Use this pantry cleaning checklist to get your pantry clean, organized, and more efficient than ever before.
One of the easiest ways to cook cheaper, faster meals is by getting your pantry under control. When you can see what ingredients you have, figuring out what to make for dinner or making a weekly menu plan is a breeze. And when it’s time to head to the store, an organized pantry keeps you from spending money buying things you’ve already got.
Steps to Clean and Organize Your Pantry
Time involved: 30-60 minutes
Equipment You Need
- Trash can and bags
- Step stool
- Cleaning cloths
- Spoon or rubber spatula
- Bucket or large bowl
- Vacuum with attachments
- Air-tight food storage containers
Materials You Need
- Warm water
- Liquid dish soap
- Baking soda (bicarbonate)
- White vinegar
- Peppermint oil
1. Set Up Your Space
The first step in cleaning and organizing your pantry involves emptying it. So, clear a space to hold all the stuff you’ve been keeping in your pantry. Your kitchen table works, but if that’s going to involve a lot of walking that slows you down, just spread a blanket on the floor and put things there. (Using the floor is also great if you’ve got a small apartment or kitchen.)
2. Purge Your Pantry
Keeping your trash can close to your pantry while you work makes it easy to toss expired foods. So, check the labels and dump anything that’s gone bad. (Here’s how to understand packaging dates so you don’t toss food that’s still safe to eat.) Make a note of items you need to restock.
3. Give Away Good, Unwanted Food
Don’t forget, you can donate food that’s not expired. Your local food pantry is always in need of unexpired, shelf-stable items. Or see if there’s a little free mini pantry near you and help stock its shelves. (You could even start one of your own to help people in your neighborhood!) Have a second, empty bag available for these items. Add items to it as you remove them from your pantry.
4. Sort into Sections
Put the foods you aren’t tossing or donating onto your workspace, whether that’s the counter or the floor. Instead of just dumping things, though, try to keep things you use often separate from those you only need once or twice a year. This will give you a head start on organizing your pantry shelves.
4. Clean Your Pantry Shelves
Once your pantry is empty, clean the ceiling, walls, shelves, and floors in that order. That way, you’re moving dust and cobwebs down and then out of your pantry.
The easiest way to clean wire pantry shelves is by using your vacuum cleaner’s dust attachment brush. Run the brush slowly across the top and the bottom of the wire shelves so the bristles have a chance to reach all sides. For wood shelves, either use your vacuum’s soft brush attachment or a damp cloth to remove dust.
Use the spoon or rubber spatula to scrape up any sticky messes on your pantry shelves. Then, sprinkle baking soda to absorb the mess and wipe it clean with a microfiber cloth dipped in warm, soapy water. Dry the shelves with another cloth, or let them air dry if you have plenty of time.
To protect your pantry from several types of household pests, combine equal parts water and distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle, then add a few drops of peppermint oil. Spray this mixture on your shelves. Wipe with a dry cloth or let them air-dry. Mice and spiders hate the smell of peppermint!
5. Lining Pantry Shelves (Optional)
I’m not a fan of adhesive shelf paper because it always seems to peel up in the corners, and that sticky mess collects dirt. Those peeling corners are also a favorite breeding spot for pests, so if you have lined shelves and haven’t had any luck getting rid of pantry moths or cockroaches, you might want to ditch the liners.
I do love removable rubber shelf liners, though, because you can easily run them through the washing machine when they look messy then smooth them back into place. If you’ve got wire pantry shelves, a liner keeps things from falling through the gaps. (I’ve used the same set of these* for years on my shelves, and they still look brand new.)
6. Repackage Dry Goods
Storing pasta, grains, and other dry foods in clear containers isn’t just about making your pantry look good for Instagram. It’s also about protecting your food from household pests that will chew through paper and even plastic to eat your food and breed in there, too.
Make sure your containers lock or seal tight, so pests can’t get into them. Choose clear ones if you want to see at a glance what’s inside them, or opaque ones if you plan to use labels. And opt for square, stackable containers if you have a small pantry since they take up less space than round ones. (I use this clear set from Chef’s Path that comes with blank, reusable chalkboard labels.)
7. Reshelve Strategically
As you removed things from your pantry, you separated things you often use from things you only use now and then. Now, it’s time to group things that you often use together. For example, if you frequently bake cookies, you’ll save a lot of time if you store your baking ingredients near your sprinkles, chocolate chips, and other stir-ins. More of a soup maker? Then keep your pasta, beans, and canned vegetables close to each other.
When putting things on your pantry shelves, a good organization rule is to shelve things based on how often you need them. Try something like this:
- Highest shelves: Holiday or seasonal ingredients and supplies (e.g., pickling spices or canning supplies, holiday serving ware, etc.)
- Eye-level shelves: Foods you often use, grouped by function (e.g., baking supplies with cake decorations and cookie cutters; pasta and beans used in soup near canned goods, etc.)
- Waist- and knee-level shelves: Healthy snack choices you want your kids to grab; and less-often used foods with long shelf-life, like cans.
- Bottom shelf or floor: Heavy and bulky items too dangerous to store on higher shelves.
How to Keep Your Pantry Clean
Once you’ve taken the time to clean and organize your pantry, you’ll find it stays tidier, too. When the things you use most often are easy to grab, you won’t wind up rummaging through your shelves every time you cook. From there, it’s a matter of wiping spills when they happen and straightening items as part of your weekly kitchen cleaning routine. Then, once a season or so, discard expired foods and donate things your family won’t eat.
Printable Pantry Cleaning Checklist
Hang this pantry organizing checklist inside your pantry door or tuck it in your household binder for an easy way to remember all the pantry cleaning checklist steps.
Click to open a .pdf for printing.