Spring Cleaning

The $0 Trick to Always-Clean Kitchen Shelves

A little extra time up front = less cleaning later.

March 19, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

Welcome to Your No-Sweat Guide to Spring Cleaning, a month-long series that puts the fun (yep, for real!) back into cleaning. We’re talking spruce-ups that take less than five minutes, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that hacks, and hands-off cleaning tasks that basically…do themselves—plus our trustiest tools and helpers. The goal: clean less, go outside more.

Kitchen cabinets are actually some of the messiest spots in the home: where spills, stains, and drips go to turn into unrecognizable gunk. This can be particularly upsetting if, like me, you have recently updated cabinets that you want to try to keep shiny and new for as long as humanly possible. (All this time spent indoors has made that window real short!) A couple months after moving into our home early last year, I was forced to clean a nasty mess of cooking oils, turmeric, and sugar off an otherwise pristine surface, and that was when I decided there had to be a better way.

Enter, a tried-and-true trick à la Mom: recycled-paper liners.

I scrambled to start saving old magazines and newspapers (Yes, I still buy those on weekends). The sheets of paper that came as packing material with so many online purchases? Those would do, too. Bit by bit, I built up enough to go around my kitchen. Months later, I have a shelf in my coat closet that’s earmarked just for old paper. In a New York-sized apartment that might seem like a generous allocation of space—but let me tell you, it’s worth it. A shelf-liner makes clean up both quicker and easier.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I’ve noticed my drawer liners creep toward the back of the drawer every time I open and close the drawers. A remodeler of our bathroom suggested using a glue gun to hold the liners in place. (Yes I use liners in all the drawers and cabinets in my house). It works great! And after my husband severely injured his finger by pulling the knife tray back into position to the front of the drawer, I used a glue gun to hold the tray in place, too! The glue can easily be removed with a stiff rubber spatula. Doesn’t harm the wood. ”
— Darla C.

Full disclosure: I’ve had sporadic runs-ins with other liners in previous homes. I once tried the self-adhesive kind, which was decidedly tough to remove and left residue on the surface. Never again! I was also once bequeathed a couple rolls of a spongy, no-slip liner by a previous occupant, but it had little holes in it, which let all the crumbs and dirt out onto the surface beneath. It was also not always no-slip—bunching up every time I took something out.

With paper, on the other hand, you can either wipe it down (glossy, thick magazine paper works best for this), brush it off, or just pick it up carefully and dust it into the sink. And when things get real nasty—you just replace it, no purchases necessary. Either way, the surface of the shelf stays clean.

Heavy-weight (used or new) wrapping paper also does the job—with the added bonus of bringing good cheer via a bright color or pattern. Like the bright sole of a shoe, a kitchen drawer liner is a fun place to find a bold surprise. I once absentmindedly used a magazine spread with risqué underwear ad, which was interesting to find peeping out from under my condiments.

Here’s how I recommend you use them (but I bet you know this one):

  • Dampen a cleaning cloth and wipe down your shelves and drawers thoroughly, using a cleaning solution.
  • Wait for them to dry.
  • Position a sheet of paper (double up for problem areas) on the shelf.
  • Fold inward along the edges of the shelf for size (I run my thumbnail along the lengths of the folds to make ‘em sharp) and invert the paper. Voilà! You don’t even need to cut it.

I now use this trick all over my home, in every closet, under-sink cabinet, and bathroom vanity. Lining my dresser drawers provides a clean surface for my clothes, and in the case of my vintage furniture (that's not necessarily in impeccable shape... because, vintage) liners give them a fresh start.

But it’s still the kitchen where it’s the handiest in helping me keep things tidy. Is it perfect? No. Are there other liners available to purchase? Of course. But paired with a couple other storage tricks to catch drips and dribbles, like lazy Susans and trays, I’d say my shelves are in good hands.

My final piece of advice: Always make sure the bottles you’re putting back are clean. I like to give repeat offenders a quick wipe with a damp sponge cloth after a cooking sesh. Clean containers = clean shelves.

Will you be lining your shelves this spring? Are there other ways you keep them clean? Share them with us in the comments!

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


Joanie April 11, 2021
I often use wallpaper for the shelf /drawer liner. It’s easy to get from the paint store if they have discontinued wallpaper books. Just cut out a page. I like the variety of colors and textures.
Darla C. March 25, 2021
I’ve noticed my drawer liners creep toward the back of the drawer every time I open and close the drawers. A remodeler of our bathroom suggested using a glue gun to hold the liners in place. (Yes I use liners in all the drawers and cabinets in my house). It works great! And after my husband severely injured his finger by pulling the knife tray back into position to the front of the drawer, I used a glue gun to hold the tray in place, too! The glue can easily be removed with a stiff rubber spatula. Doesn’t harm the wood.
piggledy March 25, 2021
Similarly, I have used Velcro self-adhesive dots on the bottoms of silverware trays and other similar boxes. They prevent the sliding that was previously so annoying. My husband made a liner for under the sink and for my mother’s pantry shelves from vinyl flooring remnants. Easy to remove, wash, dry, and replace when necessary. Wiping up small messes with a damp cloth or sponge is so easy.
Sharon F. March 22, 2021
I've been dog similar for the past 100 years it seems!!!)
Use a patterned wall paper I find for about $1 r $3 a roll...far less pricey than most...still that same simple fold with the fingernail to make fit-- after cutting to fit one way. Up over the to cornices of the cabinetry I add need paper. Magazine pages would work too. Easy- peasy--- lift all those greasy dust bunnies into the trash!! Replace..done!!
Arati M. March 22, 2021
Yay. Very happy to "meet" a kindred spirit!
Alynn March 21, 2021
Freezer paper for lining shelves! White, shiny, able to be wiped clean multiple times and a reasonable price.
Arati M. March 22, 2021
Great recommendation, Alynn!!
Claudia T. March 21, 2021
my mom ALSO loved drawer liners. she likes the spongy kind or the flat sturdy plastic that you can cut. I should have lined way more drawers with paper when I was moving through all those apartments in my 20s- would have made move-out SO much easier.
Arati M. March 23, 2021
Haha never too late to (finally) learn from our moms, right?
Lori L. March 19, 2021
Just don't load up a rolling pantry shelf with vinegar bottles like I did. Even in solid maple they don't like a lot of weight. The screws wiggle out from the brackets that hold the shelves. When one side falls down, now that's a mess! It's happened to me twice. The second time, the repair man told me not to use them for cans either!
Smaug March 19, 2021
Depends on the hardware- I always preferred Accuride slides; they're commonly rated for 100lbs. and handle it easily. I've never had a screw pull out- if properly installed the load is all in sheer. I have one I made at home that sits on the bottom of the cabinet with wood retaining strips on top- I load it down with bags of flour, cans and bottles and it's never complained.
Laurie C. March 19, 2021
Amati, my favorite shelf liner is actually peel and stick floor vinyl squares. You can cut it with scissors to get the right size, and it especially works well under sinks in kitchen and baths, and under stove tops. Easy clean up with warm soap and water and comes in a variety of patterns and colors.
Arati M. March 19, 2021
Great idea—and a fun way to bring pattern and color in as well!
Liz S. March 19, 2021
I'm not sure I'll go the liner route ... maybe a few spots, BUT putting cleaning bottles before storing ... I can't believe that I just started to be more vigilant about that: vanilla extract, oils, Tabasco were common shelf offenders!
Arati M. March 19, 2021
Right? Such a game-changer! All those things I watched my mom do and shook my head at, now I do!
Annada R. March 19, 2021
Hey Aarti, thanks for the tips in this article! I have tried using newspapers and over a period of days, they start sticking to the shelves. And at the time of replacing I see that they leave an imprint on the shelf. Anything to avoid this?
Arati M. March 19, 2021
Ah, this hasn't happened to me yet, but have you tried rubbing alcohol? I'd say perhaps change out the papers more often? (Good reminder to me to do the same.)
Arati M. March 19, 2021
Also, Annada, try using trays and turntables under anything super oily/sticky.
Smaug March 19, 2021
It would depend on the shelf, but I've found that one of those Mr. Clean magic erasers will take newspaper imprint from some surfaces that it wouldn't wash off of.
Arati M. March 19, 2021
What would do without our Mr. Clean erasers?!
Smaug March 19, 2021
Plastic turntables are pretty easy to clean. Also depends on the shelf- unfinished wood is just about impossible, but with a good polyurethane finish cleans pretty easily, and things like melamine clean up well. There's been a lot of work done on adhesives; hard to believe there isn't someone making easy-off shelf paper.
Arati M. March 19, 2021
I agree, Smaug! Love a good turntable! Especially for my bottles of oils and vinegars! With liners: there are tons available (some better than others). I have to say I do prefer reusing my old paper. Just a choice...
Smaug March 19, 2021
My mother went the hard core route and lined her wooden shelves with plastic laminate for a permanent solution- requires some skills to cut, glue and trim it, but it's great once it's done.