8 Easy Steps to Keep Your Pantry Clean Forever

April 25, 2018

Welcome to Spring Clean Your Life, your one-stop shop for gotta-try-those tips & bookmark-me inspiration to spruce up your kitchen and home this season—and well beyond.

I am a person who likes to hold on to messes. I think a little disorder in my daily life signals that I have other things to do but clean. But every now and then, I get struck with a hot fury to tackle some part of the accumulated disorder; cleaning projects are more absorbing than daily tidying. After a year-and-a-half of living in our current kitchen, I decided that I would have to rethink my own cupboards. The pasta corner was filled with open bags, the honey corner was sticky, and every shelf seemed to have its own can of pumpkin puree from some pumpkin spice baking project I long ago deferred.

Here’s a list of tricks I used as I worked my way through my own closeted mayhem.

1. De-crumb

The most heavily used drawer in our kitchen is the carb drawer, which holds sandwich bread, crackers, cookies, dried fruit, and nuts at the ready for stray, grazing hands. It is accessible to all. It is regularly filled with half-open containers and stray crumbs. Every so often, and truthfully, not quite as often as I should, I shoot my cordless vacuum, with its narrow brush attachment into the drawer. When I don’t feel like hauling out my vacuum, I’ll sometimes just use my narrow crumb brush, which is about six inches long and can corral crumbs into a pile, which I then scoop up with a piece of cardstock, such as the monthly Bed Bath & Beyond coupon (you can also get one with its own tiny dust pan).

My trusty little crumb brush. Photo by Sara Dickerman

2. De-film the shelves

Even inside cupboards, kitchen surfaces get that sticky-dusty haze that never quite feels right. Really smooth surfaces like glass and stainless steel can get smooth and shiny again with a little wipe of a vinegar-based cleaner. You can purchase one, but if you’re feeling like a crafty project, you can scent your own vinegar cleaner. I put the peels of two grapefruits and a rounded tablespoon of coriander seeds into a pint of white vinegar and let it soak for five days or so. Then I strain the vinegar and mixed it in a 1:1 ratio with water before putting it in a spray bottle.

3. De-grease your handles

Grubbier parts of the kitchen, including drawer and refrigerator handles, and the kitchen hood, can use a little more scrubby power. You certainly don’t need to make your own spray, but I felt kind of creative and witchy as I brewed up a DIY basic (as in not-acid) cleaning formula I found on Wellness Mama. I added Palo Santo oil to give my cleaning spray the scent of a trendy boutique that sells fancy macramé, clogs, and complicated pants. It worked nicely, especially on my tricky little door handles, though in some cases, I had to run a damp cloth over the surface after to completely remove the haze that was left behind. While you’re degreasing, see if the cans and containers in your cupboard need a little wipe, too.

Grease, be gone! Photo by Sara Dickerman

4. De-pest

As someone who has often waged war on pantry moths, I can’t encourage you enough to get all grains and grain-adjacent products (quinoa, buckwheat, nuts) into airtight containers. If you do it right away, moths wont have a chance to root around and make a home in your edibles, and you will avoid a lot of annoyance. If you do end up with an infestation, you can find simple pantry pest traps at the natural foods store—they look like very tiny, sticky tents filled with bug-alluring lures. Do not place the traps until you’ve thoroughly de-crumbed your cupboards first.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I just cleaned mine. My cabinet space is limited. I use pint jars for my spices with chalkboard stickers on lid. Easy to see when I open drawer. I use 3 cup Ball jars for dry and liquids, grains, baking powder to vinegars and oils. I add a bayleaf to dry grains including rice to discourage the moths. Thanks for the encouragement to get organized!”
— Tammy R.

Speaking of pests, it’s not quite the season, but it is completely easy to combat fruit flies: Take some of that vinegar and any little fruit trimmings you might have on hand and put it in a wide-mouth jar. Make a cone with a piece of paper and stick it in the jar. Stick the contraption on the counter. Fruit flies will be drawn to the scent and fly into the jar, but won’t be able to get out.

Don't you love an easy, cheap solution? Photo by Sara Dickerman

5. Take Inventory and Edit

In addition to the wandering pumpkin puree, I realized that I have been collecting tiny cans of chopped chile verde as if I’m actually making queso every weekend. Which I have not done once. It is just part of my identity of someone who could make queso if she suddenly felt like it. I decided I could still be that person with just two cans of chile verde, not five. I also saved myself a little effort by crossing ketchup, kosher salt, and canola oil off my shopping list. I have had them in the cupboard all along.

6. Corral it

Cans are easy, since they stack so nicely and they have exciting labels: Clearly I need more whole tomatoes on hand to punch up the left side of my cupboard. But for bitsy things that don’t quite justify their own container, I like to gather like items together into baskets or little organizers. I have a big Cambro container to carry my umami boosters like seaweed, bonito flakes, and dried shiitakes, items that otherwise have a tendency to sprawl and burst all over the shelves. I am really pleased with the colorful little baskets I picked up cheap at the local restaurant supply store (where you can also get Cambro-style containers). They are meant, I think, for serving tortilla chips, and they are actually dishwashable, though I haven’t tried that yet. See how cute my dried fruit looks?

Cute, inexpensive baskets help corral wayward pantry items. Photo by Sara Dickerman

7. Get (Pasta) Hack-y

There is a very fancy food shop near my house that sells a box of “mixed shape” pasta for about $9 a box. I have managed to delight my kids with my own version. I dump all extra pasta bits into a jar and stir to mix. I know it's not ideal from a cooking-and-texture perspective, since different shapes take different times, but I’ll tell you: Kids love to eat fusilli mixed with penne and that random snowflake pasta I picked up at some post-holiday sale. It’s as close as they get to finding the different shaped marshmallows in Lucky Charms.

The kids love it! Photo by Sara Dickerman

8. Cap it

I’m the kind of disorganized chef who often loses the cap to bottles, so I now have several spare small corks and liquor pourers around to fill in on my oil and vinegar bottles in case of another loss. Look for pourers with a little flap to cover the hole so that oils and vinegars don’t oxidize.

Be honest: How often do you give your pantry a deep clean? Let us know below!

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Sara Dickerman is the author of Bon Appetit: The Food Lover's Cleanse and Dried and True, and her new book The Secret of Great Second Meals.


Lisa R. December 29, 2018
Must Do when I am in a good emotional place and fully healed. Of course my personal assistant can help me, thanks to my sweet husbanf
Tammy R. April 25, 2018
I just cleaned mine. My cabinet space is limited. I use pint jars for my spices with chalkboard stickers on lid. Easy to see when I open drawer. I use 3 cup Ball jars for dry and liquids, grains, baking powder to vinegars and oils. I add a bayleaf to dry grains including rice to discourage the moths. Thanks for the encouragement to get organized!