After nearly a year spent looking at 769 small trash cans in stores and online, weeding out hundreds of indistinct duds, and running a dozen standout contenders through a battery of tests, we found the best small trash cans for bathrooms, offices, and kitchens. These bins fit tight spaces; resist denting, staining, and tipping; accept several types of bags; and look a lot better than plastic buckets. Upgrade to a simplehuman 10-Liter Profile Step Can for bathrooms, a Brighton Professional Black Wire Mesh Square Wastebasket for offices, and a simplehuman In-Cabinet Can for kitchens, and you’ll have an easier time keeping a tidy house.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
During the course of our research and sourcing, we found that most small trash cans aren’t exceptional. The trash cans we selected, through testing, direct comparison, and research, stand out for being actually good at their small but important job—or at least not failing in any major ways. These cans hold trash (and trash bags) neatly in place, they stay in their spot on the floor without shifting or tipping over, they’re easy to empty and reload, they usually aren’t limited to one size of bag, and they all look pretty good to start and stay pretty clean over a lifetime of catching refuse.
The aisles of big box stores runneth over with white and beige plastic trash cans. These whatever-works models get dirty over time, fall over at the slightest nudge of a foot, and have either no particular look or a cheap look. We wanted to do better.
We sought small cans that were well-liked and recommended, and that offered unique or upgraded features. This was hard, because not a lot of people rave about their small trash can; it is easy to find some version of “What can I say, it’s a trash can” in reviews. I queried office designers and office supply representatives, but found that most of their favorite cans came from bulk-order catalogs: Peter Pepper, Magnuson Group, Steelcase, and others inaccessible to single-item buyers.
We narrowed further by considering only cans that were reliably available from a notable vendor. We didn’t look at anything that cost more than $50. We favored cans that were well-reviewed, or at least recommended by someone. And for can types that required a bag, we eliminated those that only fit one particular brand of bag or required a rare bag size. Cans that were ugly, divisively designed, had overly complicated opening mechanisms (such as sensors), or simply provided no information about their make and function were eliminated.
I tested the cans that made our semi-final list (about 30) using much of the same criteria applied to kitchen trash cans: testing the pedal, checking for bag-puncturing pieces, ease of cleaning the can or its liner, picking up a can and moving it around, and getting feedback on style.
Then there were a few tests specific to small trash cans:
After sorting, testing, and arguing over trash cans with friends, editors, and office supply experts, I ended up with a handful of winners.
The simplehuman 10-liter Profile Step Can is a better closed small wastebasket for many of the same reasons the simplehuman Wide Step Rectangular is our pick for an overall best kitchen garbage can. First, it’s just easier to use than the others, as it fits small trash bags and grocery bags better than any can out there—not to mention simplehuman’s own bags, which fit perfectly. It looks modern but not space-age, it stands more solidly upright, its narrow profile fits more bathroom spaces, and its pedal and lid-raising mechanisms are stronger and more durable than any competition we tried (especially the all-stainless upgrade version).
The simplehuman step will stay in place, whether you nudge it or press down hard on its pedal. Its long shape gives it some support, as does its rubber base (improved to a full-surface no-skid design on the upgraded stainless steel model).You won’t be able to flip its lid off or break the pedal unless you are really trying. This can stood up much better to my attempts to make it dance around by slamming the pedal; if it moved, it moved less than a half-inch. Other cans we tested, save one, flipped backwards or tipped over when their pedals were pressed quickly and firmly.
While this can lacks a switch to hold the lid in place, you can lift the lid with fingers or tap it to keep it open to keep the can open for longer cleaning jobs. Most cans simply lack any real option for keeping the lid open.
The simplehuman Profile Step Can fits a wider variety of bags more easily, with less excess showing, than any other small trash can we tested. You can get by with what you probably already have—bags from stores—using the handle hooks on the sides of the can liner. But it works best with bags that are 10 liters, or 2.6 gallons, which is an odd size for trash bags. You can get a perfect fit with simplehuman’s own “R” liner, and in our tests we also got a good fit out of some less expensive options: the compostable Glad OdorShield bags, or a whole lot of cheap blue bags. I found Glad’s OdorShield to fit quite snugly and show almost nothing around the rim of the can with the lid closed.
The simplehuman 10-liter Profile Step Can comes with a black plastic lid for $30 or in an all-stainless-steel model with a fingerprint-proof finish for $40. For $10 more, you get a quieter-closing lid, a non-skid base that covers the whole of the bottom, and a ten-year warranty instead of five years. You don’t need those features for your bathroom trash can, but if you value the all-stainless look or the price difference drops below $10, you might go for it. On Amazon, the pricing of both models has see-sawed a bit, and it’s worth also checking simplehuman’s prices and availability before buying.
A tall lid that lifts up vertically is not going to work for every bathroom space and setup. Unlike larger simplehuman step cans, this can does not hide its lid-lifting hardware inside the can frame. It needs at least a half-inch gap when against a wall, too, or it can get stuck with the lid open, requiring a quick tap to lower it.
Many of the three-star reviews on Amazon ding this can for not keeping dogs out of the bathroom trash. Curious dogs (are there any other kinds?) are the bane of trash cans small and large. There is no spring tension or lid weight keeping this can closed (the all-stainless lid weighs just a bit more and so holds down a bit better), but it also seems no better or worse than any of the other cans we tested. On the other hand, some Amazon buyers specifically praise this can’s pet-resistant design. If you have a larger dog that has proven its desire to dig into your bathroom trash, you may need a can with a locking lid.
If $30 for a bathroom garbage can doesn’t fit your budget, or you need a smaller can that can tuck better into a corner, a 5-liter can from Better Homes & Garden, in round or oval shape at Walmart, fits the bill. This $10-$15 can performed better than all but the Simplehuman can in our tests, it held a variety of bags firmly, and its fingerprint-resistant tin steel body fits most bathroom styles.
Note: As mentioned earlier, this pick’s availability through Walmart’s online store is inconsistent, but it is generally available in Walmart’s physical stores. We are looking for a more widely available runner-up small closed trash can in the meantime.
This can’s best feature is the bag tuck on the back side of the liner, which makes it easier than any other can we tested to fit any kind of bag you have. The rubberized teeth easily grip grocery bags or common trash bag sizes like 2.6-gallon, 4-gallon, or, as the sticker on the inside lid suggests, “Bag B,” which would seem to be simplehuman’s 1.6-gallon B bags. Depending on your bag, some excess may show around the rim, but it’s not a lot. The liner also has handles on the side, which helps you lift the liner without touching the inside of it, and it gives you another place to tuck in bags more firmly.
The round can is 12 inches tall and about 9 ½ inches in diameter, while the oval model sits just over 10 inches tall and 9 ½ inches across its wide side. Their lids open to a total height of 18 or 21 inches tall, round and oval, respectively. Depending on your toilet and bathroom layout, a round or oval can may tuck better into the wider back corner behind your toilet than the simplehuman’s long narrow shape. Both cans also open about 5 inches shorter than the simplehuman, which could be another help in smaller spaces.
The lid-opening mechanism is quicker and less smooth than the simplehuman profile can, but still fairly sturdy. It’s one metal rod pressing another metal rod into place, but they’re reasonably thick rods. The black plastic lid has enough weight to keep it in place and keep odors inside. Pressing the lever with a heavy, fast foot, I found that the can could move a bit more than our simplehuman pick, but far less than the cans we dismissed.
As noted, the main drawback to this can as an inexpensive bathroom/closed alternative to our main pick is its availability. Walmart online ran out of stock of this item between the writing and publishing of this guide. My local Walmart had around a dozen of them when I visited during my research trip, but Walmart’s website shows them as out of stock around my ZIP code three months later. You may have more luck at your local store. We will update this guide if we find a good, easily purchased alternative.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
A very good trash can for the office is the Brighton Professional Black Wire Mesh Square Wastebasket. Its look fits into many office environments, casual or strait-laced, better than the plastic tubs or unnecessarily stainless-clad models we reviewed. It can be used with or without a lining bag. It stands up better to tipping and denting than other office cans we tested, and its epoxy-coated steel mesh allows enough air circulation to resist mold or mildew if you’ve let perishables sit too long. We like how nicely this can’s straight sides tuck against a desk or wall, but if you don’t need that shape, we found the exact same can in a round version on Amazon. The price is good for the category—it’s about $8 at Staples stores or Staples online.
Black mesh is a pattern used in office chairs, desktop supply containers, inboxes and paper trays; it looks like the stuff of business. We like that it isn’t a hunk of plastic with visible seams, overly pretentious, or coldly minimalist. What’s more, it will collect and show far fewer spills and less gunk over its lifetime than solid plastic or metal cans.
At 14 inches tall and 11 inches square around the top rim, you can stash this can under a desk and still fit your arm above it for trash tossing. We tried shorter cans with narrower mouths that created chances for misses and spills; taller cans we saw didn’t fit easily under a table and forced awkward arm angles. The Brighton can’s 4.4-gallon capacity means you won’t have to empty this every day. It is so lightweight that you will have no trouble hoisting this can to empty it over a larger receptacle, unlike the heavier-bottomed cans we tested.
If your desk trash is mostly cardboard, plastic, and other dry stuff, or you are using this as a recycling bin, you won’t need a liner. The mesh holes are small enough that shredded papers will not escape. If you need protection against food or liquids leaking, an 8-gallon trash bag (“medium kitchen bag”) works best. Bags with pull handles can cinch around the lid of this can; if you end up with bags without handles, a rubber band around the lid gets the job done, albeit with some loss of style.
The Brighton can is quite stable, despite its light weight. I had to whip a tennis ball into the can with a full arm extension to tip it over, making it one of the best performers among non-lidded office cans. Its sides do not dent at light kicks or drops. If they do, you can likely pop the dent back into shape, as I did a few times (after intentionally denting the can). Other cans couldn’t recover from dents this easily. The epoxy coating on this steel can should prevent rusting, something we will test over the long term.
Sweethome editors and most friends of mine like the square version of this can because it can fit easily against desks, walls, cabinets and other office furniture, leaving no crevices when placed in a corner. I write “version” because, if you wanted this exact can in a round shape, it is available as a Rolodex trash can for $8-$12—same mesh, same base, same color, nearly the same capacity, made by the same original manufacturer. Notably, the round Rolodex can is Amazon’s best seller in trash cans in the “Office Waste Bins” category.
This $8 trash can is not perfect by any means. The most notable flaw is the base, which has four punched-in divots as feet. They won’t scuff your floor or carpet, but they also won’t hold the can as firmly in place as rubber tips or a rubber ring would. And even though it’s stable overall, the square can’s base is only slightly narrower than its mouth (unlike most small trash cans), so it can still tip if you hit the can precisely toward one of its four sides.
Like most office cans, this can lacks a built-in rim or clips for attaching bags. You can get the job done with bag handles, rubber bands, or simply bunching up and tying off in one corner, but a perfect version of this can could make it easier to fit and replace a bag.
The Rubbermaid Executive Series “Hide-A-Bag” wastebasket is a better office trash can than our primary pick, but only if you’re willing to spend $40, and, in some cases, shop around to find it. It looks and feels slick and streamlined, and it stays in its place better than any can we tested while not scuffing the floor. Best of all, you can fit or replace any trash bag that’s even remotely the right size without getting your hands dirty.
This wastebasket is a version of what you’ll find near the desk in many hotels. It’s nice enough for a well-appointed room, but it’s quite durable. And it is very easy to pluck the outer cylinder off of the inner lining, yank out the bag, and place a new bag inside in less than 10 seconds.
Erin Doland, editor of the Unclutterer blog and author of Unclutter Your Life in One Week, pointed us to this can and likes it for a number of reasons. “The base is actually wider than the top, it holds the bag in place, it holds regular size garbage bags, and it’s easy to clean.” Doland dislikes the fingerprints that accumulate all-stainless-steel cans, but said she could live with the good-looking trade-off of having just a strip of it near the top.
The Rubbermaid Hide-A-Bag can is 10 inches tall, fitting under any desk with a comfortable amount of trash-tossing space above it. The bottom ring is vinyl, intended to protect floors while adding grip. Its 7-pound weight and 10-inch solid base help make it very hard to kick aside or tip over in normal use, which is something you won’t find in most office cans.
The biggest drawbacks is that carrying this can around requires gripping both pieces firmly from the top, due to its slide-off design. After you’ve done this once or twice, you have the hang of it, and it’s generally not a problem.
Smaller spaces or very active kitchens may appreciate having a handy, enclosed can that sits directly under the sink. The simplehuman 10-liter In-Cabinet Trash Can ($30) is far and away the best can for this job. Setting this can up, or trying a new location for it, takes about 1 minute, as opposed to marking, pre-drilling, and fastening screws for all of the competitors we considered. The simplehuman cabinet can also looks decent, and it fits grocery bags and small trash bags easily, with the same handle-grip liner as our bathroom pick. And unlike the many wire-framed bag holders available, this closed can will definitely hold leaks, contain odors, and keep bugs and pets out. It’s also widely available, which cannot be said for many other in-cabinet cans.
I was skeptical of the claim on the box that you did not need to screw this can into a cabinet door to make it a real fixture, but the padding on the solid steel frame hook does the job. I tested it by flinging open my cabinet door, as if enraged by a bad spill or recipe disaster; this trash can held on tightly. If your cabinet door is thin, or you don’t want to have the frame lift up a bit when you grab the whole can out, you can mount the frame with three included screws.
Just like the simplehuman step trash can we recommend for bathrooms, the removable bucket on this in-cabinet can has claws that hold onto grocery bag handles on its side. To empty this can, you can either lift the lid and yank out the bag, or yank the whole can out of its steel frame to empty it. Both are fairly simple maneuvers. If you end up using this can for non-food waste, you can easily remove the snap-on lid.
Simplehuman’s in-cabinet can is roughly 12 inches by 9 inches across its mouth and 14 inches tall. It will fit inside most under-sink cabinet doors, which are almost always 30 inches tall, provided you make room for its clearance.
As well as it works, this can really wins out from a notable lack of viable competition. Most in-cabinet trash cans lack a lid, which hinders their use as temporary compost or kitchen scrap containers: see open cans from Knape & Vogt, InterDesign, and others. Some, like models from Spectrum and Handi Hanger, are simply wires that hold up trash bags. It’s not just Amazon with scant pickings: Home Depot, Walmart, Target, and Lowe’s have either the same models as Amazon or kits for creating full-size trash-can pull-out drawers. And among the ones we did consider, all but this one require a mechanical screw-in mount to hold their frames in place.
The 2.6 gallon capacity is kind of small for use as a primary kitchen trash can, unless you live alone and rarely cook anything more complicated than coffee and toast. For a busy family kitchen, this probably isn’t enough trash can to keep up; it could, however, work well for compost scraps or small recyclables.
The no-hardware mounting works surprisingly well in keeping this can in place, but when you go to empty it, particularly if you need to lift the entire can out of its frame, you may find that the frame moves around a bit as you lift and remove. That can get annoying after a while; you can fix it with three screws and 10 minutes, though.
Any bag you fix to this can, even simplehuman’s preferred liners, is going to fold down over the top and show a good deal. This is just how the can is designed. Given that it’s hidden in a cabinet, this is far from a fatal flaw, but it might bother those who use grocery bags and don’t want to see them.
Sunbeam’s door-mounted Trashrac, sold in 5-gallon and (harder to find) 3-gallon sizes, is not a bad in-cabinet option if you want to spend a bit less money and hold a bit more garbage than our top pick allows, and if you don’t mind putting three screws into your cabinet door. It holds garbage bags and grocery store bags well, its lid closes, it catches drips, and it lets you stuff a good bit more into its wire frame while still easily removing the bag. And it’s $10 cheaper than our main pick.
Unlike the simplehuman can, the Trashrac does require installation. It’s a 10-15-minute affair for anyone who has a pencil, cordless screwdriver or drill, and a level handy. The trickiest part is making sure you mount the can such that the door can close and the frame doesn’t strike anything you can’t move inside your cabinet. You must also ensure your cabinet door is thick enough at your three mounting points that won’t break through the door with ½-inch screws. This shouldn’t be a problem, but it has been for at least one Amazon buyer.
Once installed, the Trashrac is easy to maintain. You latch bags onto the can using the hooks at the sides of the wire frame. The drip tray at the bottom keeps the bag from breaking under strain, and also collects about ⅓ cup of fluid before you’ll have a real leak problem. You store your extra bags in a compartment under the drip tray. The lid on the top is not as tightly sealed as on the simplehuman can, but it can do a passable job containing odors and keeping out the laziest of pests.
The main trade-off for buying the Trashrac instead of the simplehuman is the amount of work you have to do to make it work: finding the right bags (store bags, 4-gallon bags, or Sunbeam’s own refills), hooking handles onto the latches and tying off bag excess, and undoing those ties when it’s time to remove them. That’s not an unwieldy amount of work, but it will add up if this is your primary trash can. And at this size, it is just big enough to be a primary trash can, especially in a small urban kitchen used by a single person or couple.
As noted earlier, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of small plastic trash cans that simply have no particular features, quality, or reviews to recommend them. Most of these were dismissed using the criteria outlined in How we picked and tested. What was left were these models, which we tested, along with a few we closely considered but did not test.
Simplehuman’s 10-liter Butterfly Step Trash Can is $60, so $20 or $30 more than our step pick models. It is quite nice to look at, has a quieter and smoother opening and closing motion, and could work for spaces where your trash can has no overhead clearance. But it doesn’t easily fit bags other than simplehuman “R” liners without showing some bunched-up excess around the lid. You can’t keep the lid open as easily as with the step can—you have to prop a partially removed liner up against the open halves. And dumping in a dust pan is trickier with the outward-facing pieces.
Umbra’s “Skinny” line of trash cans contains the best-selling, most well-reviewed small trash cans on Amazon, and available in 14 metal and plastic colors. They don’t fit any bags, their design didn’t impress a small group of coworkers more than our office pick, and they tip over quite easily:
An Umbra can, if you truly love the color or metal finish, could work as an open can you tuck under your sink or a recycling can, but we’d suggest saving your money.
Rubbermaid Commercial makes very simple plastic wastebaskets in 2-gallon and 7-gallon sizes. They are plastic cubes, made by a company you know, and they will fit a trash or grocery bag if you twist and tie it off. If you don’t mind the antiseptic look, they’re not bad cans for roughly $5. But our pick is only $3 more and won’t make you feel a bit defeated every time you look at it.
Polder’s 7-gallon stainless steel can, along with Container Store’s direct copy of it, is a bit large to fit under some sinks, takes up a lot of floor space under a desk, and lacks a lid—they don’t quite fit any category we saw as common. Buyers at Amazon also complain about the same things we saw: no bags available that fit just right, very visible (and possibly gunk-catching) seams on two sides of the can, and a can-top rubber band that is much tougher to remove and re-fasten than one would hope.
The Sterilite 2.6-Gallon Ultra Step-On Wastebasket, which I purchased in a translucent shade from Target, seemed like a surprisingly good $10 small trash can at first. It fit grocery bags, 2.6-gallon bags, and 4-gallon bags quite well around its removable liner, and the taller overhang of the lid hid most of any bag excess showing. The Sterilite survived a fast tennis ball toss, just barely. But you can’t keep it open, you can just barely get an angled dust pan into it, and when you press on the pedal with significant force, you can easily wobble or knock the Sterilite over—or, in one instance, shoot the liner out of the top of the can.
Lowe’s sells a Style Selections 5-Liter Stainless Steel Oval step can for $20 that did okay across our tests, but not as well as the Better Homes & Garden can. The rubber band around the mouth of the liner was somewhat annoying to fasten, but helped keep bags in. It moved more when its pedal was pressed than other small step cans, and showed a lot of any grocery bags that fit inside it. It’s not worth seeking out at that price at just one store.
Target’s Room Essentials Round 5-Liter Trash Can is a bad trash can. Its oddball liner does not fit 2.6-gallon or 4-gallon bags well, nor grocery bags, in part due to an unnecessary metal handle on the liner mouth. It cannot stay open, you cannot dump a dust pan into it, and it moves around a good distance when you press its tiny pedal. It is not worth half its $15 price.
IKEA offers a plastic uncovered FNISS can that has nothing to particularly recommend it, other than fitting the look of your other IKEA furniture. The 3-gallon VARIERA hanging basket is listed as an “interior organizer,” and being open and vented, does seem more fit for cans or supplies than trash. The STRAPATS pedal bin, at 1 gallon (3.7 liters), is impractically small for anything but the most minor, small trash. And while the DOKUMENT wastepaper basket seems like a decent $4 office option if you’re already shopping at IKEA, being an epoxy-coated rectangular steel can similar to our main pick, the bubble design divided our editors, and IKEA’s shipping prices make it inaccessible for anyone who doesn’t live near an IKEA store.
For bathrooms and spaces where trash needs to be closed, the simplehuman 10-liter Profile Step Can is the best pick, and the Better Homes & Gardens’ 5-liter Round Step Trash Can a good runner-up. A Brighton Professional black wire mesh square wastebasket gets the simple job of collecting office waste done for $8, though if you’re willing to spend considerably more, a Rubbermaid Executive Series Hide-A-Bag Wastebasket gets you sophisticated looks and easy bag replacement. In your kitchen, the best can to use under your sink or in another small space is the simplehuman In-Cabinet Trash Can, and for a bigger bin at a lower price, the stripped-down and simple Sunbeam Trashrac is a good budget option. There are hundreds if not thousands of small trash cans out there, and these are all better picks than any of the rest.
Originally published: July 21, 2015