Water Bath Canning: Step-by-Step

Knowing the steps for Water Bath Canning is important if you want shelf-stable jam or jelly that you can store for up to one year at room temperature.

Before you start making your jam or jelly —



1. Gather your supplies (clockwise from left):

  • Canning funnel
  • Canning jars (4-ounce up to 16-ounce)
  • Rack
  • Pomona’s Pectin and directions
  • Large canning pot and lid
  • Headspace measuring/bubble freeing tool
  • Flat lids and screw-on bands
  • Jar lifter
  • Magnetic lid lifter

2. Wash jars, lids, and bands.


Filling canner and jars with water

3. Put jars on rack in water bath canner; fill jars and canner with water at least 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the open jars. Depending on how big your canner is, you may want to use a pitcher or tea kettle to finish filling it on the stove.

4. Lower rack into pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat down or off and keep cover on in order to keep jars and water hot.

If you want to sterilize your jars, boil for 10 minutes then turn heat down or off and keep cover on in order to keep jars and water hot.

The USDA guidelines say that if you plan to water bath process your jam or jelly for at least 10 minutes, it isn’t necessary to sterilize empty jars prior to filling. Since all of our recipes call for processing for at least 10 minutes, sterilization prior to filling is not required.


Lids warming in sauce pan

5. Put lids in a small sauce pan, cover with water; bring to a simmer; turn off heat and put cover on pan to keep the water warm. You are softening the circle of sealing compound to help get a good seal.


Bands laid out on dish towel

6. Keep the bands nearby.


When you have removed your jam or jelly from the heat and are ready to put it in the jars —


Lifting empty jar out with jar lifter

1. Using a jar lifter, remove all of the jars from the canner one-by-one.

Pouring jar water back into canner

2. Dump the water in each jar back into the canner. Place the jars on the counter ready to be filled.

3. Turn the heat up under the canner and put the lid back on. You want the water in the canner to be boiling when you put the filled jars back in. This is important because if it takes too long to bring the water back to a boil, the pectin could be de-activated from too much heat exposure.


Filling jar with ladle and funnel

4. Using a funnel and a ladle, fill all the jars.


Measuring headspace of filled jar

5. Leave 1/4″ of head space in each jar.


Wiping rim with damp paper towel

6. Wipe the rim of each jar with a damp cloth or paper towel.


Removing lid with lid lifter

7. Using a magnetic lid lifter, remove one lid at a time from the warm water.


Placing lid on jar

8. Place a lid on top of each filled jar.


Tightening band to fingertip tight

9. Using your fingertips, screw a band onto each jar until you meet resistance — then a little bit more. This is called “fingertip tight.” Use a hot pad to hold the jar.


Placing filled jar on rack in canner

10. When all jars are filled and banded, put them all on the rack in the canner. The water in the canner should be boiling when you put the jars in. This is important because if it takes too long to bring the water back to a boil, the pectin could be de-activated from too much heat exposure. 

Lowering rack into canner

11. The jars should be upright, not touching each other, and covered by 1 to 2 inches of water after you lower the rack into the canner, if using this type of rack.

12. The water will likely lose its boil as you put the jars in. Put the top on the canner and bring the water back to a boil as quickly as possible. Once you have a rolling boil, set a timer, and boil:

  • 4-ounce jars for 5 minutes at sea level
  • 8-ounce up to 16-ounce jars for 10 minutes at sea level

13. For Altitude For All Jar Sizes: Add 1 minute for every 1,000 ft above sea level. For example, if you are between 1,000 and 2,000 ft, boil for 11 minutes; 2,000 to 3,000 ft, boil for 12 minutes, and so on. If you don’t know your elevation, you can find it by putting in your address or your city name at this website.


Removing filled jar from canner

14. Remove jars when the time is up. 


Placing jar on counter

15. Place hot jars right side up on a mat or a towel. Leave jars alone to seal and begin cooling. 

If you are concerned about fruit float, read this FAQ on fruit float.


Remove band and check seal

16. When jars are thoroughly cool (12 to 24 hours), remove bands and check seals. Lids should be sucked down and not come off if you pull up gently with your fingertips. Jam reaches its full jell when thoroughly cool.

17. Clean off any jam on the outside of the jars or lids. Label and store jars, preferably in a dark location. Dark storage can help preserve color in low-sweetener jam. Sealed jars should be stored without the rings.

18. Properly water bathed and sealed jam is best eaten within 1 year.

19. It is always a good practice to examine the contents of a jar when you open it. First, be sure that you “pop a seal.” A jar that was safely sealed a few months ago could lose its seal on the shelf, although this rarely happens. Then look for identifiable fuzzy mold, a moldy smell, a fermented (alcoholic) smell, or fizziness that could be a sign of fermentation. If any of these are present, throw the contents of the jar away. It’s not a good idea to eat moldy jam or fermented jam or to scrape the mold off and eat what’s below it.

20. An open jar of low-sweetener jam or jelly can be expected to last about 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

21. If jam or jelly is thoroughly cool and has not jelled, visit our page: My Jam or Jelly Didn’t Jell — Can I Fix It?

Note: If you don’t want to process your jam or jelly in a water bath canner and you have freezer space available, you can freeze jam for long-term storage. Leave 1/2″ of headspace in your freezer-safe containers and freeze filled containers when jam is cool. Defrost before eating. Best eaten within 1 year of freezing.

18 thoughts on “Water Bath Canning: Step-by-Step

    • Hello Ann,
      I cannot say for sure if your jars have sealed. Do they appear to be unable to open when you try and lift the lids gently? If there is any question if they are safely sealed, you can always place your jars in the freezer to preserve them.

  1. Why do some recipes (Gingered Lemon-Fig Preserves) say to turn off the hear and leave the jars in the water bath 5 minutes longer before removing and others (Fig Jam) say to remove from water bath at the end of the 10 minute ‘bath’? Just curious…

    • Hello Lori,

      I have asked myself the same thing! I believe it is because they were developed by different authors.

  2. I did not wait 12hours before refrigerating my fig jam. I put it in refrigerator when it was room temperature. Will this mean it won’t set properly? I made 8 1 pint jars. The jars were sealed when refrigerated.

  3. I am a new Pomona’s Pectin user and want to know what the Calcium water is and why it is used?

    Do you think a steamer canner allows the jam to be protected for shelf life?

    • Hello Corinne,
      Thanks so much for choosing Pomona’s Universal Pectin. The calcium water that is included in all of our jam and jelly recipes is what makes Pomona’s Pectin “activate”/gel.
      The water-bath method is the most tested and most reliable method for canning jam & jelly.
      We have a wonderful Step-By-Step piece from our website that can be found, here.

  4. Does frozen, cooked jam last as long in the refrigerator after being thawed as the same cooked jam you can (3 weeks)? Your freezer jam instructions say that lasts about a week after thawing, which is not enough time for us. I just want to be sure before I take the shorter option of freezing instead of canning. Thanks!

      • Hello Mel and Marsha,

        Thanks so much for choosing Pomona’s Universal Pectin! Frozen-Cooked Jam will last only slightly longer than raw-frozen jam, but will not last as long as cooked-canned jam. It will probably only last about a week and a half once it is in the refrigerator.


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