The Best Storage Containers (for Most People)

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After spending almost 42 hours comparing nearly two dozen plastic storage bins, interviewing a panel of professionally recognized organization experts, and testing 10 finalists by stuffing them, dropping them, soaking them, and hauling them around full of books, we chose the Sterilite 30 Quart Ultra Latching Storage Box ($6 per unit, sold as a $37 six-pack) as the general storage container we’d recommend for most people. About as big as a large toaster oven (or a small aquarium), this bin offers a comfortable balance of ergonomics, security, durability and, most of all, affordability. This is not the biggest or toughest bin we tested—we have picks for those too, if that’s what you need. But when you consider the excellent price you’ll pay for six of them, we believe this is the best choice for most everyday storage duties. In fact, this bin’s performance is comparable to the best products on the market, but you’ll pay a fraction of what you would for the others.

Last Updated: October 9, 2015
After six months of long-term testing of our top picks for storage and during a move, we've updated the guide with our notes.
Expand Most Recent Updates
April 8, 2015: After more than 40 hours of testing plastic storage containers by stuffing them, dropping them, soaking them, and hauling them around, we found the Sterilite 30 Quart Ultra Latching Storage Box has the best balance of durability, security, and affordability ($40 for a six-pack). It didn’t crack in our drop tests or leak in our water tests designed to recreate a flooded basement. And if you need a larger or super-rugged bin, we have picks for those, too.
Sterilite 30 Quart Ultra Latching Storage Box
For a quality bin at a great price, this is it—the lid held shut, the sides didn’t crack, and it stayed dry when soaked with water. As long as it’s big enough for your stuff, a set of these inexpensive bins are good enough to stack in the basement, attic, or closet.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $37.

Most other bins you can get for about $6 each are flimsy or leaky, but this see-through bin survived the drop test without a crack and stayed dry even when being sprayed and submerged in water, and deep hand grips made the size (18.13 by 11.5 by 12.25 inches) easy to carry, even when loaded with 14 hardback books. The sides aren’t the stiffest and the latches aren’t the toughest—but they lock to hold the lid on tight while lifting, shaking, stuffing, and dropping the bin.

There were some slightly bigger, better, pricier items in our test, but we decided that a plastic storage bin is a product most people want to get in high quantity, at a low cost, with a level of quality that’s good enough to survive a move or endure long-term storage. If you have a big pile of small items to organize, a six pack of these is a fine place to start.

And if our main pick goes out of stock—or you just need a bigger bin at a reasonable price—the same product in a larger, 70-quart size makes a good runner-up option equipped with the same reliable features that made the 30-quart Sterilite Ultra Latching Box our top pick. 

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.

Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box
With a unique six-latch lid that snaps securely shut and stays closed even under extreme testing, this stiff-sided bin is the most secure one we tested. It isn’t cheap, but for protecting valuable items from moisture and dirt, no bin beats it.

If overall durability and a more secure lid are more important to you than saving a few dollars, get the Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box ($17). This bin aced all our tests, and only the higher price prevented it from being our top pick. It’s comfortable to carry, the stiff sides don’t flex whether the bin is empty or fully stuffed, and it doesn’t slide around on the ground or when stacked on another bin. The thing that really sets this product apart isn’t available on any other manufacturer’s bins: a six-latch locking lid, which closes with a loud, satisfying snap and stays shut whether it’s dropped onto concrete or sprayed with a hose.

The Ziploc Weathertight is twice the size of our 30-gallon main pick (and just a bit smaller than our runner-up) and in our tests held 17 average-size cookbooks with nine smaller-edition graphic novels with room to spare—in fact, we could have fit more, but stopping here kept it at a reasonable total weight. With lighter contents, it’s a comfortable size to carry around stacked in a pair. Our drop tests showed the plastic may crack a little if you hit it hard enough, but the lid won’t pop open.

Also Great
Rubbermaid 1191 ActionPacker
It’s bigger, heavier, and just plain tougher than the other bins we tested—for storing gear in a garage and hauling it out to go camping or tailgating, this waterproof bin is the one you need.

The 140-quart Rubbermaid ActionPacker is the big, burly cousin of the indoor plastic bin—a rugged, tough, and durable option with security features that go far beyond any other bin we tested. The bin’s heavy-duty sidewalls, reinforced lids, and cord-securing channels make it ideal for storing camping gear, tools, and other heavy-duty items that might damage lesser models. More suited to a garage, shed, or basement than an indoor closet, the big bin is not easy for one person to carry, but two people can haul it—and then easily sit on it side by side. (If that’s too big, it’s also available in 32- and 96-quart sizes; if it’s somehow too small, there’s a 192-quart monster.) After our drop tests and water tests, it came through damage free and bone dry. If you need an outdoor gear locker that can go from your home to the back of a truck, then be hauled to a campsite or tailgate to be used as all-in-one storage and seating, this is it.

Table of contents

Why you should listen to us

During my seven years as a managing editor at Apartment Therapy, a home decor and lifestyle site, I specialized in advising countless readers (and friends) about room and storage optimization when square footage was at a premium. My wife and I even appeared on shelter network HGTV’s now defunct series, Small Space, Big Style, with our 1917 Los Angeles studio apartment highlighted as an example of efficient use of space. 

Before that, I spent several years as an industrial designer, working on children’s toys and lifestyle products for the likes of Little Tikes, Shrek, and The Simpsons. That means I’ve long been acquainted with the design details of injection-molded plastic products. Durability, ergonomics, and safety were just a few of the things I kept in mind when looking over these polypropylene containers.

Beyond this experience, I needed the expertise of those who live and breathe home organization every single day. So, to figure out what products I should be testing, I turned to professional organizers Beth Zeigker of BNeato (three consecutive years nominated as the Most Innovative Organizer at the Organizing Awards), John Trosko of OrganizingLA (two-term past president of the Los Angeles Chapter, National Association of Professional Organizers), Dr. Regina F. Lark, Ph.D. of A Clear Path (current president of the Los Angeles Chapter, National Association of Professional Organizers), and Nina Smith, marketing coordinator for The Container Store. Their professional perspective was crucial in finding which plastic bins were at the top of the market and essential to our story.

Our pick

Sterilite 30 Quart Ultra Latching Storage Box
For a quality bin at a great price, this is it—the lid held shut, the sides didn’t crack, and it stayed dry when soaked with water. As long as it’s big enough for your stuff, a set of these inexpensive bins are good enough to stack in the basement, attic, or closet.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $37.

When you have a ton of small stuff to store and you want to get a lot of bins for your buck, the Sterilite 30-Quart Ultra Latching Storage Box ($37 for a six pack, $6 per unit) is the most practical and affordable option. These nearly transparent, USA-manufactured bins are the definition of good enough—there was nothing that they failed at, but nothing they were tops at, either. They didn’t break, they didn’t leak, and the sides only flexed a little bit more than the most sturdy bins in our test. We had some slightly bigger, stronger bins in our test (which we’ll get to), but we ultimately decided that this is the kind of product that most people want to get in high quantity, at a low price, with a level of quality that’s good enough to get you through a move and solve your long-term storage problems in a basement or closet.

These bins give you exactly what you’d expect at this price, with no major disappointments.

These bins give you exactly what you’d expect at this price, with no major disappointments: For a mere $6 per bin (a third the cost of our upgrade pick), you can buy these Sterilites and get a closet, kid’s room, garage, or home office packed, stacked, and organized in no time. These see-through bins held their own alongside the pricier products in our performance testing, surviving the drop test without cracking. They also passed leak-free in a water test we devised to re-create a flooded basement—standing in shorts and flip-flops in the backyard, holding a garden hose overhead, we sprayed the bins while each sat weighed down by bricks in a plastic kiddie pool. Despite some incredulous stares and curious inquiries from neighbors, the test successfully showed that the Sterilite’s walls and lid could keep water from getting inside.

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The smaller 30-quart size won’t hold as much as the bigger bins we tested—measuring 18 by 12 by 12 inches, it maxed out at 14 hardback books. If you’re looking for something similar but bigger, our runner-up pick is a larger version of the same bin.

There are other advantages to the smaller size, too: Even when packed to capacity with heavy books, the 30-quart bin is still easy for an average person to lift and move around. The deep, curved hand grips were big enough (but a little rough) for carrying around a full load without much trouble.

A smaller size also gives you more storage flexibility, as these can fit easily on garage shelves, stacked on a closet floor, under a desk, or even in the back of a car trunk (they’re great for keeping reusable grocery tote bags all in one place). The two latches attached to this Sterilite are not heavy duty—if you really stuff a lot of contents inside, the upward pressure can produce a visible gap between tub and lid (if this is a concern, go for our upgrade pick). Nevertheless, the lids don’t unexpectedly detach, as the flip-up and lock grips held tight while lifting, shaking, and after being dropped six feet onto hard concrete. The lid reminded us a bit of the tops on food storage containers—it kind of wants to stick on there, and removing it feels like peeling it free.

One last benefit is that this is probably one of the easiest models to find whether online or in store, as Sterilite is the biggest brand in the plastic storage container category. Reviews on Amazon are largely positive, with a 4.5-star average from more than 200 customers.  02storagebins

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The grips on the Sterilite Ultra Latching Box feel fine when the bin is empty, but once it’s loaded with heavier items and lifted, your fingers press in more deeply and suddenly meet a sharper edge. This may be a rough seam in the plastic. It’s a minor annoyance, but over the span of carrying dozens of storage bins from room to room, garage to moving van, or from the basement upstairs, it gets painful. You could wear gloves, but then your hands may be too bulky to fit in the grips.

Speaking of edges, that peeling feeling you get when removing a lid has a downside—a sharp edge along the lip of the lid has a habit of catching annoyingly while opening. It’s nice in that it stays shut when you want it to, but feeling like you’re fighting the bin when you want it open isn’t fun.

The smooth bottom of the Sterilite is also prone to slide, so we wouldn’t recommend these stacked higher than two to three at a time, unless you want to play human-scale Jenga with a tower of your personal property.

Compared with the tougher bins we tested, the Sterilite Ultra Latching Box has a slightly thinner polypropylene wall construction. It flexes visibly outward on the side (but holds) when overstuffed, as we did with a pair of pillows. This can be an issue when stacking multiple boxes, but then again, you’re getting a lot of them to work with, so you may be able to divide up the contents to avoid overstuffing a single bin.

Last, a common complaint among the handful of negative reviews is a tendency to have bins arrived with cracked lids, broken latches, or other kinds of damage done in transit. This is more often a problem in the larger sizes of this bin, but reviews online say it happens with these too. So if you’re in a hurry to pack or just want to save a potential hassle, see if you can pick them up in a store nearby.

Runner-up: a bigger version of our pick

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $46.

Sterilite 70-Qt. Ultra Latching Storage Box (4-pack)
With the same latches, lid, and overall construction as our main pick, this bin is simply a bigger version—go for it if you can't find our main pick or simply need more storage space.
If you can’t find the Sterilite Ultra Latching Box in its common 30-quart size—or if you’re looking for more capacity at a reasonable price, there is a more capacious 70-quart version ($11.50 each, sold as $46 for four). It has the same comfortable locking latch lid design, the same opaque polypropylene walls, and the same manufacturing and build quality. We didn’t test this one for water resistance, but there’s no reason to think that such a similar item would perform differently. This size bin is recommended by Wirecutter editor in chief Jacqui Cheng—she’s owned several for many years, and uses them for storage and other household duties, including growing a pretty impressive crop of mushrooms.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The size comes with a caveat: Because of the larger dimensions, the 70-quart Ultra Latch model seems prone to ship with cracks or arrive with broken lids when delivered in bulk, according to several Amazon reviewers. This happened to Sweethome editor Harry Sawyers; one 70-quart lid arrived damaged, and he called Amazon and was refunded the cost of the damaged bin only (no replacement bin was shipped).

Some other shortcomings could be shared with both Ultra Latch sizes: The 30-quart’s sides tend to flex a bit when overstuffed, a problem that could worsen with the 70-quart’s larger pieces of plastic. Beyond that, like the 30-quart, these bins’ bottoms could potentially slide on smooth surfaces, and we wouldn’t recommend stacking them higher than two to three bins at once.

Upgrade: the very best bin we found

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.

Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box
With a unique six-latch lid that snaps securely shut and stays closed even under extreme testing, this stiff-sided bin is the most secure one we tested. It isn’t cheap, but for protecting valuable items from moisture and dirt, no bin beats it.

If not for the price, the Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box would be our top pick. The Weathertight design did everything expected of a plastic storage bin, either scoring at the top or near the top of all of our tests. If we were planning to store away anything of sentimental or monetary value for more than a few months in a garage, basement, or attic, we’d invest in a set of the Weathertight Boxes after seeing how well they fared under ordinary and extraordinary conditions.

Two great design details on the Ziploc’s lid are not found on any other bins we tested. First, this has a unique six-latch locking lid (which is two to four more latches than its competition). These six latches kept the 60-quart bin (measuring 23.6 by 17.8 by 11.22 inches) sealed shut, whether being tossed, sprayed, or dropped. Second, there’s a foam-sealing gasket around the lid’s perimeter (another detail unique to this bin), which really put the Ziploc in a league of its own when it came to keeping the elements out.

The sides didn’t show any flex deformation while fully loaded with heavy items—specifically, 17 cookbooks, nine graphic novels, and still a little room to spare.

The bin’s slightly opaque, American-made polypropylene walls are slightly thicker than the other bins’ sides, and they feel like a tough, high-quality material even when the bin is empty. It’s capacious, but not excessively bulky, and the ample space is not quite too large to manage solo (which I tested myself and confirmed with my wife, who was recruited as a tester). After we both took turns walking back and forth from room to room at home, she rated the Iris Weathertight Box “very steady to lift and carry,” and we both agreed the handle was comfortable to hold. The sides didn’t show any flex deformation while fully loaded with heavy items—specifically, 17 cookbooks, nine graphic novels, and still a little room to spare. Likewise, it didn’t bulge when overstuffed with soft items (a few throw pillows and a blanket hijacked from our couch). Not only is this more secure, but it also makes carrying and stacking easier, compared with models ready to pop their top off when stuffed to the max.

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The 60-quart model with Ziploc branding wasn’t always our choice as an upgrade pick—we went for it when we learned it’s a more affordable rebranding of another great bin. After rounds of testing, we were ready to recommend the 74-quart Iris Weathertight Box, an excellent bin sold for $24 from Iris directly or for $21 at the Container Store (where it’s confusingly named the Watertight Tote). This bin aced all our tests. But then, on a visit to the Iris booth at a recent trade show, we discovered that the company offers that same bin rebranded as the Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box, sold at Walmart. It’s slightly smaller in capacity (60 quart vs. 74 quart), a little shorter in height (11.22 inches vs. 14.5), and priced a few dollars less ($16.97 vs. $24 or $21). The bigger bin’s 74-quart size could hold a lot—we fit 15 cookbooks, seven graphic novels, four small nature field guides, 12 DVDS, and one one small stuffed animal—but it’s not giant, so most loads won’t make it too heavy for one person to carry.

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Also Great
Iris 74-Quart Weathertight Box aka the Watertight Tote
A slightly larger, slightly more expensive version of Ziploc’s Weathertight bin is just as reliable and solid—the Ziploc version is simply a resized rebranding of the same Iris product.
 

In our thinking, the under-$20 price made the Ziploc version a lot more appealing, even if it is a bit shorter in height. Plus, it’s easier to find—the bigger Iris bin is sold only at the 70 Container Stores nationwide (or through Iris directly, for more money), but the Ziploc bin can be found in thousands of Walmart stores. We picked up a sample to see if the Ziploc-branded version of the Weathertight Box looked, locked, and lifted the same as its Iris counterpart, and indeed it did. Aside from the smaller dimensions (23.6 by 17.75 by 11.22 inches) and a new blue color on the detailing, this is the same product, down to the six latches and reinforced plastic container design. Despite the price, it’s very popular—this model was sold out at several Southern California Walmart locations on our search for a test unit.

Another reason the  Ziploc Watertight Box became one of our picks, aside from price and availability, was that the slightly shorter model felt a little easier to lift, carry, and stack than its bigger brother. If the 60-quart model is still too big, additional capacity and shapes are available. There are Extra Small (16 qt.), Small (26.5 qt), and Small Deep (44 qt) Weathertight models, but you should know that those have only four lock latches, while the models we tested have six.

Whether you go for Ziploc or Iris branding, you can expect excellent performance against water infiltration—here, The Container Store customer HobokenGirl vouches for the Iris Weathertight Box’s namesake:

“We had 10 feet of water in the basement during Hurricane Sandy, and the stuff in this box was the ONLY pile that made it through the storm … we had to throw everything else out. The box was submerged under all that water for about 4 days, and everything in it was dry as a bone. I wish everything had been in one of those.”

After our own testing, we don’t doubt this claim. In our kiddie pool water test lab, the product lived up to its name—not a single drop of water got inside.

The sum of the other small details helped this all-around top performer edge out the bigger, cheaper alternatives as the best choice.

The sum of the other small details helped this all-around top performer edge out the bigger, cheaper alternatives as the best choice as an upgrade bin—its small molded feet and recessed channel along the convex top perimeter provide a non-slip connection between stacked units, the foam gasket adds an extra seal between the lid and bin, the comfortably curved ergonomic grips allow easy lifting, and a ridged pattern on the bottom creates traction to prevent the bin from sliding around. Of all the models tested, there was no greater satisfaction than locking down the Ziploc or Iris bin’s six loud-snapping latches, an auditory cue which made us feel confident everything was secure, locked, and loaded.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The biggest flaw emerged when testing the bin’s durability by dropping it over the side of an outdoor staircase onto hard concrete. While also being a fun exercise in Newton’s second law of motion, the drop test caused a small crack in the lid’s lip corner. The damage could be attributed to the product’s heavier weight (the Iris is 5.35 pounds empty and the Ziploc 4.9 pounds, compared with the 2.6 pounds of the smaller Sterilite). Beyond the heavier weight, the stiffer, reinforced plastic body and extra handles meant it wasn’t going to bounce like a bin made with softer and thinner plastic. Still, the bin held onto the lid even when the going got rough, showing how an extra set of two to four latches can be an insurance policy against contents spilling open if one falls from a stack, shelf, truck bed, or anywhere above ground level.

Those with Paul Bunyan-sized hands may find the handle grip inserts underneath the lid a little shallow—we never felt like we’d lose our grip, but we wished there was an extra quarter inch to half inch of space. At 60 or 74 quarts, the bin can fit a good bit of stuff, and people may find this size a little too heavy to lift and carry when fully loaded. During our tests, the larger Iris fell just within the bounds of manageable, but your mileage and muscles may vary. Another nitpick: Some additional texture on the grip handle, like a dedicated thumb insert running parallel to the lid top, would provide a much more secure hold, giving you extra stability while carrying stacked bins.

Last, the price per Iris bin is nearly four times higher than that of our 30-quart Sterilite pick; even the more affordable Walmart exclusive Ziploc Weathertight Box, at $17, is still almost three times as much as the 30-quart Sterilite Ultra Latching Box. For some buyers, a price anywhere near $20 will seem like way too much to pay for a single bin, but if you’re storing just a few valuable objects you want to absolutely make sure stay sealed long-term, one of these bins could be worth the extra money.

Last, despite the price, neither Iris model offers an official warranty for the product.

A big, heavy-duty pick

Also Great
Rubbermaid 1191 ActionPacker
It’s bigger, heavier, and just plain tougher than the other bins we tested—for storing gear in a garage and hauling it out to go camping or tailgating, this waterproof bin is the one you need.
This item deserves recognition, even if it’s different from every other model we reviewed and tested.

Because of its giant size and significantly more robust construction, we initially planned to leave out the 140-quart Rubbermaid ActionPacker ($79). The rugged box is much heavier, wider, pricier, and just plain tougher than the other bins, and its solid sides don’t allow you to see the contents inside. Yet, there’s something about it—one friend, singling it out from among the towers of storage bins piled in our living room, called it “badass.” With a design that’s part cooler, part toolbox, the 34.5- by 16.4- by 18.5-inch plastic bin weighs 16.3 pounds (by our measurement) even when it’s empty. It’s expensive, but it’s covered by a one-year warranty, which was the only such protection we found among the bins we picked. This item deserves recognition, even if it’s different from every other model we reviewed and tested.

The ActionPacker is a capable bin for home storage or transport, and it’s big enough to be filled with anything—sports equipment, camping gear, tools, or even perishable food for a picnic or tailgate. A single, 5.75-inch-wide, heavy-duty plastic latch secures the contents underneath a thick double-walled plastic hinged lid. The bright red latch also offers a cable lock loop or a place to put a padlock, which is useful whether you’re securing it for a ride in a truck, leaving some valuables at a campsite, or storing it in a shared garage or basement. The size, shape, and reinforced structure make it capable of supporting the weight of two people sitting across its lid, and we used it a few times as a stepladder, which we wouldn’t dare doing with the other models in our review. Other purposes mentioned by owners online include using it to keep a cache of emergency supplies, for storing automotive tools and products in the back of a car or truck, and even for packing military gear for shipment across the globe.

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Of all the things it’s good for, our recommendation would be to set it up as an excellent weekend car camper’s supply chest.

Of all the things it’s good for, our recommendation would be to set it up as an excellent weekend car camper’s supply chest. We were able to fit a three-man tent, two mummy-style sleeping bags, a collapsible camping chair, small portable camping stove, lantern, and tarp with room to spare for smaller items like sporks, food, and a deck of UNO. Imagine having all your gear ready to go in the garage, heaving it into a truck, then unloading this of its contents at a drive-in campsite, where you could use the ActionPacker as a food/drink chest, bench, or table. Then you pack up, take it home, and keep everything ready for the next adventure.

Over the course of testing, we started to think of the ActionPacker as the Humvee of plastic storage bins, with typical household plastic bins being the sedate suburban minivans. Dropped from a height of 6 feet, the oversized bin survived the drop test with only a minor scuff; it bounced and the latch opened, but the lid itself remained closed. And because the lid top is convex, all water sprayed during our wet test dripped off. No water would be likely to get into the ActionPacker under less extreme circumstances, either—a half-inch lip fits into a channel along the underside of the lid, creating a recessed seal.

The ActionPacker is a beast, and it’s not the first thing we’d recommend for anyone who wants to declutter a home office. But in certain situations, having something so confidently durable is worth the extra hassle of hauling around.

Flaws
This much bin comes at a high price—nearly $80 for a single 140-quart capacity model. Weighing in at nearly 16.3 pounds empty and spanning 35 inches wide, the ActionPacker at this size is unwieldy for one person to carry, requiring a wide-armed two-handed grip that approximately feels like hugging Shaquille O’Neal. For most people, it would be impossible to carry solo when fully loaded. Even empty, the size and weight forced me to walk with a funny abbreviated gait as I carried it around from room to room, and this bin was more challenging than the others to take up and down our apartment’s back staircase during the load and lift portion of testing.

The hand grips don’t make it any easier to carry. Rubbermaid’s hefty bin has shallow grips on the short sides (and no grips on the longer sides), so we would have preferred a deeper slot for our fingers to slip into while struggling with heavy loads. Even when you have a helper to haul it, the grips are just hard to hold on to. This thing is big enough to maybe even need a pull handle and a pair of wheels.

It’s probably not advisable to stack this model; even with its flat, ridged top it was obvious the ActionPacker was designed to stand alone planted on terra firma, a truck bed, or in an SUV cargo area. Storing it on a shelf is not advised, because with this much capacity, the bin can get quite heavy, and could potentially be dangerous if it falls from any height.

Finally, the completely opaque bodied construction isn’t going to help anyone figure out what’s inside at a quick glance, which was an advantage with our other transparent or semi-transparent options. Some people will want a set of bins for storing a few different types of things, but that’s not going to work well here. This is best used for dedicated tasks, where you already know what’s inside and what it’s going to be used for, like camping gear, emergency supplies, fishing equipment, or your mobile tailgate party setup.

Long-term test notes

I kept most every review unit except for ones which broke during testing. I had some ideal conditions to further test each of the models after making our pick six moths ago: During our move we used the storage bins to pack books, dishes, home office supplies, tech hardware, and anything else requiring a little more protection.

The Ziploc 60 Qt remains the favorite. I have to climb 43 steep stairs from the bottom of the curb to our front door and the Ziploc/Iris design was by far the most comfortable to hold and lift under this sort of duress.

Neither the Ziploc or Sterilite top picks have exhibited any structural issues; both have been stacked and thrown against the floor (accidentally) during that arduous move and only show the most modest of scratches expected. They’re now just in the garage or storage unit below our home (additionally like the Ziploc seal because it provides extra insurance from spiders, earwigs, and other bugs from making homes inside). I think the big test will be during the winter when humidity comes into play.

The Rubbermaid Actionpacker was a pain to carry during the move-in, but its capacity during the process made it invaluable. As mentioned earlier, the shallow grips are a weak point in the design, and I wish they offered deeper finger wells for a secure hold.

The easiest way to keep these clean are a brush-tipped shop vac with an occasional wipe down. When I found some stains or marks that didn’t wipe off I used a Magic Sponge, which did well to even remove light scuffs.

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How we picked what to test

Despite their presence in nearly every American home, plastic storage bins get surprisingly little attention in terms of professional reviews. But our experts overwhelmingly steered us toward Sterilite, noting the brand’s easy availability and their affordable bulk prices, followed by Rubbermaid and The Container Store bins as other options. Additionally, we visited Home Depot, Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Container Store, Target, Walmart, and a local hardware store in person to inspect a selection of models firsthand to become acquainted with materials, ergonomics, and feature quality beyond online and interview recommendations. This research proved extremely important since some of features noted by organizers—sliding doors, flap door lids, drawers, and wheels—felt cheap and prone to breakage when inspected in person. We eliminated almost all models with any of these add-on features, believing the convenience did not make up for their potential to break easily. We also passed on models designed for food storage, and under-bed storage designs. The bins we chose to test are your basic two-piece combos: the tub, lid, latches, and not much else.

There seems to be a plastic storage bin designed to hold just about anything you can imagine. But take heed: Avoid the temptation to automatically assume a “bigger is better” strategy. Sure, it seems more efficient to load up a few large capacity plastic bins instead of using numerous smaller models. But the truth is it’s all too easy to lose your grip or pull a back muscle while straining to lift and carry a fully loaded bin, something I unfortunately experienced firsthand while repeatedly lifting and carrying our largest 140-quart Rubbermaid ActionPacker during testing.

Our upgrade pick’s larger version, the 74-quart Iris Weathertight Box, is about the largest size and capacity I’d recommend if you plan to single-handedly load, carry, and store heavy items like books. Measuring 23.6 by 17.8 by 14.5 inches, the Iris is impressively capacious; in our tests, it held a full payload of 17 medium-size cookbooks, seven graphic novels, four field guides, 12 DVDs, and one small stuffed animal. Picking up the load was possible, but doing so required careful attention to form, like I was deadlifting at the gym. I found myself requiring a breather after carrying the Iris up and down a flight of stairs, but it was just the right size to always maintain a steady grip. Any larger, and I think I would have needed help or lightened the load.

You probably wouldn’t want to go much smaller than the 30-quart size, like our Sterilite pick. We edited out models below 27 quarts, because these smaller models tended to use thinner plastic, and they usually lacked locking latches, which we felt were essential to keeping contents secure (and, obviously, they can’t fit much). With its manageable dimensions of 18.13 by 11.5 by 12.25 inches, our 30-quart pick never felt challenging to hold, lift, or carry, even when filled to the max. And still, there was enough room inside to pack a pretty good bit away—14 large-size hardback books could easily fit inside. Plus, this size could easily fit stacked in most closets (even, possibly, on an overhead shelf), whereas the larger 74-quart bins would be better suited to storage in an open corner of a basement, garage, or attic. In the end, the most important thing is to consider your own strength, and what you intend to keep inside, when figuring out where your needs fall in this basic 30- to 74-quart range.

At any size, handle-locking seals are always preferable to cheaper seam-sealing lids. In fact, the better models, like our top picks, are almost always equipped with carry-and-latch locking handles—these are the type of handles that rotate into position and click to lock shut. The best handles in our tests were larger, smooth, and rounded without any discernible sharp seams or edges that would catch on your hands. Carrying lighter loads, grip comfort can be overlooked. But load a plastic bin with several pounds of books, paper, or other heavier items and try carrying it from one floor to another and these small sharp edges become very annoying.

Storage bins often end up in semi-outdoor or uninsulated spaces, like garages, attics, and basements, where they’re subjected to less than ideal temperature, humidity, and air quality. They need to stay sealed shut, so we paid special attention to the fit and finish of their lid and latch locks. We looked for both tactile and auditory cues indicating a seal was properly made, along with extra foam or rubber gasket to help secure a seal. The best plastic storage bins, which are ready long-term storage and require infrequent access, usually have thicker polypropylene or polyethylene walls, with tub bottoms and lids designed to interlock for vertical stacking. We chose to test both clear and opaque models, because there are circumstances when content visibility would (and also would not) be desirable. Good products can have additional material added to stress points, like honeycomb or diamond patterns reinforcing the lid and bottom sides.

Taking all these features into consideration, we had an initial selection of 21 candidates. After weeding out bins with immediate and obvious durability issues, our test lineup was reduced to the 11 models listed below. The first four are middleweight contenders, the last seven are our heavy-duty picks:

How we tested

In an ideal world, plastic storage bins are packed and organized with the thoughtful planning and care of a Smithsonian archivist. The reality is plastic storage bins are usually stuffed haphazardly and to full capacity, often in a hurry, and used in situations ranging from office document storage, in children’s rooms for toys, for transporting stuff in a move, as seasonal closet annexes, or for hauling camping gear out of a garage. They’re the MacGyver of storage accessories, and they live rough lives.

To cover the typical demands of plastic storage bins, we devised several stress and ergonomics tests covering the most basic of requirements of what we believe make for the best all-purpose storage models:

  • Move & Carry: To determine handle comfort, ergonomics, and tensile strength of the bin, we lifted and moved 25 pounds of books across approximately 100 feet.
  • Lid Security: We stuffed each bin just beyond max capacity using pillows to observe how secure the lid latches perform under pressure.
  • Stacking Design: We stacked bins to observe stability on top of each other, looking specifically at the fit between the top of a lid and the bottom of the next bin.
  • Weather Sealing: To simulate a flood, we placed bins in several inches of water in a shallow pool, weighed the lids down, and sprayed the sides and top with hose water for one minute.
  • Drop Test: We dropped empty bins from 6 feet onto concrete to observe durability.
A cheap kiddie pool was used to simulate a flooded basement.

A cheap kiddie pool was used to simulate a flooded basement.

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Our final test was perhaps the most fun … and destructive. Halfway up from atop a set of outdoor stairs, we dropped each bin from a height of 6 feet onto hard concrete below. Some bounced harmlessly, while others didn’t fare as well, cracking and marring with visible scuff marks. The worst performers cracked so violently their lids fell off, the remnants left only suitable for throwing into the trash bin afterward.

Competition

Staples Stor-n-Slide File Tote ($30): During tests simulating use in a home office, this clear model performed marvelously. You could stack several of them high and securely because of its five circular feet underneath, each with a matching round indent receptacle on the lid top. The rounded feet made it easy to push and pull the Staples tote across carpeting or hardwood floors when we had to move them out of the way. It also just feels well made, with thick plastic construction and no sharp edges on the grips. After all the indoor testing I thought it was going to be one of our finalists. It was when we took it outdoors—which, to be fair, is clearly not the intended use of a “file tote”—the 5 feet became an Achilles’ heel. During the water test, small holes at the bottom where the feet snap into place let an inch of water leak in (and this was the only model to allow more than a few drops inside). The lid also cracked when tossed, resulting in a broken seal between the lid and bin, a big disappointment considering the Stor-n-Slide doesn’t come cheap. If used only indoors for its intended purpose, storing file paperwork and office supplies, this Staples brand model can work—but it doesn’t even have any hanging folder tracks or other file-y details, and you could get a cheaper, tougher bin that could do just as well.

Sterilite 27-Gallon Industrial Tote ($20): The cavernous 108-quart-capacity, space-efficient straight-walled design, beefy red latched handles, and deep well lid for stacking make this an option for certain situations: It’s very big, so you shouldn’t plan on moving it around when loaded, and the sides are a solid color, so you won’t be able to see the contents. The channeled design across the lid and along the sides suggests these totes are meant to be secured with bungee cords, which may be a good idea—one of our test unit’s locking latches broke off. As for the finish, there were too many bothersome sharp edges all along the lid and grips, which made it easy to scrape yourself while lifting heavier loads. Sterilite’s Industrial Tote is much cheaper than the ActionPacker, but it’s also softer, thinner, and generally less beefy and tough. If you don’t plan to take it on an outdoor adventure, it could work as storage for larger items in a garage or basement.

HDX 32-Quart Clear Container: Our most memorable victim of the drop test, the HDX died a dramatic death, jettisoning its lid, exploding bits of plastic, and cracking into an unsalvageable mess when container met concrete. But before the final drop test the HDX scored well in the ergonomics department, equipped with a very secure lid and latch top which seemed to improve its grip the more we stuffed it with pillows. A channel wrapping around the lip of the interior is a welcome detail, creating a tight seal between lid and bin, with the small gap adding another barrier against wayward water when sprayed from the side or upward. The honeycomb-patterned bottom and deep lid pattern designed for stacking gives the HDX Clear Container  excellent lateral stability, sort of like the grippy texture of a sneaker’s sole. If you’re planning to stack high, the HDX bins are among the most secure. Note: This exact model became unavailable online at Home Depot during the course of testing; it may be available in-store, and, as an alternate, there is a similar all-black model.

Container Store 70-Quart Stor-It-All ($19): The all-black design seems to hint that these are made for the garage and shed storage. And indeed, you could stuff this nearly 18-gallon-capacity model with gardening tools or sporting goods easily. But the Stor-It-All also scored well when stuffed with a trio of throw pillows and a folded blanket to test its capacity and lid security, attributed to a locking handle incorporated onto the lid, instead of attached to the base. This feature made it easier to engage the locking mechanism by pushing downward instead of locking upward like other models when overstuffed with soft goods. Online reviews praise the Stor-It-All for being tough and capable of storing/supporting plenty of weight, from keeping a contractor’s supply of paints in check, storing food preservation equipment, to the somewhat mysterious claim of it holding “the weight of 100+ pounds of armor on it” without issue. Unfortunately this reinforced construction unit is marred by an uncomfortable handle grip, with sharp edges that can dig into fingers while lifting heavier loads. These models also have a sharp taper from the opening down to the bottom, which means less available storage space at the base of the bin. Though not as large or as heavy as the Rubbermaid ActionPacker, it is more suitable for stacking in multiples (and it’s available in other smaller sizes for modular groupings). Be careful, though, as an unusually glossy finish on the lid makes it a bit too easy for other bins to shift around on top.

Sterilite 27-Quart Clear View Latch Box ($45 for six, or about $6.50 each): Meant to hold smaller items like paperback books, paper, stationery, and collectibles, the low priced and widely available Sterilite is a bit like a gossipy frenemy: loose-lipped and thin-skinned. It’s budget polypropylene strains visibly when taxed whether filled with hardcover books or the plush pressure of pillows, while hard-to-grip and flimsy handles further reveal its bare-bones quality. That all said, the latch mechanism did okay at keeping the lid on tight—but it did flex visibly upward when under pressure.

Iris 54-Quart Stack-N-Pull Box ($9): Almost immediately, it was evident that the Stack-N-Pull was going to be trouble. Loaded with books, the box bowed and flexed as we walked across the room. And when stuffed with three pillows and a blanket, the lid threatened to pop off at any given moment, with the cheaply constructed latches barely hanging on. The nail in the coffin was when one of the handles popped off while simply moving the Iris around (disqualifying it from the water test). This model is sold at Staples, and you should skip it.

Sterilite 25-Gallon Ultra Tote ($16): Even when empty, we noticed the lid and container of this all-blue tote warping due to its thin plastic construction. We definitely wouldn’t recommend stacking these except with lighter loads (the lid offers a secure stacking fit, but the tensile durability of the lid itself guarantees the top will dip inward with any weight. Tensile distortion was even evident when stuffed with soft goods, so its advisable to skip this model and upgrade to the superior Sterilite 27-Gallon Industrial Tote, the $20 bin (sold four for $80) we reviewed earlier in the competition section.

Wrapping it up

If you need to store small items in a set of bins that perform well and don’t cost much, you can’t beat the Sterilite 30 Quart Ultra Latching Storage Box, sold as a six pack for $37. And if you need to step up to something bigger, tougher, and more secure, you can pay a little extra for the Iris Weathertight Box or the smaller Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box, a pair of nearly identical six-latch bins that beat everything else we tested. Last, for anyone who wants an extremely big, tough bin that can keep a set of supplies safely stored and ready for easy transport, the 35-gallon Rubbermaid ActionPacker is an awesome 140-quart product that’s unlike any other plastic bin available.

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Originally published: April 8, 2015

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