The Best Kitchen Trash Can
The best garbage can for your kitchen is the simplehuman Wide Step Rectangular Step Trash Can, in fingerprintproof stainless steel and a 10-gallon/38-liter size. It has the best balance of size, shape, features, durability, and cost out of the many, many cans we reviewed. It also has key features (a sturdy step, an easily removed liner, and a stay-open switch) that the competition lacks; it's worth the $115 price (give or take $20-$30, depending on your size needs).
But our pick is certainly not the cheapest. If you want a solid can and do not care about metal looks, the simplehuman 40-liter slim plastic step can is a can that should work in all but the most foot-slamming of homes; it will save you around $50-$80 beyond our top pick. It’s not as solidly heavy as our winner, and it’s not as easy to empty out and occasionally clean up, but it gets the job done.
And for very active spaces where trash goes out every day—or at least smelly stuff is rare and immediately tossed—the $120 simplehuman 50-L Slim Open Can looks nice and avoids the lid/step/close business entirely. Again, though, we must stress: this only works if you have a very particular kind of household: one that takes out trash daily or hardly ever throws out things that could smell. It’s the best version of an open can, but an open can is not for everyone.
Why don’t we have a specific runner up? simplehuman offers three kinds of rectangular step cans (“steel bar,” “wide-step rectangular,” and “rectangular”), each in different sizes (usually 30-liter/8-gallon, 38-liter/10-gallon, and 50-liter/13-gallon) and with some different finishes and options (white/brushed/fingerprintproof steel, sometimes with a plastic/steel lid difference). There are also “recycler” models that you should avoid.
We specifically recommend the 38-liter/fingerprintproof stainless/wide-step version. If you had trouble finding that specific can in stock at Amazon or your local store, you should not be afraid to change up finishes, lids, or switch from wide to regular step; none of these options invalidates the can’s appeal. We do not, however, recommend the added expense of the steel bar step.
Table of contents
- Who should buy this?
- How we picked and tested
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Step down
- Budget option
- Lidless cans
- Cans we trashed
- Care and maintenance
- Wrapping up
Who should buy this, and should I upgrade?
You probably have a kitchen garbage can already, unless you’re reading this on your phone on the first day of living in your new space. It’s a hollow object with a certain volume—what more do you need, right?
What might move you to improve your kitchen experience are all the little aggravations that arise with almost every garbage can—how you get scraps into the mouth of the thing, how well the lid stays open when you’ve got a lot to drop in, how successfully the can keeps smells in and dogs out, how easy it is to do the occasional interior cleaning, whether the can is sturdy and balanced, and how well a good kitchen trash bag fits in the thing.
Upgrading to our pick can solve all of these issues. We think it’s worth it for a kitchen item you use multiple times a day and that should last up to 12 years. Perhaps after a decade we’ll see sensors, brand-new battery technology, and home automation turn the trash can “smart;” in the meantime, our favorite garbage can will work smoothly and reliably for you.
How we picked and tested
In very brief summary, the Sweethome editors and I considered garbage cans mostly for how they did the job of containing your kitchen and household trash, and then, on a much lesser scale, how they looked while doing so.
A can should not dent, rust, or become a fingerprint magnet. It should hold a standard 13-gallon “kitchen” trash bag well. It should not knock over, but it should still be fairly easy to carry around.
Narrowing down size and shape was tough. Some households create enough refuse that trash bags must be taken out near-daily; some only make it out to the curb or parking lot once a week. Some kitchens have more than enough room for a free-standing, roughly 13-gallon square-shape can, while others need smaller cans with less floor commitment.
In the end, we aimed for a 40-liter volume and a 1.5-square-foot footprint, which we thought would be appropriate for most people.
A rectangular shape with an internal hinge that doesn’t require an extra inch of clearance against the wall seems to make the most sense for the most kitchens. Semi-round cans work so long as you have a section of open wall in just the right spot for trash tossing. Round cans, particularly retail cans made for households, take up good space without necessarily being easy to empty or move around. There is an occasional slim-profile can you might consider (one of which we tested), but generally, you want a rectangular can. Not only does it efficiently use its space, but it makes scraping and emptying scraps from rectangular cutting boards and dustpans easier than round or semi-round cans.
The criteria considered most heavily (and which spurred the longest arguments among writers and editors) is how one gets the can open.
Ideally, you want a can that could be opened without hands, though not one that prevents manual opening. The construction, tension, and durability of the hinge or levers is key, as is whether you can keep the thing open for multi-trip jobs. Most of us lean toward step-operated cans which allows for hands-free use, but a decent push-button or even open-top could have won us over, if the opening action became second nature over time.
Some styles got very short shrift in our initial reading and review sorting. Lids on swing-tops and fold-in cans get blocked when the bag is full. Swing-top and fold-in lids also collect germs and prevent use at their centers and edges, respectively.
Materials and finish are a matter of personal taste. In general, the stainless steel models provide a more sturdy, heavy base without retaining smell but can be prone to rust (if chipped) and dents; fingerprintproofing involves the same steel becoming coated at a premium. Plastic models clean up pretty easily but are easier to topple and can absorb odors over time.
I started my search with a hunt for other publications’ reviews of garbage cans. It turns out there really are not many at all.
The most comprehensive survey of trash or garbage cans came from Slate, but it came in 2004. Blog Apartment Therapy had an “annual guide” in 2012, but it is really just a big list of links to affiliate-coded products and prior content. RealSimple did an overview in 2012, but it was only a series of glances and there were some odd picks (although they affirm that sensor cans are not very good). There is, of course, a decent Ask Metafilter thread on the topic, but it dates to 2005.
I spoke with five chefs I knew in my city about their trash cans, but their line of work calls for huge, ugly cans that are, above all, sturdy and leak-proof. Those who deal with garbage professionally have their specialized containers and tools; we consumers are left to glean what we want from experience.
To compile my list, I had to turn to customer reviews at Amazon, Target, Home Depot, and other stores, and I asked friends and professionals in trash-generating fields. I found a general trend: the market is all but dominated, over a certain dollar amount (let’s say $45), by cans from simplehuman. There are maybe hundreds of cans under $50 and a handful of truly showpiece cans over $200, but almost every price point in the middle is held down by simplehuman, at almost every major retailer. But I read the reviews, gathered the SKUs, and gathered a list of roughly 50 cans.
Using customer reviews, the few published guides, and eliminating any cans with obvious problems, we narrowed it down to 8 cans that were widely available, with fairly middle-of-the-road options:
- simplehuman Bullet Open Can (50-liter, brushed stainless)
- simplehuman Slim Touch Bar Trash Can (40-liter, fingerprintproof)
- simplehuman Rectangular Step Trash Can (38-liter, fingerprintproof, wide-step)
- simplehuman Semi-Round Step Trash Can (50-liter, mocha brown)
- simplehuman Slim Plastic Step Can (40-liter, black)
- Brabantia Touch Trash Can (50-liter, stainless)
- Umbra Venti Polyproylene Swing-Top Waste Can (13-gallon)
- Hefty Touch Lid (beige, 13-gallon)
To test those cans, I pretended like I was a busy cook with some bad habits and really bad luck. I fitted our Glad Tall Kitchen Drawstring bag to the can or its liner and pretended I wasn’t neurotic about it. I created fake food scraps with shredded paper, wetting down half of them to make lumpy, runny messes. I ran a sponge around inside the cans, as if I’d had a bag break on a night when a lot of raw chicken was trimmed.
As for the steps on the step cans, I measured and observed what I could–the closure time, the likelihood of the lid to fly off or become detached if pressed too hard–and also had friends and coworkers test each can and gauge which can felt right, felt sturdy, felt like it might not be terrible to have to use that can every day. Those tests, plus long discussions about can merits with editors and picky friends, brought me to our pick.
It has a space-saving shape, a sturdy and smooth foot pedal, consistent lid movement, and a stay-open feature. The can looks good and stays clean while being able to fit both simplehuman-brand bags and standard bags well. This model comes highly recommended from people who felt compelled to recommend a trash can to me.
We recommend the 38-liter/10-gallon size for a standard 2-to-4-person household, but if your family generates more or less trash, you can easily scale up with the same basic product to 50 liters/13 gallons, or down to 30 liters/8 gallons.
This can, like all simplehuman cans, has a foot pedal that was designed for 150,000 steps, or 20 steps a day for 20 years. That sounds like marketing, but that pedal, along with the airflow-regulated internal damper, makes simplehuman pedals feel like no door, bike pump, or brake pedal you’ve ever pushed. The can opens and closes smoothly and quietly, and it stays open at the peak and closes slowly enough for most trash-dropping needs (even long kitty-litter pours). What’s more, the lid can stay open with the flick of a tiny red switch under the lid.
In asking about a dozen coworkers and acquaintances to step on the dozen cans I had assembled for testing, at least eight instantly claimed the rectangular step as the best and most obvious pick. One tester said he didn’t want to ever buy a stainless steel object again, but would consider an allowance for this can.
You probably know the simplehuman look: generally stainless, somewhat ultra-modern or maybe futuristic (depending on your kitchen’s other fixtures), but still somewhat unassuming. The can size we recommend comes in brushed stainless, fingerprintproof stainless, and, for the truly modern, white steel.
Because the can has a pull-out liner—one that is easy to grip where the can indents at the sides—you’re less likely to smudge anything since there’s really no need to ever touch the stainless steel, but if you have kids that like to grope things at their height, the fingerprintproof treatment will be worth the extra cost.
The plastic liner inside this can fits well and slides out easily, with no hinge springs or catches for your garbage bag to get snagged on. The liner has small vents that prevent vacuums, both when inserting a new trash bag and when dropping the liner back into the can.
Two sides on that liner also indent slightly; you might not realize it if you don’t read the tags, but that indent allows you to “park” the bucket almost halfway out of the can. That way, you can pull the bag off without having to lift the whole liner out. The liner is easy to clean out in the event of a bag break or handle-drop, and the vent holes are high enough to avoid most leaks. If you do have liquid leak, it’s not the easiest can bottom to clean, but you can get the job done with a kitchen sink sprayer.
The company encourages owners of the 38-liter step can to buy simplehuman’s own trash bags (the “J” size, in this case), which are supposed to fit better than generic bags. Simplehuman’s J liners cost about $0.31 cents per bag on Amazon (in the 50-count package that allows Prime shipping), just over twice the cost of our 15¢-per-bag Glad kitchen bag pick.
We are not fans of corporate subscriptions; even if you do like the simplehuman bags or know a cheap source for them, you will occasionally need to substitute a standard kitchen bag in a pinch. In our testing, the liner of the 38-liter can, with its hole for tucking bag excess, worked pretty well with a standard garbage bag, once we got a feel for pulling and tying off the drawstring. It’s not as easy as it is with non-liner cans, but then again, excess bag length doesn’t end up rolled around the exterior of the can.
Our pick’s reviews garner praise from relieved dog owners (“So brushed steel-y. So heavy duty. So… magnificent.”), from military base residents using standard/value bags, and from those now winning the war against pests. Some of the 4-star reviews second-guess the price of the can, and the 1-star and 2-star reviews tend to call out the can for not fitting standard bags (which, as noted, we didn’t find a problem with when using our Hefty bags). There are no 3-star reviews, notably enough; people either really like this can or really don’t. (Often, detractors discovered the can had a dent when it arrived off the truck; if it happens to you, just exchange it or get a refund.)
simplehuman, meanwhile, offers a 10-year warranty on their step cans (with terms), and has a somewhat deserved reputation for fast, satisfactory service and replacements. And when I asked a few thousand Twitter folks for recommendations, I got back mostly recommendations of this can or its larger or smaller cousins. People like to recommend this trash can.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
What’s wrong with simplehuman’s rectangular step can? A few things, mostly the flip sides of the good features.
When closed, the metal (or plastic) lid is very much flush with the lip of the can. That’s great for smell containment, but tricky if you somehow needed to open the can with your fingers in a tight spot or if the pedal was somehow blocked. We don’t think this would apply to most situations, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.
There’s a similarly tight fit between the liner and the interior of the can. Cleaning that space is a bit tricky because of the not-quite-finger-width crevices.
It’s true that you’d need to bring out the kitchen or garden hose for a really bad interior spill, but that’s true of many other cans. As noted, too, getting a standard bag to fit perfectly around the liner lid takes some getting used to. You don’t want to fill your bag to the very top, lest you knock things into that in-between space.
The pricing of the can is something that’s hard to get around: it’s not cheap. If you’re good with that, the other tricky part is the variations in the can. You won’t necessarily head out and find the exact can I’ve linked up in your store, or even want that exact model. You can buy a bigger or smaller can, a different finish, or even a plastic or metal lid. Given that the internals are the same on all the cans, you’re fine with whichever you buy; the difference is in aesthetics and fingerprints.
The step down
This slim can does better than a semi-round, round, or very light (and cheap) rectangle can precisely because of its narrow shape. The length gives it stability when opening, and its shape makes it fairly convenient to tuck alongside a counter or into a tight space between appliances. It retains the simplehuman look, and the color options should fit most kitchen aesthetics. It has an optional click-on lid lock in the front; some owners of heavier dogs on Amazon, however, wouldn’t bet their dinner scraps on it. And it has much the same smooth, sturdy foot pedal action as our top pick.
In testing, I found that while there’s no easy switch for keeping the lid open, simplehuman plastic cans have a kind of unintentional keep-open option. You press with the foot pedal to open, then gently hold open the lid while the internal plunger recedes. It’s not optimal, but worth it for multi-step kitchen maneuvers.
The slim, liner-less can also fits a 13-gallon trash bag well enough, and you can even keep a red drawstring from showing if you do a little tucking (though simplehuman’s own bags do fit a bit more snug and without showing). It holds in odors quite well, as attested to by a friend who uses one as his primary diaper can. It’s very easy to move around, given its light weight and two rear wheels, and the long side of its rectangular shape allows for fairly easy cutting board scraping and bag emptying.
As for the bottom, it has tight corners and raised surfaces that complicate cleaning the can itself in the event of a bag breaking or leaking.
The (ultra) budget option
Being a simple rectangular vessel, it is dead-simple to clean out if a bag breaks, it holds in smells surprisingly well despite its non-air-tight closure, and it is nearly impossible to dent in day-to-day life. Did I mention that it costs $14.47?
If you really just need a garbage can to just sit in a square in your kitchen, and looks are the last thing on your list of priorities, this can gets good reviews and has a surprisingly decent open/close mechanism. Only three of 86 Walmart reviewers noted problems with the lid, and one of them only noticed after two years of use. It feels durable enough to last a few years, although it does not feel as robust as a simplehuman can.
The biggest drawback is a set of four little molding or support notches at the bottom of the can–they are weirdly sharp, and they ripped a small hole a trash bag when I roughly dropped it halfway down the can again (somewhat simulating dropping something heavy in midway through the week). The handles on the sides of the can could be a bit bigger, too; as it is, there’s only enough room for fingertips.
Going topless (lidless cans)
In short: open cans only work where the trash is taken out every day or every other day, restaurant-style; or, conversely, where very little garbage is generated, and not much of it potentially smelly. That’s why simplehuman sells them as “commercial” cans. But for very active cooks who don’t want anything with hinges, an open can can be a time-saving, easy-disposal joy with fewer breakable parts.
The simplehuman “commercial” open can design–in 50-liter/13-gallon “slim”, 60-liter “bullet”, or 80-liter bullet–is a particularly good one. Amanda Hesser, cookbook author and Food52 co-founder, hipped me to the value of simplehuman’s open can: “It’s not unsightly, which is a big accomplishment in garbage can design. And we like that the top curves inward, which means no one is looking at garbage, and it’s easy to access in a busy kitchen like ours. For anyone who cooks often, having a garbage can with a swing top is useless–and almost always breaks.”
On an objective level, the 50-liter (13-gallon) slim open can I tested passed all of the objective tests I put the other cans through with flying colors. It’s flat on two sides, so it doesn’t eat as much space as a totally round can. The 14-inch opening on its wide side made trash scraping and dropping easy, and it fits a standard kitchen (13-gallon) bag fine, with all excess hidden under the removable lid. Even in the essential oil smell test, I didn’t find I could smell much unless I had my nose right up to the can.
But I have a dog and two cats, and friends with infants, and I abandon a lot of leftovers in the back of the fridge. I know that things can work up a smell, and that your creatures and nature’s pests get into things. There is also the same issue with the can’s bottom crevices, which are too tight for fingers around the edges (but wouldn’t be an issue when you’re not letting trash build up and get heavy). simplehuman’s open cans are great versions of an option that might work for a small percentage of people. They’re worth mentioning, even if most of you want to keep your garbage out of sight and its scents entirely out of the air.
The cans we trashed
We tested almost every distinct simplehuman can style, some cheaper options, and one trust-fund trash can. We could dismiss most of them.
There are variations on our winner: one with a three-way reinforced steel step bar, and another with a smaller area step (and plastic lid). Both are fine purchases, especially the brushed/plastic/smaller-step can. Me, I have size 12 feet, and I’m often coming at the trash can from the side, as I make fussy coffee next to it and need to toss out stuffed filters, so I like a wider step area.
But while the steel bar step wraps around the front and gives you even more side access, it’s not worth an additional $90 or so. The steel bar is supposedly engineered for an upgraded 20,000 steps and 20 years of use, but the warranty is the same (10 years). Buy some kitchen trash bags in bulk if you’re eager to spend the extra cash.
The closest runner-up to our picks was the plastic 45-liter rectangle step trash can. At $45, with the nice simplehuman step mechanism (and a wider step than the slim can), it seemed like a nice compromise against its steel-coated brethren. But stepping on this can when it was near-empty moved it quite a bit. It had the same loose lid hinge as the slim black can, just without the other benefits. Fitting a standard bag on this can left a lot of red/white trim showing.
The same exact downsides apply to the 50-liter/13-gallon semi-round step trash can, but the semi-round shape takes up more precious kitchen space.
The closest competitor to simplehuman’s mid-to-high-end models is the Brabantia brand. Brabantia’s 50-liter touch waste bin in solid steel won best-in-upper-class mentions from Slate and Real Simple. It is indeed a very nice-looking can, slightly heftier than a simplehuman, and the push-button operation is very smooth and steady. 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. Reviewers at Amazon and elsewhere note problems receiving dented cans; it does seem like its shiny-as-anything finish would give way to a kick, a counter, or any other notable impact. The $140 price is more than you need to pay for a great trash can, and the push button top just isn’t better than a hands-free step.
A 40-liter “touch bar” simplehuman can was promising in reading early reviews: it’s heavy in a solid way, it stays open, and it could theoretically be popped open with a hip swivel. Opening the can with a hip pivot or thigh press resulted in a lot of can-wobbling without guaranteed success. More significantly, within 10 minutes of having friends test its opening mechanism, this can’s lid flew off the top and picked up a scratch and dent on its top. The touch bar is going to need cleaning after any job that gets your hands dirty (basically, all of them). Nobody with any kind of mental germ aversion is going to want this can.
We tested a 45-liter butterfly step can, and somewhat instantly wondered what was the point. It could save you some space, if you could stash your can under a highcountertop, but you can’t keep the lid open without stepping on the can’s narrow side, the can underneath its liner has tough crevices, scraping, or dumping things into this design is very tricky, and at $135 on Amazon, it just doesn’t seem worth changing how you use a trash can.
Among cheaper cans, we considered a well-reviewed swing-top by Umbra and a few similar models (some I already had in use at a coworking space). Swing-top cans, as mentioned, are inherently problematic once slightly full, or with odd-shaped trash. The IKEA FILUR bin is only $13, but one Sweethome editor who owned said it feels as cheap as it is; it’s also hard to stretch bags over its square edge. The Hefty is $2 more, but sturdier. There was an OXO trash can at Sears that was very 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 U.S. (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 only eat take-out 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 plastic cans that are simply cans, simplehuman cans, a white-label simplehuman-esque step can, and a rare sensor-based can. The simplehuman knock-offs 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.
Care and maintenance
I believe the fingerprintproof finish is worth the money. But if your simplehuman can doesn’t have a fingerprintproof finish, you can actually prevent fingerprints yourself. 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. When the oil wears off and prints show up, clean your can about as often as you would normally have to do so for food waste.
Then, follow BrightNest’s recommendations (which line up with Real Simple’s interview with a veteran cleaner) and decide one what 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.
We think our 38-liter simplehuman rectangular step can will pay off its $100-ish price in its durable nature and smooth operation over time. You will use a trash can every day that you live in your home, and you’re the one stuck cleaning up if things go wrong. Invest in a good garbage can, and it will pay you back by making itself completely unnoticeable. Our other picks—the slim plastic, the Hefty touch lid, and maybe the daring open can—should work for everyone else needing something cheaper, way cheaper, or even less fussy.
Dirty Job No. 5: Scouring the Kitchen Trash Can, Real Simple
Simplehuman's Excellent Customer Service Makes Other Companies Look Like Garbage, Consumerist, June 12, 2008,
Which garbage cans aren't garbage?, Slate, March 22, 2004,
Best Large Garbage Cans 2012, Apartment Therapy
The Best Kitchen Trash Can for Your Home, Real Simple,
What's the best trash can?, Ask MetaFilter, April 22, 2005
Originally published: July 31, 2014