength; just keep in mind that two AA batteries are required.
After you’ve opened your jar and eaten all the contents inside, you can scrub it clean and use it as an organization or decorative tool. Mason jars also have endless capabilities in the kitchen, from keeping lettuce fresh to making ice cream. So, be sure to enjoy the fruits of your jar-opening labors to the fullest.