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A Guide to Garage Organization, Storage, and Cleaning

Here are 14 garage organization ideas and tips to help start cleaning up and maximizing your garage space.

Garage Organization William Geddes

If you’re like most of us, your car is a five-figure investment that you can’t do without. Why leave it outdoors, where it can suffer damage from UV exposure, bird droppings, and tree sap? (And climbing into a scalding-hot vehicle in summertime is no fun.)

Storing it in a garage will keep it a lot cleaner and could help prolong its life. Follow our DIY garage organization guide below for step-by-step instructions to rid your clutter and keep a safe, clean garage.

How to Start Cleaning Out Your Garage

Organizing pros estimate that only 30 percent of us store our cars in the garage. The reason? Too much stuff. These garage storage ideas will help you get rid of anything you don’t need.

  • Set aside at least a full day, or even a full weekend or two, to get the job done.
  • Make decluttering a family project and invite over a few friends to pitch in, and it’ll go a lot faster.
  • Go through absolutely everything, including boxes you didn’t unpack when you moved in—you never know where that family heirloom might be lurking.

Sort all items into three piles: keep, donate or sell, and toss. Lay them on dedicated tarps or mark off areas of your driveway with chalk and place them there. What should get the boot: outgrown toys, items that are broken beyond repair, expired household chemicals (which may need special disposal), and anything you haven’t used in two years or more. If you have a hard time letting go of things that have sentimental value, snap pictures as keepsakes.

Sort the keepers into broad categories (for example, sports equipment, hand tools), and place them in well-marked cardboard boxes or, better yet, stackable clear-plastic bins you can use later. Put the keepers back in the garage for now.

As soon as possible, donate giveaways and schedule a yard sale to get rid of castoffs. If you’ve got too much trash for your hauler to take, use a service such as Bagster; simply buy the bag at a home store, pack it, and contact the company to schedule pickup and disposal (fees vary).

What Should Not Be Stored in a Garage?

For safety reasons, don’t store these items your garage:

  • Paint storage: Extreme cold or heat can ruin it. Store cans in a more temperate area.
  • Propane storage: A spark could ignite the fumes. Propane tanks should always be kept outdoors.
  • Paper goods: They’re a magnet for roaches and other bugs. Move them to your pantry.
  • Refrigerator: It’s a huge energy drain in spaces that are not air-conditioned.
  • Pet Food: Possums and other animals will sniff it out and get in. Keep it in a sealed container inside.

Safely Store Items

Most of us store lawn-mower gas in the garage, so be prepared for a fire. Get a 5- to 10-pound U.L.–listed extinguisher and mount it in an easy-to-access spot. It should carry an ABC rating, certifying that it’s effective against wood, oil, and electrical fires.

Though we’re sure you know to open the garage door when your car’s engine is running (right?), installing a carbon monoxide detector will give you added peace of mind.

Check your garage door opener to make sure it has a U.L.–listed motor and an auto-stop feature that will prevent the door from closing in case a child or pet tries to sneak underneath.

14 Tips Organize Your Garage Cheaply

1. Draft a Floor Plan of Your Garage

Most manufacturers of garage-organizing systems offer free space planning, so use their services as you research how to store all your gear. Before buying anything, take down your garage’s dimensions and note the size and location of windows, doors, switches, and receptacles, as well as how much space your car takes up. Then use the following rules of thumb as you assign things a home.

  1. Items you use together, such as gardening tools and lawn chemicals, should be stored close to one another.
  2. Put bulky equipment, like lawnmowers, in corners, where they won’t get bumped or knocked over by your car.
  3. Place frequently used items, like bikes, close to the garage door.
  4. Stash seasonal or rarely used items in the hardest-to-reach spots.

2. Keep Things Off the Garage Floor

Keep items off the floor whenever possible. You’ll free up much more room for your car and avoid sloppy, impossible-to-sort-through piles. If you purchase ready-made shelving units or cabinets, make sure they’re raised on legs so that you can clean the floor beneath them easily.

3. Must-Have Storage Products for Garages

  • Stackable clear-plastic bins with lids. (Rubbermaid Roughneck Clear containers, from about $7; walmart.com)
  • Clear jars in different sizes for sorting hardware and small items. Simply save food jars and clean them out thoroughly before using.
  • A lockable cabinet for storing lawn chemicals and other stuff you don’t want your kids to get into. (Enviro Elements 68-inch Resin Multipurpose Cabinet, about $80; lowes.com)
  • A portable label maker (such as the Label Manager 260P, about $60; From Dymo) so that you don’t have to decipher sloppy handwriting.
Garage, Hanging Storage Nat Rea

4. Why Open Shelves Are Better Than Closed Cabinets

Shelves are less expensive, easier to access (you don’t need additional clearance to swing the doors open) and let you easily scan what you’ve stored.

Cabinets with doors give you an excuse to stay disorganized because you can hide the evidence, so they can quickly become messy. Use them sparingly—like when the things you’re storing need to be protected from airborne dust and dirt.

5. Install Vertical Organizing Systems

Pegboard:

  • Pros: Widely available and easy to install, it can be cut to size and even painted to customize the look; several manufacturers make a wide variety of compatible hooks, shelves, and organizers.
  • Cons: While pegboard can handle lightweight hand tools and other goods, it isn’t sturdy enough for hanging heavy objects, like bicycles.

For example: 48-by-96-inch white hardboard pegboard; lowes.com

Track-based systems:

  • Pros: Shelf standards hang from a single track affixed to wall studs, so these systems can bear the weight of heavier objects; standards, hooks, shelves, and organizers can be relocated easily.
  • Cons: You must make sure the track is level so that the standards hang straight; they’re best for garage walls that are finished and plumb.

For example: elfa; containerstore.com

Panelized Systems:

Pros: The entire wall is finished with slotted plastic panels that hold lock-in hooks, shelves, and cabinets so that every square inch of wall space can be put to use.

  • Cons: Some systems must be installed by trained professionals, adding to the cost; you’re limited to system-compatible organizing products.

For example: TekPanels; garagetek.com

6. Use Overhead Space Wisely

The garage ceiling is a great spot for hanging long, flat stuff you don’t use every day, such as ladders and seasonal sports gear. Make sure that any shelves you hang from the ceiling don’t interfere with your garage door’s operation and that there is enough clearance to avoid scraping the roof of your car.

7. Build a Workbench

  • For the occasional DIYer, a wall-mount fold-down model (such as the Ideal Wall-Mount Workbench, about $300; sears.com) offers a sturdy surface and tucks out of the way when not in use.
  • Benches that have built-in tool drawers can be pricey. Instead, flank a simple worktable with shelves and add pegboard above to hold your gear.
  • A set of casters turns any table into a mobile workstation; make sure they don’t create an uncomfortably tall table.
  • Finish it off with a padded stool (such as the MotoGroup Adjustable Rolling Stool, $50; amazon.com) that fits under the table for safekeeping.

For example: Husky; homedepot.com

8. Stop Air Leaks Between the Garage and House

Before installing organizers, check for gaps in the wall your garage shares with your house and in the ceiling, if there’s a room above the garage. These are the spots where hot or cold air (and the moisture it carries) will seep inside. Seal small gaps with caulk, larger ones with expandable spray foam.

9. Invest in Door and Window Locks

Break-ins often happen when the garage door is left open and the door to the house is unlocked. Always secure the entry door with a deadbolt and keep garage windows locked.

Put in a garage-door lock that bolts the door to the sidewalls, and use it when you’re away for an extended period. And always close the garage door—even if you’re mowing the lawn outback.

Garage Floor iStock

10. Use an Epoxy Floor Coating

That dingy concrete slab will look even more drab once you’ve tidied up. An antiskid floor coating resists oil stains and wipes clean as easily as a kitchen countertop does—plus the color chips and paint disguise any imperfections.

Pick up an all-inclusive kit (such as Quikrete’s Garage Floor Epoxy Kit, about $60; amazon.com), and plan to tackle the project when you’ll have a few days of temperate, 50- to 80-degree weather for adequate drying time. The key to success is diligent prep work—namely a clean, dry slab.

See the step-by-step How to Epoxy-Coat a Garage Floor.

11. Seal The Threshold

Rain, windblown leaves, bugs, and mice will find their way inside if the bottom of your garage door doesn’t sit flush with the floor. Create a snug fit by attaching a rubberized strip to the floor where the door lands (Threshold Seal, about $70 for a 16-foot strip; griotsgarage.com)—you’ll save yourself some cleanup time.

12. Upgrade Lighting and Electrical Systems

A bare bulb over each car bay won’t cut it. For ambient light, opt for 4-foot fluorescent fixtures with electronic ballasts, which give flicker-free light and work well in cold temps. Space them 4 feet apart and use as many as you need to see well at night. Swap out receptacles with ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) that cut the power when there’s a short in the system.

13. The Best Way to Pull Into the Garage

Here’s how to make sure that your cars will always be a good fit:

  1. Skip the motion sensors that tell you exactly how far to pull the car in; just hang a tennis ball on a string from the ceiling so that it taps the windshield when you’re in the right spot. Ideally, you should be able to walk between the garage’s back wall and your car.
  2. Protect your car’s finish by attaching pieces of scrap carpeting to the walls in spots where the doors or bumper might hit them.
  3. Leave the center aisle between two vehicles as wide as possible so that you can roll trash bins to the curb or move bulky objects around without interference.
  4. If you have a minivan, back it into the garage with the sliding doors facing the center, then park your sedan next to it facing forward to allow easy access to both vehicles.

14. Keep It Clean for Good

  • In spring and summer, keep insects at bay with a pesticide that relies on natural ingredients (Bugzilla, about $20 for 32 ounces; bugzillapesticide.com).
  • Keep a bag of kitty litter handy for absorbing oil and grease spills. Place a broom and dustpan or a handheld vacuum near your workbench to tidy up after working on projects.
  • Hose down the floor regularly.
  • At least once a year, weed through your belongings and sell, donate, or toss what you don’t need.