How to Clean and Organize Your Pantry

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Use this pantry cleaning checklist to get your pantry clean, organized, and more efficient than ever before.

Woman reaching for pasta stored in a jar on clean and organized pantry shelves

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 often use 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.

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 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.

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, discard expired foods and donate things your family won’t eat once a season or so.

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.

Pantry Cleaning and Organizing Checklist
Tap to open a .pdf for printing

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9 Comments

  1. amy @ fearless homemaker says:

    love this post! when i married my husband + we moved in together, i discovered all sorts of creepy stuff – sauces that expired 5+ years ago, etc. ick! i’m super guilty of leaving 5 potato chips in the bottom of a bag, pushing it to the back of the pantry, then ignoring it. i’m trying to get better, though! =)

  2. Mariette's Back to Basics says:

    Dearest Katie,

    First off, I hope that your husband is recovering well. That’s more important even than the pantry.
    Guess after several moves and quite some years I learned some tricks in keeping the pantry neat. Important is to have a sequence where you put the newest items so you don’t end up keeping the old things forever. Grouping by use is great and I do that too.
    I’ve learned to place flour and also rice in the freezer for avoiding any meal bugs. Works very well.
    Wishing you both well and sending hugs,
    Mariette

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you, Mariette. He’s recovering nicely! The tip about putting flour and rice in the freezer is an excellent one. I freeze ours for a few days after we get it home to kill anything that might be in there already, then move it to air-tight canisters. Fortunately, we don’t have a meal bug problem. (Though I’m going to keep my fingers crossed on that, the way our luck has been of late.)

  3. Small Town Mommy says:

    These are some really great ideas. I love my pantry but it can definitely get out of hand.

  4. Raquel@2dayswoman says:

    Alright, your post has really inspired me to clean my pantry (long overdue!) I suspect I’m going to find all sorts of things lurking in the back….We usually have a good suply of canned food just in case we get stuck at home.
    I hope your husband is recovering well. Best wishes to you and your family.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you, Raquel. He’s recovering nicely! I’m due for a pantry-cleaning, too, after our house guests leave. Three weeks with other people going through the cupboards and pantry willy nilly (and not even paying attention to my pretty shelf labels… *sniff*) means it’s a mess.

  5. I’m just reading over the days and this one is a day I’m NOT looking forward to. I am though looking forward to how my house will look when I’m done. So far the daily cleaning routine is going good, the other day my daughter wanted to make the bed before we got out of it.

  6. I’m starting a new job soon. With my significant other and I both working each week, I’m going to use your printables to make cleaning a faster and easier task. My life revolves around checklists, so your site is amazing to me. Thank you so much for all your hard work. 🙂

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Congratulations on your new job, Kaila. I’m glad you’re enjoying the printables!

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