Introduction: "The Alvin" Vacuum Sealer

Picture of "The Alvin" Vacuum Sealer

Have you ever wanted to vacuum-seal leftovers to keep them fresh? Looking for a way to keep your popcorn or coffee beans fresh for longer? Want to vacuum pack dry goods for long term storage? If you answer "YES" but don't want to lay out $100 or more dollars for one of the commercial vacuum sealer machines, then do what I did - assemble your own for $30 from readily available parts! Using a $20 brake bleeder and a mason jar sealer, you can vacuum seal anything you can fit into a mason jar. I call this "the Alvin" vacuum sealer, after my late pop, who always taught me to do more with less and set aside the extra for later.

PLEASE NOTE: This IS NOT a substitute for wet-pack canning using a pressure canner. This technique will not prevent botulism or spoilage in wet-pack foods (meat, fresh fruits/vegetables). This technique is ONLY appropriate to prolong the shelf life of dry goods to be stored at room temperature ( dry means <10% moisture such as popcorn, wheat, coffee, beans, dehydrated meat, fruits & vegetables) OR moist foods stored in the refrigerator / freezer.

Step 1: Acquire the Necessary Tools.

Picture of Acquire the Necessary Tools.

You'll need:
1) A brake bleeder/vacuum pump from Harbor Freight (cost=$19.99).
2) A Tila FoodSaver mason jar adapter (I bought mine from Bass Pro Shop for $9.99).
3) A clean empty mason jar with a new lid. You can get these from WalMart or some grocery or hardware stores. Or ask your grandmother for one.

Step 2: Fill the Mason Jar

Picture of Fill the Mason Jar

Fill the clean mason jar with whatever it is you wish to vacuum seal.

Vacuum sealing is NOT a substitute for proper canning/preserving. Items which will normally spoil if left out unrefrigerated will still do so when vacuum sealed.

Step 3: Seal the Jar.

Picture of Seal the Jar.

Place a clean mason jar lid on the jar. Make sure the sealing surface is clean and dry. For this step, use the flat lid only and not the threaded ring. Place the FoodSaver mason jar sealer over the top of the jar and lid and push down to make sure it is completely and evenly seated.

Step 4: Evacuate the Air.

Picture of Evacuate the Air.

Press the conical tip of the vacuum pump into the hole in the mason jar sealer (be sure to press hard!). Pump the brake bleeder and watch the gauge. Pump until you have at least 20 inHg vacuum (the higher the reading, the higher the vacuum). When you have a good vacuum pulled, quickly pull the vacuum tip out of the hole, then remove the jar sealer attachment from the jar. That's it! The jar should be vacuum sealed!


Hgirls (author)2015-01-14

I'm new at this, does the seal a meal lid come off after you seal the flat lid? Is it able to suck out the air with the metal lid underneath?

siryn30 (author)Hgirls2017-10-08

Yes it comes off. It needs the metal lid on the jar to work. After it is vacuum sealed you take off the sealer and screw on the lid ring.

poeticoddity (author)2015-07-31

I first started using this method years ago, and should have left a review then. This method works extremely well, and for anyone who's on the fence about the mixed reviews for the pump on harbor freight, as long as you're not using the brake bleeder pump to bleed brakes, it holds up pretty well (apparently oils and brake fluid don't play well with the reservoir).

As an added bonus, for anyone who's ever had to hold off on vacuum sealing something because the pump was too noisy and would wake someone up, this method is relatively quiet, which is nice.

MahafuzA (author)2015-06-23

Vacuum Sealers Are Healthy

Vacuum sealers
allow you to eat healthier and save money on your grocery bill. The
healthiest foods we can eat are grown in our own garden. Home grown is
sure to be the freshest and most delicious food we will ever eat. The
main problem with home grown food is that you get way too much during
harvest time and nothing else in the spring and winter. Vacuum sealers
help solve this problem by allowing us to freeze our produce during
harvest times. Vacuum sealed food will last 3-5 times longer than Ziploc
bagged food allowing us to store a lot more food. Obviously, you will
need a freezer that is large enough to accommodate your food vacuum
sealed food.

Vacuum Sealers Save Money

Many of us
are guilty of throwing away leftovers. We may make too much of an item
and not want to eat it right away. Since the refrigerator will only save
the food for a few days, we end up throwing out our leftovers. Not only
is this wasteful, but it is also a waste of money.

My spouse and I
like to store our leftovers using our vacuum sealer and freezer. We can
eat the item later when we feel like eating it. In addition, we like to
make our own "tv dinners". One way we save time cooking is to set aside
one day for putting items together in the freezer with our vacuum
sealer. In this way, we can enjoy preparing our food on our day off and
have more time on working days to relax.

ThePaulHammer (author)2015-03-17

Is there a way to apply this to plastic/ziploc bags to make more lightweight items, like for backpacking?

dguiffrida (author)2014-01-16


Indigno (author)2011-08-14

This sounds interesting, but I'm wondering if vacuum sealing uncooked corn could possibly lead to it popping inside the mason jar...

Eric Forman (author)Indigno2011-08-14

No. Heat is required to pop popcorn.

snowluck2345 (author)Eric Forman2011-11-03

no it isn't, popcorn pops because of the water inside it boiling, which can happen at room temperature if you pull enough of a vacuum.

Eric Forman (author)snowluck23452011-11-03

I should learn not to answer so quick. You're right, of course, but I doubt that the little hand pump here would achieve that level of vacuum.

But now you've got me thinking...I have access to extremely powerful turbo vacuum pumps at work that can get down to ~.00001 atm. I should try that.

MomentumV (author)Eric Forman2013-08-27

The problem is that you can only ever get down to a vacuum of ~15 psi, and the corn is strong enough as a pressure vessel that it doesn't care about that, so the internal pressure of the water and starch at 15 psi does nothing (no pop). When you add heat (at room pressure or under vacuum) the water begins to boil and eventually pressurizes the corn shell enough to break it. under vaccuum, the corn would pop SLIGHTLY sooner, but the pressures required to pop the kernals are an order of magnitude more than atmospheric, so it would not be a significant difference.

tl;dr -- no way will you pop popcorn with vacuum and no heat.

rosewood513 (author)2013-08-16

Instead of using the pump I got a cheap hand vacuum sealer pump for about $8.00 and it works great it also works on the vacuum bags too.

Juliettesromeo (author)2013-06-08

Video said it is private, how do I view this?

crash893 (author)2008-07-21
kill-a-watt (author)crash8932009-10-10

Won't work, sorry.

This tool need compressed air to create a vacuum for sucking moisture out of an AC system.

You could probably  take the compresser that you need for that 4.2 CFM @ 90 PSI and use the inlet of that to get you your vacuum.

If you want cheap and easy, there's plans out there to hack a bicyle pump to save seeds with.

i have been reading this and wondering why a bicycle pump wasn't mentioned until now. I know i have seen a able on converting bicycle pump to a vacuum pump pretty easy. My pumps easily inflate to 100 psi, i think that is 33 bars, not sure what vacuum that is but they go higher , one i have goes to 130lbs. i onlt use the small hand bicycle pumps on the road, since they dont compare . However the one i have has a fold out foot peg ,so you use it as a floor pump and can get 100 psi out, A regular hand bicycle pump, it is extremely grueling to get 60psi, i have a collection of hand held pumps that looked great in the bike show, but were horrible on the road. What is the comparison of psi to vacuum? i since both items bicycle tube and bags are pretty small in cubic inches, it should work. I now have an interest in vacuum sealing.
Also will vacuum sealing kill any flour moths or the typical grain larvae that will hatch if you do not consume it for a long time? . Since i had a flour bug infestation due to a box of flour i hadn't touched in ten years(pre divorce food), i now freeze everything that is grain or bread mix, for a week to kill any larvae. and try and keep everything in plastic, since the work of cleaning everything, plus a second outbreak, I sealed the tiny gap around the kitchen cabinets, since some hideaways were in there preparing for the second assault. Larvae are normal, there is no way they can keep them out of foood unless they nuke it, i will stick to freezing and now vacuum seems good also.

I've seen the bicycle pump hack but haven't done it (since I only have one and use it for its intended purpose). In general, we're not talking about producing very high vacuum I don't see why it wouldn't work. If you try it I'd like to know how well it works.

Producing vacuum is different than producing pressure. Standard atmospheric pressure (at sea level) is 14.7 PSI (or 29.9 "Hg). When producing a vacuum you're moving air out of a container into the atmosphere, so a perfect vacuum would be 14.7 PSI outside the container and 0 PSI in the container. It's tempting to think "my bicycle pump can achieve 60 PSI, so 14.7 PSI won't be any problem"...but it doesn't work like that. When pumping air into a container, you're essentially packing more air molecules into the container from a limitless supply of molecules outside the container (the atmosphere). When trying to draw a vacuum you're trying to pump a very limited supply of molecules (in the jar) out. That's more difficult because molecules tend to spread out to fill the volume of the jar and pump in a somewhat uniform fashion. So the first dozen pumps are relatively're moving a large number of molecules. As you continue to pump, the "fill" stroke on the pump gets filled with fewer and fewer molecules each time. Common piston pumps (like the brake bleeder or bicycle pump) have a relatively low mechanical limit. A more expensive commercially available compressor pump has a higher limit, but still can't achieve ultra-high vacuum levels for the same reason (UHV requires other pumping technology).

Fortunately, to preserve foodstuffs in this way doesn't require ultra high vacuum levels. You just need to remove enough air to suffocate the ever present critters and minimize any oxidation. FYI 23 "Hg vacuum means about 77% of the air has been removed. That's about the pressure of the atmosphere at 45,000 feet (1.5x higher than Mt. Everest...well into the stratosphere). In my experience that's been plenty enough to keep larvae at bay.

Hope this helps.

pineapplenewton (author)2009-03-08

dose any one know of a way to hand pump a vacuum out of (or is it into) a bag like toughs space bags on TV it has to be light weight small and human powered

you mean the ones that call for a vacuum cleaner? I believe a cheap inflatable raft pump , low pressure high volume, as opposed to a bike pump high pressure low volume, would work. There are instrucables on changing the washers on a bike pump to make them a vacuum pump, i am sure the same could be done with a raft pump. you would have to fabricate a connector to match the vacuum hose. There is a tape called rescue tape, can be found on amzon or auto stores for $10 and under , it is silicone and fuses to itself, you don't need much and it works great for making airtight connecotrs.

catnip4all (author)2011-05-28

The harbor freight pump disappointingly got about 20-22"hg after lots of sweating. Mityvac Bleeder pump decently made about 23-24"hg. Very tiring. If you want a real hand pump get the pumnseal, but it's probably already discontinued. It's rated for 28"hg. If 12V doesn't bother you then a $5-$7 pump will probably go up to 23"hg without a sweat. In the end of the world scenario, 12V supply will likely be available.

thanangell (author)catnip4all2012-07-05

the pump-n-seal is still available, it seems:

whocares123 (author)2011-10-25

I really like the idea, but what a bunch of d-bags... Really, when shtf? I personally have exactly 730 days of sealed food to last when shtf...come on.

esemjay (author)2011-08-28

Why use your hands to pump? Your legs are stronger. Just use a longer hose and a simple support for the pump to hold it in place at your feet. Unless the pump handle isn't spring loaded. In that case you put a couple of pieces of para cord on the handle and create a toe strap.

Eric Forman (author)esemjay2011-08-28

LOL! I was about "that close" to making a joke about why my hands are so good at pumping...but I won't since this is a family-friendly website.

Really though, I don't find the pumping action to be very taxing at all, but I don't see any reason why your idea wouldn't work. The handle does have a return spring, btw.

hellaroms (author)2011-08-02

I really want to get started doing this for when SHTF. About how much more shelf life does this add? weeks, months, years?

Eric Forman (author)hellaroms2011-08-02

Good question for which there isn't an exact answer. Consider that the primary causes of deterioration in stored dry food are oxygen, heat, light, and time. Heat and light can be eliminated by storing your goods in a cool, dark place (such as a basement or crawl-space). This technique removes almost all of the oxygen. Commercial canning operations that produce 'survival' type dehydrated foods for long-term storage use chemical oxygen absorbers or nitrogen packing (which displaces the oxygen in the can). This is the same idea. Your vacuum sealed foods (or seeds or whatever) will last longer.

When I first wrote this instructable 3 years ago, I sealed up some gatoraide, popcorn, and a few other items. I just recently opened some of the gatoraide and popped some of the corn. It was still as fresh as the day I bought it :)

Eric Forman (author)2010-01-16

Some jerk stole my idea and is now selling it for $79.99 at  If you want to let him know what you think of people that steal the ideas of others, feel free to go to his site and leave a comment.  :)

catnip4all (author)Eric Forman2011-05-28

The people at didn't steal your idea. They are within the law to use your idea for sale. I notice they discontinue it because it fail to meet customer's need. Hand pumps are exhausting considering a pump that can probably do 23"hg can be had for as low as $5 minus the power supply. :)

snoyes (author)2008-07-05

Harbor Freight also carries a manual pump designed for this very purpose at 1/3 the price.

CypherPack (author)snoyes2008-07-06

One problem may be the level of vacuum, the brake bleeder seems like it will get a good enough vacuum for sure.

johnny3h (author)CypherPack2011-05-01

This comment is a "little" late, but I've had the plastic vacuum pump/break bleeder for about 20 years, and when new it pulled as much as 27" Hg. Now with age, it does good to make 25" Hg, which is still good as far as I'm concerned.

I have only used it for "testing" automotive vacuum components and for bleeding/replacing automotive brake system brake fluid. Works great for one who works alone.

Laral (author)snoyes2010-06-19

This one looks like a POS but I would try it to store paint and varnish. It might be OK for that. But for the current purpose, no way.

Eric Forman (author)snoyes2008-07-06

I looked at that one, however it looks like you need the "special" lids that come with the kit, rather than the regular 12 for a dollar Ball jar lids. Also the brake bleeder can pull over 25 inHg vacuum. The other one...well who knows? There's no gauge so how do you really know what kind of vacuum you're pulling?

kill-a-watt (author)Eric Forman2009-10-10

that one looks like a cheap knockoff of the "pump and seal"

The glasses at Harbor Freight look exactly like widemouth can and freeze jars. They're glass, but made such that frozen food can expand upward instead of breaking the jar. I have a ton around her to freeze chili/soup/stew/taco meat in single serving portions.

It does, however look like that you need to use their four supplied lids for their pump

I've been using the manual hand pumped brake bleeder from Harbor Freight  for over a year now. It works great! It comes with several attachments and one of them works perfectly. It seals my quart seed  and milk jars so well that I have to pry them open with a can opener and usually damage the lids.
The only thing is you have to watch out for the screw on the handle rolling of on you after a while. It works it's way off after about 6 months of heavy usage. I just check it occasionally and tighten it up. I love this system, and wouldn't be without it. I love the fact that no electricity is needed, which is a plus for when the SHTF.
Oh yea, Harbor Freight had me waiting for delivery for 2 months! I didn't like that!

take a spoon, flip it over, and press the edge into the screw thread of the jar. slide the spoon around the thread until it contacts the lid. press a little harder. The vacuum should break and you should be able to save the jar for reuse.

I have the zinc die cast version of what Harbor Freight designed a copy of. Works great.

dasadler (author)snoyes2008-07-05

Here is a link to the one referenced in the article:

I think this is a link to the one mentioned by Snoyes:

mrkitty (author)2009-11-18

For $3, you can buy a replacement accessory hose from FoodSaver so you have the right connector for the accessories.  Item T17-0059.

This is a really smart tool, even if you have a vacuum packer because you can reseal food supplies while surviving a major disaster -- even without electricity!

blue_yin (author)mrkitty2010-10-06

This is a GREAT instructable!

My one issue is that for people with small hands the pumping ( up to 25 inHG) can become very difficult, switching hands would be very useful, but not possible as letting go of the hose will prematurely seal the jar.

I find the easiest way to do it is to have someone else hold the hose tip in the jar sealer while I pump.

Anyone know a better way? Or should i just buy the accessory hose to get the proper connector so i can seal jars myself?

mrkitty (author)blue_yin2010-10-06

see my expanded post above...

mrkitty (author)mrkitty2010-10-06

I have been using this system almost daily for about a year with the food saver hose - I cut an accessory hose in half so I could give the other half to my brother to make his own system. When you use the foodsaver hose it stays connected on its own - no second person required! This means you can use both hands to pump or alternate hands. Since you are already purchasing the lid getting the hose makes good sense. The clear tube will let you know if you are sucking fine foods (like flour) into the pump.

This is the foodsaver wide mouth jar accessory with half of a T17-0059 hose and an Actron Vacuum Pump CP7830.

I use it for coffee, dried herbs, fruits and vegetables. It is good for flour as well. Would also be good for bulk spices.

Note: I also have the regular foodsaver electric pump. I used a T-connector and it seems the Foodsaver usually pulls between 20 and 25 "in. Hg vac", which I assume to mean inches of mercury. I use this as my target pressure when hand-pumping.

Laral (author)2010-06-18

It looks like Harbor Freight sells a better vacuum pump for only $8 more. The Mityvac Vacuum Pump ( ). It is made of polycarbonate which is an inert very strong durable material. The othe HF pump is brass which contains lead according to the manual: "WARNING! The brass components of this product contain lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects (or other reproductive harm). (California Health & Safety Code § 25249, et seq.)." This looks like a discontinued Mityvac model because the new models are PVC, a less durable, weaker material ( ). The finger-grip handle looks brutal compared to the new smooth handle but I'd much prefer the polycarbonate material. You can wrap the handle with foam insulation for more comfort. I'd also prefer the well-known brand name to the generic HF "U.S. General" brand name. Does anyone have experience with this pump?

Laral (author)Laral2010-07-12

Update I went to Harbor Freight and bought the Mityvac: Of note, it was the newer model that is PVC, not polycarbonate like in the HF listing. I bought it because it is a well-known brand and because the guy in the store told me they had "never had one returned". OK I could always bring it back if not satisfied. It is actually the MV8000 Automotive Tune-up and Brake Bleeding Kit: I tried it and it worked well at pumping down a 1 pint mason jar with the FoodSaver mason jar adapter which I bought at Cabela's. It is comfortable in the hand but when you pass about 15" Hg it gets really hard to pump. The empty 1 pt. jar took me 85 strokes to get to 20" Hg! My hand was aching after that but it's a great workout. :) The same jar filled with coffee beans took me 45 strokes. After using it just 3 times I noticed a fairly loud squeaking sound coming from the pin that holds the piston rod to the handle. Here is a video of what it sounds like: Here's a closer view of the offending pin: And a close-up image of same: Notice how the metal pin is at an angle and not square with the handle. Also note how it has already started to dig into the plastic. I fear that after a short time, since it will get a lot of use, it will wear right through the plastic and be totally useless. Needless to say I returned it. I replaced it, not with the HF metal pump, but with the brand name pump that the HF pump is a copy of, the Actron CP7830: It cost me the same on eBay, $25. It has a 1 year warranty and you can get a rebuild kit for $2.50 + shipping: So it should last for years. No noises other than the exhaust valve opening on the pull stroke. A very nice pump.

Laral (author)2010-06-18

This is a really great idea, a complete system. Are you using regular or wide-mouth jars? I would prefer wide-mouth since they are more versatile. Is there any reason not to use wide-mouth jars? It looks like the thief is using them in his video. BTW I tried to leave a comment on his site but the captcha script is broken so I couldn't. Figures.

friedenmeister (author)2010-02-20

 So would this work for freeze drying. Lets say i was to put some vegetables or meat in a mason jar and freeze it. Then once it's good and frozen i could come along and hook the alvin up to the mason jar and start putting it under vacuum. It seems the water should sublimate straight from ice to vapor. 

Has anyone tried this? I think it might be worth it just to give it a shot.

Sustainable_ One (author)2010-02-14

I found another great use for the Alvin-Vacuum-Sealer last year!
I posted last year about saving my rare heirloom veggie seeds using the vacuum sealer. It's been a great success! I now have a huge home seed bank and after recent testing found the germination rates are still very high this year.

I also raise and breed dairy goats for the milk and I used the vacuum sealer to seal my milk before freezing. I cannot describe to you the difference in the flavor of the milk after thawing. It has a fresh, and refreshing flavor that is out of this world! The milk was good before, but NOTHING like it is now after being vacuum sealed. It's kind of like comparing 2% milk with the flavor of heavy cream. It has a much richer flavor.
Thanks again Alvin! :)

Peter Mckee (author)2010-01-15

Do you need any special jars or are there vacuum sealing lids you need?

Eric Forman (author)Peter Mckee2010-01-16

No special lids needed - just the regular canning jars and lids.

mkinthegarden (author)2009-10-10

Just to make sure... you can remove the Food Saver top and leave only the Kerr or Ball lid, correct? The reason I don't like the Food Saver vacuum system for dry goods, besides the price and a machine that can wear out and break is that you have to buy a special lid for each jar. ( I could be mistaken)

phaedon (author)mkinthegarden2010-01-09

 That's right.  Here's a YouTube video of a seed company using one to vacuum seal some seeds for storage.

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