Clean Like You Mean It

How to Get Your Spice Cabinet in Order—& Keep it That Way

Because spices do go bad, you know.

March 16, 2022
Photo by Ty Mecham

Clean Like You Mean It shows you how to tackle the trickiest spots in your home—whether they’re just plain gross or need some elbow grease. You’ll get the cleaning secrets we’ve learned from grandma, a guide to our handiest tools and helpers, and so much more. Pull on those rubber gloves and queue up the tunes: It’s scour hour!

A few weeks ago, I was making a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread in my bread maker, and as I was dumping ingredients into the pan, I came to the jarring realization that I had no cinnamon! Kind of a big oversight. The recipe had already started, so I sent my boyfriend on an urgent trip to the store to get some, but the next day, I was digging around in the back of a kitchen drawer, and what do you think I found? Yup, a bottle of unopened cinnamon. Oops!

All that to say, my spice collection could definitely use some organization—and likely a good purge. It’s definitely going to be on my spring cleaning agenda, and if you’re planning to do the same, here’s how to clean, sort, and store your spice cabinet like a pro.

Take It All Out!

If your spice cabinet—or drawer or rack—needs a deep clean, start by taking everything out of it. Not only will this allow you to take stock of what you have, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to vacuum and wipe down the area to get rid of any residue that could potentially attract pests to your pantry. Once everything is out, the fun part begins!

Check Those Expiration Dates

I know my mother has a few jars of spices that have been hanging around since the 2000s, but believe it or not, spices do go bad—some more quickly than others. Thankfully, most spices today have an expiration date printed somewhere on the bottle for easy reference. For instance, the small McCormick bottles have it printed on the bottom, and the mid-size ones have it on the bottle’s neck.

While you have all your spices out, go through your collection and toss ingredients that are well past their expiration date. It (probably) won’t make you sick to use expired spices, but the herbs tend to lose their potency, so your meals will be lacking in flavor. Personally, I tend to keep spices that are only a month or two past their expiration date, but it really depends on how much is left in the jar and how frequently I use them.

If you have spice containers sans expiration date, there are a few ways to decide if they’re worth keeping. McCormick explains that whole spices (ie. whole cloves, peppercorns, etc.) are good for around four years, and ground spices are good for three to four years. Leafy herbs, whether whole or ground, have the shortest shelf life of between one and three years.

You can also use your senses to determine if your spices are past their prime. If once-green herbs are looking brown or gray, it’s time to toss them. Similarly, most spices lose their scent and taste as the years pass, so give them a whiff to see if they still have any life left in them.

Decide How to Sort Them

Once you’ve sufficiently purged any old spices, it’s time to create a storage plan for your remaining ingredients. If your collection is small, you might be able to store them all in one place, whether it’s a countertop rack or spice drawer, but if you’re like me, you definitely need to split them up into groups.

Personally, I keep the spices that I use most frequently on a wall-mounted rack—this one from The Container Store, to be exact. This usually includes basics like basil, oregano, chili powder, garlic powder, ground cinnamon, and so on. Less-frequently used spices, such as coriander and poppy seeds, get stashed in a kitchen drawer. This method is fairly popular, but there are other ways to sort your spices, as well. Some people like to keep them in alphabetical order like they are in the grocery store, while others sort them by cuisine type—Indian spices together, Mexican spices together, and so on. It really depends on what would work best for you.

Upgrade to Uniform Containers

If you’ve been browsing celebrity pantries on Instagram and want to take your spice organization to the next level, now’s the perfect time to transfer everything into uniform containers. There are lots of options to choose from, including stacking jars for your counter and jar sets with a rack. Some even come with chic spice labels to help you keep track of everything.

While a perfectly uniform spice rack is undeniably satisfying, there are a few things to keep in mind if you go this route. First, you’ll be doing away with those crucial expiration dates, so it’s important to make a note of when they go bad—a lot of people opt to jot it on the bottom of each jar. Second, look for jars that have a tight seal, as this will keep them fresh for longer.

Invest In Spice Organizers

Now that your spice cabinet is clean and your jars are sorted, it’s time to put everything back. If your spice collection tends to devolve into a jumbled mess, you may want to invest in some sort of organization system. Countertop spice racks are a popular choice, as are tiered stands for the cupboard. Drop-down racks are ideal for high shelves, or an angled tray will keep your jars visible in a kitchen drawer. Really, no matter where you plan to store your spices, there’s an organizational tool available to help keep them tidy.

How do you keep your spices in tip-top shape? Tell us below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

Photo by Ty Mecham. Design by Angelyn Cabrales.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Medora Van Denburgh
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Medora V. June 22, 2022
This has always been a conundrum for me, as my herb and spice inventory usually contains at least 60 items. I don't know how many versions of maintaining order I've been through, most unsatisfactory. My former favorite was a lucky antique store find: a wall cabinet with a glass door that had originally displayed products like Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup in a general store. That was left bolted to the wall of the kitchen when I sold the house.

My new (and forever) favorite I discovered seven years ago: Vertical Spice. It's an ingenious system for storing those small glass jars--and many other pantry items--in your cupboards in a way that uses space efficiently and doesn't allow things to disappear in a dark corner. Added benefits include being able to organize items alphabetically, or by any criterion you choose, and keeping them clean because they're not out on the counter all the time.

On the topic of "expiration," I don't put much stock in it, especially when it comes to spices. I have found that as long as covers are screwed on tight, they can be used indefinitely. Just increase the quantities; the flavors remain but can lose their intensity. Whole spices seem to stay as tasty as when first purchased until they are ground.
Marianna F. March 24, 2022
I keep my spices in a box (well, two boxes) with labels on the jar tops. This way I take down the whole box from a shelf and can see and access everything
Nancy March 17, 2022
Good article. Like especially two points. Separating spices into groups (deliberately) as most of us do this anyway (de facto). Paying attention to expiry dates (though many from manufacturers are way too generous).
M March 17, 2022
By all means, purge what is very old and unused, but go by taste/smell rather than date. I have old spices (whole and ground) that would be past their date if they had a date, but still smell and taste wonderful.
LadyOwen March 16, 2022
I keep my most used spices at the front of my drawer, I made my own tilted drawer storage with painters tape and cardboard, so much easier. I could tweak the angles, make sure the jars won't hit the top and best of all, basically FREE! I have the more seasonal and specialty spices in a basket that has a list tucked into the front with all I have in there. I'd rather reuse cardboard and make something simple than spend $80 on a rack.
Liz S. March 16, 2022
I know this is probably not a popular choice on a site with delicious recipes of all types, but I seriously whittled down the variety of spices I keep on hand. My normal meal rotation (household of 1 human - me) is not extremely varied so I keep a 4 oz jar of the spices I need for my primary dishes. If I get a craving for something wildly different, I buy small amounts in the bulk section for whatever. For example, keeping 4-6 jars of the spices needed for special curries is wasteful for me, but buying a little of what I need on occasion = no waste. It also means, that some specialty dishes I can't make spur of the moment, but I'm ok with that :)

So, my primary stock is 8 4 oz jars of things I use all of the time. I grow some herbs as well that I do not duplicate in dried: basil, chives, thyme, mint. Oregano also, but I do duplicate that in dry.

Bottomline, and I try to do this with all pantry items: stock only what I use often and buy small quantities of specialty items as needed.
Nancy March 17, 2022
Liz - similar situation (living alone, mostly cooking for 1, sometimes for guests and/or gifts). Have whittled my spice collection down and find myself using blends's somehow easier and quicker. Occasionally I'll try a commercial blend (having great results recently with shawarma and Montreal steak spice), but more often make my own - many from trading and eating area that runs from North Africa across to subcontinent (ras el hanout, za'atar, hawaidj, garam masala). This makes both cooking and garnishing easier, and I use up what I have.
Thud March 16, 2022
I bought a case of these: They are glass wide mouth jars with phenolic tops that are large enough to easily accommodate measuring spoons of all sizes, and they fit in my drawer. Which meant I could get some circular laser labels and quickly run off labels that I could see from above--everything is visible at once, nothing hiding behind other bottles.