How To Really Clean Your Pantry

Food pantries get a lot of traffic in the kitchen, and unless you obsessively keep it up to The Home Edit standards, it's an easy place to overlook when cleaning. But like most things in your home, the more often you dive in and tidy up, the easier it will be to manage (as well as stay on top of what food you have in the house). Modern Glam recommends cleaning your pantry monthly. If that's unrealistic, you can still aim to tidy up individual shelves and discard expired food regularly, making a deeper pantry cleaning go a lot faster when you have the time.

There are several foods you should avoid storing in your pantry, such as opened containers of maple syrup and certain oils. Instead, find a new home for them to extend their shelf life and lessen your chances of accidentally eating a mouthful of mold or pantry pests. Read on for more tips on giving your pantry a good scrub-down.

Clean your pantry from the top to the bottom

A golden rule in cleaning is to start from the top and work your way down, according to Clean My Space, and your pantry isn't an exception. Otherwise, you risk sweeping dust and debris down from higher shelves onto a shelf you already tackled. If your pantry doesn't reach the ceiling, you should begin at the very top. Vacuum up all the crud that has collected above your pantry, then swipe a microfiber cloth over it to clear the remaining dust and cobwebs.

A quick hack you can try — because this isn't the most enjoyable work — is to line the top of your pantry. One Good Thing recommends covering exposed cupboards with wax paper, parchment paper, or similar disposable material and then simply toss or recycle it on cleaning day. Replace the sheet with a fresh one, and you will be good until your next cleaning. If your pantry has doors, be sure to wipe down the cabinet exteriors as well before diving in –- and take extra care around detailing or the ridges of shaker-style cabinets.

Remove everything from your pantry

As tedious as it sounds, yes, you're going to have to take everything out of your pantry if you want to give it a proper cleaning. This makes tidying your pantry before a big grocery shopping run an ideal time when fewer cans and boxes clutter up the shelves. Starting from your topmost shelf, begin taking items down and try to group them on the floor or a countertop in a way that's easiest to put them back in the right place. If you discover an item that should go elsewhere, set it aside or in its proper group. And if something should definitely be tossed, have a recycling or trash bin handy to put it in.

While you're removing items, it's good to take stock of anything that needs a little extra cleaning, My Frugal Home notes. Wipe down sticky cans or bottles with dribbles down the side, and find a new home for the contents inside cracked and broken containers.

Wipe the pantry shelves clean

Once everything is out, it's time to wipe down your pantry shelves. How you'll go about this will depend on what type of material you're working with. Always use the recommended cleaner for your shelf type, but in most cases, a little vinegar will do the trick. Shelves made from particle board can be cleaned with a 50:50 solution of water and vinegar. Wire pantry shelves can use a 3 to 1 water-vinegar solution, and a mild vinegar cleaner also works on plastic shelves. If you have metal shelves in your pantry, The Cleaning Company suggests vinegar as well, along with a few other options. If you spot rust, they say lemon juice and vinegar should do the trick.

Avoid saturating particle boards or wooden shelves with liquid cleaners since this could damage or warp them. Instead, wet a cloth with the cleaner of your choice. To get at corners, ShelfGenie recommends dipping a toothbrush in cleaner and scrubbing gently. If your shelf is sticky, a squirt of dish soap in water should do the trick. Finally, always dry your cabinet completely before putting pantry items back on the shelves. Use a dry towel to wipe the moisture off of wood shelves.

Only put back what you need

Now that you've taken everything out of your newly dusted pantry, it's time for a little spring cleaning. Hopefully, you've grouped your unpacked pantry items in a way that's easy to put back. But before you start stacking, scan the tops and insides of your containers. What's expired? Which impulse buys and random gifts will you never actually use? And lastly, are there any boxes of crackers with one or two left inside? Or half-empty snacks you can combine into one container? Everything from your pantry should be put in one of three categories: what you plan to toss or recycle, items to donate to a local food pantry, and what you will keep.

Make quick work of organizing what you've got, and then it's time to load it up. When you clean your pantry pretty regularly, you shouldn't find too many surprises, and you'll probably make use of items that aren't front and center before they expire. Modern Glam recommends creating a pantry checklist to keep on top of what's in stock and what you need to pick up at the grocery store –- as another way to eliminate surprises and use up food before it spoils.

Organize your shelves

Before you put everything back, consider whether it's time to come up with a better organizing system for your pantry. As a basic rule, you'll want to keep the items you use most on the shelves easiest to reach –- ideally at eye level. You also should avoid putting heavy items on high shelves. Reaching up for large cans and bottles is harder and could result in a busted toe if you drop them accidentally. If you store flour in your pantry, consider moving it to an airtight container to avoid flour mites.

Many items on the market, like bins for grouping similar items, will make your pantry easier to tidy in future cleanings because you can simply slide them in and out. Clear containers for beans, pasta, rice, cereal, and similar foods are a great way to see how much is left and what needs to be switched out (bigger size containers will also allow you to combine smaller packages, creating more horizontal room). And if you are obsessed with Instagram-worthy food storage, look into fancy labels, spice risers, lazy susans, and other products. Driven By Décor has some great tips to maximize your space, and you can find a great list of organizing tools here.