What Is the Difference Between Racks and Shelves?

What Is the Difference Between Racks and Shelves?

Do you ever wonder what the difference is between racks and shelves? You're not alone! A lot of people find it difficult to tell the two apart. Many people use the terms interchangeably. But there are a few key differences between the two that you should know about. 

So if you're considering adding some storage space to your home, read on to learn more about racks and shelves and determine which one is right for you! With GarageSmart® Storage Solutions, you can have the perfect garage for your needs without all the hassle.

What Are The Key Distinctions Between Racking And Shelving?

The fundamental distinction between racking and shelving is the size and variety of things each can store.

Shelving stores lighter things customers can easily reach and carry from the store.

Products are typically housed in individual containers (as opposed to on pallets) so that like items can be kept together.

Metal shelving units are common and are designed to be placed on the floor.

Certain storage facilities, however, make use of automated or mobile shelf systems.

Instead, racking is essential for stowing away massive quantities of stock. More often than not, pallets are involved, which necessitates using a forklift or other equipment for loading and unloading.

In contrast to shelving, Racking systems are built with multiple bays to hold more weight. These days, most racking systems anchor to the ground to ensure stability. Wire mesh decking is commonly used for pallet racking shelves. In addition to leaving out shelves as needed, this is a regular practice.

For Those Unfamiliar, Please Define "Industrial Shelving."

In common parlance, a shelf is a shelf. What makes any kind of shelving industrial is that we always reach in and out of cabinet shelves to retrieve books or other stuff.

Both the substance and the longevity of the item are correct responses. 

Commercial shelving is constructed to withstand the wear and tear of a busy retail store or warehouse and the weight of a wide variety of products, some of which may be far heavier than a paperback novel.

The commodities on industrial shelves are intended to be walked up to and grabbed by hand instead of being stored in bulky containers that workers can move easily.

Shelving can be outfitted with a variety of add-ons to suit a wide variety of needs.

You can modify it by installing extra features like drawers, bins, or dividers to meet your requirements. It's important to weigh the pros and downs of the four main commercial and industrial shelving types available.

Steel Shelving

Because of its durability and low price, steel shelving is frequently the best option.

Steel shelves can last for decades if installed properly.

Steel shelving is available in various gauges, which can further reduce costs.

You can save money by purchasing a thicker-gauge shelf system for holding cases of heavier things, from which employees or consumers can easily grab unboxed items.

The steel shelving units come in two wide varieties.

  • Closed shelving is a variation of standard shelving in which the unit's front, sides, and back are hidden from view by panels. These shelves outperform the competition in terms of both durability and visual appeal. They function best when arranged in rows or pushed up against walls rather than left to stand alone.
  • Shelving without back panels is called "open" shelving, and it uses bracing instead of panels to provide the necessary support. The layout provides easy access to necessary supplies for workers regardless of location.

While closed shelving typically comes in individual pieces, open shelving can be combined to form larger configurations.

For example, using long support braces, you can join numerous shelves to make one long shelf run.

Pros Of Using Steel Shelving

  • Quick and simple construction
  • Accessory customisation and availability
  • capable of withstanding extreme stacking densities

Storage Racks Made Of Wire

If aesthetics are a priority, wire shelving is the way to go.

Wire shelving is useful in commercial and industrial settings because of its versatility and ability to provide air circulation while holding various products.

Of course, more ventilation is always a plus, whether or not your staff is handling perishable goods. 

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The exposed wiring of wire shelving means water from fire sprinklers can reach some of the merchandise it holds, which is an added safety feature.

Besides being less weight and offering a simple setup, wire shelves are also easier to move than other types. Wire racks aren't as long-lasting as other industrial shelving alternatives, which is the biggest drawback.

Wire Racks Are Superior In Many Ways

  • Easy to move around after casters are added; lightweight
  • Simple to maintain because there is no need to dust
  • Perfect for items that need to stand out

Shelving Held Together With Rivets

Rivet shelving is sturdy and inexpensive, making it a good choice if cost is a major consideration.

Most of the time, these are the least expensive option for shelving, and they also have the benefit of being quite simple to put together.

Rivet shelves are also referred to as boltless shelves since they do not require bolts for assembly.

Put one of these together with just a rubber mallet. Aligning the rivets and putting them into the frame at predetermined intervals is the assembly process.

Rivet shelves have the major drawback of being built of heavy-gauge steel and their utilitarian appearance.

As a result of their heft, they may be difficult to move if you need to rearrange your closet. To make the most of your shelving units, accessories like drawers and dividers are essential.

Rivet Shelved Shelving Has Many Benefits

  • Budget-friendly
  • Simple, fast construction
  • Useful in warehouses, factories, and other industrial settings

Wide Shelving

This storage method is a happy medium between racks and shelves. Widespan shelves are the way to go if you need to store many heavy goods but don't have access to automated material handling systems.

In addition, they're wider and sturdier than standard shelf units.

To illustrate, if you run a warehouse stocked with a wide variety of products but only offer them in low amounts, your staff will need to resort to hand-picking.

Widespan shelves can support the most weight of any shelving option, typically up to 2,000 pounds per shelf. Although it is one of the greatest warehouse shelving racks, this system is not designed to accommodate pallets or forklifts. Therefore it is best used for storing large, heavy products.

Widespan Shelving's Benefits

  • Huge load-bearing capability
  • Perfect for stowing away big things
  • Items can be accessed from both the front and the back.

Pallet Racking: What Is It?

A storage system designed specifically for pallets is a must if you own a warehouse or store that receives goods in this format. But what good is warehouse shelving if it doesn't accommodate the size and shape of your products and their packaging?

Racks for storage in a warehouse are crucial for maintaining order and making pallets easy to retrieve. Pallet racking can be broken down into five distinct categories.

Racking, Selective

The most typical rack configuration is a pair of vertical frames separated by a series of shelf beams. Selective racks are commonplace in warehouses, and most facilities have at least a few.

The pallets can be stacked one layer deep in this racking system. Racks can be placed against a wall or back-to-back, two common configurations in businesses using this storage solution.

Every pallet in this system may be accessed directly without having to relocate anything else.

If you need to store a lot of pallets, this isn't the best option, but it's great if you need something quick and easy.

These shelves can be welded or fastened together using bolts. A more durable and risk-free option is to have the manufacturer weld the components. Selective racks are versatile and can be used in warehouses to store items of varying sizes and weights.

In addition, selective racks are viable in cases of limited inventory turnover and high product differentiation.

Advantages Of Effective Racking

  • The most cost-effective choice
  • Fast and simple setup changes
  • There is no requirement for heavy-lifting trucks.

High And Wide Shelving

In this racking configuration, two parallel rows of selected racks are positioned one behind the other.

Racking two identical pallets in a single slot spanning two racks is a typical practice in warehouses.

If workers want to get pallets from the back rack, they'll require a deep-reach lift truck or one with an adapter for double-deep handling.

Double-deep racking is a type of high-density storage that is also a configuration of selective racking.

The greater the racking density, the more efficient your warehouse space utilisation will be.

For example, pallets can be stored more densely per square foot. However, the technique is less adaptable than regular selective racking. Therefore, you probably shouldn't use this storage solution if you don't have enough of a single item to occupy the front and rear slots of a double-deep rack.

The Benefits Of A Two-Level Rack

  • High-density racking with the lowest cost per pallet position
  • Improved efficiency in the use of space More convenient access compared to other high-density choices

Rack That Can Be Driven Into Or Through

Drive-in and drive-through racks are a type of high-density racking that is made to be used with forklifts. These designs use rails that run the rack length instead of a shelf beam between vertical frames.

Palletised goods can be delivered and retrieved using lift trucks that can drive directly into the rack system. Drive-in or drive-through racking, accommodating stacks of pallets two or three high (and sometimes more), is available to meet various storage requirements.

Drive-in racks are ideal for situations where items are brought in at the very end of a process and shipped out at the very beginning.

Drive-through racks are double-entry racks useful for first-in, first-out stock management.

Keep in mind that this racking system may take more damage than racks that don't require lift trucks because of the weight and movement of lift trucks.

Therefore, it's important to invest in a sturdy racking system that can withstand regular use, as accidents can happen at any time, whether caused by an inexperienced operator or a seasoned team member.

Drive-In And Drive-Through Racking Have Many Benefits.

  • more efficient than selective racking in terms of aisle usage
  • It can accommodate up to 75% more pallets than selective racking.
  • Only somewhat more expensive than two-tiered shelving

Rack That Can Be Pushed Back Against A Wall

It's more complicated and contains more moving elements than conventional storage racks. A series of carts nest inside one another and slide back and forth on tracks.

When a worker needs to deposit a new pallet, they will move the existing pallets back and load the pallet into the next available slot. Each pallet is stacked on top of the one behind it, and when one needs to be retrieved, the one behind that pushes forwards to make room for it.

If you have a wide variety of SKUs and need many pick faces, pushback racks are a great investment. In addition, this storage method is highly recommended for businesses that engage in bulk storage and keep many of their items in groups of five pallets or more.

Pushback Racking Has Many Benefits

  • Provides a selectivity upgrade over traditional drive-in racking while maintaining a storage density comparable to that system.
  • Have the potential to speed up the selection process
  • Quicker than drive-through and drive-in racking for unloading and loading

Pipe Rack

For FIFO systems, the ideal option is pallet flow or gravity flow racking.

Pallets are moved down an incline by wheels or rollers and then stopped at the end of the rack where workers may retrieve them.

As the name implies, flow racking enables the storage of loads back-to-back without using aisles. In addition, using a forklift is not always necessary; thus, that asset can be put to better use elsewhere. Flow racking also has the advantage of being energy-efficient because it uses gravity to function.

Pallet Flow Racking's Many Benefits

  • Replaces aisles with lanes, removing the need for both.
  • Great for high-volume storage facilities that need a flexible depth range

Should I Install Racking Or Shelving?

Does your company need large-scale storage solutions? As we've established, there are several factors to consider, including product variety, the quantity of stock-keeping units (SKUs), and more.

The amount of stuff you need to store is the primary factor in what kind of storage facility you'll require. Shelving might be a great way to make the most of your warehouse space if you deal in lightweight, easily handled-goods.

Alternatively, racking systems are essential for the maximum protection and safety of any heavy equipment or products stored in a warehouse.

Despite the differences, it is common practice to use shelving and racking in the same warehouse. However, it is possible to maximise storage capacity and increase productivity by integrating pallet racking and shelving into distinct sections of a warehouse.

Rack Vs. Shelf: Another Comparison



It's a framework made of bars, wires, or pegs designed to carry or display a certain weight or quantity of items.


Depending on the context, it could mean several other things.


Lamb on a rack, a clothes rack, a climbing rig, etc.



A shelf is a flat piece of material, usually metal or wood, that is attached to a wall or a frame.


Its sole purpose is to hold things in place.


A bookcase, display case, or similar unit for storing and displaying items.

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When storing a lot of inventory, racks are a must. Multiple bays in a racking system provide for greater load capacity.

Most racking systems today are permanently anchored to the floor or wall.

Shelving units made of metal are very prevalent and typically sit on the ground. Shelves in pallet racks often feature wire mesh decking.

Instead of storing the goods in cumbersome containers, the items on industrial shelves are designed to be walked up to and retrieved by hand. Many different accessories exist for shelving, allowing it to be customised to meet a wide range of requirements.

There are four primary types of commercial and industrial shelving, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Because of its longevity and inexpensive cost, steel shelving is often the ideal solution.

Rivet shelving is a good option if you're looking for something that won't break the bank but won't compromise on durability.

If you have a large quantity of heavy items to store but no automated material handling equipment, wide-span shelving is your best bet. This system is not designed to work with pallets or forklifts, despite being one of the best warehouse shelving racks.

Most warehouses will contain a few selective racks, if not more.

The most common type of rack consists of two upright frames that are usually separated by a set of shelf beams.

Having the manufacturer weld the parts together is a safer and more long-lasting solution.

Racks are arranged in two parallel rows, one behind the other, in this format.

Designed specifically for use with forklifts, high-density racking such as drive-in and drive-through racks maximises storage space. Instead of a shelf beam between two vertical frames, rails that run the length of the rack are used in these designs.

Lift trucks can drive right into a rack system for easy access during delivery and retrieval of palletized products.

Since mishaps can occur at any time, it is crucial to invest in a reliable racking system that can handle heavy traffic.

The key determinant of the type of storage facility you'll need is the volume of your stored items.

Pallet flow or gravity flow racking is best for first-in, first-out (FIFO) systems. Skids or rollers transport pallets down an incline to a stop at the rack's bottom. Flow racking's use of gravity means it consumes fewer resources than alternative storage methods.

Content Summary

  • Sometimes people confuse racks with shelves and vice versa.
  • Just know that you have company.
  • Many people have trouble distinguishing between the two.
  • These days, the two concepts are frequently used interchangeably.
  • Nonetheless, there are a few significant distinctions between the two that you should be aware of.
  • The size and number of items that can be stored in racking and shelving are the primary differences between the two.
  • To store large volumes of inventory, racking is instead required.
  • Racking systems, in contrast to shelving, are constructed with many bays to support a greater load.
  • Shelves in pallet racks often feature wire mesh decking.
  • This is a common technique, in addition to temporarily removing shelves when necessary.
  • A shelf is just a shelf in everyday language.
  • Any form of shelving is considered industrial since people are constantly putting their hands in and taking things out of cabinets to browse through books and other items.
  • Correct explanations include both the item's substance and its durability.
  • Many different accessories exist for shelving, allowing it to be customised to meet a wide range of requirements.
  • The four most common varieties of commercial and industrial shelving each have their advantages and disadvantages, so it's crucial to conduct your research before making a purchase.
  • Steel shelving is often the greatest option because it is long-lasting and inexpensive.
  • There are two major styles of steel shelving units available.
  • Closed shelving is an alternative to open shelving in which all sides and the back of the unit are concealed behind panels.
  • Open shelving can be assembled into many shapes and sizes, while closed shelves come in discrete units.
  • Commercial and industrial spaces can benefit from wire shelving due to its adaptability and the fact that it allows for better air flow while still holding a wide variety of products.
  • Wire shelving is safer than other types of shelving because water from fire sprinklers can reach some of the goods it contains thanks to the shelving's exposed wiring.
  • Simple to assemble and typically the most affordable shelving choice.
  • Since they do not employ bolts for construction, rivet shelves are also known as boltless shelves.
  • Just a rubber mallet will do to put one of these together.
  • The most significant disadvantage of rivet shelves is their construction from heavy-gauge steel and their plain appearance.
  • If you need to rearrange your closet, you can have trouble with these heavy items.
  • Shelving components, such as drawers and dividers, are crucial for optimising your storage space.
  • There are many advantages to using rivet shelving.
  • If you have a large quantity of heavy items to store but no automated material handling equipment, wide-span shelving is your best bet.
  • As the strongest type of shelving, wide-span shelves can hold up to 2,000 pounds per unit.
  • This system is not designed to work with pallets or forklifts, despite being one of the best warehouse shelving racks.
  • Since this is the case, it is ideal for stowing away bulky, heavy items.
  • The most common type of rack consists of two upright frames that are usually separated by a set of shelf beams.
  • Pallets can be placed in this racking system one deep.
  • It is typical practise for firms to arrange their racks either against a wall or back to back.
  • It's not the best choice if you need to store a large number of pallets, but it works well when you need something simple and fast.
  • Because of its adaptability, selective racks find widespread application in warehouses for stowing a wide variety of products.
  • In warehouses, it is common practise to rack two identical pallets in a single slot across two racks.
  • Pallet retrieval from the back rack requires a deep-reach lift truck or a vehicle equipped with an adapter for double-deep handling.
  • When it comes to selective racking configurations, double-deep racking is a sort of high-density storage.
  • A higher racking density means better utilisation of warehouse space.
  • Therefore, if you don't have enough of a single item to fill both the front and back slots of a double-deep rack, you probably shouldn't use this storage solution.
  • Super-efficient pallet storage that doesn't break the bank
  • better space utilisation Compared to other high-density options, it's easier to get to rack that may be drilled or hammered into use
  • Designed specifically for use with forklifts, high-density racking such as drive-in and drive-through racks maximises storage space.
  • Drive-in or drive-through racking is available to accommodate stacks of pallets two or three high (and occasionally even higher) to satisfy a variety of storage needs.
  • Drive-through racks are a type of double-entry rack that facilitates FIFO inventory rotation.
  • Accidents can happen at any time, whether they are the result of an inexperienced operator or a seasoned member of the team, therefore it's crucial to invest in a solid racking system that can survive continuous use.
  • There are numerous advantages to drive-in and drive-through racks.
  • effective in terms of aisle utilisation, unlike selective racking
  • As much as 75% extra pallet space is available compared to selective racking.
  • Pushback racks are a smart purchase if you stock a wide range of SKUs and require a large number of pick faces.
  • There are many pluses to using pushback racking.
  • Offers more selectivity over standard drive-in racking while keeping storage density about the same.
  • Pallet flow or gravity flow racking is best for first-in, first-out (FIFO) systems.
  • Excellent for large-capacity warehouses with varying storage needs
  • Numerous variables exist, as we've demonstrated, such as product variety, the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs), and more.
  • The key determinant of the type of storage facility you'll need is the volume of your stored items.
  • If you sell items that are relatively light and easy to move around, shelving may be an excellent approach to maximise your storage capacity.
  • In contrast, racking systems are crucial for the utmost security of any bulky goods or equipment kept in a warehouse.
  • Shelving and racking might be quite distinct, however they are often used together in the same warehouse.
  • However, by dividing a warehouse up into discrete zones equipped with pallet racking and shelving, storage space may be maximised and productivity increased.

FAQs About Racks and Shelves

Is a shelf a rack?

A shelf is also known as a counter, ledge, mantel, or rack.

What Is a Rack Used For?

A rack is a metal storage device that is usually made of durable material. Racks, much like shelves, have a wide array of shapes and sizes. Racks are of great use for storage and industrial purposes and are finding their place in the industrial world.

What Is Considered Racking?

Racking generally spans a wider space, is deeper and is stacked higher than shelving. It is built and installed in a manner that makes it possible to access materials — such as large boxes or entire pallets of goods — with cherry pickers, forklifts or mechanised systems that move materials down to ground level.

How Does a Rack Work?

A cylinder with a piston in the middle is placed in the rack. There is fluid on both sides of the piston. When pressure is placed on the fluid on one side of the piston, it forces the piston to move, which turns the rack and assists with steering.

What Are Racks in Logistics?

A rack, also referred to as racking, is a structural design made of steel that consists of frames and connectors for storing goods in warehouses or storage facilities.

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