Pantry Ventilation, a Happy Dry Place for Food

Pantry ventilation keeps food safe and preserved, so you can enjoy it longer. In addition, good air flow keeps our pantries smelling fresh, instead of musty and stale.  Learn what to do to keep your pantry happy and dry, and your food at the peak of freshness.

Should a pantry have ventilation?

It’s important for a pantry to have adequate ventilation to reduce food quality issues related to poor air flow in the pantry space. There are numerous strategies to achieve this that I will cover in this article.

Issues such as humidity in pantry and moisture issues can arise, which can lead to even bigger problems, like mold in the pantry. Another problem caused by lack of adequate ventilation is a smelly or stinky pantry.

Why does my pantry smell bad?

A pantry can smell because of degrading food quality (rotten food) and/or poor air circulation. If your pantry smells musty, it could be due to a humidity problem in the room. Depending on what you store in the room, the food itself can contribute to humidity.

Canned goods and close up food boxes with dried food do not contribute to pantry humidiity. Often fresh fruit (apples and oranges) and vegetables like potatoes and onions require a cool, dry place. These items should not be stored inside closed cupboards or closed rooms. Fruit should be kept out in the open and in baskets.

Potatoes prefer cooler, darker conditions. A cool entryway into the house or basement may offer a better home for them. A website that really gets into the nitty gritty of storage temperatures for vegetables and fruit is This NZ Life. They definitely understand the importance of good pantry ventilation.

Woman holding nose because of foul smell.

Other reasons for pantry smells

COOKING SMELLS. Pantries are often located near the kitchen, where cooking smells originate. If you don’t have a good vent hood over the stove, smells will travel all over the house. Venting to the outside is always the best choice. If you can’t, then vent hoods come with charcoal filters that will do their best to absorb odors.

Routinely wash vent filters (I toss mine in the dishwasher). Even though my stove hood vents directly outside, the filter needs to be  in tip top shape to perform at its best.

FABRICS. Avoid rugs, curtains, etc. in a pantry. I added a cute rug to my pantry, and I do believe it doesn’t smell as fresh as it used to. Hard surfaces don’t hold odors like fabrics can.

ENCLOSED STORAGE. Some people complain about damp smells in kitchen cupboards. In contrast, pantries with open shelving is not only practical, it helps with air circulation. If you have a kitchen cabinet that dried food or canned food is stored in, avoid the top shelf because heat rises. Food storage prefers a dark, cool place.

WARM ENVIRONMENTS. Also avoid storing in kitchen cabinets adjacent to refrigerators and stoves (big heat generating appliances in the kitchen). Food can degrade faster in warmer conditions, contributing to a stale smell in the food storage area.

Jump to how to get rid of smells in pantry.

Use a pantry door with ventilation features

Pantry doors can make or break pantry ventilation. A pantry door should have an air-gap beneath it for plenty of fresh air to flow in. This can be as simple as removing the door and sawing off a small portion of the bottom Avoid air-tight doors with rubber gaskets; pantries require good air circulation.

Usually, increasing the bottom gap helps a great deal. Even propping the pantry door open is a positive solution. If the pantry door is really air-tight, it should be replaced with a better door that offers more air flow.

Anyone with a pantry pest problem may fear the extra gap on the bottom . A natural inclination would be to keep those critters out! If this is your worry, switch your thinking to air-tight food storage containers. Not only do they keep pests out, they keep your food fresh longer!

Alternatively, a louvered or mesh screen door, or door with grill in the panel can also offer air flow. If you want to add more air flow to a pretty door that has pantry glass on the upper part, consider making the bottom half louvered or install a mesh.

Door with decorative holes in the bottom for decoration.

Do you need an exhaust fan in a pantry?

Kitchen exhaust fans are used to remove smoke and cooking odors from the kitchen. Cooking vent foods are strategically placed over stoves. There is no need to have an exhaust fan in the pantry because cooking doesn’t take place there.

In the case of side pantries or butler’s pantries that may contain small cooking appliances, it still is not necessary. The smoke and odor is not significant enough to require and exhaust fan.

Pantry ventilation systems: the role of vents and duct work

Next to having the right door, are vents and ductwork considerations. Plan pantry air circulation strategically for optimal benefits.

Poorly designed duct systems, incorrect location of duct work, or improper air balancing (inadequate return and supply) can contribute to poor ventilation. Plan for an entry/exit strategy for air.

It’s important that heat exits the pantry. One solution is to have air enter through the louvered door of a pantry closet and exit near the ceiling on the back of closet. Warm air rises, so naturally escapes the pantry room.  As stated earlier, avoid snug-fitting pantry doors because they prevent good air flow.

Don’t be afraid to relocate or add vents for improved air circulation in the pantry.

Pantry ventilation with duct work
Pantry ventilation with duct work

Pantry windows bring in fresh air

Nothing beats the fresh air an open window can bring. However, windows can work against you. If they are on the south-facing side of the house, your pantry room temperature will rise from the solar affects. Although heat is welcome on a cold day, too much sun warmth is not ideal for pantry temperature.

Humidity in pantry and moisture issues

Proper ventilation and temperature can make all the difference in the freshness and safety of your pantry items. When air circulation works incorrectly, or not at all, side problems can develop.

Keeping vigilant about ventilation and temperature regulation will protect against moisture build-up, prevent mold, and maximize the longevity of non-perishable foods. Sounds pretty important, doesn’t it? You may need to correct ventilation for your pantry if:

  • you have trouble keeping your pantry within the proper temperature range
  • any amount of moisture builds up in your pantry, causing cans to rust
  • you notice mold/mildew visually or by smell

Evaluate your pantry space, year-round climate, and humidity levels. If you live in a location with colder weather with low humidity, you may not need to worry about ventilation. Just make sure you check the temperature of your pantry, check for moisture accumulation, and watch for mold.

It may surprise you to learn that even in a colder climate, your pantry can reach higher temperatures than you prefer, in which case it would be better to add ventilation. If you want to learn about making a warm pantry colder, check out How to Cool Down a Pantry.

Example of mold poor ventilation
Example of mold and mildew in home and poor ventilation.

What to do if your pantry is stuffy and stale

Stuffy pantries = smelly pantries.  This comes back to an air flow and ventilation issue. Running an air purifier can help, but you need to get to the root of the problem.  When your house is kept too warm or appliances create heat in the room, and the door is shut, conditions are set.

For argument’s sake, this section applies to pantries that store canned and dry goods which are not known to produce a lot of smells.  This doesn’t apply to root cellar produce.

Pantry with ventilation window to keep pantry cool


Pantry odor absorbers help

Food absorbs odors.  Consider taking food out of cardboard and transferring to plastic or glass containers or store food in cardboard elsewhere (such as a cabinet in kitchen).

Try natural odor absorbers like charcoal odor absorber bags, or baking soda. Products like Damp Rid Moisture Absorbers and Arm & Hammer Odor Eliminators can be highly effective in eliminating smells.

Keep pantry clean to reduce odors

Maintaining a clean pantry is good way to keep a pantry smelling fresh. Surprisingly, there are many smells that can be eliminated just by cleaning the pantry. Things that can contribute to pantry odors:

  • spilled food
  • dust
  • pest remains, mouse droppings
  • certain finishes
  • not using food up in a timely manner
  • deterioration of storage containers
  • use of appliances in a pantry such as a microwave or toaster (lingering smells)

The verdict on ventilation for your pantry

Ventilation is a fundamental way of maintaining a dry, cool, mold-free environment for your pantry items. If you desire fresh spices, dry pasta, and baking ingredients, make sure to keep them in air-tight containers in the dark.

Keep your canned goods rust-free and your surfaces without mold by eliminating condensation. Overall, maintain proper air-flow in your pantry for optimal food preservation.

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