The best trash bag for hauling garbage that is heavy or sharp or simply kitchen detritus is the Glad Tall Kitchen drawstring bag. It’s the favorite of Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping and consistently stood up to our testing, holding vastly more weight and demonstrating more resistance to rips and tears than other trash bags.
Trash bags have one job: to move garbage from your hand to the dump while keeping it off the floor.
You can buy trash bags with all kinds of neat features but the most important thing is durability. All the odor-blocking technology in the world won’t matter if 10 pounds of dirty diapers are scattered on your living room floor. Trash bags need to be able to carry as much weight as possible without breaking. Likewise, they need to be able to stand up to sharp objects, like the occasional broken coffee mug or sharp box corner.
Cost isn’t a major factor. Most garbage bags cost between seven and twenty-five cents apiece. Even if you used one bag every day for a year, the cost difference between those extremes is only about $66. If you’ve ever had to clean up a mix of cat litter, coffee grounds, dirty diapers and leftover soup from your floor, you know that you’d probably pay someone $66 just to never have to do that again.
Nor are odor-blocking features a real factor. Let’s be honest: no amount of baking soda or chemical treatments are going to make a rotten head of garlic or a bulging container of spoiled milk smell better than taking them out as soon as possible. (And you can always dust the inside of your bags with some inexpensive baking soda.)
You might say you’d like a greener solution. Well, in that case, your best bet is to recycle and compost—and that’s a whole other guide. You can buy “biodegradable” bags, but they’re a waste. Here’s the problem: for even biodegradable plastic to break down, it needs sunlight and fresh air, neither of which can be found in the depths of a landfill. Even better, while “compostable” bags are a disappointment, the Glad bag we choose is environmentally friendlier than most. Per Consumer Reports, “The Glad bag is advertised as using less plastic, based on thickness: Its maker says the top section is 0.95 mils thick; the rest, 0.78 mils thick. Most other bags are about 0.9 mils throughout.”
In our research, two brands consistently came out on top: Glad and Hefty. In Consumer Reports’ last trashbag evaluation, in June 2012, the Glad Tall Kitchen bag came out on top. The Glad also received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for its durability and low price, with Good Housekeeping calling the Glad Tall Kitchen bags “the strongest ones on the market” based on their tests. While Good Housekeeping didn’t elaborate on their testing methodology, Consumer Reports used a very simple method: they took ten trash bags and used a pulley to lift dumbbells with each one to see at which weight the bags failed. They also put the bags in trash cans and tossed items in until the bags broke when lifted.
The Glad Tall Kitchen bag is a favorite on Amazon as well, where it maintains a four-star rating after 118 reviews. Many reviewers have complemented their strength, lack of leaks and lack of tearing. Amazon reviewer Harlan Mantelli said, “I could probably fend off a home invasion by deflecting the blows of the enemy’s weapon with the incredible strength these vessels possess.” (Our test involved something surprisingly similar.)
However, some reviewers have complained of drawstring handles breaking when stretched over their trash can rims, but in our testing this has not happened.
Consumer Reports is one of our most trusted source of information, but we decided that we wanted to verify their results. There are a few reasons for this. First, while the dumbbells they used seem like a sensible source of weight, most of us would not ever throw dumbbells in the trash. Also, their tests focused exclusively on weight testing. We wanted to find out how well these bags held up to sharp objects, because no matter how much weight a trash bag can hold, one broken bottle could still spoil the party.
Real Simple tested this aspect of trash bag resilience by filling bags up with sharp, heavy objects and then shaking. By shaking the bag, random chance is brought into the equation. A bag that tests poorly might have just gotten unlucky. We aimed for a testing method that tested durability in a consistent way.
For the weight tests, we selected common household items that could conceivably be thrown in the trash, but still provided enough weight to strain the bag: 20-pound jugs of cat litter, 10-pound bags of litter, and 3.15-pound bags of dry cat food.
To test each bag, we added weight, lifted the bag, set it back down, then added more weight, until the bag broke. We started with one 20-pound jug of litter, then added another 20 pounds. Two of our bags failed at this point—Hefty The Gripper and the Hefty Cinchsak—at a mere 40 pounds.
For the ones that didn’t break—the Glad Tall Kitchen bag and the Glad ForceFlex—we started adding bags of cat food, one at a time. After two bags of food, we replaced them with a bag of litter, and so on until the bag broke.
Only one bag was able to lift over 50 pounds, and that was the Glad Tall Kitchen bag, which maxed out at a whopping 63.15 pounds.
Even more impressive is that this was after several liftings with incremental amounts of weight, rather than if we had refreshing the bag between weight increases. The drawstring handles gave out at around 40 pounds, which is admittedly a large load of trash, but the bag itself was still easily lifted from the top.
Creating a weight test was easy, but coming up with a reliable, safe method of testing sharp objects proved to be a challenge. Fortunately, the ancient Romans devised the perfect tool for the job thousands of years ago: the caltrop.
While caltrops are often associated with Japanese ninjas, the Roman historian Quintus Curtius suggests that they were used as early as 331 BC, at the Battle of Gaugamela. Regardless of who invented them, caltrops are a mean weapon, designed to puncture any foot unlucky to step on one. They’re designed so that no matter how they’re thrown on the ground, a sharp end will be pointing up. They’re still used today by military and law enforcement to puncture tires.
Of course, caltrops resting in a bag aren’t going to do much damage, nor is it a very realistic test, so we had to add some weight: a 20-pound jug of litter. But caltrops floating around loose in a bag adds a lot of randomness to the equation, and our initial tests reflected that. So we duct-taped a caltrop to four sides of a litter jug, then carefully placed it in the bottom of the bag, making sure that the weighted caltrops were in contact with the surface of the bag.
With our booby-trapped bags in hand, we simulated an everyday scenario: carrying a full bag of trash to the curb. For the test, I carried our booby-trapped bags from my porch to the trash can at the end of my driveway, a distance of about 80 feet. To minimize chance, I tested each bag three times.
The Glad Tall Kitchen bags came out of the test relatively unscathed. While all three of the Glad Tall Kitchen bags suffered tiny punctures from the caltrops, measuring an eighth of an inch or less, none developed larger tears that would spill garbage on the ground. The competition didn’t hold up quite as well, developing tears as large as 1.5 inches that could leak garbage or even potentially lead to bag failure.
A few other bags came up in our research. Real Simple is a fan of Hefty The Gripper, which also tested well with Consumer Reports. However, in my tests, The Gripper failed the weight test after a mere 40 pounds. During the Caltrop Test, The Gripper twice developed quarter-inch rips. However, the advantage of the Gripper is that it has stretchy handles designed to fit snugly around a trash can rim. So if your trash loads are light, but the Glad Tall Kitchen bag has trouble fitting in your trash can, the Gripper might be right for you.
We also tested the Hefty Cinchsak and found similar results, with the bag failing at 40 pounds and producing 1 and 1.5-inch tears during the Caltrop Test. If I were to choose one of these Hefty bags, I would go with the Gripper for its stretchy handles and better tear resistance.
Another contender that tested well with both Consumer Reports and Real Simple is another Glad bag: The ForceFlex. The ForceFlex fared better than the Hefty bags, failing at 46.3 pounds, a measure still far short of its mightier sibling. In the Caltrop Test, the ForceFlex developed tears during every test, ranging from half-an-inch to one inch. All in all, the Glad Tall Kitchen bag is tough to beat.
For basic kitchen duty, the Glad Tall Kitchen bag is the clear winner. Sure, you could spend a few cents less on the bag, but the cost savings will be minimal and will surely not outweigh the hassle of a busted bag. In tests by us, Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping, the Glad Tall Kitchen bag holds much more weight than the competition. Despite using less plastic than the competition, it also leads the pack in resisting rips and tears. Save your sanity and invest in a better trash bag.
Originally published: June 25, 2013