Tips for Buying Pantry Shelves


Narrowing down your choice for pantry shelves can be overwhelming. Clear the confusion by keeping focused on what's best for your pantry space and your needs. Here are key points to help sort out all the questions that come with buying pantry shelves.

If you're building a pantry and trying to figure out spacing and depths, check out "Golden Rules of Pantry Shelves" to find out the recommended depths and shelf spacing.

Wire or wood pantry shelves?

I have a whole article dedicated to the question, "Wood or Wire Shelving, Which is Better?" This is pretty much Decision #1, and comes down to personal preference. However, there are some features that can affect your decision.

Here are a few guiding points:

  • Wood includes solid wood shelving or wood composites or wood composites covered with laminate.
  • Wire shelving comes in standard depths of 12" and 16" - wood can be cut to any length and depth, but can be purchased in standard sizes for ready-made shelves (there will be a few more depth options with purchased wood shelves).
  • Wire shelving typically comes in standard widths of 48" and 72" and can be cut to fit if needed. Wood shelving can also be cut to fit and will come in a few more length options than wire shelving.
  • Wire shelves for pantries should have a 1/2" of space between wires. Shelf liners can be purchased to cover the open wires and eliminate "tippy wire syndrome" (some food containers, especially small ones, find it difficult to stay upright on wire shelving) - but then you have reduced the effectiveness of light to pass through the open wires and light up dark spaces.
  • If you spill anything on a wire shelf, it will drip/spill through all the shelves. Single wood shelves will not be much better - only built-in wood shelves would stop a spill. 
  • Some pantry owners report that wire shelving collects less dust than a wood shelf, but at some point there will come a reckoning and a good scrub down will be multiplied by all the individual wires that need to be cleaned.
Close up picture of pantry wire shelve comparing narrow to wide

Cost of pantry shelves

Overall, wire shelving is going to cost less in materials than wood shelving. However, there is a range in price and quality for wood shelves, so don't be so quick to dismiss wood shelves as an option.

Viewability of food items on shelves

Wire shelves allow light to pass through. This is especially helpful on deeper shelves. White laminate or painted white wood shelves will reflect light better to help see food items in dark corners.

Fixed or adjustable pantry shelves

Adjustable shelving is highly recommended by many pantry owners because it gives the option of changing the space to fit food items.

  • Shelf tracks allow for adjusting both wire and wood shelves.
  • Shelving systems with pegs allow wood/laminate shelves to be moved around; this will be limited to shorter-span shelves because it will lack a center shelf support. 
  • Ventilated, wire shelving also comes in fixed versions with wall brackets. but pantry owners report brackets are awkward to work around.
  • Built-in shelves are more attractive, especially for display, or a show pantry as in this featured pantry tour.

Here are examples of pantry organizer shelving kits. ClosetMaid and RubberMaid are two popular companies that offer pantry kits and individual shelves.

Other considerations when buying pantry shelves

Closet, garage, and pantry shelving technically can be used interchangeably. Garage shelving is touted as "heavy-duty" but heavy-duty is ideal for pantry shelves, too. Closet shelving with the focus on clothing and linen storage is going to have 1-inch spaced wire for greater ventilation. 

For pantry shelves, be sure to buy 1/2" narrow spaced wires; 1" gaps are too wide for food items to stay upright on. However, if the storage is for appliances, paper goods, and extra food containers, than 1" will work. Less wires in a shelf means less cost, but don't cheap out for pantry shelving. Here is a pantry tour that shows both pantry wire spacing options being used.

Pantry shelving does come as whole-unit kits or single shelf items that can be purchased individually. Whole-unit kits are appealing because they are ready-to-go and include adjustable shelving, but they will definitely come at a cost. Companies, such as Elfa, have perfected pantry shelving.

I would encourage you to really evaluate the unit and imagine what you would place in each section. This will help you determine if it will fit your needs satisfactorily. 

Straight pantry shelving has strong arguments, too. Space can be divided up with baskets and may turn out to be a more flexible option than a whole-unit kit.

In conclusion

I hope these points have been helpful in sorting out shelf choices. Asking friends and family about their experience is always beneficial, so don't forget to throw a few questions their way. Dedicate some quality time now to your shelf decision and you will be happier with the final outcome!

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. She uses her technical background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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