Our Guide to Cleaning Out Your Messy Spice Drawer

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Luisa Gonzalez P)

Is your spice drawer out of control with random bottles, bags, and boxes of spices jammed together? I used to only clean out my spice drawer when moving, but have since realized that it has to be done more often than every few years! Here’s a guide on how to take stock of what you have, figure out what to keep or throw out, and how to put the drawer back together again.

If you didn’t know this already, spices don’t last forever. Since they’re usually one of the more expensive pantry items, it’s really worth taking the time to inventory what you have to make sure you use them before they go bad. Here’s how to do it!

1. Throw Out the Old Spices

Unlike fresh food, spices don’t actually spoil or go bad. What does happen, though, is that they lose flavor and potency over time. Old spices won’t season your cooking in the same way and can add disagreeable, off flavors.

According to the spice company McCormick, these are the suggested shelf lives of the difference categories of spices:

  • Ground Spices – 3 to 4 years
  • Whole Spices – 4 years
  • Dried, Leafy Herbs – 1 to 3 years

Not sure how long you’ve had the spices, and can’t find an expiration date? It’s now time to use your senses: the spice should still have a strong smell, taste potent, and have a rich color. A lack of any of these things means that the spice or dried herb is past its prime and not worth keeping — toss it!

For those of you who just can’t bear to throw anything away, try reviving the old spice by rubbing it between your fingers or using more of it than called for in a recipe.

2. Clean and Consolidate

When you’re tossing out the old spices, set aside any bottles that you may want to keep — I know that there are certain bottles that work well with the way I organize my spices, so I try to keep them and refill as needed.

Clean any empty spice bottles that you want to keep, but make sure they’re completely dry before you fill them again. Empty those random little baggies of bulk spices into these bottles, or transfer spices out of the bottles you don’t like. Make sure you label everything clearly, especially if you’re now using a cinnamon bottle to hold cumin instead.

If you have more than one open container of the same spice, merge them together if you can to free up some more space in the drawer.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

3. Store Away From Heat, Light, and Air

Spices last longer when they’re stored in airtight containers, away from damaging heat and light. The worst places are by windows or next to the stove or oven, so find a new spot if you need to.

My favorite way to store spices is in a dedicated drawer, and I make sure all my spices bottles are labeled on the top so that I can locate the ones I want easily.

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4. Organize According to Your Cooking Style

Once you’ve picked a place to store your spices, it’s time to organize and put them away. There’s really no single best way organize your spices, it depends on how you use them and what works best for you. Here are two ways you can organize:

  • Grouping by cuisine: Put your sweet baking spices together in one area, then group the ingredients for your favorite Indian curry in another area. When it’s time to cook, the spices you’ll need will be close together.
  • Alphabetical: Lining up the spices in alphabetical order is great so you never have to second guess where a spice is, and this is especially useful if you have a lot of people who cook in your kitchen.
(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Now that you know what you have in your spice drawer and where everything is, it’s time to get cooking! If there’s a certain blend of spices that you make often, save some time by making a big batch so you don’t have to measure out multiple spices each time. If you feel like you should use spices more often, keep small bowls of your favorites out on the counter as reminders.

Do you have any spice storage tips to share?