What are Dry Goods?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

As part of the range of goods known as soft or nondurable goods, dry goods are products that require no special storage, but are considered to have a limited shelf life. In general, these goods are not anticipated to last more than three years. The term was originally coined to refer to various types of textile products, but has come to include other items as well.

A bag of groceries, including some dry goods.
A bag of groceries, including some dry goods.

While dry goods are considered one form of soft or nondurable goods, it is important to note that not all nondurable goods are dry. For example, products that are normally carried in a hardware store may have a shelf life of less than three years, but would not be considered a dry good. In like manner, most items carried in a grocery store would not be classified in this way, even though they do meet the criteria for classification as soft goods.

Dry goods are also usually considered to include what is known as sundries. Essentially, sundries are any item that have a limited shelf life, tend to be somewhat small, and require no special type of storage in order to remain useful during that relatively short life. Sundries can include items such as writing paper or most other types of paper products.

In its original usage, dry goods referred to textile products. Many of the old time general stores carried a line of nondurable goods that included bolts of cloth that could be used to create everything from clothing to bed coverings to curtains. In time, ready to wear articles of clothing came to be thought of as dry goods. A general store would be likely to carry work clothing for men, and women’s dresses that were considered appropriate attire for day wear. Along with outer garments, goods of this type also included undergarments as well as sleeping attire for people of all ages and genders.

Today, many larger discount retailers include departments that are dedicated to the sale of various types of dry goods. Where once the general store had a small section that carried towels, bolts of material, and a limited line of ready to wear clothing, modern retailers usually have specific sections or departments for menswear, ladies apparel, bathroom textiles, bedding items, and general household textiles like draperies, curtains, and tablecloths. Many of the larger discount retailers also maintain a sewing department that carries a wide range of bolts of cloth, allowing people who wish to create their own stylized clothing or household goods using various types of fabric.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@turquoise, @simrin-- I suppose "dry goods" can be kind of confusing. It's probably better to call them "soft goods" instead. As far as I know, "soft" refers to the type of material the goods are made of, that is-- soft material. Cloth, leather, paper and plastic, for example, are all soft goods.

The reason that soft / dry goods are considered to have short shelf lives is because these are goods which are bought often. They are non-durable goods meaning that they wear out quickly. Durable goods, on the other hand, last longer and are not purchased as often.

For example, we buy dry goods like clothing fairly often, but we don't buy cars that often. Cars and appliances are durable goods for that reason, they have a longer "shelf-life."


@turquoise-- Good question! I would like to know the same.

I thought that dry goods meant dry foods, like packaged dry foods that can't go bad like coffee, canned goods and pasta. That's in contrast to fresh goods like fruits and vegetables that can go bad.

I often hear people talk about dry goods at food drives. They usually ask for donations of non-perishable dry goods that can be stored and donated to people who need them over a period of time. I wasn't aware that the same term is used to talk about textiles.


I don't understand how clothing and textiles are considered to have short shelf lives. Don't they last for a really long time? I think they do, definitely more than three years that dry goods are expected to last for. Can anyone explain this?

And what would be the opposite of a dry good? For example, what would we call a durable good that has a long storage life?

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