Pantry shelving tends to get grubby with use, no matter what material or finish it is. Dust gets in, things get spilled, packets leak – after a while it becomes clear that something has to be done. Here’s a quick guide to cleaning the pantry shelves and setting things up so they stay cleaner.
If you can remove everything from the pantry to clean, that’s ideal, but not always practical. If you can do so, you’ll be amazed at the amount of stuff a pantry holds! If not, just work a shelf at a atime, and consider using a dustcloth to cover the shelf below the one you’re working on, to minimise the amount opf dirt that gets carried down from shelf to shelf.
Start from the top. Dust and drips will fall downwards as you work, and you’ll catch them on the next shelf down, rather than messing up where you’ve already cleaned.
- Vacuum the ceiling. If the ceiling is really dirty, consider taking everything out of the pantry completely so it doesn’t get covered in fallout, but a normal ceiling with a bit of dust and a few cobwebs shouldn’t make too much mess. While you’re up there, check for gaps at the wall/ceiling join or around light fixtures which need caulking: gaps here can let in dust, dirt and insects, and let out conditioned air into the attic.
- Remove everything from the shelf you are working on. Yep, everything. Playing “musical chairs” with the cans and jars, moving them around so you can clean in patches, just doesn’t do the job.
- Clean the shelf. How you do this depends on the construction and materials: if you can remove the shelf, it’s often easier to do that to clean it rather than to clean it in place. Sticky patches will need wet washing if they are sugar-based. Stickiness that’s oil based may come off with soap or detergent, but if it’s old and hardened you may need to use a solvent such as paint thinner. Take the shelf outside to do this if you can: if you must do it indoors, make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. Test any solvent in a hidden area first, to make sure it doesn’t damage the finish on the shelf.
- Decide whether the shelf needs refinishing or even replacing. Is it bowed from years of overloading? Is the finish dinged up, discolored, chipped or rusting? Check the pantry shelving ideas page for more information on your options for replacement shelves.
- If you have removed the shelf, clean the walls around its location before you put it back in. Otherwise, clean the walls above the shelf.
- Decide whether you want to line the shelf. Shelf paper is traditional, lacy paper edgings are decorative, cushiony plastic sheets stop noises and china getting chipped, solid liners stop things falling through wire shelves. Decide what will work for you, and line the shelf if you want to.
- Replace everything on the shelf, cleaning all items as you go, discarding any that are outdated or will never be used. Place items in some logical order that will help you find what you need and keep track of what you have. You may well decide to reorganize your storage system during the cleaning process, and space may be freed up as you discard unwanted items.
- Repeat for each shelf, working your way down. Check at each stage for holes or gaps in the walls that may need caulking. I know I’m going on about this, but I have an 80 year old house and filling gaps is a part of every project!
- Once you’ve cleaned the bottom shelf, it’s time for the floor. With all the detrirtus that’s probably fallen down as you cleaned the shelves above, it may be pretty dirty, so vacuum and thoroughly clean as you normally would for your floor finish. Now think about whether and how you store things on the floor. Do large bags of pet food tend to burst open? Flour spill? Is it hard to move large crates of soft drinks? Now is a great time to revamp your floor-level storage to make it easier to use. A dolly, crate or set of drawers on casters can be a good choice for storing things at floor level while allowing you to pull them out and get at them easily.
Once you’ve replaced the last few items, step back and admire your work. Now all you have to do is find a new home for the things you’ve pulled out that don’t belong in the pantry!