Does anyone use wax to seal jars of jam anymore?

When I was a child, there was a woman on our block who used to bring my mother small jars of various jams in the summertime. It was good stuff…mostly marmalade as I recall. Yet the thing that made the jars so memorable to me wasn’t what was inside, but what was on top. Under the square of calico cloth that she’d tied around the rim with twine wasn’t a stainless steel lid, but a quarter inch layer of wax, laid directly on top of the surface of the jam. I was fascinated by it, and always fought my twin sister for the privilege of being the first to break the wax layer with a spoon.

That form of canning was commonplace in the first half of the 20th century, and was dying out when I was a kid in the 70’s. Nowadays you hardly see it at all, since it’s considered unsafe. The method works very much the same as the “open kettle” technique I described in my earlier post on the history of canning. Only instead of placing a lid on the jar of simmering jam, the cook would pour a small volume of molten paraffin in. Being lighter than the dense and syrupy jam in the jar, it would float on the top, eventually hardening into a solid layer. Though not as sure-fire as the boiling water canning method, the technique did yield a sanitized product most of the time.

Of course mostly safe aren’t the words you want to hear where edible things are concerned. Yet it’s my belief that the main danger of paraffin canning isn’t the technique itself, but the way contemporary people might use it. Paraffin canning was never intended as a long-term storage solution. Rather it functioned as sort of pre-tupperware, a strategy that would keep a food that isn’t very perishable anyway — namely jam — fresh enough until it could be consumed, usually within a few months time. Indeed the main spoilage issue jam has when it’s left at room temperature is mold or fungus growing in pools of condensed water on its surface (it’s a rare thing — assuming the jam has been made correctly — to find a microbe thriving in the sugary, acidic interior of the jar). Wax sealing was an easy, temporary fix for the problem. The concern now, I think, is that we modern urbanites, who aren’t used to receiving or consuming such goods, would leave wax-sealed jams on our shelves for years.

You can still buy canning wax in many grocery stores. It goes by the name of “household wax” and is usually found in the hardware aisle.

18 thoughts on “Does anyone use wax to seal jars of jam anymore?”

  1. Among my fondest childhood memories are those of my grandmother’s house, where she had fig, plum, and apple trees (not bad for living in Highland Park, CA). She’d make the most incredible fig and plum jams and seal the jars with paraffin. I loved to gnaw off the bits of fig that would get stuck on the bottom of the wax layer.
    I’ve since used this method myself with no problem. I’ve used the water-bath method as well. For memory’s sake, however, wax sealing remains my method of choice.
    For products that will certainly be consumed during the holiday season, a wax-sealed, calico-covered jar of homemade preserves makes a lovely, neighborly gift with a sweetly nostalgic touch. A heated heart-shaped or tree-shaped metal cookie cutter makes a nice imprint in the wax. 🙂

    1. There’s no question it’s a lot prettier, Barbara. I remember my mother getting those jars myself…a very nice memory!

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

    2. Thanks for the great memory. My grandmother an,d mother used the wax seal method. When I recently moved, while unpacking I found a box of wax and could not immediately remember why I had it, now I remember and am going o try a small batch. As a great grandfather a78years old I think its about time.

      1. ha i found this old posting but thouht i would comment anyway. everyone is doing it wrong with the wax. to seal with parrafin, you use TWO layers of wax. you tip the jar around to make sure its all covered, then when cooled, top with a 2nd layer. wax should be about 1/2 inch thick.

    3. Barbara
      I remember helping my grandma make jellies and jams that way too. I was thinking of doing it myself. I do not remember any going bad either.


  2. My daughter and I have been using a different way to seal jam and have never had a problem. When the jars are hot and full we put a double layer of food wrap pulled tight and pushed down all around the edge of the jar. Then we put a piece of Al foil over for protection and tie it on tight with string. We have never had moldy jam even after two years. When the jar is opened the food wrap is right down tight to the jam. I did have problems with parafin, it leaked enough to allow mold to start.

    1. Never heard of that technique before, Fran! A very interesting variation on a classic canning method. Thanks for writing in with it!


      – Joe

  3. I am 70 years old I still make a lot of jam I am a diabetic so I eat my own because it has a lot less sugar in it I use the wax

    1. I know some people who do, Lorraine. Keep up the good work and thanks for the note!

      – Joe

  4. My mom & I made homemade jams & jellies w/paraffin wax sealing method and NEVER had a prob! It’s very irritating to read Know-It-All types writing in harping, incorrectly, of the dangers of wax sealing. Like ALL preserving, jars AND lids must be washed and rinsed very well, then BOILED for at least ten minutes, removed by tongs and air dried upside down. As they dry, wax should be melting, jams cooking nearby. When jams are ready and wax is melted, jars are turned over, hot jelly spooned into hot jars and hot wax poured directly on top–then swirled to make the seal. IF there is mold, the jars weren’t sterilized OR sealed right. Most of these silly women are more talented at staring at phones, texting-or typing on the internet writing drivel of which they have NO experience or knowledge. AS for hot canning method–I wouldn’t eat ANYTHING canned, hot bath or NOT! After a lecture in microbiology class of ‘Death By Canned Green Beans’ never again eating homemade canned goods! ONLY wax sealed homemade jams–making some this wkd!

      1. Hey Daphne,

        The most common brand is called “Gulf Wax” and you can generally find it in hardware stores. But just for the record: I don’t recommend it!

        – Joe

    1. Hi Mary (or anyone),, I was curious if, in the last part of your message, are you saying you wouldn’t eat food, ie, green beans, meats, if it was just canned with a hot bath method and not finished in a pressure cooker? I got lost in the last part of your message. Thanks for clarifying.
      Also, thanks to Joe, for this post. I have a bunch of jars with no lids and none can be found to fit these jars so I was wondering if I could use the hot wax sealing method. I’ll try it on some inexpensive jams I’m about to make. Thanks!

    1. Hey! Thanks for the note! I guess I just don’t recommend wax as a general rule. But probably any food-grade wax like that will work just as well . Didn’t mean to leave anyone out!


      – Joe

  5. It sounds like you people are saying you use wax instead of a lid on the jar? My dad made homemade jelly and he used wax, i think it was Gulf wax but he put lids on them too. Anytime we emptied a jar we would save it and he would reuse for the jelly. He sterilized them of course. That jelly was the best and never a problem from using the wax.

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