Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Frugal Spice Rack

After some interest in my DIY spice rack, I thought I'd explain what I've done to solve the spice-storage problem in a small kitchen. I've created a frugal, infinitely customizable, and extremely effective little DIY spice rack with very little effort and not much money.

Hanging things on walls is a classic space-saving technique, and it's also really nice, if you're a cook, to have your herbs and spices ready to hand. I keep all my regular-use ingredients (oils, vinegars, salts, etc.) in a convenient stoveside cabinet, but it doesn't have space for a ton of spice bottles, and who wants to rummage around amongst all those bottles anyway? (Also, spice bottles are pretty irritating in and of themselves: if you want to measure, you have to pull off the little plastic shaker top, which often puts up a fight.) So I started looking for spice racks to mount on the wall, and just didn't like the offerings: most of them are either faux-rustic or scary stainless steel monstrosities, and neither would look right in my kitchen. And while I was looking, I encountered the idea of a magnetic spice rack.

The problems with most commercial magnetic spice racks are two:
1) The tins have clear lids. Herbs and spices lose their flavor more quickly when they are exposed to light, so this kind of storage is a bad idea. It's not so bad when you're keeping your clear bottles in a cabinet, but when you keep them out, you shorten their lifespan and increase the probability of having to throw out and replace old spices.
2) They almost invariably have the wrong number of tins. For the kind that's just a magnetic bar, that's not a big deal, but an empty tin or no tin in the kind of magnetic spice rack that has a specific seat for each tin is liable to drive a certain type of person (uh, me) totally crazy.
3) They're expensive. They can run $40 for a rack to hold 12 tins, and I have more than 12 spices and may acquire more.
4) The tins often come pre-labeled with ridiculous things like "burger seasoning" or "tabasco garlic salt" or something else I'll never actually own. Sometimes they include the corresponding spices, which just creates waste.

But the concept, I realized, is easily duplicated and improved upon if you do it yourself. You buy tins (without clear lids), you stick magnets to the tins, you fill the magnet-tins up with spices, label them, and stick them on the refrigerator (I'm using the side of my refrigerator facing my countertops). This gives you the power to customize your spice rack and saves you money. A 12-tin magnetic rack can run you $35-50; my DIY solution costs about $30-$35 for 20 tins.

A tin is cheap: a 4-ouncer, big enough to hold most to all of the contents a regulation-size spice bottle (depending on what exactly the contents are), is $.71 at Specialty Bottle. I actually bought mine in a batch of 20 from Etsy's "supplies" category, because the shipping was cheaper. Twenty tins plus shipping cost me $26. I already had craft magnets and glue, but they're quite reasonable, too (like $1.29 for a pack of 8 when I bought them, and I bet you can get them cheaper), and can be found in almost any craft store (might be cheaper at a hardware store). You need a pretty powerful magnet: mine are 3/4" in diameter and pretty thick. I started with one magnet per tin, but find that two, spaced across the tin, work better.

Now, I'm a wee bit concerned, as I would be with any magnetic spice storage, that I'm accidentally going to pull the lid and not the rest of the tin off at some point, leading to an enormous, spicy mess, but using thick magnets here seems to be a plus: it gives your fingers a logical place to grip (between the tin and the fridge) that prevents spills. We'll see how this goes. If I run into trouble, I may recreate the idea with twistlug tins, which aren't available in a flat 4oz. size, but are available in a flat 3oz. size, which is just about as good (especially if you buy your spices from bulk suppliers and can buy exactly the amount you need).

Anyway, I'm pretty psyched about this solution. It's low-maintenance, adaptable, and frugal. With a little added attention (K is thinking he'll make cool images for the lids), it can be really great-looking, too.


Cate said...

That's a fantastic idea! I just got married and we registered for a spice rack at Target that looks really nice, but it came with all kinds of weird oregano variants like "Italian seasoning" and "pizza seasoning" etc. etc. There wasn't even a tin for cinnamon! We ended up dumping half of the useless spices out (wasteful, but what could we do?) and printing labels for things like cinnamon and sage that weren't already included. It was very silly. I wish I'd stumbled upon your idea before we registered!

Anonymous said...

to comment that I have a similar setup. Although my boyfriend is a crazy spice fiend and we have dozens and dozens of specialized spices in tins in a drawer, the ones we use most often are on the fridge in magnetic spice containers. Ours actually do have a clear top, but I don't worry about spoilage with them because they are literally the ones we use constantly.

I got my spice jars with the magnets in place at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for 2.00 each for any interested parties. I will also say that this was a great solution for a problem and not a design plan for me, but I have gotten tons of compliments on it.

paisley penguin said...

I love to watch the Food Network show Good Eats with Alton Brown. I watched one recently about spices and he was at a bulk spice shop near my home town (Seattle) for his show. He did the exact same thing you are describing and I thought that was a magnificent idea! Thank you for links to suggestions to places to get tins. This is one of my very desk DIY projects. Love it!

Katrina said...

Such a great idea! Can we see a picture of the finished product?

Kim said...

Hooray! I love this idea! Can't wait to see pictures; my spice rack is quite a jumbly mess :-)

paranoidasteroid said...

This is possibly the best idea I have ever heard of! We have our spices stored in a drawer, and you never quite know waht you're going to pull out of it...

treble said...

Oooh, yes, this is great idea. I did the same thing, except I got a good deal on a set of 6 from Walmart (they were ~$10). I've also seen people use these tins in their medicine cabinets. Just fill with meds, vitamins, bobby pins, or whatever else is cluttering up your cabinet. (Of course, this only works if the cabinet is lined with metal.)

Frugal Vet Tech said...

Great idea! I may have to try something like this... Will you be posting pictures?

If you could find square tins with solid covers, you could put the magnet on the side of the tin (so the lid faces up instead of sideways), thus removing the possibility of just pulling the lid off the tin instead of the tin off the 'fridge.

Uri said...

yes, pictures, i agree

Creme Brulee said...

I was so inspired by your idea I made my own magnetic spice rack today! It feels like I have been on a quest for the perfect spice rack in my teeny kitchen, but nothing worked until I read about your idea. It looks very cute, and I wanted to say thank you!

Also, I highly recommend using the tins with the screw on lids. Until I figured out the right amount of magnets there were lots of screw ups which would have resulted in a huge mess.

Motorokr said...

That is an awesome idea! I only have a few spices, well four... cinnamon, salt, sugar, and pepper!

Lrn2Save said...

Brilliant idea!! I've been searching for a workable spicerack forever, I mean years! Thank you!
I'll have to wait for a few weeks for the extra cashola, but it's top on my list of DIY!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you could glue a magnet strip onto the underside of one of your cabinets and then the metal lids would just stick to them and hang from below. Would that be in the way?

It's a great idea that I hadn't thought of!

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