Dealing with deep pantry shelves is the most frustrating thing a pantry owner faces. What do you do with really deep shelves? Underneath my charming little step-in pantry's surface, was a closet organizer's nightmare. On one side were deep caverns of shelf space (a clothes closet in a past life). They were hopeless to organize. In addition, my pantry had fixed, built-in shelves that I could not adjust. I needed to find the right pantry closet organizers.
How to organize deep pantry shelves
To organize deep pantry shelves it's important to use a combination of deep pantry shelf organizers and layering (one organizer in the back of the pantry shelf and another organizer in the front of the shelf, such as a pantry bin).
I splurged and tried out several different types of kitchen pantry organizers for this step-in style closet makeover. It was an eye-opening experience, there were surprise winners and surprise losers.
If you have deep pantry pull-out shelves (with fixed deep shelves on top) check out this article for best organizers for deep pantry pull-out shelves. Spoiler: what worked for this pantry didn't work for that pantry!
Best organizers to use for deep pantry shelves
Most pantry storage containers designed for deep shelves will be at the most, 16" deep. Any bigger than that and they become too heavy to lift. Layering strategies help, like putting large dishes and baskets in the back part of the shelf, and pantry bins in the front. Organizing canned food can become a challenging feat in a deep-shelf scenario.
How to organize cans in a deep pantry
Organize cans in a deep pantry with special 3-tier can racks or single can bins that you can set the canned food upright or lay the can of food down on its side. Clear plastic storage bins allow you to see the label of the can easier. Canned food can also be stored in pantry drawers, which is an ideal solution for a deep pantry.
Here are some can storage ideas that I tried to help organize cans in my closet pantry. For roll-out pantry shelves can storage ideas visit this article.
The "clear" winner for deep pantry can organizers for deep shelves was the M Design Pantry Storage clear plastic bins. These nifty clear pantry containers proved to be very remarkable. The company somehow chose the best widths of pantry containers that could provide the broadest range of service for can storage and other foods.
Other can organizers for the pantry did their jobs well, too. Organizers like the humble wire cabinet shelf rack was just the right answer for large jars and can organization, as was an expandable shelf. These were part of a layering strategy in my pantry "holes."
There were two losers: a shallow pantry basket that couldn't seem to hold anything, and a lazy susan organizer/turntable. Neither helped make the pantry better. However, the shallow pantry baskets were moved to the entryway of the house for glove, mitten, and hat storage. They proved to be perfect!
I was lukewarm on the 3-tier metal pantry can rack, one that seemed to be a crowd favorite, but not for me. It's probably the pantry organizer for cans that people see the most when you think of a canned food organizer.
Read on as I go through the highlights of each pantry organizer I used on my deep pantry shelves. FYI, this pantry also had a style update! See "1970s Vintage Pantry Gets a Makeover."
Overview. The small step-in pantry is only 4'6" wide by 3'7" deep. Two-foot deep, fixed shelves were built into the left side, with a "U" shape of upper shelves completing the leg on the back and right wall (but narrower depths).
The access dimensions to the deep shelf space measure 21"W x13"H and 22"W x15" H. The bottom "caverns" on the floor have a single half-shelf depth for smaller items.
Trying to figure out how to organize these deep pantry shelves was going to be a challenge!
Step-in floor space to reach items is minimal. An accordion door takes up a portion of the 2'0" door opening.
Below is a picture of the small step-in pantry in need of organization. Note the 24" deep pantry shelves on the left. Tucked in beneath these are 16" deep shelves that are difficult to access. I was in need of a pantry can organizer, pantry basket organizers, and pantry basket bins to help me organize the deep shelves.
To see the before and after of this pantry makeover, go to "1970s Vintage Pantry Gets a Makeover."
USE A METAL PANTRY CAN RACK TO ORGANIZE CANS IN PANTRY
A 13-inch deep 3-tier can organizer rack was placed in the back of a 21-inch deep shelf, leaving eight inches of space in front. The can rack filled up most of the width of the cabinet (17" width rack). Highlights:
- when fully loaded, the can rack would be difficult to move
- the can rack was impossible to back load for "first in, first out" usage
- a can rack only works great with multiples of the same food
- this can rack holds 4 green bean-size cans in a row or 5 cream of chicken-size cans
Wow! That adds up to 12 green-bean size cans per tier, which means 36 cans when fully loaded.
But... I am not a user that would have that many identical cans in storage at one time. The space would likely end up half full (or half empty, whichever way you look at it).
A small, plastic bin fit on the front remaining shelf space for miscellaneous items.
A metal magazine rack fits perfectly in the void next to the can rack and is filled with small mushroom cans. It's my favorite pantry organization hack!
Note that 1" of space is added to the clearance of the rack when cans are loaded on top.
CLEAR BINS WORK AS A CAN ORGANIZER
These stackable, clear plastic acrylic pantry bins by M Design stole the show! They turned out to be an exciting solution for deep shelves and a surprise win as a can organizer. Highlights:
- able to easily see the label contents
- can load for "first in, first out" usage
- stackable clear pantry bins are easy to move around and pull out with handle
- these clear pantry bins are long! Sixteen inches!
- narrow clear pantry bins can hold 5 green bean-size cans in a row or 6 cream of chicken-size cans*
- wider clear pantry bins fits chicken broth boxes, small food boxes, and things like water bottles
- clear pantry bins come in lots of sizes and look great
The leftover shelf space amounted to 5 1/4" - enough to tuck in jumbo-size cans or bottles of vegetable or canola oil in the back.
Although you can't stack the clear pantry bins when tall items are in them, they neatly hold their contents. The only negative was that the pantry bins could only be purchased in a pack of 4. The investment was well worth it because of the flexibility of storage options (see below). I highly recommend these stackable clear pantry bins.
*For anyone doing the math, six of the clear pantry bins would hold 30 green-bean size cans, a little less that the can rack organizer, each solution taking up about the same amount of space.
ORGANIZE CANS IN PANTRY WITH CABINET SHELF ORGANIZER RACK
I had a few wire cabinet shelf organizer racks that I never used. I cycled through all of them until I picked the jumbo-size. It does one job and it does it well, organizing large food jars and cans. Highlights:
- 22" wide cabinet shelf organizer rack fully fits the 24" wide space, which includes legs
- the cabinet shelf organizer rack is 7 1/2" tall, 10 1/4" deep, and leaves 6 1/2" of headspace to fit cans on top
- cabinet shelf organizer rack nicely holds large peanut butter containers, jumbo-size cans of peaches, mayonnaise and salad dressing jars and soup cans stacked three deep
This budget-friendly kitchen cabinet shelf organizer rack was perfect for large items that take up precious pantry space, but not used routinely.
Using the layering technique, the cabinet shelf organizer rack was placed in the back of the shelf, and wire pantry farm baskets were placed in front of the cabinet shelf organizer rack. If you're interested in a larger shelf organizer rack, here is a 17" one on Amazon.
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PANTRY BASKET ORGANIZERS, STRAIGHT SIDES
I was glad to save my budget and reuse these pantry wire farmhouse baskets with straight sides. Highlights:
- the pantry basket organizers make it ideal for storing boxed food
- pantry basket organizers works well with bagged food, too
One of the pantry wire baskets was used to store crackers in front of the cabinet shelf rack in the back of the shelf. A few odd items were tucked in beside the pantry wire basket, since it didn't take up all the space. The pantry basket organizer can easily be removed to get to the cabinet shelf rack in the back.
I also had wire farmhouse baskets with tapered sides, those didn't work well for anything! I would reserve the wire baskets with tapered sides only for decorative purposes.
Using the layering technique, the cabinet shelf rack was placed in the back of the pantry shelf, and wire pantry basket storage was placed in front of it. The other pantry basket organizers are being used on top of a rolling cart in the pantry.
EXPANDABLE PANTRY SHELVES OFFER TIERS FOR CANNED GOODS
I would definitely mark an expandable, stepped shelf organizer as a good solution for fixed, deep pantry shelves.
- all food items on the steps are visible
- large size expands to fit shelf width
I'm using the expandable tiered pantry shelf for a pantry organizer for cans and jars. The kitchen shelf riser is for all of my single item canned goods that don't match anything. They're most likely an odd item I probably bought for a recipe and never used! The tiered shelves are generous and fit jumbo-size cans, so it's a nice solutions for your large peach and pear cans or cans of stew.
The wire pantry bins are in front of the expandable pantry shelves and can easily be moved to get to the back shelf items.
An tiered shelf for canned goods allows the pantry owner to view cans of all shapes, sizes, and food types, with easy accessibility.
STACKABLE OPEN FRONT STORAGE BINS WORK FOR CAN ORGANIZATION IN PANTRY
These stackable, open-front pantry bins (wire) were placed in front of the expandable pantry shelves. The open front pantry bins don't take up the full width of the shelf, but can slide to one side to see the contents in the back of the shelf.
- Open-front storage bins contain "like" food items, such as canned tomato goods in one basket and canned fruit in the bottom basket
- The open-front design on the front allows easy access to pull out cans
These open front storage bins are a nice solution when storing foods in "zones" and related items together, such as baking supplies.
The open front bins also make a great holder for pouch-type food items and snack items.
You often see people put bulk food, such as potatoes, onions, and other vegetables in these types of stackable open front storage bins. It's good to have an idea what you will use these for before you buy them, because they don't work for all situations.
LARGE PLASTIC PANTRY ORGANIZATION BINS
I had a wide expanse of top shelf open, a good spot for large, semi-clear pantry organization bins. Highlights:
- large size pantry organization bins makes them flexible for many types of food items
- plastic pantry organization bins are lightweight
The pantry organization bins are 15" deep by 10" wide and store chips, cereal, and items such as rice/potato boxes. Behind this, large plastic food containers and baskets are stored (the layering strategy works again). I don't need a lot of these types of large pantry organization bins, but they are nice to have.
ROLLING PLASTIC CART WITH DRAWERS
The cheap plastic rolling cart with drawers fits perfectly in the bottom pantry storage section. As you can see, there is a half shelf that is hard to reach. The rolling plastic cart can glide out of the way to get to these back items. Highlights:
- rolling plastic cart with drawers holds paper goods
- rolling plastic cart is lightweight
- plastic cart dimensions are 15 5/8" deep, 22" wide by 27" tall
The rolling plastic cart with drawers are used to store paper plates, cups and plastic utensils.
I've had this rolling plastic cart with drawers for years, probably from Walmart.
COOLER FOR FOOD STORAGE.
This cooler for food storage is used as a sugar and flour storage container. It's a good solution for me because it fits in this bottom hole of my pantry. Highlights:
- deep pantry floor solution
- can pull out cooler with the handle
- cooler lid slides off to retrieve baking items (not hinged).
- bins were placed on the half shelf above the cooler
- another basket sits directly on top of the cooler
For me, this cooler for food storage is the best container to store flour in and prevent bugs.
Using a cooler for food storage is a great alternative storage solution to store flour and sugar.
SLIM ROLLING PANTRY CART
I had just enough room in my small step in pantry to fit a narrow rolling utility cart organizer. It took me awhile, but I finally located a metal rolling pantry cart on wheels that fit my needs. The cart was tall enough to roll in under a shelf to maximize my space.
This is not a super heavy-duty rolling cart organizer, but fine for my needs. I primarily needed an easy place to get to my slow cooker, which I use regularly. The large slow cooker/crockpot actually fits on the slim pantry cart shelf, I'm happy with that win!
I store my other small appliances on freestanding wire shelving in my laundry room, just off of my kitchen.
- slim pantry cart measures 23.62" W x 12.5 D" x 40.5" H with a 10" distance between each shelf tier
- slim pantry cart has a back bar on one side so items don't fall off and bars on top shelf
- room for baskets on top shelf of cart organizer for storage
- slim pantry cart keeps regularly used small appliances on two bottom tiers for easy access
- cookbooks have a place now on middle shelf of rolling cart organizer
Note: some slim pantry carts are so narrow that they appeared dangerous to me due to tipping issues, so be careful!
Worst pantry organizers for deep shelves
FARMHOUSE STACKABLE PANTRY WIRE BASKET WITH LABEL
I really wanted to love these cute farmhouse stackable pantry wire baskets. In fact, I instantly fell in love with them when I first saw them and almost bought extras. I was sure that they would work for deep shelf organization. Look at the depth: 16" - you would think this wire basket with label would be perfect for my deep closet pantry.
I tried all sorts of food items in it. If I wanted to stack the baskets as intended, I could only have "short" items in the wire pantry baskets. For reference, I show ramen noodles packages. Ramen noodle packages are only 4" x 4 1/2", leaving extra unused width. I can't think of any other item I could put in here if I wanted to stack the pantry baskets, so what is the point?
Pantry baskets with labels are popular. These were certainly cute and had label slots on the front. Maybe consumers who buy pouches of food would find these useful. I was so disappointed in these. I almost sent the pantry wire baskets back to the company, but then I tried them in my unruly mudroom entryway.
Wow! What a difference the right basket in the right situation makes! I'm still not stacking them, but I don't care, they couldn't be more perfect. I gave each family member their own wire basket, and then made overflow baskets, each, for gloves, mittens, hats, and neck scarves. Previous to that, all of these items were in one big crate - good luck finding anything in there!
FARMHOUSE PANTRY WIRE BASKET WITH TAPERED SIDES
Just say "no" to tapered wire pantry baskets. Myself, like the rest of the world, really thought these things were charming, especially for the farmhouse style of decorating. I was so darn mad about these baskets, I could just toss them. I've had them for several years and there has never been anything that fit nicely in them.
Maybe you put snacks and "baggy" things in yours, but I don't often buy snacks (mostly food staples and cooking from scratch). You can see my frustration in the picture below of trying to fit cans in the tapered wire basket, which was a no-go, too much wasted space. Even lining the pantry wire farmhouse baskets on a shelf was wasting space.
I'm not a space waster, so these had to go!
LAZY SUSAN TURNTABLE
I know lazy susan organizers are hyped up as a good solutions for deep pantry shelves. Maybe it was the fact that my shelves were just too deep. Reaching an inch closer to get something doesn't seem to make that big of a difference to me.
Maybe the conversation needs to be big versus little shelf turntables. Here is an awesome example of an 18" wide lazy susan tower inside of a corner pantry. I think the real argument is that lazy susans are only good for small items you want to find back, like spices. I was primarily dealing with canned and boxed food and food in bulk.
I was lucky to have shallow shelves on one side of my pantry (7 1/4" deep). Pudding boxes work good here, along with a few smaller-than-average jars. My main spice storage is in my kitchen.
My other gripe about turntables is that 2-tiered versions don't work on a pantry shelf. By the time you put items on the second shelf, you need a enough shelf height space to fit it in. The lazy susan organizer I bought was attractive and the company took great pride in their product. It just didn't work for me in trying to organize deep pantry shelves.
I hope this article has given you good ideas on how to organize your deep pantry shelves. The kitchen pantry organizers I used helped me to maximize deep pantry shelves in my closet pantry.
If you have come up with novel pantry ideas, please comment below! I would be interested in hearing what worked the best way to organize your deep pantry shelves.