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Pandas: Tidying Data with melt()

Updated: at 05:12 AM

Tidying data is an important step in the data analysis process. It refers to structuring and formatting raw data tables into a standardized layout that simplifies analysis and visualization. The Python Pandas library provides the melt() function to help melt data frames into tidy form.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore tidying data with Pandas melt() in detail with example code snippets and use cases. We will cover the following topics:

Proper data tidying with Pandas can help prepare raw datasets for smoother pandas operations, merging, visualizations, and machine learning model building. Let’s get started!

What is Tidy Data and Why It Matters

Tidy data follows a consistent structure with each variable forming a column, each observation forming a row, and data values forming cells. This standardized format helps simplify data analysis and visualization.

The principles of tidy data were popularized by data scientist Hadley Wickham. As per Wickham, for a dataset to be considered tidy it must satisfy these conditions:

  1. Each variable forms a column
  2. Each observation forms a row
  3. Each type of observational unit forms a table

For example, let’s look at raw survey data in an untidy wide format versus a tidy long format:

# Untidy wide dataframe
df = pd.DataFrame({
    'Name': ['John', 'Mary', 'Steve', 'Sarah'],
    'Age': [28, 32, 35, 29],
    'Height': [176, 162, 182, 174],
    'Weight': [82, 58, 89, 72]

# Tidy long dataframe
tidy_df = pd.melt(df, id_vars='Name', value_vars=['Age', 'Height', 'Weight'])

In the tidy dataframe, each variable like Age, Height and Weight is stored in its own column. And each observation (i.e. each person’s measurements) are in their own row.

This standardized structure lets us efficiently apply Pandas functions like grouping, filtering, visualizing and modeling the data. Untidy data can create complexity in analysis.

Introducing Pandas melt() for Melting Data

The Pandas melt() function is used to melt or pivot wider DataFrames into long tidy DataFrames. It converts data from wide format to long format by unpivoting columns into rows.

The melt() operation is the opposite of pivoting using pandas.DataFrame.pivot() or pandas.DataFrame.pivot_table().

The key parameters of pandas.melt() are:

Let’s melt a simple DataFrame:

import pandas as pd

data = {'Name': ['John', 'Mary'],
        'Height': [176, 162],
        'Weight': [82, 58]}

df = pd.DataFrame(data)

# Melt df specifying 'Name' as id_var
melted_df = pd.melt(df, id_vars='Name',

   Name Measurement  Value
0  John      Height    176
1  Mary      Height    162
2  John      Weight     82
3  Mary      Weight     58

By melting on the 'Name' column, we unpivoted the 'Height' and 'Weight' columns into rows forming tidy key-value pairs.

melt() Parameters and Usage

The pandas.melt() function has several parameters that allow us to customize the melting operation:

Let’s see some examples of using these parameters:

Melt single column as value variable:

df = pd.DataFrame({'A': [1, 2], 'B': [3, 4]})

df.melt(id_vars='A', value_vars='B')

Melt multiple columns as value variables:

df = pd.DataFrame({'A': [1, 2],
                   'B': [3, 4],
                   'C': [5, 6]})

df.melt(id_vars='A', value_vars=['B', 'C'])

Customize var_name and value_name:

df.melt(id_vars='A', value_vars='B',

Melt MultiIndex columns:

df = pd.DataFrame({'A': [1, 2],
                   'B': {('a', 'q'): [3, 4],
                          ('b', 'r'): [5, 6]}})


The melt() parameters allow flexible melting operations on various DataFrame layouts.

Use Cases for Tidying Data with melt()

Let’s explore some common use cases where tidying data with melt() is helpful:

1. Pivoting from wide to long format:

# Wide dataframe
df = pd.DataFrame({'Name': ['John', 'Mary', 'Steve'],
                   'Height': [176, 162, 182],
                   'Weight': [82, 58, 89]})

# Melt into long format
tidy_df = df.melt(id_vars='Name',

2. Melting multi-index columns:

# Multi-index columns
df = pd.DataFrame({'Product': ['iPhone', 'Galaxy'],
                  'Sales': {('2022', 'Q1'): [2500, 3000],
                             ('2022', 'Q2'): [2000, 3500]}})

# Melt multi-index 'Sales' column
tidy_df = df.melt(id_vars='Product',
                  var_name=['Year', 'Quarter'],

3. Melting columns into key-value pairs:

df = pd.DataFrame({'Name': ['John', 'Mary'],
                  'Exam': ['SAT', 'GRE'],
                   'Score': [1500, 320]})

# Melt scores into key-value pairs
tidy_df = df.melt(id_vars=['Name', 'Exam'],

4. Melting row-indexed data:

df = pd.DataFrame({'Name': {0: 'John', 1: 'Mary'},
                   'Height': {0: 176, 1: 162},
                   'Weight': {0: 82, 1: 58}})

# Melt row-indexed data

These examples demonstrate how melt() can tidy diverse DataFrame layouts into cleaner forms.

Differences Between melt(), stack() and unstack()

In Pandas, melt(), stack(), and unstack() are methods used to pivot DataFrames into different forms. Let’s compare their differences:

# Wide DataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame({'Group': ['A', 'B'],
                   'Value1': [1, 2],
                   'Value2': [3, 4]})

# melt()
df.melt(id_vars='Group') # Wide to Long

# stack()
df.set_index(['Group']).stack() # Wide stacked Long

# unstack()
df.set_index(['Group', 'Value1']).unstack() # Long to Wide

So in summary:

Integrating melt() with Other Pandas Functions

The melt() function can be integrated with other Pandas operations like filtering, sorting, plotting, and visualization. Some examples:


# Melt then filter with query()
df.melt(...).query('Value > 200')


# Melt then sort by variable


# Melt then plot
df.melt(...).plot(x='Name', y='Value', kind='bar')


# Melt then visualize
df.melt(...).hvplot.scatter(x='Name', y='Value', by='variable')


# Melt then aggregate
df.melt(...).groupby(['Name', 'variable']).agg('mean')

These examples demonstrate how melt() enables further analysis and visualization of the tidy long formatted data.

Best Practices for Effective Data Tidying

Here are some best practices to effectively use melt() for tidying data:

Following these tips will help you effectively leverage melt() to tidy data for smoother analysis and modeling workflows.


Tidying data is an essential skill for data analysis with Python. The Pandas melt() function provides a convenient way to pivot wide DataFrames into tidy long DataFrames.

In this guide, we covered the basics of tidy data principles, using melt() parameters, and various use cases. We also compared melt() to stack() and unstack(). Integrating melt() with other Pandas operations can support more efficient analysis.

Properly structuring data with melt() improves overall data quality and sets the foundation for superior visualizations, Pandas operations, and machine learning performance.

To learn more, refer to the official Pandas melt() documentation and Hadley Wickham’s paper on tidy data principles.