Buying Pantry Shelving Systems


Are you confused wading through all the pantry shelving systems out there? It is overwhelming, to say the least. I have ventured into the shopping jungle and have gathered some key thoughts to help as a guide.

This article may contain affiliate links, but there is no endorsement of specific products, only the best advice that I can locate and continue to locate! The only products mentioned in this article are ones that have very happy customers.

If you don't have time to read the article, this is the summary:

ClosetMaid is easy to install, you save money with kits (but make sure you're buying pantry shelving and not their linen shelving) and it is the most budget-friendly. Overall, people are pretty happy with it.

Elfa and freedomRail have huge, happy fan followings. I'm not even buying pantry shelving right now - after reading so many posts by happy customers, I want to be in the Elfa/FreedomRail club (just so you know, those are two different companies!).

OK, ready for this? Let's find out more about shopping for pantry shelving systems!

signature, Renee editor EverythingPantry

Pantry shelving considerations

Before jumping into where to buy pantry shelving systems, I need to clarify a few details to help you with your shopping.

Wall-mounted vs Non-adjustable shelving

Most pantry shelving systems are wall mounted. It is CRITICAL that all pantry shelving systems are mounted correctly and with proper support. Pantry shelves hold heavy canned goods - not light clothing! Please refer to the article "Tips for Installing Pantry Systems" to educate yourself on best practices for installing shelving.

Most pantry shelving systems attach to the wall using a track or shelving standard (tracks are attached to the wall with slots to move shelf brackets around). Don't confuse this with shelving systems that are non-adjustable. These versions don't have shelving standards (tracks). Instead, each wire shelf comes with it's own bracket to attach to a wall.

Some people prefer the cleaner look without shelf tracks (it's also easier to repaint a wall, although it's best to remove the pantry system first before doing so, but if you read the "Tips for Installing Pantry Systems" you probably don't want to create damage to the wall in attempting to remove tracks that were installed with special bolts).

Modular homes and cheaper construction tend to install nonadjustable shelving. I would guess that adjustable shelving is an upgrade.

Wire spacing varies

Make sure to review the pantry line of each closet company, not the regular closet line. The pantry line will have shelves with wires that are more closely spaced together. More closely spaced means that small food items don't tip over on the shelves.

More wires also means adding to the weight of the shelf. The wire gauge for the pantry line might seem thinner than the closet shelf line. You will just have to compare if you are able to do that in person. It's not completely bad that the pantry shelving might be thinner, as long as the wires are close together to stop objects from tipping over (tipping is a common complaint with pantry wire shelving).

Portability of pantry shelving

I never thought I would be writing about pantry shelving portability! I want to be sensitive to the needs of all my pantry friends, and some of you are renters. One pantry user needed something she could take with her since she always lives in rental situations (spoiler alert, she chose freedomRail because of strength and durability).

I can't say how awesome that is - everyone should be able to love the place they call home, even if its a rental!

Pantry shelving design services

Pantries are big business. Most companies recognize this and provide free closet designing software on their website (or have staff in-store that can offer free help). By the way, just because a company has a design app doesn't mean it's great software!

This article won't be recommending any companies based on their software - sometimes you catch them at a glitchy moment and other times improvements require giving them a second look. I might take a spin at a later date and try out the closet planners and report back - but not now.

Pantry shelving pricing

Some of the companies have different price levels based on quality (ex. a high end product and low end). It's not quite as simple as saying Company A is cheaper than company B, especially when fancy accessories are added in. In general, we can make assumptions that one company will always be more expensive due to the fact that they are simply elevated into a higher quality category - prices reflect that.

When there are project overruns, it's always the poor pantry that takes a hit and our grandiose dreams get cut back. Pantry shelving systems can cost thousands of dollars. Sorry to pick on anyone, but companies such as California Closets and ELFA can cost 3x as much than more budget-friendly brands such as IKEA, ClosetMaid, and Rubbermaid.

I am in no way endorsing one product over the other. The only products mentioned in this article are ones that have very happy customers. Buying pantry shelving is a personal thing. Experienced pantry owners can offer helpful feedback of why they chose the product they did, which can help immensely with wading through decisions.

Stretch the pantry shelving budget

  • buy when there is a sale
  • buying a kit may cost less money
  • cabinets, baskets, and other accessories add to the cost
  • consider using discount store bins on open shelving compared to built in drawers
  • whole-house remodels or new housing (ALL closets) may qualify for a discount
  • consider open shelving to bring shelving costs down
  • straight configurations are the cheapest
  • spend extra money in your "for show" pantry and go for practical in the every day pantry
  • consider building out the pantry in phases over time to get a nicer system or accessories when there are sales

Where to buy pantry shelving

Below are the most common places to buy pantry shelving systems and the brands they carry. In most cases, you cannot buy direct from the manufacturer, but have to work with one of their retail sites. Some companies offer both wood and wire versions.

Pantry shelving BRANDS

There are some long-time players out there in the shelving market. 

DISCLAIMER: To get the most accurate information at the time of your purchase, you will need to check shelving products out yourself. Changes in the supply chain can have an effect on production and end product quality.

CLOSETMAID VS RUBBERMAID

ClosetMaid and Rubbermaid are two pantry shelving products that are often compared.

As for the shelf brackets, you are right the ClosetMaid supports are better quality. The have stamped ridges making them less prone to bend. All of the metal is still thinner as opposed to several years ago. Rubbermaid seems to be focusing on their new FastTrack for garage spaces. Those components are thicker and more rugged including the paint. At least the shelves and supports are all interchangeable. 

ClosetMaid

ClosetMaid ClosetMaid closet systems target both clothing and pantry systems. Here is a 4 foot pantry organizer system they offer that can hold up to 1000 lbs Kits are a great way to save money rather than buying the individual pieces. Users (that goes for both guys and gals) love the easy install. ClosetMaid has a positive reputation of being a cost-effective shelving solution.

NOTE: ClosetMaid shelving kits made specifically for pantries will have the wire spacing closer together than their line of kits made for clothing closets.

Don't forget that Closetmaid comes with accessories, like the over-the-door storage rack, perfect for small food bottles and boxes!

Rubbermaid

The Rubbermaid company is a big competitor with the ClosetMaid brand. Overall in my research, people were more happy with the installation process of ClosetMaid than the Rubbermaid users.

Rubbermaid also has a pantry kit, the Rubbermaid Pantry 36" Closet Storage Organization System Kit, 4 Shelf System for Pantry Storage. This kit highlights their TightMesh Shelves - these shelves have the wires placed closer together.

Since this product is labeled for pantry use, it means that the wires are closer together so bottles and boxes won't tip over so easily. The exact spacing of the wires was not specified, but you can tell on a close up of the product image that it is more narrow than their closet shelving (linen) products. 

Rubbermaid products are limited on Amazon and get mixed in with the clothing shelving. If you want a Rubbermaid product, enter the term in "rubbermaid tightmesh shelves" if you want to make sure you are purchasing narrow-spaced wires targeted for pantry use. There does seem to be more reports of the Rubbermaid brand feeling "more flimsy." If you have a chance to compare, it wouldn't be a bad idea.

Don't get confused with the Rubbermaid shelving "Fast Track" product line when you see it (NOT to be confused with the Easy Track brand). The Fast Track system is more heavy-duty and targeted to the garage storage market. 
Note: the image features the pantry shelves in the Rubbermaid line.

ELFA VS FREEDOM RAIL

Following are two main competitors, elfa and freedomRail. Organized Living owns freedomRail, and at one time, they also manufactured elfa. To compare each company is "getting into the weeds" and just may come down to personal preference.

There are not really complaints about either. Be careful if you read that one's shelf is not as nice as another, or one has a feature and another one does not. Some online forums can be from several years ago, and each company may have worked really hard to improve certain features - so compare in "real time."

  • both companies offer high quality products with great customer service
  • freedomRail appears to be less expensive than elfa
  • freedomRail is made of  heavier steel than elfa
  • both systems offer flexibility, but the freedomRail users seem to be more excited about the flexibility that freedomRail offers in moving components around
  • elfa appears to have more customization potential for small or odd-sized spaces; product can be cut and customized at the local elfa store (The Container Store owns elfa)
  • elfa has more components and add-ons
  • sometimes its hard to locate a freedomRail dealer, use their dealer locater to find one near you but also order directly from their site

elfa

Elfa has many happy customers, I mean like cult-following happy. It is commonly known (at least I think it is) that elfa has seasonal sales. People plan for these sales, husband and wives team up with separate coupons to maximize sale benefits - it is a big thing.

Elfa users love the product and they plan out additions to their pantry empire via these sales. Most people have a budget, use the power of elfa sales to your advantage.

Note that wood shelving is also an option in the product line. Many people state that they don't like the look of wire shelving. Elfa is so well-made that the attractiveness of the wire shelving systems becomes a selling point.

Their shelving is an epoxy bonded steel product. It's easy to clean and is guaranteed for ten years not to peel as opposed to other steel shelving which is rubber or plastic coated.

freedomRail

FreedomRail has up to 50% more steel than most adjustable storage systems. The line is the strongest adjustable storage solution available, holding 170 pounds per linear foot. The company's history page reads "We were the first company to use epoxy powder coating on shelving. In 1976, the company launched its ventilated shelving line of products."

Today, freedomRail is Organized Living’s flagship product line, regarded with a reputation for high quality.

Are you curious how Freedom Rail compares to other shelving companies? FreedomRail notes in this PDF document, "freedomRail costs more than Closetmaid today, but not tomorrow. It is much higher in quality, so it provides the most strength, versatility and value for your customer. With 50 percent more steel and the freedom to adjust, your customers will save money in the long run because they will never have to replace their freedomRail storage system."

Another PDF from the same company compares freedomRail to all major players: Closetmaid, elfa, and Rubbermaid.

One last thing to mention, on the Organized Living site they offer GIFT CERTIFICATES!!! My inner homemaker geek is coming through - I would totally love a gift certificate to their store!

OTHER PANTRY SHELVING OPTIONS

EasyCloset

EasyClosets is another online company with lots of happy customers, They lean toward the melamine-covered particle board. Buyers report a happy website purchase experience and love the product and find it attractive.

EasyClosets compares in price to elfa, but be on the lookout for sales!

EasyTrack

The Easy Track system is a shelving standard system (uses tracks attached to the wall with slots to move shelf brackets around). 

I'm not seeing examples of using the systems for pantry storage, although one product description states: "Built to last from thermally fused laminate. Resists moisture and scratching—great for pantries." I'm wondering if Easy Track excels with clothing storage, but may not do well with daily use and the weight of canned goods?

You will find happy Easy Track customers, but beware of some quality issues. The particle board components can chip and break off. Not all Amazon reviews are "legit" but I am concerned if the quality is a problem.

IKEA

Oh, the beloved IKEA! IKEA always enters the discussion of pantry shelving. I recall someone making a comment that IKEA was made for things like pantries. Their storage is affordable, attractive, and has enough features and extras to make people happy.

Things don't break right away and the customer gets to enjoy it for awhile. IKEA offers its own line of products which periodically change. The word being tossed around these days is the PAX system. 

It's not easy for me and others to get to a nearby IKEA. I have ordered a mirror off of their website and was surprised that they shipped it. I attempted to order a mattress which would have come in a small box, and that proved too pricey to ship. I had a friend who went through the whole process and ordered a kitchen from them. All in all, it was a success, but a commitment (the store was 3 1/2 hours away). 

I won't say too much about IKEA, if you're a loyal fans - you know who you are. 

Pantry shelving decor considerations

The beauty of a pantry shelving system is subjective. Some people like the industrial look of a wire system and some users would prefer to hide ugly railings. If you know that your shelving will go inside of a closed closet, than the decor discussion is not so important.

If you are planning shelving that will be out in the open, or is a "show" pantry - looks are everything. Show pantries are pretty pantries that show off a collection of dishes, or staged with organized baskets and intended to "show-off." I always give the advice if you're set on a show pantry, include a secondary pantry in the house, like this one in "Three Pantries in One House."

Pantry shelves: the wire vs. wood debate

To see more of this ongoing debate, visit "Wood or Wire Pantry Shelving, Which is Better?" It is such an important choice that I touch on it again here.

Wood pantry shelving systems

Committed to solid wood shelving? I just want to point out that all of the big manufacturer's use particle board. On the Simple Closet website, they have a chart comparing pantry shelving materials from all of the big pantry shelving system manufacturers.

Simple Closet is one of the few that offers solid wood, but of course, it will cost more. It is true that wood has a more finished, built-in look, and is more charming. There are options to solid wood, since most people cannot afford that: plywood and MDF (medium density fiberboard). Both products are made from wood fibers.

The home construction guru, Bob Villa, lays out the MDF vs plywood comparison on his website.

  • MDF will sag over time, it's less expensive than plywood, and heavier
  • plywood looks like real wood; screws anchor better in plywood
  • MDF takes well to paint, while plywood is great for stains
  • both plywood and MDF tend to emit VOCs and formaldehyde

With plywood and MDF, it's important to do a nice job with the edge binding to give the pantry a finished, upscale look. One thing to point out, melamine also comes in wood "tones". The product looks like wood, but at a fraction of the cost. Installing a true wood closet costs 3-4 times the price.

Many people opt for pine material for shelving and then paint over it as a way to keep the budget under control. I have laminate-covered shelving and interiors in kitchen cupboards built in 2008, and they are amazing. The interiors are bright white and I can see everything, and they are easy to wipe down, and don't look cheap.

Wire pantry shelving systems

The Great Wire vs Wood Shelving Debate is a real thing. May I add, that it extends to wire baskets. It's no secret, the top pain point of wire shelving hate is food items tipping over on wire shelving (this also goes for clothing closets where belts and other small objects fall through and get stuck in cracks).

Homeowners despise wire shelving so much that they attempt to disguise the wires with wood "covers." In addition, owners buy pantry shelf liners to place over the wire shelves to fix tipping issue. I cannot figure out why anyone would cover wires up if they bought them for the ventilation aspect?

On the opposite end of the spectrum are die-hard ELFA fans who speak enthusiastically about their wire shelving, proclaiming the product is "built like a tank!"  Make your choice between wire or wood shelves based on your personal preferences.

The problem with wire shelves

Let's address the elephant in the room: the quality of the wire, tackiness, and yellowing issues. 

First of all, any shelving within the cooking zone is going to get a build up of grease - that goes for wire as well as wood. This results in a tacky feeling. Seriously, take a look at your oven vent hood, I know mine is gross!

In the past, there have been comments floating around the Internet about wire coating being tacky and yellowing - the stickiness attracting dust and dirt. This is more of a deterioration discussion. If you come across such comments, they were likely true - in the past. Both companies are now using advanced technology to prolong the life of their wire products.

ClosetMaid's website states "ClosetMaid ventilated wire shelving systems feature fully-encapsulated, vinyl-coated wires and welds at every intersection to protect against corrosion and maintain structural integrity over the life of the product."

According to the Rubbermaid information PDF, "steel [shelving] is coated with an epoxy-polyester coating for a hard, smooth and durable finish. Provides easy gliding surface for hangers, resists chipping, will not discolor or peel, and will not become tacky over time."

The ELFA brand is not covered with a plastic coating. According to The Container Store, the company that owns ELFA, states that the product is "Made from exceptionally strong epoxy-bonded steel, Elfa can easily handle everything from a library of books to garden equipment." They also have guaranteed their product for ten years not to peel as opposed to other steel shelving which is rubber or plastic coated.

Pantry shelving purchase checklist

Below is a checklist of important factors to consider when buying pantry shelving:

  • offerings at a big box store are likely reduced quality and options
  • going with no-name brands may prove frustrating when you can't expand your pantry later or add accessories when the product is discontinued
  • if you can't find the depths and length you desire, try a different retailer. There is a wide variety of price points and offerings from some companies.
  • ask how the wire is coated, is it epoxy over steel, or plastic over steel? will it rust?
  • if possible, give the display model in the store a good shake - does it feel sturdy?
  • if the system contains drawers, try them out - are they wobbly? noisy? clunky to use?
  • cheap pantry shelving systems with plastic over wire may yellow over time and discolor
  • don't compare closet shelving with pantry shelving, pantry shelving requires more narrow spacing of wires and must provide stronger weight capability
  • all the major pantry shelving companies use MDF board (particle board)
  • for do-it-yourselfers - is it easy to install?
  • future ability to adjust, how flexible is the system to making changes (fyi, most people do not adjust pantry shelves after initial setting decisions are made)
  • does the system handle corners well?
  • will the system grow with you, can you adjust and move around, add accessories later?
  • how much design assistance is there - look for online closet building apps or real people to talk with
  • are there displays at local stores to view?
  • can the system be cut to fit, or does the store cut it for free for you?
  • ease of ordering and picking up (distance from home) - be aware of  the possibility of having to pick up at the post office due to the weight

"Beware of big box stores offering cheaper components and lack of future availability."

Installing pantry shelving systems

It wouldn't be right to mention buying pantry shelving kits and systems without talking about the installation of them. Most shelving systems are designed to be easy to install for do-it-yourselfers. Anyone with or without carpentry skills can install a system - no gender favorites here.

From one happy customer, "I thought I’d hire a guy” like always - but I bought some bolt cutters on Amazon and put it up MYSELF!!! ... I felt so empowered doing it myself- I did actually a better job than the LAST guy did."

Most pantry shelving systems are wall mounted. It is CRITICAL that all pantry shelving systems are mounted correctly and with proper support. Pantry shelves hold heavy canned goods - not light clothing! Please visit "Tips for Installing Pantry Shelving Systems" to learn more.

Special mention

Here are a few companies and products that have crossed my path while researching this article:

In conclusion

I started the Everything Pantry website back in 2007. Since then, pantry interest has exploded among homeowners. Yet, most of the online companies selling pantry systems seem to be a bit lackluster in their product focus. Summing it up, they don't seem to be feeling the same enthusiasm as the rest of us.

Don't expect to navigate pretty company sites with pages of breath-taking pantries - I didn't. Companies are still caught up working out glitches for their online software and catching some of the closet industry traffic. If it was a contest between websites, none of them would win. It sounds a bit harsh, but I'm just surprised.

Keep the focus on what your needs are to finish your project. No one can take away that happy, feeling of brand new (and organized!) pantry shelving.

adjustable pantry shelving systems

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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