It’s quite difficult to get anything accomplished in a cluttered garage or workshop where supplies, tools, and other gear can’t be easily accessed, let alone found. While there are various types of garage storage solutions out there, one of the most reliable and least expensive is shelving—flat lengths of rigid material that provide a sturdy surface for storing just about anything. Power tools, paint cans, seasonal gear—solid shelves can bear the weight of virtually all your belongings and keep them protected from damage. Of course, not all shelving is made equal. So ahead, be sure to read our insights on what to keep in mind when choosing the best garage shelving for your needs.
Most people with a garage are familiar with the annual ritual of spring cleaning. This is where you take all of the things not often used around the home that was rather haphazardly thrown into the garage without too much trouble or organization and go through them, figuring out what you want to keep and what to get rid of.
Types of Garage Shelving
The material mainly distinguishes the best garage shelving it’s made from, and whether it’s freestanding or mounted to the wall or ceiling. Prices will vary depending on the material, shelf size, quality, and brand.
Wooden shelves are beautiful and sustainable, adding style to your work and storage spaces. Hardwood shelving like oak and maple is strong and durable. Softwoods such as pine, as well as pressed wood like plywood and chipboard, can handle light-duty storage but can warp, buckle, and break under heavy loads. Freestanding wooden shelving units can be moved fairly easily wherever you need storage. At the same time, wall-mounted shelves are fixed into structural studs via metal brackets, and firmly attached to your walls. If you decide to build your shelving unit from a kit, look for one that comes with all the hardware parts you need, as well as clear instructions; note that lumber may not be included.
Metal and Wire Shelving
Metal (typically steel) shelves can hold heavy loads and come in a variety of sizes. Another advantage to metal shelving is it’s very easy to clean—a non-porous material, metal won’t absorb chemicals or paint in case of a spill. Metal shelves may come painted black or powder-coated with a protective finish to resist rust and damage.
While solid metal shelves are useful for heavy-duty equipment, wire shelves offer the strength of metal without the weight. They’re typically made of steel or chrome mesh: a surface of connected metal strands that form a sturdy grid, web, or net. These shelves are designed for paint cans, tools, bins, and boxes; make sure any smaller items (loose nails and screws, for example) are inside larger containers before storing on wire shelves so they won’t fall through the mesh gaps.
Solid metal shelves are often found in freestanding units, as they can be quite heavy to fix directly to the wall. Wire shelves can be freestanding or mounted to walls and ceilings.
Adjustable Rail Shelves
Depending on what you intend to store, you may want the freedom to change the height of your shelves to gain more or less space between tiers. Adjustable rail shelves offer this flexibility, thanks to vertical metal tracks you install into the wall. These tracks are slotted at equal intervals, with metal brackets designed to be fitted into each slot. To change the position of your shelf, simply remove it, move the brackets up or down, and refit your shelf at this new height. Commonly made of steel wire, adjustable shelves can easily hold heavy objects, as long as the brackets are also welded metal.
Amazon Basics – Wire Rack
When it comes to picking a plain-and-simple version of a popular product, Amazon is working hard to give you the best value. Amazon doesn’t sell an 18-inch-deep wire rack shelf, but the 14-inch Amazon Basics – 5-Shelf Wire Rack trades a bit of overall size for great build quality.
Our sample size for testing these shelves is only one shelf per brand, but Amazon was the only company that shipped a flawless product. While the problems with the boltless shelving we assembled were easy to fix, problems with bad threaded fittings on the Seville wire rack shelves are much more concerning. That’s what bumped Amazon Basics to the runner-up position, despite its smaller size.
Wire racks have very few pieces:
- Metal tubes hold the shelf up.
- Wire racks hold it together.
- Plastic shims sit in grooves across the leg tubes to keep the shelves at the height you want.
The more weight you add to the shelf, the more tightly the shelves are secured by those shims.
To make assembly even easier than some other wire racks, loose parts came individually wrapped for each step. That doesn’t mean a miscount can never happen, but it made keeping track of the parts easier than with a giant bag of plastic bits.
The one downside to these racks is that you have to assemble the shelves in sequence, bottom to top since each shelf slips over the corner posts as it goes on. That’s not much of a downside unless you want to remove a shelf for some reason, and each welded-wire shelf helps hold the entire unit together.
These shelves are popular in commercial pantries, server rooms and retail warehouses all over the world. They’re sometimes more pricey than sheet-metal shelving, but otherwise, it’s hard to find anything to dislike.
Wire racks are easy to accessorize with hooks, and you can even use simple bolts to attach extra shelves and caddies through the open trusswork along the sides. This rack includes a strap so you can anchor it to the wall in case of earthquakes.
Edsal – Muscle Rack
Edsal – Muscle Rack shelves represent the lowest common denominator in easy-to-assemble garage shelving. It does its job well, and there’s nothing to complain about if you understand its limitations, but it’s not our favourite type of shelf to build or use.
Like our top pick from Gladiator, this shelving unit is held together with the weight of whatever you’re putting on the shelves. Unlike the Gladiator’s half-welded construction, Muscle Rack is shipped as a box of basic parts: Each corner “angle post” upright is in two three-foot pieces, and every connection plays a crucial role.
The modular design makes assembling the bottom shelf tricky. You’ve got to support the uprights while you seat each shelf side on the corner rivets, eight connections in all for the first shelf. If you don’t have a second person helping — and maybe even if you do — you’ll easily lever one of your last connections out of joint when you’re working on the next corner.
Once the shelf is together — ideally, tighten all the connections with a rubber mallet — this is a sturdy, reliable shelf. Just remember to always lift by the bottom-half piece of a leg if you need to move it to a different spot in the garage, or you’ll pull the whole unit apart.
The component most people complain about on discussion boards is the shelf deck itself, made from that low-strength, compressed-sawdust chipboard more often associated with fake wall coverings and bad furniture.
Muscle Rack shelves with wire decks (using fairly thin wire compared to the Gladiator) are available. Still, you could also get a piece of plywood cut to shape at a home improvement store’s lumber department very easily. The chipboard decks are fine for storing a few hundred pounds if you spread it around, but the full 800-pound capacity of each shelf is for the steel components only.
Edsel distributes rivet-and-slot shelving like this for nearly every discount or home improvement store in America. Esdal customer support confirmed that the differences with in-house brand Maxi Rack are only styling. If you want shelves for half the price of the Gladiator, this rivet-lock design is a good choice.
Excel ES-602472P – Most Durable Garage Shelving
Excel has not been in business nearly as long as some of the other brands on our list, but they have managed to impress relatively quickly along the way. Founded in 2003, Excel Hardware was originated as a tool storage company, specializing in everything from toolboxes to tool cabinets to tool chests. From that start, the company began to expand into a number of different storage product markets.
As a company that began manufacturing storage solutions for professionals in heavy-duty industries, that same philosophy runs through their other products as well – even if the target demographic is not always quite so demanding. As such, it should come as little surprise that the Excel shelving unit is the most durable we reviewed. This is accomplished in a few ways.
First, this shelving unit easily features the best supports we saw. Made from powder-coated steel, these rods are not made like the somewhat thin supports most of the other products on this list. Instead, the supports feature a thicker, cylindrical shape to provide superior structural integrity. Moreover, the wire shelves are some of the few we saw which utilized central reinforced support. This will help prevent the shelves from bowing or bending when heavier items are placed on it.
While this shelving unit provides nowhere near as much weight capacity as our largest reviewed product, it does still offer a decent capacity at 600 pounds per shelf. In terms of total storage area, this shelving unit does offer significant room per shelf as one of the few products with shelves measuring five feet by two feet. That said, Excel is also one of the traditional shelving units that offer less than five shelves in total.
While this may make it ideal for storing large items, if you do not need four shelves’ worth of large item storage, you may feel like there is a lot of wasted, open space. Another quality of the Excel that can be a bit disappointing is the lack of wheels. This makes it exceedingly difficult to move the shelving unit after it has already been constructed. It does provide self-levelling feet with internal springs, but they are a bit hit or miss and do not assist with moving the unit.
In terms of construction, this is a fairly easy shelving unit to install, requiring no tools and fairly easily accomplished by a single person. One thing to note is that this is the only product we reviewed, which uses plastic wedges to lock the shelves into place. While the plastic is generally durable enough to withstand some abuse, it can be somewhat tricky getting it to stay in place during the installation, potentially requiring numerous tries before you get it level and secure.
Gladiator – Heavy Duty Rack
Gladiator – GARS484TEG wire-rack shelves are easy to assemble, fit together securely and will hold more weight than most other tool-free garage shelves. This shelf might be overkill for storing Christmas decorations, but if your garage is like most, then it’s only a matter of time before you’ll appreciate the capacity.
Gladiator’s system connects with angled slots rather than the keyhole-shaped connectors on most boltless shelving, but the differences don’t stop there. Gladiator uses a welded one-piece upright for each side, rather than the common trick of separate shipping pieces that are held together by shelves or couplers on other boltless designs. There’s also a centre support brace that keeps the wire shelf racks from sagging.
When we went to local home improvement stores and compared the Gladiator wire rack with the thin-gauge wire racks available for other common boltless shelves, our tester knew right away which shelf he wanted to store his scrap metal collection on. The only real downside is that the one-piece sides make the packaging a full six feet long, where other snap-together systems could fit in a hatchback.
Gladiator also sells shelving units with quarter-inch-thick plastic shelf decks, which aren’t quite as impressive as the wire racks but are still better than chipboard for water resistance and looks.
We did find one slightly-bent part in our Gladiator box, but the same was true of the Edsel – Muscle Rack. The corner was easily straightened with pliers and didn’t slow our team down. Our tester and a friend put together this shelving unit in about 15 minutes.
Seville Classics – Wire Rack
Seville Classics – UltraDurable wire shelving is, in some ways, an upgrade over the basic wire racks you can find at discount stores or even the Amazon Basics model we ranked ahead of it. This is the best-selling brand of wire rack we found, with an average buyer rating of 4.6 after thousands of Amazon reviews. The wire gauge is thicker than some of the less-expensive competition, and the materials compare well to shelves from warehouse suppliers like ULine.com.
UltraDurable is a fitting name since wire racks are rigid and easy to take care of. Like most tool-free shelving, any weight you put on the shelves will make the joints tighter. These are excellent shelves, excellent for most storage purposes as-is or with a shelf liner if you can’t have things fall through the wire racks.
This shelving unit also has a real chrome plating, rather than the blue-tinted zinc plating often found on less expensive wire shelves. That means it will be far less likely to rust over the years.
That said, when we assembled the Seville Classics rack we purchased, there were two joints (out of 12) that wouldn’t screw together the way they should have.
If you need a full 18-inch deep shelf and prefer the look of a wire rack, Seville Classics has a better track record than most, and quality control problems are (sadly) not uncommon with any brand of shelving when you’re paying such a low price. Seville Classics sent us replacement parts quickly, and we love the finished shelf.
Garage Shelving Pricing
- Below $50: You can find some garage shelving in this price range, but it has some limitations. Some of the best garage shelving systems at this price point feature three-tier racks and can carry up to 200 pounds on each tier as long as it’s distributed evenly.
- $50-$100: This is where you will find sturdy yet affordable wire racks. These are storage systems you can use in any room in the house. Their use extends beyond the garage, and they also provide storage for pantries and attics. Options here include four-tier and five-tier wire racks with or without casters.
- $100-$200: Most homes have garage storage systems in this price range. The category is wide, ranging from static garage shelving options to overhead ceiling shelves. When you buy a unit in this price range, you may have money to spare for a few extras such as tool organizers and pegboards.
- $300+: These garage shelving systems are geared towards commercial outlets looking for top-shelf (pun unintended) garage shelves. While you don’t need to spend that much for the best garage shelves, you have more options to choose from in this price range. You can expect to fork out more for extra features such as bigger sizes and enhanced durability. Units in this category can accommodate loads of up to 1,000 pounds.
Important features to consider
If you need water or mildew resistance because you’re wet parking vehicles right next to your storage, wire shelving is your best bet. In less demanding conditions, chipboard shelves are stiff and fairly attractive and can be painted to protect it.
True weight capacity
A shelf’s maximum load rating (often in hundreds of pounds) assumes evenly spread weight and is determined by the strength of the frame. If you weigh down the middle of an unsupported chipboard shelf with even half that much weight, it will bow or even break. Of the boltless clip-together shelving units we tested, only the Gladiator comes with a centre support bracket, though you can sometimes buy aftermarket supports. Wire rack shelving is more rigid because the shelves have truss-reinforced welded side support.
Check carefully for how much space you have in your garage, and remember that you’ll need room to stand in front of the shelves. The most common shelf depth is 18 inches, which holds most of the best storage containers in smaller and medium sizes. If you want to load up a 21-inch lawn mower for the winter, you’ll need to pick a deeper 24-inch version of these shelves.
Screwing or bolting together shelves is tedious work. Tool-free shelves, like the models we tested, will save you some time and frustration. The first shelf is always tricky if you’re assembling by yourself, though.
Wheels or anchors
Some shelving comes with holes in the bottom of the shelf uprights so you can anchor it to a floor; boltless shelves aren’t solid enough that you can move them around. Wire racks, on the other hand, are fairly stiff and rigid, so you can order them with casters that let you move your parts shelf around the garage as you work.
If your storage areas have become catch-alls for clutter, it is time go Marie Kondo on your space and get organized.
The best way to declutter is to make sure that everything has a place. This usually means reducing your stored items or adding extra storage space. Open shelving units are perfect for creating vertical storage space while keeping your things organized and accessible.