The best trash can is the one that makes tossing garbage easy and replacing bags painless. After spending more than 60 hours researching 70 trash cans, then testing 15 of them, we’ve found that the Simplehuman Rectangular Step Trash Can is still the best trash can for those everyday tasks in most kitchens.
It makes fitting, hiding, and removing a standard trash bag easier than all other cans we’ve seen, its lid opens more smoothly than any competitor’s step can, it’s far easier than others to clean out after bag breaks and spills, and it’s truly airtight, unlike most of the competition. For those reasons, and more, we think a nearly flawless trash can that makes a very regular task much easier is worth about $100.
Still, that cost, and the stainless steel finish and the ample size may not work for everybody. For less than half our top pick’s price, Simplehuman’s Slim Step Can gives you some of the same stability and gentle lid-lowering as our pick, but with a shape that works better in small kitchens, and it’s the only can we found with a locking lid. You will have to put in a small amount of effort to get a tight, no-show bag fit, and the lid can potentially be opened too fast, nicking a nearby wall or surface. There are a few crevices you have to work around in cleaning the inside, but none too frustrating. It’s a good can for the price and looks a lot better than those other cans in its price category, too.
If your budget is very tight, or if the Slim Step Can’s long, narrow rectangular shape doesn’t fit your space, the Rubbermaid Step-On Wastebasket opens up and holds in trash bags neatly and efficiently, for less than $30. The Rubbermaid’s snap-in hinges ably hold down trash bags in the oval opening. The pedal/lid mechanism prevents you from flinging the lid open as fast as with the Slim Step Can, or most of the competition. That also prevents the lid from rebounding at the top of its arc and coming back down too hard, and that’s better than most cans we’ve tested around this price level. The drawbacks: There is no removable liner, it’s neither airtight nor dog-proof, the black or gray plastic design won’t win any awards, and stains require a spray solution to clean up.
We previously recommended the Hefty Touch Lid 13.3 Gallon Trash Can as our budget option, and as a non-foot-pedal alternative. We’ve changed our thinking; most people want to avoid touching any part of a trash can with their hands, especially around its lid. Some homes do better with a small under-sink trash can, for which we have a recommendation.
Also new for this 2015 update, we tested sensor cans—and found that they created more annoyances in holding and replacing trash bags than they solved with their not-at-all-perfect automatic lids.
Note: If you’re looking for a smaller trash can, such as one you can put under a sink or inside a cabinet door, or a small waste can for a room other than your kitchen, we have a guide to The Best Small Trash Cans
Our criteria for a great trash can has changed since we first picked and tested trash cans in mid-2014. We realized, after a year of using our trash can picks, that beyond the functions of the trash can itself, perhaps even more important is how your trash can works with your trash bag.
That is, after all, a trash can’s primary job: to collect trash, to hold it inside a bag without tipping, smelling, or letting that bag slip down into the can, and allow for that bag to be quickly cinched up and pulled out. We dismissed cans that let the bags slip in when the trash got heavy. For our 2015 update, that was a major concern that had less weight in the previous version.
As part of that functional focus, we aimed for trash can sizes that roughly matched up with the most common US trash bag sizes: 10 gallons (38 liters) and 13 gallons (49 liters). That matches up with research from HomeWorld Business suggesting that most of the roughly $340 million spent on trash cans in 2014 fell in to that kitchen size. Smaller, 25- to 35-liter cans and cans with recycling features are increasing their share, however, and we will consider them in a future update.
We also narrowed our focus to cans that don’t require you to touch the can with your hands. In other words: We think step cans, those with lids that open with a foot press, are the best for most households. After rotating trash cans into duty in both an office and a home, we realized that one so often has their hands dirty, or full, that most people should avoid cans that require touching the can to open. That meant dismissing swing-top, fold-in, button-release, open, and butterfly-style cans. Instead, we sought cans with lids that opened and closed smoothly with a convenient pedal, could be kept open for long cleaning jobs, and would not damage walls or other surfaces if opened with great force.
A trash can doesn’t have to look like a luxury appliance to earn our respect, but it can’t be a total eyesore. More than appearance, it should be able to continue looking good after being put through regular use. We avoided cans that were overly stylized or patently boring or ugly, or seemed impossible to care for over the long haul.
Even securely held bags can break, tear, or leak inside a trash can, and we wanted to ensure no trash can was too punishing to clean out inside. We hoisted each can up onto a kitchen counter to wash it with a sink sprayer, and reached inside each can with cleaning spray and paper towels, noting crevices or angles inside the can (usually at the bottom) where it was hard to pick up everything.
As was the case in 2014, there is little research in this category available outside the industry, or in publications. We found a 2004 Slate feature, a 2005 MetaFilter thread, a brief Real Simple overview in 2012, and a lot of revenue-focused guides on design and home-goods blogs. Lacking easy waypoints, we narrowed a field of 80 contenders across two years down to a handful of competitors to test.
After seeing hundreds of positive reviews for sensor-based automatic trash cans, we decided to give them a try. The category has had a chance to mature for a while, having been around a few years. And these infrared-based cans have also settled at prices below that of premium step trash cans, around $75. Mostly, we wanted to see just how magic the opening mechanisms felt after more than a few cursory hand-waves on a store demo unit.
We do know that cans with side-by-side or otherwise adjoined recycling bins are increasingly popular, through HomeWorld Business research and comments from our readers. While most of our picks could be easily converted to recycling duty, we intend to research this category more fully in a future update.
We put five cans, along with our prior picks, through a series of tests and close observations, aiming to replicate the day-to-day use and abuse of a trash can in a kitchen or high-traffic area.
We fit several 10- and 13-gallon trash bags onto each can. We dumped another bag filled with 20 pounds of cat litter and 4 liters of water into that bag, then dropped an additional 10 pounds and 2 liters inside to see if the can would let the bag slip down inside. We then pulled those bags with their 30 pounds and 6 liters out through the can, to see if anything caught or got in the way of removal.
We filled a turkey baster with orange juice, coffee, and milk and dripped the liquids along the can’s lid and walls to see how sugary/acidic liquids, dark fluids, and fats and proteins would stain the cans’ exteriors, and what it took to remove those stains.
We saw in online reviews, and in our comments, that the infiltration of fruit flies and curious dogs was a dealbreaker in some households. We needed to see how airtight our tested cans were against letting in bugs and letting out odors, and how secure a can and lid could be against canines. That led us to pan-grill chopped-up hot dogs and drop them into each trash can, re-grilling before each test. We then left the lid open for two to three seconds, allowing a 35-pound dog (a puggle) to catch the scent. That dog then sniffed around the can and tried to knock it over and get it open. For those wondering, this particular puggle did not hesitate in trying to get into the trash can, even while its owner stood just a few feet away, holding a camera.
To ensure you could use this can during cooking without letting trash fall outside the can, we scraped potato chunks and peels off of the Sweethome’s cutting board pick into the mouth of each can. We observed how easy each can would be to clean, looking for tough-to-reach crevices. We pressed each pedal with a variety of forces and from different angles, at different distances from a wall to see if a swiftly opening lid could bang the walls and could damage your paint.
The Simplehuman Rectangular Step Trash Can does the best job of securely fitting standard kitchen trash bags, holding onto them when they get heavy, and offering them up for removal. You’re going to do this job a lot, and a lot of things can go terribly wrong; it’s important that a can help you get this right, week after week. Beyond that, the Simplehuman’s pedal is smoother and firmer than any other we’ve tested. The removable bucket is far less complicated to clean than one-piece cans. This can is actually airtight, an uncommon thing among kitchen trash cans, which prevents odors from getting out and insects from getting in. It sits sturdy enough and the lid locks securely enough to keep out the curious dogs in our test. It is wide and square enough to accept scraps directly from a cutting board or large bowl and can stay open for longer clean-up jobs. The exterior looks as nice and dignified as any garbage container can hope to, and quickly cleans up from stains. The pedal has a five-year warranty, and replacement parts, a rarity for trash cans, are readily available.
If you pull up the bucket from this can and then place it partially back inside (shown above), you can then cinch a drawstring trash bag around the mouth of the bucket, tuck the excess string into a hole in the back of the bucket, and place the bucket back inside. The bag fit is tight and strong, and will not show outside the can. You can do this with four-corner or twist-tie bags, too, but you’ll lose some bag space and the fit won’t be as tight. Even after it took on our 20 pounds of cat litter, wet with 4 liters of water, this can held onto a Hefty bag with no problem.
When it’s time to remove a full bag, you don’t have to yank the bag out by its drawstring and potentially break it, as with some other cans. Pull the inner bucket back out, gather up the top of the bag, and then pull as gently as you need to―or, if pulling a really heavy or overstuffed bag seems dicey, bring the whole bucket to your trash drop. It takes a few trials to get the rhythm right, but it’s a much better solution than the flimsy plastic rings included on two sensor cans we tested, or the unstable bag-hiding inner lids on other step cans. And the payoff is never having to figure out what to do with a ripped-open trash bag inside a heavy trash can.
The foot pedal on the Rectangular Step Can is designed for 150,000 steps, or 20 steps a day for 20 years. It’s good marketing copy, but it’s also something you can feel. Nothing slams, clicks, or suddenly gives way when you’re opening this lid. The internal air-pressure damper leaves the lid open long enough for you to get your trash into the bin and get your hands clear easily. This Simplehuman can has survived one and a half years as the main trash can of a coworking space with a dozen regular members and a good number of meetings and events. Its pedal action is as smooth and even as when the can was first out of its box. If something were to go wrong with the pedal, it would likely be covered under a five-year warranty (10 years, if you opt for the model with a stainless steel lid).
When a trash bag breaks or leaks, the Simplehuman’s interior bucket is the easiest to clean of any kitchen trash can. It’s a simple black plastic rectangle you pull out, spray down with cleaner or your sink sprayer, dry, and replace. Most one-piece kitchen trash cans are much more awkward to clean inside: You have to reach inside or hoist up the entire assembly, keep the lid open, and clean around some odd-shaped indents at the bottom that house the pedal hardware or wheels. If the Simplehuman’s bucket ever became so soiled you couldn’t use it, you could replace it for $35. The bottom of the can itself has a small ringed lip that will catch a bit of detritus over time, but it is so minor that you’ll be able to take care of it with some cleaning spray and a good shake of the can.
The seal between the lid and the bucket is airtight on this Simplehuman can. Fruit flies are out of luck, and only the tallest, most persistent dogs that are left out at home will be able to get inside. Most cans have at least one spot where air can enter, usually at the hinge point in the top rear. Not so with the Simplehuman Rectangular: The single-piece lid lies flat on the can, and the lid is not easily raised by dog noses.
The shape of the Rectangular Step Can allows it to sit flush against walls or against corners. This also allows for a cutting board loaded with scraps or a wide bowl to be easily emptied into the bucket. If you need to keep the lid open for larger clean-up jobs, a small red switch in the rear right corner keeps the lid firmly in place. Other cans sometimes allow you to raise the lid past its opening point to temporarily stay up, only to come right back down with a slight bump. Not so with the Rectangular Step.
We let our sample streaks of orange juice, coffee, and milk sit on the Rectangular Step Can for 36 hours. All three streaks came out entirely, using just a paper towel dampened with water.
The look of this Simplehuman is modern and upscale, but somewhat unassuming. Many cans look similar to it, only because Simplehuman has pulled the industry into its orbit. The 38-liter size we recommend comes in two versions: a plastic lid with a standard stainless steel finish, or a stainless steel lid with a fingerprint-proof finish (and five more years of warranty coverage) for about $30 more. We don’t think the upgrade is necessary. The plastic lid is more resistant to dents than a plate of thin stainless steel. And after more than a year of use in a coworking office, with rare cleanings, fingerprints were not a noticeable blight. You do, after all, step to open this can, so your hands are usually nowhere near it.
Note: While we specifically recommend the 10-gallon, 38-liter version of the Rectangular Step Can with a plastic lid and five-year warranty, you might consider whether a smaller 8-gallon/30-liter or larger 13-gallon/50-liter size would work better for your home. Both are available only with stainless steel lids and fingerprint-proof finishes (and 10-year warranties). But they have the same recommended features: removable bucket, dependable step function, and easy cleaning. We found that a 10-gallon can took a two-adult household through a week’s worth of trash with only one bag change.
There are small grip areas on both sides of the removable bucket, on which particles or liquids may gradually accumulate. There is also a small gap between the bucket and the surface, into which some gunk may fall. Neither gap has added up to more than a few swipes of a towel, or a quick shake of the can, after more than a year of regular use. The back of the lid may also attract dirt over time; this, too, varies with use, but is also solved with a few quick-cleaning swipes.
Because this can closes more snugly than other cans, tossing hot, damp items into the trash may result in some condensation accumulating on the lid. It goes away eventually, and it’s not really a problem, although over time it leads to streaks on the inside of the lid. This is an inherent trade-off of containing smells and keeping insects at bay. We recommend letting your coffee filters sit and cool off for a while before you toss them.
The bag-fitting features of the Rectangular Step Can work best with drawstring bags. If you are completely opposed to that style of garbage bag, this can will still work for you, but with a bit more work required to get the bag snugly around the bucket lid, with excess tucked away.
We’ve seen a few reports of dents to this can, specifically on the lid, on both Simplehuman’s own site and Amazon. Denting is something of a fact of life with stainless steel goods. Still, if you opt for the stainless steel lid, you will need to ensure nothing heavy is stationed above and nearby.
The Simplehuman Rectangular Step Trash Can we first tested in mid-2014 is holding up well after more than two years of significant duty as the main trash can of a 10-to-20-person coworking space. Its step remains solid, its steel and plastic surfaces still look nearly new after cleanup, and all its pieces function well. The newest versions of the Rectangular Step Can have a flush lid and a new internal hinge design; we’ll be testing this model to see if it can hold on as our top pick.
For less than half the cost of our main pick, Simplehuman’s Slim Step Can (10.5 gallons/40 liters) gives you similar stability, a unique locking lid, a look that belies its price, and a size that works well in smaller kitchens. It doesn’t hide or hold bags quite as easily, and it’s more of a chore to clean than our top pick. Its lid, while smooth in coming down, can be flung up too fast, or sometimes off the can, by strong stomps. But for the price, it stands up quite well to the rigors of trash duty. Three people who have used it for more than a year in their kitchens have no major complaints.
The long (19 inches) and narrow (10 inches) shape gives this can more than the ability to fit in compact kitchens. Because it opens at its narrow front, the long depth gives it more stability when it is pressed open, even with little weight inside. Nearly every other round plastic trash can we tested could be knocked over with just vigorous foot-pedal pressing. The wide sides (assuming you can approach it from a side) actually make for easier off-loading of a cutting board or dustpan than with our main pick.
While the Slim Step Can doesn’t provide any specific bag holding, hiding, or excess-tucking features, the wide rectangle of the can’s mouth seems to hold drawstring bags fairly well. Two friends who have this can buy “whatever kitchen bags they have” at Home Depot and a Price Rite grocery store. Both report that their bags cinch just-so inside the notched rim of the bucket, without having to tie off the bag and with no excess showing outside the can.
The hand-snapped locking latch on the front of this can, the only one of its kind in our test, should keep dogs and kids out, even if they knock it over. You won’t accidentally lock it, as it’s a fairly firm latch. But your mileage, as with all things dogs and kids, may vary.
While Simplehuman does put its “lid shox” dampered-opening mechanism on this trash can, the steel pedal doesn’t feel quite as stable as the one on the Rectangular Step Can. The lid can be opened quite rapidly by the pedal, and if really stomped, the top of the lid can hit a wall quite hard. The can itself, too, can be moved on its wheels with a hard press, possibly knocking the hinge back against the wall. Most plastic-lid cans similarly suffer from sudden pedal stomps; the difference with this can is that the closing is smoother.
You can leave the lid open if you gently lift up on it while the foot pedal is depressed. The lid may fall if the can is bumped or the pedal pressed, but it works in a pinch.
A few small demerits: Unlike with the Rectangular Step Can, the hinge on this model will not work well when placed directly against a wall. A small hinge in the back of the can could be a problem for fruit-fly–prone spaces. And the inside of the can has some bumps and notches that are somewhat annoying to clean around.
Rubbermaid’s Step-On Wastebasket stands out among trash cans costing less than $30. For one thing, it is still a relatively sturdy and balanced step can at that price. More than anything, though, the Rubbermaid Step-On locks trash bags into place, making it easy to hide and remove bags, and it (probably) will keep you from overfilling them. If Simplehuman’s Slim Step Can doesn’t fit your space, and a $100 trash can doesn’t fit your budget, the Rubbermaid may meet your needs.
Rather than use a floating or removable bag-holding rim, the Rubbermaid Step-On embeds retracting handles into each side, which you latch into place with your bag tucked around and under them. This works well with drawstring bags, and still works, with a bit more fuss, with other bag styles.
Beyond that, the Rubbermaid is a solid, if not standout, plastic trash can. It’s wide enough (17 inches wide, 14 inches deep) if you need to scrape off a cutting board, or empty a dustpan, bowl, or bucket. The black model hides stains well, but to actually clean it off, you need some kind of cleaning solution; water won’t do. It stands up well enough on its own, though there’s a chance you could tip it, if it’s nearly empty and free-standing, with a hard step. A gap in the rear hinge allows a small amount of air in, which could invite fruit flies. And while it wasn’t knocked over by my dog during smell-and-open testing, it likely would have given way if I’d left the dog home alone with this can.
We previously recommended a Hefty Touch Lid 13.3 Gallon Trash Can as a cheap and non-foot–pedal option. We’ve changed our thinking, however, especially after finding a reasonably reliable step can for about $10 more. We used the Hefty Touch for a year as a recycling bin at a coworking space, and the hinge that holds down the lid has worn somewhat, making the lid easier to accidentally open. A survey of Wirecutter and Sweethome staffers found that most of them would opt for step cans, while a few would keep an open can in a closet. Almost nobody wanted to expose themselves to touching their garbage cans regularly.
Umbra’s Brim step can was nearly our budget step can pick. It comes in three colors, has a responsive pedal action, and aims for a more upscale look than its sub-$40 price. In testing, the pedal on this can was harder to clean around when stained with liquids. The can allowed our dog to easily smell treats inside and knock it over within five minutes. Wirecutter editor Nick Guy thought the faux metal on the lid drew unnecessary attention to its plastic design. But if you disagree, it’s not a bad budget pick.
A 45-liter butterfly step can may work for some narrow kitchen spaces. We saw in 2014 that the can had tough crevices for cleaning, that scraping things into this design is tricky, and at $135 on Amazon, it just doesn’t seem worth the extra cost for most.
For this 2015 update, we tested two sensor-based (“touchless”) automatic-open cans: iTouchless Deodorizer 13-gallon can and Nine Stars 13.2-gallon model. We did, despite our inherent doubts about cans that: require three or four C or D batteries to work; may not be easy to open when batteries are low or empty; and have not received great press. Even in recommending a Nine Stars can that he “loves,” Wirecutter’s head of digital product Andy Cheatwood touted that the motorized lids are sold separately, so that “when the lid breaks, I just buy another one.” This happens “every year or two,” Cheatwood said. Battery life seems to vary greatly: Some get around 6 months, others nearly 3 years. But people who own them like them, based on thousands of Amazon reviews.
Each of the sensor cans had significant problems. First off, the mechanized “heads” are heavy and cumbersome to remove when it’s time to take out a bag. The metal bucket of the Nine Stars can bent at its seam after just one week’s kitchen use, such that its bag-holding ring and lid were tricky to fit on top. The “ring” on the iTouchless can is more annoying than helpful. The Nine Stars can came completely clean from liquid stains, but a lip at its bottom collected remnants of juice that you can’t remove. The finish of the iTouchless can shows discolored outlines of stains long after cleanup. Finally, the design of the iTouchless lid was such that dumping out dustpans or cuttings boards required some angling.
For someone with trouble working a foot pedal, these cans may be worth trying. The motion-sensing opening did mostly work, although the 5 to 10 percent of miscues and false positives grated on us after two weeks. Most people should pass on these cans until the style matures a bit.
A new model of Simplehuman can (in plastic or steel) emphasizes the company’s custom-fit liners by punching out a slot in the back of the can, through which you can pull a new bag. These Simplehuman liners are thick and capable, but cost about twice as much as standard kitchen trash bags, which usually do the job fine. What’s more, if you decide not to use Simplehuman’s liners and don’t keep them stocked in that slot, you have an actual hole in the back of your trash can.
This is not ideal for most households. The can itself, while having a wider step and less of a lip showing between lid and bucket, is not a marked improvement over the standard Rectangular Step we recommend. The steel can we tested also seemed to have its bag-holding inner lid raise and lower with each pedal press.
A close runner-up to the Slim-Step pick in 2014 was the plastic 45-liter Rectangular Step Trash Can. But stepping on this can when it was nearly empty moved it quite a bit. It had the same slightly loose hinge as the slim black can, just without the other benefits. Fitting a standard bag on this can also left a lot of bag showing. The same downsides applied to the 50-liter/13-gallon Semi-Round Step Trash Can tested in 2014, but the semi-round shape takes up more precious kitchen space.
Brabantia’s 50-liter Touch Waste Bin in solid steel won best-in-upper-class mentions from Slate and Real Simple. It is a nice-looking can, slightly heftier than a Simplehuman, and the push-button operation is smooth and steady. We found in 2014 that the semi-round opening isn’t the easiest to work with, though, and the bottom of the can has a perimeter crevice that is all but impossible to clean with a sponge. The price is more than you need to pay for a great trash can.
A 40-liter “touch bar” Simplehuman can was a promising non-step option in 2014, as it could theoretically be opened with a hip swivel. Trying to do this, though, resulted in a lot of can wobbling without guaranteed success. More significantly, this can’s lid flew off the top during one test, and picked up a scratch and dent on its top.
Among cheaper cans, we considered a well-reviewed swing-top model by Umbra and a few similar models in 2014. Swing-top cans, as mentioned, are inherently problematic once slightly full, or with odd-shaped trash. The IKEA FILUR bin isn’t even $15, but a Sweethome editor who owned one said it feels as cheap as it is; it’s also hard to stretch bags over its square edge. The Hefty is a few bucks more, but sturdier. There was an OXO trash can at Sears that was hard to find in stock at a retail store, and it now seems to have disappeared entirely.
Tramontina seems to make some interesting step cans, but as with some other Tramontina products sought in the US (like enameled Dutch ovens), finding a name-brand reseller that doesn’t charge painful shipping is tricky. Amazon reviewers have run into a few problems getting cans, or getting returns processed. If you eat only takeout and neatly enclose it in its container before tossing it away, a white plastic Sterilite step can might work for you. For the rest of us, it’s a non-starter, because it will look absolutely terrible after a few months of scraps, spills, and anything darker than milk.
In general, stores are stocked with four types of cans: cheap ones that are just plastic cylinders, Simplehuman cans, a white-label Simplehuman-esque step can, and a rare sensor-based can. The Simplehuman look-alikes at The Container Store, Home Depot, and a few other stores looked intriguing, but we ran into stock issues ordering test units, and none had even store-site reviews to match the Simplehuman cans. If we can get our hands on a few decent options, and suss out their availability, we will update this post.
If your Simplehuman can doesn’t have a fingerprint-proof finish, you can partly prevent fingerprints with some quick treatments. Use a tiny amount of baby oil, some Pledge, or a neutral cooking oil (one Sweethome editor used coconut oil), and apply a very, very light layer across your can’s surfaces. Then you just need a good quality chamois or microfiber cloth. It will eventually wear off, but you simply clean and re-oil.
If a bag breaks, or something slips into your can outside the bag, you need to hose that thing down: in your kitchen sink, if the can or liner allows, with a garden hose if not, or ultimately in a bathtub if nothing else works.
Then, follow BrightNest’s recommendations (which line up with Real Simple’s interview with a veteran cleaner) and decide on which level of stink and germ warfare you need: homemade disinfectant spray, vinegar, or an enzyme-based, pet-focused cleaner (we use Simple Solution in my one-dog, two-cats home). If you’ve had a particularly noxious leak, use bleach, cautiously, after hosing off any previously used cleaner with plenty of water.
Simplehuman’s Rectangular Step Can is the best can for making daily and weekly trash rituals painless and spill-free, and it looks pretty good in just about any kitchen. For those with smaller kitchens, tighter budgets, or who need to lock their trash against nosy dogs or kids, the Simplehuman Slim Step Can is a fine mid-range pick. The best step-can option we’ve seen for less than $40 is Rubbermaid’s Step-On Wastebasket, which still holds bags in place and cleans up fairly well, even if it doesn’t look half as nice or offer as smooth a pedal action as our higher recommendations.
Originally published: December 17, 2015