Perfect Pantry Shelf Depth and Height

Good day, pantry enthusiasts! Are you evaluating your food storage space right now, trying to make space decisions? Let’s see if we can help. Below are the shelving averages to keep in mind when working with pantry shelving spacing.

  • standard pantry shelves come in depths of 12″ and 16″ deep
  • an average spacing of shelves for most food items is 7″-10″ and 12″-14″

To lay out pantry shelves, plan on a mix of 12″ and 16″ deep shelves. Heavy and bulkier items gravitate to the lower shelves of the pantry. Place frequently used items at eye level and lighter objects like baskets on top shelves. Most food boxes are not more than 10″ deep; standard cans are within 3″-4″ wide and can be stacked 3-4 deep on a shelf.
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For comprehensive charts of pantry shelf depths and spacing, read on.

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Where to start your pantry shelving spacing adventure

If you need shelves, and have chosen a closet kit, you don’t have too many decisions to make. When choosing a package, the measurements have been decided for you. The depth of the shelves will likely be the standard 12″ depth with some 16″ depths thrown in for bigger items.

If you are at the point of doing this all from scratch, there are a lot of decisions to make. If you want some easy information right now, head over to find out about my “Pantry Shelf Planning Bundle” that helps make shelf decision making easier. if you want Customization is a beautiful thing, but it can be a double-edged sword, bringing more choices than you ever imagined.

No time to read this article? Grab the “Ultimate Pantry Shelf Planning Bundle” and start planning and finding more space in your pantry today!

OFFER Pantry Shelf SB

One of our Iowa pantry tours “A Visit to a Modern, Old-fashioned Pantry” demonstrates this. The pantry is a fine example of custom pantry shelving of different depths that transition beautifully. Great care and thought were taken and it shows.

This article focuses on ideal pantry shelving spacing from a practical viewpoint (I will leave the fancy carpentry work to the experts!) The reality is, the food in our pantry comes in all shapes and sizes. The best we can do is find the averages and keep making adjustments until we find what works for our own situation.

Food item sizes on shelves.

Exploring shallow wall pantry ideas

I love shallow shelves. They can be tucked in almost anywhere – behind a door, on a special wall, or a featured custom shelf. Finding anything back is an enjoyable experience – no hidden or forgotten items. Here is the low-down on narrow pantry shelving:

  • a shelf of 4 inches wide, and not more than 7″ will conveniently hold small bottles such as spices, flavoring extracts, baking powder, gelatin and pudding boxes, etc.
  • shelves the depth of just one can – 3 1/2″ to 5″ – will still be useful; a depth of 6-8″ allows for one or two rows depending on can depth.

In one of my houses, leftover door trim was used for shallow shelves. The “one row shelf rule” is an admirable goal, but may not always be possible. The idea of one row shelving is to aim for shelf depths narrow enough for one row of cans for visibility and easy retrieval.

For maximum storage, most houses opt for at least 12″ deep shelves – they are the standard. This won’t stop you from adding over-the-door storage, installing narrow shelves on empty walls (especially where the door opens) or tucking spice shelf racks in where opportunity calls.

Single item storage on narrow pantry shelf/racks.

Standard pantry shelving lengths

Across closet shelf companies, wire shelf lengths are very standardized. Pantry wire shelving comes in standard widths of 18″, 24″, 36″ 48″, 60″ and 72″.

The length of wood shelving boards can vary, especially the decorative offerings. If you favor a certain finish, it may only be available in minimum choices. You will not always be able to find 8′ boards for a project, but more common would be 2′, 3′ and 4′ board lengths.

Both wire and wood can be cut to fit. Pantry shelving kits, especially for wire, provide a good base to start a pantry closet with.

Standard pantry shelving widths

If you’re building a custom pantry, you have control over pantry shelf depth. I will still recommend staying to somewhat common shelf depths because they have been proven to fit most anything.

If you’re buying stock pantry shelves from the store, you will get stock sizes and won’t have much of a choice. As mentioned above, typical pantry wire shelf depths come in 12″, 16″ and 20″ deep depths. 

How deep should pantry shelves be?

Twelve inches deep is the best pantry shelf depth for canned goods, boxed food, and pantry organizers and provides the easiest access. Sixteen inches can accommodate the occasional large bins and small appliances. Most pantry owners agree that 20″ deep shelves are too deep and hard to access.

I will point out that some decorative wood for shelving at home improvement centers does come in the 7 3/4″ depths. This isn’t intended for pantries, but decorative interior use such as display shelves.

Shelves are shelves and anything is up for grabs when it comes to pantry shelving. If you find it works for your space, go for it. Of course, any carpenter can “rip” a wood board in half, making a more narrow pantry shelf. A 20″ board  would produce nicely sized 10″ depth pantry shelves.

Very few food items are more than ten inches across. Start by looking over your food items and take a quick “poll” – measure a few cans, jars, and boxes to quickly discover width and height averages. This provides the information you need to plan on best shelf dimensions.

Below are suggested shelf depths for certain food items. Shelves, spacing, and diagrams are all found in my “Pantry Shelf Planning Bundle” that helps make shelf decision making easier.

Some of these are not standard shelf depths to buy in a store, this is if you are customizing a pantry and cutting boards to fit. It is still helpful to everyone, nonetheless. If you are curious about space between shelves, jump to Golden rules of pantry shelf spacing.

SHELF DEPTHS

4 inches

Spices, gelatin boxes, small bottles, cans 1-deep
Location: empty wall behind door, storage on door, “rack”

Most single cans are about 3.5″ wide. Achieves ONE ROW SHELF RULE. For best results, design shelves only wide enough to hold comfortably one row of supplies.


6-8 inches

Canned goods, 2-deep
Large jars, bottles, or cake mix 1 deep with room to spare
Assorted mixed condiment bottles,  2 deep
Cracker boxes.
Location: eye level or higher


10 inches

Canned goods, 3-deep
Large peanut butter or mayonnaise jar, 2 deep
Assorted mixed condiment bottles,  3 deep
Medium-size cereal boxes
Location: eye level or higher

Very few food items are more that 10″ deep, but 12″ deep shelving is the standard.


12 inches

Canned goods, 4-deep
Jumbo-size cereal boxes, flour, bins
Large peanut butter or mayonnaise jar, 2 deep
Assorted mixed condiment bottles,  4 deep
Location: eye level or higher

MOST COMMON DEPTH. Accommodates a wide range of food items.


No time to read this article? Grab the “Ultimate Pantry Shelf Planning Bundle” and start planning and finding more space in your pantry today!

OFFER Pantry Shelf SB

WARNING!
Shelves start entering the 
“DEEP ZONE”

Start thinking about organizers for deep pantry shelves and using “layering techniques.” Find these articles here:

14-16 inches

Plates, platters, pots and pans, pantry organizers such as can organizers, turntables and bins of produce, small appliances.
Location: eye level or lower


18-20 inches

Medium-size small appliances and bulky items like crock pot, roaster, etc.
Location: bottom shelf


20+ inches

Bulk food, jumbo bins or use “layering” techniques for mixed items.
Location: bottom shelf


Golden rules of pantry shelving spacing

  • The area of comfortable reach is between one and six feet from the floor.
  • Narrow shelves should be at eye-level.
  • Install medium width shelves above eye level and below waist level.
  • Deeper shelves should be at waist level (especially if the shelf doubles as counter space).
  • Store heavier items lower and lighter items higher.
  • Graduate shelf depth from deepest on the bottom, to more narrow on top.
  • Consider 12″ deep shelves placed above 16″-20″ deep shelves for easier access of the 12″ shelf.
  • If you find that stuff seems to get pushed to the back and forgotten about, you should consider more shallow shelves or buy organizers for deep pantry shelves.

PANTRY SHELF SPACING HEIGHT

FOOD ITEM EXAMPLES

6″

General height of cans and spice jars is about 4 inches; allow 2 inch space for comfortable access.

6.5″-7″

Most canned foods.

7″-10″

A safe average distance for spacing.

9″-12 1/2″

Mason jars (6.6″). Most baskets are 8″ tall. Marinade bottles are 8.5 and large ketchup bottles are 9”.

14″-16″

Cereal boxes average 12″ in height (frequently accessed, so keep nearer to eye level). Ideal for flour and sugar storage. Wine bottles, oil jugs, bulk containers are 10″-12″ tall. Bulky items.

18″

Height of shelves above countertops in pantry. Allows for space of KitchenAid mixer, coffee maker, or other appliances.

18″-24″

Large bins of food and big items that just don’t fit well elsewhere and bulky appliances (this corresponds with deeper shelf depth, such as 16″-18″).

FLOOR TO BOTTOM SHELF (minimal)
16″-18″ from floor

Plan on 16″-18″ from floor to bottom of first shelf for bulk storage, pet food, heavier food like potatoes, small appliances.

FLOOR TO BOTTOM SHELF (generous)
20″-24″ from floor

Big objects such as paper towels, pet food, jumbo bins, crates, bottled water, trash cans.

Smart pantry owners do this

Use these smart pantry shelf strategies to reach food easier, organize shelves, and find things back.

  • The shelves between waist and eye level are easiest to access, so put your most frequently used items there.
  • Go with adjustable shelving for the most flexibility and spacing options.
  • Use an interchangeable labeling system that can easily be changed as items are moved around.
  • Allow for a 2-inch clearance above the tallest object on the shelf for easy removal and handling.
  • Save even more space by decanting food into modular food storage containers.

Needs of family change over time

Just when you thought you had the perfect pantry shelf system, your life changes. Kids grow up, go off to college, and get married. A changing family follows a changing pantry.  Adjustable shelving can adapt with different food requirements over time.

Reasons why storage needs change over time:

  • growing family, more buying in bulk
  • larger cereal boxes for growing family
  • “hiding” food or goodies from young children, placing on higher shelves or behind
  • less family, cooking for 1-2 people, buying more pre-packaged convenience food
  • packaging changes (Ritz crackers changed their box design to be more “pantry friendly”)

In conclusion

Speaking for myself, finding the ideal pantry shelf settings is is very satisfying. Adjustable shelving helps a great deal in making everything fit. If you are still struggling, give food storage containers a try. Never fear, you will triumph over your pantry shelving (and I will add, victory is sweet!).

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