Ask Unclutterer: Storing spices

Reader G. submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I was wondering what you thought of spice racks? I was thinking of purchasing one, but I see a lot of of options and some seem bulky, expensive and unappealing. I am a recent college graduate with a small kitchen in a one bedroom apartment, I’m struggling with space in my kitchen. I may need a kitchen cart and other things too.

I’m not the biggest fan of traditional spice racks. Mostly, I dislike them because they encourage purchasing less-than-stellar spices, take up an unnecessary amount of space, and they encourage storing spices you don’t actually use. Also, spices should be stored in a dark, dry location and many spice racks are made to be out on a counter where the spices will quickly lose their flavor.

I encourage you to simply attach two metal strips to the inside of your pantry door or a kitchen cabinet door. Then, as you purchase good spices from a gourmet grocer or an online store like Penzeys Spices, just stick adhesive magnet tape to the back of the tins so they’ll stick to the strip. Detailed instructions can be found on Instructables.

Alton Brown uses velcro strips, which is just as wonderful as magnetic strips and perfect for renters.

If you own spices already, check out “The shelf life of spices” to make sure your spices haven’t lost their flavor. And, don’t forget to label your spices if you put them in tins so you don’t add marjoram instead of oregano to a dish.

Thank you, G., for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check out the comments where our readers will add even more answers to your question.

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37 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Storing spices”

  1. posted by Monoko on

    If you have the drawer space, an expandable silverware organizer works well. All the labels are visible so you can locate what you need quickly, they stay in a dark spot for better shelf life. Fat or very large bottles can go in the adjustable parts, and very small ones fit vertically or horizontally. I have one like this and it was the perfect solution for me:

  2. posted by Dawn F on

    What about putting a Lazy Susan (spinning tray thing) on one shelf in a cabinet or on one shelf in a pantry? You can fit tons of various sizes of bottles of spices/sauces/etc. on a Lazy Susan and take up very little space.

    Using a Lazy Susan vs. a traditional spice rack makes it very easy to store larger bottles of your favorite spices and then smaller bottles of the spices you use less often – you’re not restricted to one size only. This storage system works fantastic in our kitchen.


  3. posted by pammyfay on

    Erin’s idea of the metal strips inside the cabinet door, combined with the little round tins, is what I would do (if somehow my metal spice stand can disintegrate overnight or if my small terrier can somehow find a way onto the countertop and chew it until it’s horribly mangled!).

    There’s another benefit beyond keeping just what you usually use (in my stand, there are a few spice jars containing things I’ve used perhaps twice–like bay leaves):

    The round tins are easier to use measuring spoons with! Getting a tablespoon inside the taller glass jars can be difficult.

    (A semi-related note: Recently, when Erin was on the Rachael Ray Show, she gave a terrific piece of advice: Install one of the small magnetic strips on the inside wall of your clothes closet, and store buttons, safety pins, those extra cards of thread that sometimes come with really nice sweaters, a wound-up fabric measuring tape and similar items in the round magnetic tins. That way, when you see a hem that’s coming loose, you might just take care of it with a few stitches right then and there, instead of tossing the item on your bedroom chair for “later.” THANK YOU, ERIN, for this terrific idea! There are so many ways to use these magnetic strips and tins!)

  4. posted by rg on

    Evil Mad Scientists will save humanity! Or at least give you a potential idea for storing spices… but that’s pretty close to saving humanity, I would think.

    Check it out here :

  5. posted by Brian on

    Another problem I’ve found is a spice rack on display lends itself to visual appeal, rather than its true purpose. Unused or unnecessary spices fill the shelves to keep the rack looking full. You may lock yourself into an inferior spice company just for the sake of matching spice bottles. Remember a spice’s exclusive purpose is just that: to spice up your food. I also vouch for Penzey’s, I’ve happily used their products for years.

  6. posted by penguinlady on

    I used to have a very small kitchen and used a fridge-mounted spice rack. It hung to the side of the fridge (which happened to be directly next to the stove), and was very convenient.

    Something like this would work for more than just spices:

  7. posted by Tim Stringer on

    Spices don’t last nearly as long if they’re exposed to light. If you’re storing spices in glass containers it’s best to keep them in a dark cupboard for this reason.

  8. posted by Lee on

    I wanted containers similar to the ones on the Instructables site (fat metal tins with a clear top so I could get a measuring spoon inside) and found some with a slightly wider rim on the top. The lower piece has an opening in the upper rim (about 1/4″ x 3/4″) that can be lined up with a similar opening on the side of the top for a measuring spoon (I see this as too small to be functional) and a group of holes so the spices can be shaken out (I would only use this for Paprika on deviled eggs, etc.). I position the lid so the hole in the base is at 6 o’clock and the holes in the side of the lid are at 11 and 1 o’clock to reduce the chance of the spices spilling. Because of this hole, I keep the level of spices below the beginning of the rim and the holes.

    These had a round rubber magent already attached to the bottom and 12 came as a set on a metal sheet that could stand up. It’s worthless for me as I have not place to hang it and I’m trying to think of a way to repurpose it. They could be stacked on a Lazy Susan, as Dawn suggested, as the magnets can hold them in stacks. That’s a great idea, although I have more drawer space and less cabinet space for a Lazy Susan. Metal on the surface of the Lazy Susan would prevent the stacks from moving around.

    I put mine flat in a 14″ wide drawer and can easily have 5 wide and 6 deep. I could do one more back row, but would have to take out the tin in the 6th row to get it out. I have quite a few spices and actually use part of a second drawer, so it’s not an issue. My drawer is lined with ribbed rubber drawer lining. They shift a little, but not enough to bother me. The idea of putting a piece of sheet metal in the drawer would be great! I lay mine flat, but it would make each row slightly less deep if they were on their sides.

    I keep mine in alphabetical order and it is so much easier in same size containers. I used the label maker to label the clear surface on the top and the side of the bottom. That helps get the right lid on the right tin if several tins are open at the same time. After a short learning curve on font size, this was quick and easy. Another way to arrange them is by use – meat, baked good, etc.

    Spices should also be stored in as cool an area as possible. Even if they are in a container that does not let in light, they are still at risk if stored near the stove or oven. That’s unfortunate as they do look fabulous when they are part of the kitchen decor and are handy when stored near the stove. Mine are in my “prep center”, as we haven’t tackled turning our ill-designed pantry into a functional area.

    The mention of putting mending supplies on a magnetic strip in the closet inspired me to consider something that would work with what I already have. I keep jewelry in the front pockets of 2 hanging jewelry organizers with clear pockets. I find using 2 fronts makes it easier to see everything without having to keep turning from front to back. My back pockets are mostly empty and could easily hold mending supplies. Thanks, PammyFay, for the mental jog.

  9. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I feel like such a heathen! I have only a few spices that I use so no rack required.

  10. posted by chacha1 on

    I have a couple of wire racks from World Market. They hang on the wall under the upper cabinet in the space between my range and refrigerator. I like to be able to see at a glance what I’ve got, and these fit all the brands I buy so I don’t have to buy *another* system and re-package everything (that spells clutter to me!).

    May not be optimal for “long-term” storage, but frankly, I have never noticed any diminution in flavor potency. Maybe I use my spices up fast enough that it’s not a concern. I do tend to use a lavish hand. 🙂

  11. posted by vanessa on

    What creative readers and commenters here. I love it! I use the magnetic tape on my stainless steel spice containers. I also use magnetic tape and a label maker for the labels. There’s a nice picture of mine at BTW-I love when Unclutterer shows up in my Google Reader! Thanks!

  12. posted by Charlie Park on

    One piece of uncluttering advice that I like a lot regarding spices is that if you have a spice that’s no longer flavorful, and you toss it, DON’T REPLACE IT. If you had it around long enough that it went bad and you didn’t use it up, clearly, it wasn’t that useful to you. Don’t feel obligated to buy more of it.

    Oh. Here’s the post where I saw that, originally: Small Notebook: The Spice Cabinet Cleanout.

  13. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    I put the red and brown spices in the fridge, on the door where you aren’t supposed to store anything else anyway. I grow oregano, mint, chives and rosemary on my deck (the squirrels eat anything else) and have a bay tree just off it, and I buy small jars of the other herbs I use occasionally. I dislike thyme, tarragon and cilantro, so that pretty much leaves dill weed, fennel seeds, caraway seeds and black pepper–and i think a jar of marjoram–which fit on a lazy susan in the cupboard, in whatever jars they came in.

  14. posted by infmom on

    I have a two-tier turntable for the smaller spice jars and tins. It holds a lot, and the lesser used spices naturally gravitate to the inside of it. All my spices are stored on the top shelf of a freestanding metal cabinet, with doors, in the kitchen. The larger jars (I buy some spices, like curry powder and Penzey’s Old World Seasoning, in large quantities) sit on the shelf beside the turntable.

    We write the purchase date of each spice with a marker either on the lid or the label, and if something’s still kicking around mostly unused after a year, it gets tossed. Sometimes I reuse the jars for other things, but most of the time the jar lid and/or shaker top has absorbed so much of the scent of the previous contents that it’s not practical to use it for much else, so those get recycled.

  15. posted by Kara on

    A agree with Erin about spice racks, especially the kind that come pre-filled.

    I keep my spices in their original Penzey’s jars (because I think they’re pretty, and the labels are very legible) on little spice risers in a cabinet. I know it takes up cabinet space, but it keeps everything easy to see and grab and, importantly, off my work surfaces.

    Here’s what I mean by a spice “riser” —
    They’re super cheap and functional.

  16. posted by Jessimuhka on

    I use little glass jars from IKEA, stored in a kitchen drawer that is really too shallow to be useful. The jars are flattened on the sides, so they don’t roll around, and have an opening wide enough to get a spoon in. I just stick a piece of clear tape on the jar and then write in the spice with permanent marker.

  17. posted by Joanna on

    You should definitely check out the Spice Stack. Fits neatly in an upper cabinet, has 3 drawers that accomodate both large & small bottles (keeping them in their original storebought bottles), and they slide out & down so you can grab the spice you need.

    See here.

    I also once filled one of my kitchen drawers with spices. It was perfect. They were very easily located with labels up & easily accessed while cooking.

  18. posted by christy on

    I know this totally sounds simplistic and definitely not fancy. My issue was that we had a very deep and tall pantry, but not very wide. We had to kind of line up spices and we wound up stacking them to be able to view them. My husband and I use spices a lot. They would topple over each other or roll back into places where he couldn’t find them and so we would buy extra when we had the spice already. (My husband has a tendency to not want to look very hard to find things– even when they are right in front of him). Two issues I have with spice containers that you fill are 1) you can’t see the expiration dates and 2) sometimes it is hard to find the label. So I bought some cheap clear “shoe box” organizers from Target and put the tall spices in two of them. I prefer to do it that way because they are in the original containers with their expiration dates on the bottom. I have two of those boxes- one is kitchen herb type spices and the other is spicy-spices and extracts, etc. I bought a smaller clear box, the same length that I stack on the bottom for the short spice containers you can buy. Not fancy, but works well for us.

  19. posted by L. on

    I swear by this thing right here. Yes, it’s expensive. But I’ve had mine for ten years, and I plan to have it forever. You can store 40 spices in less than one square foot, and it’s beautiful (IMHO). Each test tube holds the equivalent of one of those low-rise jars.

  20. posted by Lisa D on

    Um… just because it comes full of spices doesn’t mean you need to use these spices. My 30 spice rack is mounted on a dark wall, and I immediately dumped the spices out and bought fresh ones/replaced ones I never used (celery salt??). That way it looks uniform b/c all of the bottles are the same, but it has what I want.

    The other recommendation I have is to never buy a bottle of spice. Ever. There are at least three places in my town that sell bulk spices. My last refill was about .80 for the oregano, .70 for the cumin, and 1.20 for a half-bottle of cardamom pods.

  21. posted by Karen on

    I have very little cabinet space and no drawer space, so I exploited my last remaining patch of unused wall to get the spices out of the way. I use two Ikea Grundtal ( spice racks with big glass specimen jars. It’s easier to transfer bulk farmer’s market spices into a wide-mouthed jar, instead of fiddling with a funnel to get them into a more traditionally shaped jar.

  22. posted by STL Mom on

    I’m with Christy – I just put my assorted jars, tins, and baggies into a couple of short plastic boxes that sit in the cupboard. I pull the whole box out to look for things, but the most commonly used ones generally end up in the front.
    I need to clean out my older spices — I have a few items from stores in towns I haven’t lived in for years!

  23. posted by Kristen on

    I transfer nearly all of my spices to baggies. I buy most of them that way to begin with, in the bulk section. It’s much cheaper by weight than buying huge jars and fresher as well. You should only buy what you’ll use within a couple of months. I store the bags in a container with alphabetical dividers. You don’t even need to use the whole alphabet’s worth. But this way you can flip through and see at a glance what you’re out of. And you can also keep the entire box lidded or put away in the pantry, away from light and heat.

  24. posted by Bekah on

    I use a spice rack for various nails & screws & bits of home improvement whatnot (stored in old spice jars, of course). Mine has hooks beneath – for utensils I guess – I’ve hung tubes of spackle and glue from them. Living in a condo, my “workshop” is a 5′ x 6′ storage room off the balcony, so I needed to make these things accessible without taking up a lot of room. Doesn’t help the OP, but helpful if you fall in love with a spice rack but can’t justify it in your kitchen.

  25. posted by G. on

    Hi everybody!

    I wrote the question originally. I think I want to try magnetic strip with the magnetic tape. It would be awesome to have some kind of gallery of spice rack setups. I’m enjoying this site a lot thanks everybody!

  26. posted by Kari on

    I am lucky–I have an ironing board closet in the kitchen that has been transformed in to a spice cabinet with the addition on shelves. It is the perfect depth for spice bottles (I live near the home of Penzey’s so their spices are predominate), the door keeps them cool and out of the light. The cabinet is FULL but we cook a lot and use a lot of spices of various kinds.

  27. posted by Jasmine on

    I’m Indian, so I use a lot of spices in my cooking. I have a traditional tin box with several cups in it for storing commonly accessed spices, such as salt, finely ground black pepper (I have a grinder elsewhere in the kitchen for when fresh ground pepper is needed), paprika, cumin, and cayenne. I have chaat masala (my favorite addition to corn) in a shaker with a few holes of varying sizes. I use the spice box and shaker often enough that they’re kept in a drawer alongside other tools (namely the rolling pin and board) for cooking Indian meals.

    For less commonly used spices, or ones too strong to keep in a drawer (anyone here use garam masala?), I think I’ll use the magnetic strip idea. I don’t often use herbs aside from fresh cilantro and mint, so I don’t have much need for expensive spice racks that have more thyme and basil than I’ll ever use. I plan on redoing parts of my sister’s and my apartment over the summer, once our school semester ends, and our kitchen could definitely use an uncluttering upgrade.

  28. posted by OogieM on

    We buy from Penzey’s and I buy in bulk and store the extra in ziplock bags in the freezer. I currently have and use regularly over 100 different spices and if they are not out I forget to sue them. We have 2 2 tier and 2 single layer turntables to hold the spices. They are in roughly alphabetical order so I can fairly quickly find the one I want and I don’t put more than a single layer around the bottom tier so the labels don’t get hidden.

  29. posted by bandicoot on

    i have three masala dabbas that are traditionally used for spice storage in india.
    the dabba consists of a large round shallow stainless steel container with a tightly fitting outer lid….and an inner lid.
    when you open the inner lid, the individual stainless steel pots of spices are revealed….they are all lidless, so you can easily scoop out a bit of this and a bit of that to quickly make your curry paste.
    or your chai mix.
    or your indonesian bumbu!

    i have grouped my spices into the sets that i tend to use together, so it is simply a matter of tearing off two large lids and everything is laid out before me, much like an artist’s palette.
    and chefs are all artists anyway!

    the dabbas stack nicely when not in use.

  30. posted by beth on

    I got a vintage wooden Coca-cola bottle crate (4 x 6 holes), stand it up on it’s end and store my spice bottles horizontally in each cubbyhole

  31. posted by Carly on

    I am very proud of my spice rack. Similar to L. it uses tubes, but this one I made myself.

    My bestfriend had really liked a spice rack she saw on a cooking show. She uses bagged spices (now so do I) and wanted something she could fill herself and that was handy and presentable on the counter. When I went to find one similar to purchase as a gift for her I quickly learned nothing exsisted that matched what she wanted. I decided to make one for her and ended up liking so much I made one for myself.

    I ordered test tubes and stoppers from a chemistry supply company and I found deep double walled woven baskets (I had to purchase at a specialty store, but I a major chain just started carrying the same ones). I added homemade labels that we can be switched any time you find you like something new and Voila, spice rack! Also, I came across a spice funnel and slender measuring spoons (that I have yet to honestly use) to go with the set. The deep walls of the basket support the tubes and keep spice-killing light out. To quickly find the spices I use most I marked the top of each stopper. I found fasteners at a craft store that were imprinted with the alphabet so I simply cut off the prongs and glued the lettered fastener heads I needed to the stoppers. I fill my tubes with bagged spice and keep the left over spices in their bags tucked in an airtight container in the pantry.

  32. posted by Diana on

    I cook most of my foods from scratch and am a heavy and diverse spice user. I also live in an apartment, making space a premium. Instead of doing the spice rack, I bought magnetic jars that stick to my refrigerator. They’re right
    next to me as I cook, I can see what I’m getting low on, and it’s easy to put them away.

  33. posted by Kira =] on

    We’ve had great success with the KitchenArt spice carousel. It can sit on the countertop or be mounted under the cabinet. It came with labels for you to pick & choose.

  34. posted by Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-05-23 » Cinnamon Bunny on

    […] of good ideas here: Ask Unclutterer: Storing spices – […]

  35. posted by Green on

    I was going to suggest the Masala Dabba’s Bandicoot has suggested.
    And woulds like to add, I also use baby food jars to store the spices. Its the earth & pocket friendly option. Look up freecycle or ask for it on some local forum for free give aways.
    Pl do not buy the Rajtan spice jars from Ikea- the lid noes not screw on properly. This was the only set of bottles I ever purchased instead of reusing bottles and it turned out to be a bad choice. The baby food jars have much better screw on lids- and you dont shell out $ for it.
    I put these bottles on an extendable spice rack. Mine is cheap white plastic that still looks good but its also available in bamboo and metal. All these models are available at bed bath.

  36. posted by Jenn Ryan on

    We have a couple caddies like this (you can probably find them at Big Lots and other cheap places too) that we keep in the cabinet – one holds single spices and the other holds blends. One would probably work for most people though. The nice thing is that we can take the whole caddy down when cooking, and put it back up out of the way when done.

  37. posted by Lauren on

    I second the SpiceStack! It holds more spices tucked away in the cabinet than the lazy susan approach. Makes it simple to find what you need. Check it out at

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