How to Can With a Water Bath Canner

Processing food with a water bath canner is one of the best ways to learn how to can because it isn’t overly complicated and less intimidating than using a pressure canner.

Keep in mind: There are certain foods that you can safely preserve using the water bath method, but there are others that I do not recommend preserving this way. See the notes below for more details.

What You’ll Need to Can With a Water Bath

Before we get too far into the details, let’s discuss what materials you’ll need to start canning with a water bath.

You’ll Need:

  • Water bath canner or stock pot
  • Glass mason jars with lids
  • Food to can

Other Materials:

These are some other items that you don’t necessarily need, but may find helpful to have.

  • Canning funnel
  • Jar lifter
  • Kitchen timer
  • Lid lifter

A Note About the Materials

Water Bath Canner

There are three common types of water bath canners: enamel, stainless steel, or aluminum. Each type should work well.

Stock Pot

  • Enamel pots are heavy duty. This means they should last a very long time, but it also makes them quite heavy. Another downfall is the enamel may chip and rust after some years of use.
  • Stainless steel pots are another great option, but they typically cost more than aluminum or enamel. They should last a lifetime!
  • Aluminum pots do the job well too. I don’t have a problem with aluminum pots for canning since the food is in jars, but I don’t recommend using them for cooking. There are many health concerns about the aluminum in cookware getting into foods and disrupting hormones.

You can use any regular stock pot as long as the jars will fit inside when the lid is closed.

You’ll need to create a rack system for the jars to sit on in the pot. We don’t want them coming into direct contact with the bottom of the pot. You can achieve this kind of system by tying a few of the lid bands together and placing them in the bottom of the pot.

Foods to Can

You’ll definitely need some food to can in the mason jars! There are certain foods you can and cannot can with a water bath. We’ll discuss which foods those are in a bit.

Canning Funnel

A canning funnel is not a make-or-break-it item, but it makes the process of transferring food into the mason jars so easy and less messy! I typically use wide-mouth jars, so I can scoop the food into the jars without a funnel.

Jar Lifter

This is a handy tool to help you safely grab those jars out of the boiling water. They are shaped to fit snugly around the top of any mason jar so there is little risk of dropping them.

Kitchen Timer

Again, not necessary, but definitely helpful in keeping track of the time your jars have been in the water bath! If you’re anything like me you get sidetracked by all the other tasks in a day and forget when you started the jars!

Foods You Can Safely Preserve With a Water Bath Canner

Highly Acidic Foods. These include foods with a pH of less than 4.6. Foods in this category are perfectly safe to can with a water bath canning method.

These acidic foods are able to prohibit the growth of bad bacteria.

This includes:

  • Pickles
  • Peaches
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Applesauce
  • Marmalades
  • Relish
  • Some tomato products

Keep in mind: There are more foods than I have listed here, but these are just a few examples. I encourage you to research each food you’d like to preserve before getting started!

Foods That Must Be Canned in a Pressure Canner

These kinds of foods are not acidic enough to keep away bad bacteria, so they must be pressure canned instead of preserved in a water bath.

A pressure canner reaches a temperature that will kill any botulism spores that may be in the jar. Botulism can be quite dangerous upon consumption.

A water bath canner is unable to reach a high enough temperature to kill these spores, so a pressure canner should be used for these kinds of foods:

  • Any kind of meat
  • Pinto beans
  • Broth
  • Green beans
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots

Keep in mind: There are more foods than I have listed here, but these are just a few examples. I encourage you to research each food you’d like to preserve before getting started!

An Acid Chart to Reference

Reference this chart to see which fruits and veggies are high in acid and low in acid.

How to Can With a Water Bath Canner

Now that we’ve discussed everything you should know before using a water bath canner…let’s get to the actual process!

Step 1. Clean the Jars

  • Begin by washing the jars in soapy water.
  • Place the clean jars in your water bath canner (with the rack on the bottom).
  • Fill pot until the jars are full of water and completely submerged.
  • Boil them for 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove the jars from the water and place on a towel.

Keep in Mind: It’s best to do this step right before processing the food in the water bath because the jars are most clean at this point and you want the jars hot when you fill them with food.

Step 2. Fill the Water Bath Canner

Fill the water bath canner about half way full. You can always add more water once the jars are in the water bath.

Step 3. Fill the Jars With Food

I am moving on to this step with the assumption that you already have some food prepared to go into the jars.

There are so many recipes for foods you can process in a water bath, so do your research for this step!

Try this Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce recipe. It works really well for water bath canning!

Keep in Mind: It is best to fill the jars while they are very hot since adding hot food to a cool jar can cause them to break.

How Much Do I Fill the Jar?

Headspace is very important in canning. This is the amount of room left at the top of the jar once you have filled it with food.

Here’s the deal with headspace. Leaving too much of it can cause problems…and leaving too little can also cause problems.

Too Much Headspace:

This can prevent the lids from sealing well.

Not Enough Headspace:

This leaves the food with very little room to expand. The food will usually overflow and prevent the lid from sealing properly.

The Rule of Thumb

  • Leave 1/2 an inch of headspace for high-acid foods like tomatoes and fruits.
  • Leave 1/4 an inch of headspace for liquids like jams, jellies, relishes, and tomato sauce.

Step 4. Remove the Air Bubbles

Run a small wooden utensil through the inside of the jar to pop any air bubbles that are trapped inside.

This step can provide more room in the jar for additional food, so check if the headspace has changed after releasing the air bubbles. Just add more food if the headspace allows.

Step 5. Clean the Rims and Add the Lids

Use a damp washcloth to wipe around the rims of the jar. This is to clean off any remaining bits of food before adding the lids.

Residual bits can prevent the lid from properly sealing to the jar.

Place the lids on top of the jars and screw the ring on loosely.

Rule of Thumb

This is how I know my lids are on tight enough, but not too tight.

Place one finger on the center of the lid. With the other hand, begin screwing on the ring. After a few turns the jar will begin to turn as you tighten the lid. This is how you know the lid is tight enough!

Keep in Mind: Don’t be surprised if the ring feels quite loose after processing in the water bath. This is normal! Do not tighten the lid back down. This can cause problems with the lid sealing properly.

Step 6. Place the Jars in the Water Bath

Add the jars on the rack in your water bath canner. The tops of the jars should be covered in 1-2 inches of water.

Just add more water to the water bath if there is not enough.

Step 7. Boil the Jars

Bring the water to a boil. Start your timer once it is boiling and process the jars for the recommended time your recipe calls for.

Keep in Mind: You will need to make some time adjustments if you live in higher altitudes. Check your altitude and adjust accordingly.

AltitudeIncreased Processing Time
1,001-3,000 feet5 minutes
3,001-6,00010 minutes
6,001-8,00015 minutes
8,001-10,00020 minutes

Step 8. Remove the Jars and Allow Them to Cool

Once the processing time is up, turn off the stove and remove the jars from the water bath. I like to place my jars on a towel on the countertop.

Do not tighten the rings on the lids! Let the jars rest until you hear them pop. This sound tells you that a jar has sealed.

Leave the jars to rest for several hours. You can then remove the rings and check to see if the lid sealed (I do this by trying to take each lid off with my finger. If it doesn’t move, it’s sealed!)


What to do With the Unsealed Jars

If you can one or two jars that didn’t seal, but place them in the refrigerator and eat within the next week.

If you have quite a few that didn’t seal, repeat the canning process. Check to see if the rims are clean, there is enough or too little headspace, there is a chip in the rim, or there is a flaw with the lid.

How to Store the Sealed Jars

I prefer to store my jars in the pantry. I always take the rings off of the jars just because they aren’t necessary if the lid is sealed.

Check the recipe you used for the food to know how long it should store in a sealed container.


There you have it. Now you know how to properly can highly acidic foods in a water bath canner!

I love seeing all my hard work sitting in neat rows on the pantry shelves. It produces such a good feeling to know that there’s some homemade food ready for the winter!

Happy canning!

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