The Best Laundry Basket (and Hampers)
The best laundry basket out there is the Sterilite Stacking Laundry Basket. It holds a full week's worth of laundry, is easy to carry with the attached handles and can stack to make sorting easier. The plastic is strong and the handle design is comfortable even when loaded with 40 pounds of weight.
We considered more than 50 models, searched out reviews of laundry baskets and, after finding none, performed our own testing to determine that the Sterilite is the best laundry basket you’ll find. The competitors were narrowed down from hundreds of online reviews on more than a dozen sites to a few dozen contenders. The remaining ones were evaluated in-store to determine how much they can hold, how the handles feel and how sturdy the construction is. After eliminating a few due to ergonomic and build quality concerns, the final competitors were purchased and used in the home for two months to see how well they held up to constant use and abuse. After 20 hours researching and testing models, we decided the Sterilite is the best laundry basket for most households.
Who should buy this?
A basket can store wet or dry clothes, dirty or clean, and will handle everything from holding the dirty clothes as they build up to transporting them to the washer and back. It’s also sturdy enough to carry a box of detergent along with your laundry, no problem.
Baskets vs. hampers
While baskets are open on top and usually wider than tall, hampers are taller with a smaller footprint and sometimes have lids.
The benefit of a basket versus a hamper or a bag is that it performs double duty: It stores dirty clothes for transport to the laundry room and carries the folded, clean clothes back. Ample ventilation and volume ensure that wet clothes and still-damp clean clothes don’t attract mold or mildew. We have some suggestions for hampers as well, but if you’re only getting one, the basket is all you need.
That having been said, a laundry basket can’t handle everything. If you need to move clothes one-handed or possibly down very narrow staircases, or if you walk or take public transit to your laundromat, a one-basket solution may not work—you might consider a laundry hamper or bag system (which we’ve covered in more detail later).
What to look for?
No surprise, buying guides for laundry baskets and hampers are virtually nonexistent. The majority of the “guides” that do exist are nothing more than slideshows of laundry baskets and hampers that an editor considered pretty enough to put on screen. After a good amount of digging, I did find a pair of guides here and here with advice for laundry baskets and hampers. The recommendations laid out are basic and utilitarian, but important.
Even though there are ecological reasons to avoid plastic, we chose plastic laundry baskets for several reasons.
Plastic won’t warp or disfigure from exposure to water and, unlike wicker, resists mold and mildew. Both plastic and wicker are lightweight and portable, but considering laundry is often damp, a hamper that won’t let your clothes breathe isn’t a good pick. I’ve had many workout clothes left in the bottom of canvas hampers develop mold but none that have been left in well-ventilated baskets. Some baskets or hampers are made by covering cardboard with a coated material, like the Rubbermaid 4D06. If that cardboard inside gets wet, as seen in this customer photo, the basket is ruined.
Sturdy, comfortable handles are also important with heavy loads of laundry. Many baskets use trim pieces on their handles that look nice, but create a weaker joint. Some also have ridges on the underside of the handles that add some security, but dig into your flesh. Multiple sets of handles to hold the basket lengthwise or widthwise are nice.
Look for a smooth finish that won’t snag clothes. Wicker baskets especially are prone to small breaks that can snag fabric. A smooth, flat finish will prevent your basket from damaging your clothing.
Ventilation is good for both wet, smelly workout clothes and clean, slightly damp clothes. Damp clothes buried in the bottom of a non-breathable hamper or basket are prone to developing mold. (I’ve had it happen.) A well-ventilated bag or basket can prevent this. It also works well for items that might not get totally dry in the dryer, such as jeans or towels.
A rectangular shape will hold clothes most efficiently once they’re folded. Shaped, hip-hugging baskets seem nice, but hold less volume and really aren’t any easier to carry. Most clothes fold into nice rectangles or squares, and the curve of hip-hugging baskets leads to items like pants not lying flat. They then take up more room and are likely to wrinkle. Square baskets hold as much dirty laundry as rectangular ones due to their greater depth, but are troublesome when trying to overload the basket. Round baskets and hampers don’t hold folded clothes well at all.
Most laundry baskets range from 1.5 bushels to 2.2 bushels, but most people will be suited just fine by a basket on the smaller side of that range. A 1.6-bushel basket can hold two full loads of laundry, about a full week’s worth of clothes for a tall adult like myself. It easily holds more than a week’s worth of clothes for my wife, who is more average-sized than I am, and five to six days’ worth of clothes for a pair of toddlers.
A basket with two bushels or greater capacity certainly has more space and can hold a good 10 days’ worth of clothes, but also weighs far more when loaded, which puts more stress on the basket handles. If you do laundry weekly, a 1.5-bushel basket should be enough. If you go through multiple sets of clothes every day (work clothes, casual clothes, workout clothes) or do laundry less frequently, you may need to consider larger or multiple baskets.
How we picked
Finding a high-quality laundry basket was much harder than expected. For as simple a device as it is, most are designed with some critical flaw. With the above goals in mind, I began a thorough survey of all the laundry baskets and hampers on the market. I read hundreds of reviews from Amazon, Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Container Store and more to narrow down a list of possible contenders. I visited local stores to examine the contenders up close and in person. Do the handles feel good? Does it hold enough laundry? Does it feel well made?
In the end, I evaluated more than 30 models to determine what makes a laundry basket good and uncover which one you should buy. I went to stores and loaded the baskets up with towels and bedding to get an idea of their capacity and how they felt when loaded. I read countless reviews and talked to people about their laundry baskets. I finally narrowed it down to a few final contenders and bought them for use with my own laundry before determining a final winner.
The Sterilite Stacking Laundry Basket succeeds because of its simplicity and lack of outstanding weaknesses, which makes it stand out in the world of laundry baskets. It’s plastic, lightweight, easy to carry, durable and spacious enough for a whole load of laundry. As simple as that sounds, it’s actually the only basket we found that checked all those requirements while simultaneously avoiding failures in other respects.
The size proves to be a benefit when moving up and down narrow stairwells. The two-bushel Sterilite Ultra Laundry Basket left no room for my arms on the side when going down my basement stairwell. The Sterilite Stacking Basket is a bit narrower and allows more room to maneuver in these tight spots. The square basket also proves useful in narrow stairwells, unlike a hip-hugging design.
If we define “good design” as the form factor most conducive to the task at hand, then the Sterilite is very well designed. The interior of the Sterilite is smooth and won’t snag your laundry. It is well-ventilated, so wet, dirty clothes or damp clean clothes will both be able to dry out. The basket itself is a single piece of plastic, making it strong and durable. Many baskets have thinner plastic around the handles to allow for two-piece construction, which winds up weakening the joint. I was skeptical of the strength of the handles on the Sterilite at the start, but the design is simple yet solid, with few points for failure.
The handles were our only point of concern, but after thorough testing, I’m confident that they will last a long time. When empty, the Sterilite basket weighs 2.2 pounds. I loaded it up with my laundry for the week: 11 pairs of socks, seven pairs of boxer shorts, three pairs of slacks, three pairs of jeans, one pair of sweatpants and 16 shirts. As a 6’3”, 165-pound male, I have fairly bulky clothes, but they all fit inside of the Sterilite basket. If you do laundry weekly, instead of every 10-14 days as I do, you’ll fit it all in more easily.
Undeterred, I added 20 pounds of hand weights to the basket as well. even weighing more than 40 pounds, the Sterilite was still easy on the hands, though much heavier than any load of laundry will ever be. I repeated the same attempted destruction on the basket and the handles held up to the abuse. For further testing, I handed it off to a pair of breakage experts, my three-year-old and one-year-old sons, and let them have their way. After a week of solid usage by them, the handles remained locked in the Sterilite basket. Basically, if these handles break off, it will be because it was a lemon that made it past quality control, not bad design.
The Sterilite isn’t large, but it’s large enough (and not so large as to encourage skipping weekly laundering). It has a 1.5-bushel capacity, enough for the average person that does laundry weekly. The rectangular shape makes it easier to stack and sort than a curved or square design. My clothes are large due to my height, but I can fit a full wash cycle folded into the Sterilite without an issue.
Reviews of the Sterilite are universally good. The Container Store is the main source of reviews, with 13 at press time. There are two four-star and 11 five-star reviews, making it very highly rated overall. The only complaint is that it can be hard to add laundry to the bottom basket when baskets are stacked. Home Depot has a pair of reviews that both give the basket five stars. Sterilite doesn’t list the model on their website, nor is it available on Amazon, Target or other online retailers.
It’s simple, very practical and affordable—so the Sterilite Stacking Laundry Basket is our pick.
Long-term test notes
More than six months in, the Sterilite Stacking Laundry Basket is holding up well. The handles and basket are still in perfect condition despite being used multiple times a week. A full week of clothing for myself (6’3” tall) fits in nicely when folded, though trying to fit in longer than a week’s worth does push the limits. Even with two small children playing games with the basket it has yet to reveal any issues. Reviews at The Container Store are also excellent, with 100 percent of the 25 reviews recommending it and no reviews below 4 stars out of 5.
Hampers are mostly for storing dirty clothes because their deeper, taller shape isn’t well-suited to carrying folded, clean clothes. As a result, they complement the laundry basket but don’t replace it, and only really need to be bought if you have a reason for one, like stylistic concerns or the need for a one-handed design that can be hauled like a sack.
A good hamper should also be easier to carry with one hand, since that is one of the primary benefits of a hamper over a basket. Hampers with a removable bag are also good, as that makes it easy to toss the bag in with your wash, keeping the hamper itself clean and free of mold and mildew.
The cheapest, most basic option is a round basket hamper. We look for many of the same things in these that we do in the basket: plastic construction, ventilation and carrying handles. Since this basket will typically only hold dirty clothes, being able to carry folded laundry is not as important to our decision here.
Pop-up hampers are another option, but not a good one. Since there is always dirty laundry around, the hamper will rarely, if ever, actually be stored away. The mesh makes it very light and breathable but is a very weak material to construct a hamper out of. When completely filled with clothes, the hampers gets weighed down and very prone to ripping and falling apart. A conventional laundry hamper takes up the same amount of space and is both more durable and cheaper.
The main competition is Sterilite’s Ultra Laundry Baskets, found everywhere, including in my house. But the two-piece handle construction makes them weaker than single-piece units and many reviews complain about this. I’ve broken the handles on one myself, so I know it is an issue. A little too much twisting one way and the handle gives out. These have a two-bushel capacity so if you need a larger basket, they can handle that. They just might not last long.
Sterilite also has a square white basket, but it also has the same faulty handle design. The footprint is tiny but that leaves no room to organize laundry once it is out of the dryer and folded. It also won’t overload as well as a rectangular basket.
Rubbermaid’s basic White Laundry Basket has good reviews all over the web, and initially looked like it might be the best choice. Once I had it in my hands, I discovered that it is incredibly uncomfortable to carry and it feels cheap, like it should sell for $5 rather than the $17 it sells for from Amazon.
The Rubbermaid Through Handle Laundry Basket looks promising, as it fixes the issue with their White Laundry Basket. Unfortunately, virtually no one carries it online or in-store, so feedback is lacking. In the 20+ stores I shopped at, none of them carried this basket, even after going to the ones that Rubbermaid.com suggested would carry it.
The Rubbermaid Stack’N Sort laundry basket is a rectangular design, and like our top Sterilite pick, these can be stacked on top of each other for sorting. In person, they are hard to stack compared to the Sterilite and the handles pop out of place easily. It costs more than the Sterilite and doesn’t perform as well.
As far as hampers go, the Seville Classics 3-Bag Laundry Sorter might look like a pretty good option, but the slightly smaller wheels and fewer long-term reviews made the Honey-Can-Do a better pick.
The Whitmor Chrome Laundry Sorter has mesh bags to help prevent mold and mildew on dirty clothes, but reviews indicate that the bags are weak and fall apart fast.
The Household Essentials Hanging Cotton Canvas Laundry Hamper Bag is sturdy and can hang out of the way, but holds very little and doesn’t breathe particularly well. Wet washcloths I left in it were still wet days later. It’s also small—a grown adult would likely fill this up in just a few days. It’s a good option if you need something for a low-traffic laundry area, but wouldn’t work as a main solution.
The Rubbermaid Flex-N-Carry plastic hamper is nicely designed, but compared to the Starplast, its only advantage is a nicer handle. It also costs nearly four times as much as the Starplast, making it a much worse value overall.
The Rubbermaid Foldable Laundry Hamper is the top-selling hamper on Amazon, with lots of reviews, a nice design and easy one-handed carrying. Unfortunately, it’s based around cardboard, and there are pictures of it failing if you happen to get it too wet. It also does not breathe well due to the design.
The DAZZ Deluxe Pop-Up Hamper has hundreds of reviews on Amazon, giving us a lot of reliability data to use. The overall design looks good, with a pocket for laundry soap and easy carry handles at at top. But more than 10 percent of the reviews report that it rips very easily after purchase and is cheaply made. It also costs more than our regular hamper pick.
The Whitmor 18-inch Collapsible Hamper has far less data to go off of but also an overall good rating. There are still a lot of people reporting that it falls apart easily. Many of the positive reviews come from people using it for something other than laundry, such as a butterfly habitat or chameleon transporter. It lacks the side pockets of the DAZZ model and still costs more that the regular, sturdy hamper from Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The Sterilite Stacking Laundry Basket is affordable, efficient and well-made for moving your laundry around. The stacking ability is a nice bonus feature and the design and construction are solid. There really isn’t a truly amazing laundry basket out there on the market, but the Sterilite is the best one we can find.
How to Buy a Laundry Basket, Mama's Laundry Talk, January 26, 2012,
Originally published: December 29, 2013