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 averages to keep in mind when working with pantry shelves.

  • 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.

RELATED ARTICLES

Where to start your pantry shelf 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!

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

This article focuses on ideal 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.

The reality of food item size management in pantries.

Tribute to itty-bitty shelves

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 shelves:

  • 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.

Single item storage on narrow pantry shelf/racks.

Standard shelf depths

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 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!

Shelves start entering the
"DEEP ZONE"

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

  • Winning Organizers for Deep Pantry Shelves
  • Deep Shelf Chaos in the Pantry, Get Organized!
  • 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 shelf 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.

    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.

    Experienced pantry owners do this

    Use these smart strategies to make for an enjoyable pantry experience:

    • 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.

    Decanting food allows control over food space

    Decanting your food is the process of removing food from the package it was purchased in and putting it in another container. This action is usually taken to protect food from pantry pests and to preserve it longer in airtight containers.

    Instead of dealing with miscellaneous hodge-podge food box sizes, every container is consistent. Suddenly, size doesn't matter anymore. Compartmentalized storage is efficient and looks very organized on a pantry shelf. The cons are that there is an investment in the containers, and the extra time to decant the food and label it.

    Food storage containers offer greater control over pantry shelf organization.

    Decanting food into food storage containers offer greater control over pantry shelf organization.

    Pantry needs change over time

    Just when you thought you had the perfect pantry shelf system, your life changes. This is why adjustable shelving can adapt with the changing needs of a pantry.

    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!). 

    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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