How to Green Clean and Organize Your Pantry

How to Green Clean and Organize Your Pantry

Amber Byfield
Feb 10, 2011

If you were any bit as inspired as we were by this pantry makeover last week, take heart: you, too, can pull off a deep-clean and reorganization of that cluttered food storage space in the kitchen. And here's the thing: we've got great green tips to make it sustainably remarkable. Or maybe remarkably sustainable. You decide.

What You Need

A pantry in need of cleaning
Eco-friendly cleaners (like vinegar and water or baking soda)
Cork shelf lining
Containers for bulk items
Low- or no-VOC paint in a semi-gloss finish

Cleaning cloths
Broom and mop


We like to start with a deep clean of the actual pantry.

1. If you really want to makeover the pantry, you're going to have to totally empty it first. From floor to ceiling, remove all your cereal boxes and jars of pickles and canned beans.

2. Deep clean your empty pantry. Starting at the top and working your way down, dust the shelves and then wipe them down with a vinegar and water solution. For tough spots, make a paste with baking soda and water, scrub it in, and wipe it clean. Be sure to sweep and mop the floor to finish it off.

3. You might find that your pantry's paint needs a little touching up. Especially since this is a food area, reach only for low- or no-VOC paints here. We covered our shelves in Olympic's low-VOC high-gloss in Ultra White. The higher the sheen, the easier a painted area is to clean.

4. Line the shelves with cork. You may not want to line your entire pantry; we tested this out and (to save money and resources) we only lined one shelf with cork. This shelf is home to our cooking oils and honey, and the cork saves the wooden shelves from getting all nasty and gooey from those products.

5. Be sure to put a stop to pantry moths. With everything out, this is a great opportunity.

With the cleaning done, it's time to pare down the pantry.

6. Take stock of your pantry items. Compost any expired food and recycle the packaging. (Some expired cereals could even be used to feed the birds, but don't throw out rice for animals as it can be harmful!)

7. Organize. Separate your pantry items into groups that make sense to you. For us, that meant: Canned food, grains (including rolled oats, rices, etc.), pasta, flours, miscellaneous baking needs, miscellaneous nuts/seeds/chocolate chips (aka, cookie add-ins), and spices. We also keep a few random kitchen items in our pantry, like the wok and steamer baskets, so be sure to take that into consideration.

8. Containerize. This is the part where oh-so-green bulk bins and glass containers become your best friends.

  • Decide what items you buy in bulk (or can start buying in bulk). We purchase AP flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, nuts, pasta, dried beans, rolled oats, rices, and other grains in bulk, and that translates nicely to containers that fit inside our pantry. Taking stock of your pantry this way is a great chance to start shopping in a more eco-friendly way.
  • Find out more about buying in bulk here.
  • After determining how many containers you need, determine the size. You may use a lot of whole wheat flour and less sugar, so containerize accordingly.
  • Don't go out and buy 15 new containers for this project. Get creative and be green! To stay organized, though, group similar things into similar containers. For instance, use quart-sized canning jars for dried beans, large glass jars for flours, and repurposed medium containers (like coffee cans, etc.) for grains. We find that square containers are optimal.

9. Organize your containers. We found that the best way to do this is to grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Sketch out your pantry's shelves first. Decide which spots are most easily accessible and assign those to your most-used items. If your pantry is deep, then put frequently-used items toward the front and shove less important things to the back. Make oatmeal every morning? Put it front and center. Use cinnamon more than garlic salt? Make sure it's closer to the access point. And so on, until everything necessary is back in the pantry.

10. Step back and admire your work. In our own pantry reorganization, we found ways to reuse containers we had around the house. The only purchases? A few small shelves and one pull-out drawer.

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(Images: Colorful pantry, Home Shopping Spy; House of Smiths pantry, House of Smiths; Bulk pantry, Design*Sponge; Grains in jars, Faith Durand; Bulk bins, Re-Nest; Cork liner, Container Store; Eco paints, Re-Nest)

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