Does Open Shelving Really Get All That Dusty? An Investigative Report.

published Sep 20, 2017
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Growing up, we had chores; one of those chores was dusting. Whoever’s turn it was that week would have to go through the whole house with a rag and a can of Pledge and move every individual tchotchke out of the way to clean what felt like miles and miles of shelving. It took forever (probably less than an hour) and instilled in me both a hatred of dusting, and also the intrinsic knowledge that my house is not clean unless it’s dusted.

In my old Brooklyn apartment — where we often kept the windows open, and were about two blocks from the BQE, a very busy highway — there would be a visible layer of dust on my TV stand after about two weeks. In my new house, where the windows are so old they’ve been painted shut, on a street with little traffic, things don’t seem to get so dusty.

Why am I telling you this? Because dust is a deterring factor that keeps me — and a lot of you — from getting open shelving in the kitchen.

And so, an experiment: I set up four zones in different areas of my kitchen, and strategically did not dust them for three weeks. Then I very scientifically ran my finger over the target zones to see how dusty they were. This way, I simulated open shelving without actually having open shelving. Here’s what I found.

Zone 1: Countertop workspace area

This is the spot where I keep my computer, about 10 feet from the stove and sink area. I picked up a very fine layer of dust that was invisible to my eye when looking at the countertop. Maybe I should turn my command center into a dishware pantry?

Zone 2: The wine rack

My wine rack is mounted on the wall, higher up — where most people have open shelving — and located across the room from the stove. I would say this was less-than-medium dusty. It felt a little gritty, but didn’t look bad (especially because it’s above my eye level). The wine glass I left there was totally fine after one week and barely a little dusty after three. I rinsed it off under the sink and felt totally fine drinking out of it at the end of my experiment.

Zone 3: Next to the fridge

My fridge is next to the back door, which we have open a lot, and on the same side of the room as our cooking and prep areas. This was the most dusty area: I picked up dust and chunkier linty bits here.

Zone 4: A cabinet next to the microwave

The microwave is right above the stovetop. It has a built-in vent for the fumes that we usually remember to turn on when we’re cooking. I left a cabinet door open for three weeks (it took everything in me not to close it!). As anticipated, the stuff on that shelf was super dusty and also greasy. At the end of the three weeks, I did not feel comfortable using the plates in there until they had been through the dishwasher.

In Conclusion

How dusty your shelving will get definitely depends on where in your kitchen it’s located. If it’s near a window or your cooking space, it’s going to get grimy pretty quickly. If it’s in an out-of-the-way spot, you can probably get by with dinnerware and glasses on a shelf without having to dust them before you use them each time. (Especially if you use the stuff fairly often!) All of this is to say that, while I now know that I don’t want to have open shelving around my entire kitchen, I am certainly more open to the idea of installing it along the wall opposite of my oven. Science says it will be fine!

What about you? If you have open shelving, is dust and grime a problem? If you don’t, are those things a big deterrent?