Tips for cleaning out your pantry

Adriana Urbina is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow her on Instagram and visit her website for more.

One of the best things you can do to encourage both you and your loved ones to eat healthily is to have a well-stocked and organized pantry.

When was the last time you really, truly cleaned out your pantry? If the answer to that question is further in the past than you’d care to admit, then today is about to be the most productive day of your life. Now is the absolute best time to organize your pantry once and for all. It’s the perfect resolution to start the new year off right.

Here’s how to properly clean out your pantry:

What you need:

  • 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your pantry
  • A cleared-off counter to make sure there’s plenty of room to organize and see everything you have
  • Paper towels or rags 
  • Baking soda and citrus 
  • Shelf liners (optional)
  • Clear, stackable food storage containers and/or reusable glass jars 
  • Tape and markers for labeling

Cleaning — the natural way:

  • First, take everything off of your shelves so you can really start fresh.
  • Make sure to clean all surfaces and containers thoroughly: Soften gummy, grimy spots with a sprinkle of baking soda topped with a paper towel soaked in hot water. Let the baking soda work for a few minutes, and then scrape up the loosened sticky stuff with a spatula.
  • Remove mildew from slide-out wicker baskets by scrubbing them with a sponge dipped in two parts warm water and one part white vinegar.
  • Sanitize wood shelves with a cut lemon dipped in salt. Wipe clean with a slightly damp cloth.

Deciding what not to keep:

  • Check expiration dates as you pull food off the shelves. Dump expired items straight into the trash. 
  • Set aside non-expired goods you don’t think your family will ever eat and plan to donate them to a local food bank. 


  • To reduce food waste in the future, invest in clear, airtight storage containers you can transfer opened food items into. 
  • Label each container with a sticky note or another type of removable tag so you can easily identify items.
  • Matching containers stacked neatly side-by-side are much easier to keep organized than half-empty bags of chips and cereal boxes.

Restocking the pantry:

Isn’t it amazing how big your pantry looks right now, all empty and clean? Before you start loading food and small appliances back onto the shelves, create an organization system:

  • Group food you need daily access to, such as cereal and bread. 
  • Place these items in a prominent, easy-to-reach location on your shelves.
  • Gather other food items by type and place them in less accessible spots.
  • Set aside a section of your pantry for kitchen tools. Place less frequently used items in the back or up high to make room for the tools you use most often in the front at eye level.

Make a pantry master list:

  • Keep track of what you have in your pantry and what you need to restock it with by making a master list. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — just a simple list of what you currently have available and things you need to buy on your next trip to the grocery store!

If you enjoyed this story, check out these 13 things nobody tells you about organizing your pantry!

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