Curing clutter problems in under-sink cabinets

Cabinets under sinks in kitchens and bathrooms are common places to find clutter. There are pipes, maybe a hose or two, and usually a lot of stuff that was stored there in hopes that it would just magically disappear. Additionally, having clutter in this space can quickly become disastrous if one of the pipes or hoses develops a leak or bursts. Then, not only do you have a clutter problem, but you also have a soggy clutter problem.

The first thing to do with these spaces is to clear everything out from this area. Inspect the cabinet and check for signs of leaks or pests. If your cabinet is leak and pest clear, give the cabinet a good cleaning. If you have a leak or pests, call a professional and have the problem resolved before it gets even more out of hand.

Once everything is out of the cabinet, sort through it and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this item expired or damaged?
  • Is this item a hazardous chemical?
  • Is under the sink the best place to store this item?

If the item is expired or damaged, get rid of it or have it repaired immediately. If the item is a hazardous chemical (like a cleaning supply), move it somewhere where small children and visitors to your home cannot easily get their hands on it (a locked cabinet is best for these materials). Finally, if you don’t use the item in the room near the sink, storing the object under the sink isn’t a good idea.

After sorting through your items, I strongly recommend installing a storage system that will get items up off the bottom of the cabinet and take advantage of the vertical space.

Under our sink, we have roll-out storage shelves similar to this:

We have items in small, clear, plastic storage boxes with lids on the pull-out shelves in kits. This makes it easier to pull out all the supplies we need for different tasks at once (pony tail holders, sponges). Also, if a pipe bursts or leaks, the plastic box provides a second level of protection from the water. What is nice about roll-out shelves is you don’t have to get down on your hands and knees whenever you want to reach something at the back of the cabinet.

If the pipes under your sink will work with it, adjustable under-sink shelves might also work well for your space:

Again, as with the roll-out shelves, we suggest using small, clear, plastic storage boxes with lids for your supplies when you return them to the cabinet, as an extra level of protection for you things from pipe and hose leaks.

27 Comments for “Curing clutter problems in under-sink cabinets”

  1. posted by Minneapolisite on

    Funny you should post this article today! I was JUST standing in my shower thinking about how I tamed the under-sink-clutter beast last May and that it has actually STAYED that way (despite my husband’s best efforts). I followed a process similar to yours, sorted everything I decided to keep into groupings (“teeth care,” “hair products,” etc.) and then bought appropriately-sized Clear Grid Totes from The Container Store. They fit very nicely around the pipes under the master bath duel sinks.

    http://www.containerstore.com/shop/dorm/bath/totesCaddiesAccessories?productId=10010620&N=78136

  2. posted by chrisbean on

    This was my project LAST weekend!

    Full empty, bleach-sprayed and scrubbed entire inside of kitchen undersink, threw out all the cans of paint and stain that had been in that cabinet since before we moved in (the good ones joined out art supply boxes), and I bought two plastic storage containers (hinged shoeboxes: one for dust rags, one for lightbulbs and small items); I repurposed a plastic bucket with a lid for rubber cleaning gloves. I wasn’t even thinking of leaks at the time: just getting everything contained.

    Turned out we had three kinds of floor cleaner, two kinds of toilet bowl cleaner, four kinds of febreze (!?), and were dangerously low on dish soap.

    I also found vaccuum cleaner bags (about ten minutes after buying some!) and a 64-oz bottle of liquid handsoap (which I then was able to cross off my shopping list!).

  3. posted by Annie on

    I have the Container Store adjustable under the sink shelves for both my kitchen and bathroom for a couple of years and it really helped me to organize and declutter. However, its good to go thru once and a while and see what needs to be tossed, etc.

  4. posted by Dominic Ali on

    So much space underneath cabinets seems devoted to cleaning supplies. I’ve replaced most of my household chemical cleaners with only two containers–a bottle of vinegar and a carton of baking soda. They make life much easier and clean just as good, if not better, than chemical cleaners. They also free up a lot of space.

  5. posted by Jenny on

    You may want to include a bucket or a bowl under the pipe trap in case of a leak. This seems like it would be especially easy in those adjustable shelves, just pop a couple of the bits out of the bottom shelf and slip an ice cream bucket or something under there. You should probably make a mental note to check it every week or so too.

  6. posted by Mirinda on

    I had one similar to the plastic one shown and hated it- it fell apart if anything heavy was placed on it or if someone (my husband) slammed the door. I love the idea of it being adjustable and customizable, but the one I had was cheaply made.

    Also- As a foster mom I am required to keep that stuff locked. If you have kids who live with you or visit, PLEASE consider magnet locks.

  7. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    I love the slide outs. I also have just put baskets under the sink so it is easier to reach the stuff in the back. I absolutely love what you did by cutting out the plastic shelving to allow for the pipes. Ingenious!
    Bernice

  8. posted by SunnyDays on

    I just keep everything in those cheap little plastic containers made for makeup and bath supplies. If there’s a plumbing problem, I can pull them out easily to make repairs. The two cleaning kits are in old buckets, there is one kit for dusting activities, and one for bath cleaning. Grab yer kit and go. :)

  9. posted by Jen on

    I feel similarly to Dominic, except I use an all purpose supposedly green cleaner for the bathroom and linoleum floors and regular dish soap for kitchen surfaces.
    I actually stopped storing items under my kitchen sink after accidentally grabbing a dead vole off the bottom that I mistook for a tea bag that missed the trash. They were crawling up in the space between the cabinet and the drainpipe. The problem has been taken care of, but I prefer to avoid the area whenever possible.

  10. posted by Trinity River on

    I love those rollout shelves. We’re doing a bathroom remodel soon and those are definitely going under my sink.

  11. posted by Kimberly on

    While roll out shelves are cool, I tend to think of them as another thing to clutter up my house. I solve my under sink problem by keeping just a spartan few things under there and lining them up neatly. To truly “Unclutter” means not having so much stuff that you have to spend lots of money on containers to organize it. Do I use some containers? Yes, but I keep it really simple.

  12. posted by Karen on

    I need to point out something, after dealing with this at our rental property. If you have PVC pipes under the sink, PLEASE be careful and do not put a lot of storage stuff under there. If you bump PVC pipes, they are not rigid like metal pipes, and can slip and bump the seal between the pipe pieces. Then your pipes will start leaking.

    We had a call from our renters that the sink pipes were leaking; when my husband went over to check it, he said they had this huge storage-organizing thingamajig stuffed under there, and every time the doors got closed, it bumped against the pipes. When we told them, they fell over themslves apologizing, but it stands to reason, the space UNDER the sink is not a good place to store anything. It can leak, it’s accessible to children and pets (yes, I’m sure your cabinets are childproof, but what about people who don’t have little kids but have visitors with kids?). You need to be careful about bumping the pipes. If you have a leak or a plumbing problem, it’s a pain for the plumber or maintenance person to take out all that stuff and put it back in.

    Bottom line: Avoid the under the sink cabinet. It’s not really a storage area. We do keep jugs of drinking water under the sink, but that’s it.

  13. posted by Linda on

    I’ve found that buckets also work well as storage containers and can then do double duty as, well, buckets.

    We have a couple of them under the sink, one with dishwasing soap and one with window and surface cleaners. We also have an old shower caddy basket with scrubbers and sponges. That way, when we do have to call the plumber, all we have to do is pull out a couple of buckets, rather than a bunch of containers.

  14. posted by Katie Alender on

    Seconding Karen! We just had our kitchen redone and the contractor recommended we not use it for storage. I do have a small tray that holds dishwasher soap and cleaning wipes, and I keep our dish drainer down there (on another tray) to dry hand-washed dishes, but that’s all. All the vases found another home (how many vases do two people need?) and the cleaning supplies went to the laundry room.

  15. posted by WilliamB on

    1. After I acquired nieces/nephews I stopped using the under-kitchen-sink space for cleaning supplies. I was surprised when making the change wasn’t a hardship. When the kids get older I’ll move a couple cleaning supplies back; the rest will remain where they are.

    2. One problem with organizing under sink spaces is figuring out what containers & drawers will fit. So I purchased EVERY LIKELY SOLUTION, took them home, and played with them till I found the combination I liked. Then I returned the rest. The Container Store employee who helped me both times, mentioned that many of his best customers do the buy/return thing a lot.

  16. posted by Karen on

    To make clean up easier under the sink, I bought self adhesive vinyl flooring tiles. They were cheap and easy to install. They are easy to clean and brighten up that dark space.

  17. posted by Ms. D on

    I’m not keeping my cleaning supplies anywhere other than under the sink. I don’t want them near my food or in any place that they might leak on fabrics. I don’t have too many (floor cleaner, bleach, stainless cleaner, dish soap, dishwasher tablets, toilet bowl cleaner, comet, glass cleaner, and hand soap) and I know where they all are (appropriately placed in the room they will be used, except for the hand soap and glass cleaner which tend to travel between the kitchen and bath). Add to that a small stack of rags in each cabinet, one sponge in the bath and a pack of them in the kitchen, some TP in the bathoom (I can get a whole 12 pack of 4x rolls under there, and I have a single-sink cabinet), and one pack of tea lights for each location (the colors are specific to the rooms, and we have a LOT of power outages here). It’s not cramped under there, everything is lined up neatly. The cabinets are not locked and never will be. I don’t have kids, never will, and I tell people theirs are likely to die if they bring then into my house (I also break childproof caps because, well, I don’t need them). Under the sink is valuable storage space when you live in a small space. Now, if I could just get my housekeeper to quit putting my expensive flat iron and blow dryer under there (they’re on the shelf for a reason!)…

  18. posted by Keter on

    I put only cleaning supplies related to the room (kitchen or bathroom) under the sinks, and these I put in a plastic totes(the kind with a handle in the middle for easy removal when cleaning is to be done. Small related supplies like extra scrubbers and cleaning towels go in plastic shoe boxes with lids, as do (in the bathroom) female supplies and extra disposable razors. Paper products never go under the sink.

    When I moved into my house, the first thing I did was something I learned decades ago as a renter – I put down Contact plastic on the bottom of the cabinet, and wrapped it about 4 inches up the sides, overlapping the cut bits to make a perfect seal. Voila, no more ruined cabinets from any accidental drips or spills, and it is very easy to wipe clean.

  19. posted by Susan on

    I put plastic boxes under the sink in our ensuite. Voila! No more avalanche whenever we open the cupboard!

    Now, to stop stocking up on multiple spares of everything and cut it down to just ONE box, not two….

  20. posted by Debbie M on

    At my sink I have dish soap on the counter. All other cleaning supplies (and other nonfood supplies) are on the bottom shelf of the pantry. (If they do leak somehow, they won’t get on food.)

    I store my baking sheets, cutting boards, and large pot lids in plate racks under the sink. The narrow ones are in front of the pipe; the fat ones are on the ends. This is really the only place in my kitchen where these gigantic things fit, and they’re totally water proof.

    I don’t store anything under my bathroom sink because it’s a pedestal sink, with no cabinet.

  21. posted by Jen on

    I hate when previous renters have used contact paper on the cabinets. The contact paper is inevitably so damaged and filthy that it needs to be replaced, and getting it off the cabinet surfaces is a huge pain, not to mention dealing with the sticky residue afterward. There are non adhesive shelf liners and trays that you can get that will protect against leaks and spills. Or, you can set items that are prone to leaking in plastic tubs.

  22. posted by Keter on

    @Jen – I have yet to see any tray or nonadhesive liner that would really catch and hold drips or spills. I removed liners like that every time I ran into them because they slide around and catch on things when you move something in the cabinet. My contact vinyl has been down for a decade now and is still pristine…you’ve obviously rented after some serious slobs. To remove contact vinyl, just warm with a hair dryer and peel. Any sticky residue can be removed with Goo Gone on a paper towel, but most times I’ve had to remove it, I just put down new vinyl over it, so residue wasn’t an issue.

    The materials science of contact sheeting has improved a lot: http://www.alsacorp.com/products/sheetingfx/sheetingfx.htm These are stiffer and don’t overlap too well, but you can always seal the seams with some clear nail polish or clear cement glue (don’t use caulk, it peels off).

  23. posted by Rick on

    Offtopic – but the second picture with the chrome plumbing pipe is actually against universal plumbing code.

    If left like it is it could cause a siphoning condition, in which the trap would be emptied of water and you would start to get sewer gas coming up through your sink. The trap is supposed to prevent this by way of a water seal, which requires ventilation at a minimum of the same level as the trap itself.

  24. posted by Balfour on

    I have an organizer under the kitchen sink exactly like the second picture above and I love it. I’ve had it for several years, no problems.

  25. posted by gypsy packer on

    Warning: if you put contact paper etc. under the sink, you will have a major problem getting that darned old chipboard dry enough to forestall mildew, in the inevitable event that the trap or lines spring leaks. I have seen removable sheet linoleum used with good results. Read somewhere, recently, of using a bowl full of rags directly under the trap and giving them a touch every time you use something from undersink storage. If the rags are wet, fix the trap. Tying a couple of rags around the sink lines and checking them, or wicking the lines to the trap bowl, might work.

  26. posted by Jasmine on

    Growing up, my mom would have me toss my dirty clothes under the sink in my bathroom, and I’ve been in the habit of doing that ever since. I have a laundry basket under my bathroom sink, with a garment bag for delicates on a hook in the cabinet door, and this has been helpful in ensuring I do laundry on a regular basis. I am considering putting three smaller baskets under the sink, so I can sort laundry into whites, colors, and darks, but in the mean time, my system helps ensure the area under my sink is regularly checked and cleaned out. In the event a pipe bursts, I can just pull the basket out and clean the clothes, leaving a nice empty space to inspect the problem.

    Unfortunately the area under my kitchen sink isn’t quite as organized. I’d like to get pull-out drawers to make the assortment of objects there accessible, though I certainly should sort through them to determine if I even need them there or not.

  27. posted by Bernice on

    Great suggestions! I think using freezer bags also work effectively if you are trying to cut down on costs and still stay organized.

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