simple stuff: china markers.

November 4, 2019
labeling glass jars with china markers  | reading my tea leaves

By now, you know how I feel about labels. When made by someone else, that sucker’s most likely getting ripped off the minute after it comes in our house. But even when made by me, I’d usually rather go without a label at all. There’s plenty that’s tucked away in our cabinets and fridge that isn’t identified by date or written description. The glass jars of dried black beans that we dip into weekly, for instance, feel self-explanatory. Likewise the oatmeal and the rice.

But there are other items that I admit can blend a bit together. Since James started his baking habit in earnest a few years ago, we have become a family in a tiny apartment (with but one cabinet to call our pantry), who nonetheless stocks not just one kind of flour, but many. At the time of writing we have jars of bread flour, all-purpose flour, rye flour, tapioca flour, and rice flour, and that’s just what I can recall from memory. The list, in fact, goes on. Yes, in the case of powdery white-ish substances, a bit of labeling is helpful for telling what’s what. For the past few years we’ve used mostly Japanese masking tape and a marker, but on a reader’s recent suggestion, I started using china markers (otherwise known as wax pencils or grease markers) for a lower waste alternative.

labeling glass jars with china markers  | reading my tea leaves

You might recall these waxy pencils, as I did, from grade school. If memory serves, ours were usually red and used for marking up spelling tests and other things written on lined newsprint pages. (Childhood friends and siblings feel free to confirm!) Instead of sharpening them, you peel them, tugging the small white string that hangs near the pencil’s tip to strip away the paper lining and expose more wax. They’re similar to a crayon, but stronger, and designed specifically to write on non-porous surfaces like ceramics and glass.

I like them. But I will concede that I haven’t perfected my use of these pencils for the purpose of labeling. It might be user error, but I find them to be a bit sloppy to work with. It’s possible that another brand offers a different quality, but I used what I could find at my local hardware store (these ones, sold individually for less than $1.50 a piece). I didn’t experiment with other makes, but I did first try using my kids’ water soluble wax pastels. I was hoping the china markers might be an improvement, but I’ve found that when writing on glass, they’re comparable to the wax pastels we already had. Both perfectly satisfactory, but neither perfect.

labeling glass jars with china markers  | reading my tea leaves

Still, the pleasure in seeing a simple label wipe cleanly away with a bit of warm water and a rag is enough to keep me going. We’re going to start using them to date Silas’s preschool lunches, too, and for helping each other identify any potentially suspect leftovers in the fridge.

Who else uses them? Who has tips? I’m all ears.

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  • Reply MissEm November 4, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    I use the thick rubber bands that come around broccoli bunches or carrots and write on those with pen for things we use regularly. They look pretty stretched over a glass jar with expanded cursive.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 4, 2019 at 5:11 pm


      • Reply Mary November 8, 2019 at 2:03 am

        I tear off the piece of packaging that identifies the product and chuck it in the jar.

        • Reply Maxine Brink November 11, 2019 at 2:35 pm

          I do a combination. Cut a piece of packaging also works if the contents have unusual instructions, nutritional label, price for different size packages. Sometimes 2- 8 ounce are cheaper than 1-16 ounce. Now that you have me thinking about labels I am seeing more attractive possibilities. Like a colored stick it note with date and content name. Little clear envelopes if the product is moist. What fun!

    • Reply kris November 5, 2019 at 10:51 pm

      You’ve just described my wallet! A thick blue rubber band obtained for free when I buy broccoli, wrapped around a small stack of credit cards, debit card, driver’s license, with a $20 bill folded and tucked in at the back of the stack. (Just about as minimalist as you can get.)

  • Reply Kelsey November 4, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    I’ve been using a white chalk marker (as recommended by Ellen Bennett and I love it. A little easier to write with then the china markers.

  • Reply Courtney November 4, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    I use china markers (I know them as grease pencils) to put cue marks on motion picture film.

  • Reply Rita November 4, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    I also use these and find that warming up the glass first (straight out of a hot sink, canner, or after I’ve filled it with still-warm soup, for example) makes a world of difference.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 4, 2019 at 8:32 pm

      This makes sense! I wiped down a few jars with a warm cloth ahead of time and in retrospect those ones looked best! Will continue to experiment with warm vessels/pencil!

    • Reply Jay November 6, 2019 at 10:26 am

      This! They need to be warm to the touch but dry for the markers to work best.

  • Reply Alyssa November 4, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    I, too, have many jars of many flours. I use sharpie and then spray with cleaner (you can also use rubbing alcohol) to remove when needed.

  • Reply Melissa November 4, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    Stabilo makes a pencil– known as #8040 or “All” –which writes on all surfaces, including paper, glass, plastic and metal. I have one in red, but maybe it’s available in other colors too? It sharpens to a nice point and writes beautifully.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 4, 2019 at 8:30 pm

      Ah, excellent!

      • Reply Amelia November 5, 2019 at 12:19 pm

        Yes, that Stabilo pencil was a requirement in many of my art courses in college. I think it would work beautifully for this task! I bought some China markers for my kids a year or two ago and let them scribble on the big glass sliding door we had in our apartment. Good for a rainy day/the whole month of February.

  • Reply Eva November 4, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    I actually just picked up a china marker a few weeks ago for the same purpose. My mom always used one when we were growing up for labeling jars and such. So, a nostalgic purchase on my part.

  • Reply Julia November 4, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    I use sharpie and it wipes off with some water/rag/soap/ and some elbow grease.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 4, 2019 at 8:30 pm

      Ah, yes! Loving the idea of a plastic-free, no odor alternative though!

    • Reply Alice November 12, 2019 at 7:58 pm

      Are you an archaeologist??? This is exactly what we use to mark plastic artifact bags, as to erase mistakes or clean old labels.

      • Reply Alice November 12, 2019 at 8:00 pm

        Oops meant to respond to the sharpie/rubbing alcohol for erasing post.

  • Reply Emily November 4, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    Stick it under your armpit for a minute to warm/soften before writing

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 4, 2019 at 8:29 pm

      Fave tip!

    • Reply Laurie November 17, 2019 at 7:02 am

      …but, only can do so if wearing a black shirt.

  • Reply Allison November 5, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Yes! The ones I remember were orange. I distinctly remember trying to change a marked-over answer after it was graded and discovering the orange did not, in fact, erase, but instead left a tell-tale smudge that did not go undetected. Oops.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 5, 2019 at 12:43 pm

      OMG. i knew i could count on you!

  • Reply McKenzie Allyshia November 5, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    I had never heard of these before! What a brilliant idea to use them though. I will have to look into getting some and checking out the different brands.

  • Reply Julie November 5, 2019 at 9:25 pm

    Do you know about this super cool company:

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 5, 2019 at 9:38 pm

      Yes! Love those guys and share links to them often! So nice to see these there, too!

      • Reply Julie November 5, 2019 at 11:11 pm

        Actually, I probably learned about them from you!


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