A Play-By-Play Guide to Polishing Up Your Pantry

Small enough to handle in a weekend, big enough to feel like a substantial change.

March 10, 2017

Durt—dur-dur-dur! (That's the sound of a trumpet, obviously.) The weekend is coming! Seize the opportunity to get a head-start on spring cleaning by tackling a big project when you've got a whole day to burn. Think of the accomplishment you will feel. The clean-headedness that will overtake you. Endorphins! It's all very exciting.

We're into such projects not just for the feel-goods, but for the treasures you'll find cleaning out a space. The pantry, treasure trove of dinner-making odds and ends, is a great place to start—small enough to handle in a weekend, big enough to feel like a substantial change.

The following is a game plan for getting it done:

Friday Night

6:00 PM

Pick up (or break out from your cabinets) any supplies you'll need for the deep clean: a new pack of Ball Jars, for storing grains and pastas when you ditch the bags? A big wire basket to toss all your food storage containers into while they lay in wait? Shelf liners to roll out once the space has been cleaned?

Feel free to, ahem, order these supplies from our shop and do your big clean out next weekend. You'll also need lots of rags, white vinegar for cleaning, a notebook and pen, and comfy pants. Nobody wants to deep clean in slacks.

8:30 PM

Later, when you're cozied up in pajamas and house slippers (yes soft clothing is a tenet of deep cleaning prep), make dinner from the dregs of pantry foods that need to be used up. Pour a glass of wine, and go to bed early so you can wake up fresh to start The Big Clean.

Saturday Morning

9:30 AM

Coffee. Bagel.

10:30 AM

Ready? The first step to pantry bliss is, you guessed it, the purge. This involves removing almost everything from your pantry's shelves and, as you do, weeding out the anonymous (or deteriorating) bottles and jars that have just seen better days.

Clear off your counter, and start transferring items from your pantry. Organize bags, bottles, boxes, and jars into categories—oils here, vinegars there. Oh wait, you have two white wine vinegars? Set one in a pile called "to use up" (this will come in handy tomorrow) and bookmark this tutorial on pickling vegetables; add any other things that need to be finished to that pile.

Compost what's compostable; drop any dirty containers in the sink for a washing. Be merciless.

11:30 AM

Second breakfast. We recommend eggs.


Gear up for the deep clean, opening any windows nearby to get fresh air in there (and let the dusty air escape). Clean any shelves in your pantry first, by dusting them using a slightly-damp microfiber cloth and then saturating a fresh cloth in all-purpose cleaner, and running it all over the shelves and cabinet walls.

Start with high shelves and work your way down, so you aren't pushing dirt onto clean shelves as you go. Dry with a clean rag.

If your pantry is a walk-in, clean the floor next—by sweeping and then giving it a once-over with a mop (yes, a Swiffer will do the trick). Light a candle nearby.

1:30 PM

Get a breath of fresh air with a quick walk around the block, and make yourself lunch.

2:30 PM

Spread out all the pantry goods on your counter, with a notebook and pen nearby. Evaluate the groupings one at a time. Are your bottles of specialty oils a little bit gunky? Address that with a clean rag that's been dipped in diluted white vinegar. And take stock: You're almost out of toasted sesame oil, right? Put it on the grocery list.

This is also the time to upgrade containers. Bags of flour, dried beans, grains, and dry noodles can be upturned into glass jars and labeled with tape and a Sharpie. Bonus points if yours are stackable.

3:30 PM

Snack. Consider a beer. Switch up the music.

4:00 PM

After you've cleaned and sorted through your things, start adding them back into your sparkly clean pantry. Put ingredients you use most frequently closer to the door, tuck beloved-but-specialty appliances in the back.

5:00 PM

Clean the counter, close the pantry doors and be done for the day. Root around the "to use up" pile for dinner, if you're feeling it. Tomorrow there's a bit more work to do.


9:30 AM

Hit snooze. You deserve it.

10:15 AM

Make your grocery list—including extra ingredients to help you spin those "to use" dregs into wonderful new somethings—and stock up. Prep and clean any produce right when you get home.

11:30 AM

Revisit your friend the pantry. Feel it out. Do you have a little extra room for new pantry items to find their way in, or is it still feeling crammed? If the latter, consider moving those most-essentials (or your spices, if they currently abide in your pantry) into the kitchen directly.


Lunch and organizational plotting. Do you want to buy and mount a cute spice caddy in the kitchen, or build one yourself using a 1" x 2", two yards of string or ribbon, and some nails? I promise you are capable of the latter: Hammer two nails into the wall, tie two equally-sized lengths of thread into large, equally-sized loops, then run the wood through them and loop them over the nails.

Could you use dish risers on some of those clean pantry shelves, to better see what's lurking in the back? Or extra-large glass containers for filling up with flour and sugar? Make a list of extra materials, and plan for next weekend's project.

(Yes, you could have done that pre-clean out, but you'll make better decisions with the joint all spruced up.)

1:00 PM

Start the projects that are inspired by your dregs. Here are some likely offenders and what to do with them:

Now put those fixings into clean containers, and use them for the week ahead.

Phewf. Is it the weekend yet?

Tell us: What are your best pantry clean-out tips?
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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


SandyToes March 20, 2017
Why does no pantry make-over photo spread feature a can of anything? What, cans of DOP San Marzanos aren't sexy enough for the camera?
dinners W. March 12, 2017
Pantry deep cleanse goals & what a fun read!