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Do homemade pickled onions go bad?

Pickled onions are a delicious and versatile ingredient that can add flavor and crunch to many dishes. While commercial pickled onions last for years unopened, homemade pickled onions have a much shorter shelf life. So how long do homemade pickled onions last, and what are the signs they have gone bad?

How long do homemade pickled onions last?

The shelf life of homemade pickled onions depends on several factors:

  • Type of vinegar used – Vinegars with higher acetic acid levels, like white distilled vinegar, give pickled onions a longer shelf life.
  • Sugar and salt content – More sugar and salt act as preservatives to extend shelf life.
  • Storage method – Refrigerated pickled onions last longer than those stored at room temperature.
  • Sanitization method – Onions blanched or processed in a boiling water bath can last longer than raw packed onions.

Taking these factors into account, here are some general guidelines for homemade pickled onion shelf life:

Storage Method Shelf Life
Refrigerated 2-3 months
Room temperature 1-2 months

Refrigerating your pickled onions is the best way to maximize freshness. Properly stored refrigerated pickled onions can last 2-3 months.

How to tell if pickled onions are bad

Watch for these signs that indicate your homemade pickled onions have spoiled and should be discarded:

  • Soft texture – Fresh pickled onions should be crisp. If they start to soften, that’s a red flag.
  • Mold growth – Check the onions, brine, and jar for fuzzy mold.
  • Yeasty smell – Pickled onions will smell pungent, but a very strong yeasty or alcoholic odor means spoilage.
  • Bubbles – Small bubbles are normal, but excessive bubbles inside the jar or rising in the brine may be gas from microbial growth.
  • Sliminess – The brine may take on a slippery, slimy texture when onions start to break down.
  • Cloudiness – If the brine becomes opaque rather than clear, discard the onions.

If you see any of these warning signs, don’t risk eating pickled onions past their prime. The onions or brine may contain harmful bacteria when spoiled.

How to store pickled onions properly

To get the most shelf life out of your homemade pickled onions:

  • Use a sterilized jar and only fill with onions covered by the brine. No air gaps inside the jar.
  • Process in a boiling water bath for 10-15 minutes to seal and sanitize.
  • Make sure onions stay fully submerged in brine during storage.
  • Refrigerate after opening. The brine will keep onions preserved.
  • Use clean utensils to remove onions from the jar to avoid introducing bacteria.
  • Don’t store the jar at room temperature after opening. Always refrigerate.

Can you freeze pickled onions?

Freezing is not recommended for pickled onions. The freezing process will make the onions lose their crisp texture, turning them mushy once thawed. The onions may also absorb unpleasant freezer smells.

For best quality and safety, either refrigerate pickled onions or process and re-can them using a boiling water bath canner if you want onions to last over 2 months.


With proper refrigerator storage, homemade pickled onions can stay fresh and tasty for 2-3 months after pickling. Follow safe canning methods, keep onions submerged in brine, and refrigerate after opening to get the longest shelf life. Discard onions if you see signs of spoilage like mold, sliminess, or bad smells.

Using the right techniques, homemade pickled onions can be enjoyed for months before their flavor and crunch decline. Refrigeration and acidic brine are the keys to preventing homemade pickled onions from going bad prematurely.