The 4 best trash cans we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The best trash can for your kitchen depends largely on where you’ll store it.
  • Step cans are great for kitchens with extra space, while under-counter ones tuck cleanly away.
  • Simplehuman’s Rectangular Step Trash Can is easy to use, opens and closes smoothly, and traps odors.

Shopping for (or using) a trash can isn’t anyone’s favorite chore, but it’s an important task that comes before every household.

We spoke with organizational experts, cleaning professionals, and a bartender with decades of experience. They all agreed that a standalone unit with a tightly sealing lid and a trusty step mechanism is best for most people, and one with a sensor or push-button is best for those who want a more accessible option. However, under-counter units, slimline bins, and sensor-operated cans can all be good options depending on your space and accessibility needs.

We tried five different garbage cans to determine the best, and tested them for sturdiness and rigidity, ease of opening and general use, and when applicable, the effectiveness of a lid at both creating an even and reliable seal and containing smells (within reason).

Remember that keeping trash too long, whether it’s covered or not, will eventually start to attract and incubate any number of pests depending on where you live, and removing particularly noxious items from your house immediately, rather than letting them sit and rot in your kitchen trash bin overnight (or longer) is the best way to keep your kitchen clean.

Here are the best trash cans of 2021

The best overall

Best trash can 2021 Simplehuman rectangular step trash can

If you have the floor space, the Simplehuman Rectangular Step Trash Can, 45L is the sturdiest, tidiest, and best-sealing option we’ve found.

Pros: Heavy-duty stainless steel, neatly sealing lid, smooth operation

Cons: Heavy (if you have to move it), too large for many kitchens

If you’ve got the space and don’t mind the aesthetic of a trash can out in the open (pretty as this one may be, relatively speaking), the best trash bin for keeping your kitchen clean and sanitized is Simplehuman’s Rectangular Step Trash Can (or any of the brand’s step cans that suit your space).

Something we’ve found problematic with other step cans is that the step stops functioning after a time, or the connecting rod between the step and the lid dislodges. While that’s often fixable, it’s also reoccurring, so it’s something you’ll end up having to do regularly.

We haven’t had any such troubles with this bin, and moreover, it is quiet and smooth as can be. We opened and closed it rapidly and repeatedly as long as we could in order to see if we might dislodge anything or initiate an unpleasant noise, but after dozens of tries, it did not produce so much as a squeak.

We also knocked it over a few times to note whether or not anything dented, broke, or separated, but it passed that test, too, though the lid did not stay closed.

These bins come with branded liners (their fancy name for trash bags) that fit snugly, but they’re on the pricey side, so we also tried some budget options. The budget trash bags fit just fine, though it will take just a little coaxing to seal them around the rim and under the lid correctly. All in all, it’s a manageable unit and there are plenty of different configurations on offer by Simplehuman, so pick the one that fits your space best.

Best on a budget

Best budget trash can 2021 Rubbermaid

Affordable but highly sufficient, the Rubbermaid Step-On Wastebasket covers all your needs without breaking the bank.

Pros: Basic, but heavy-duty plastic built to last

Cons: Not as durable as stainless steel

If you want a simple, serviceable trash bin with no frills or flashy stainless steel, Rubbermaid’s plastic Step-On Wastebasket will do the trick. It probably won’t last as long as the more rigid, stainless steel options we recommend, but it’s considerably more affordable, every bit as functional, and much easier to move, should you need to do so.

The lid, which is also plastic and also considerably lighter than the other lids on trash cans we recommend, fits snugly enough, but it’s by no means pet- or pest-proof. It will, however, keep odors at bay much better than a lidless bin.

As for the rest of the design, it’s easy enough to clean, with no troubling nooks or crannies. The pedal is stainless steel, which is much sturdier than a lot of the other plastic bins we looked at, and it’s perfectly well-suited for 13-gallon garbage bags, so you won’t have any trouble finding specific ones fit for it.

Make no mistake about it that this is a plastic budget option and it will not last a lifetime, but if you’re careful enough with it, you’ll easily get your money’s worth.

Best under-counter

Best trash can 2021 Simplehuman Under Counter Pull Out Bin

Robust stainless steel racks and the thick plastic pail(s) mean the Simplehuman Under-Counter Pull-Out Bin can withstand years of use and abuse.

Pros: Strong, easy to install, trash remains out of reach of pets and children

Cons: No lid, requires installation 

Considering space, function, odor containment, and the fact that many of us have two types of recycling (requiring at least three bins in total), the Simplehuman Under-Counter Pull-Out Bin is the most practical setup there is. And, as pretty as some trash bins might be, they are still trash cans, and no one necessarily wants to stare at or navigate around them. An under-counter bin like those from Simplehuman answers all of those problems.

Of course, you do have to dedicate a cabinet to the system, and cabinets come at their own premium, but if you can make it work, it frees up floor space and keeps everything neatly out of sight.

You’ll also have to install a setup like this, but it’s easy (eight screws) and sturdy with commercial-grade ball bearings. I’ve personally been using these bins for years and never had a track or a screw come loose.

There are multiple configurations available for the under-counter setup from a 30-liter trash bin to a 35-liter trash-and-recycling split system, and in my household, we’ve dedicated a two-door cabinet to both systems, which have both served us without fail.

Best for tight spaces

Best trash can 2021 Simplehuman slim open trash can

The Simplehuman Slim Open Can is a great option for under a bar or in a gap between cabinets and walls or appliances.

Pros: Easy access, easy to change bags, fits in tight spaces

Cons: Lidless, heavy (when you have to move it)

If you have a narrower space for your trash bin but still want to fit a typical 13-gallon bag, the 10.7-inch-wide Simplehuman Slim is your best choice. It’s lidless, but because it might be living in a tight spot, you may want that easier accessibility.

The fact that this bin is on the narrow side does make it a little tricky to fit larger items into it without having them spill or hang out, and you might end up getting some splatter and or residue around the edges, but the brushed stainless steel rim is easy to remove and clean when it comes time.

And while again, yes, it’s lidless, it is both heavy and on the taller side, so you won’t have to worry as much about pets or small children finding their way into or tipping it over.

Our methodology

best garbage can 2021 methodology

We tested six bins side-by-side for a week, taking note of ease of use, cleaning, and odor (as much as we could stand it). We also consulted experts including Caitlin Rose of Fresh N Folded, based in Seattle, Washington, and Kaddy Feast, a longtime New York City bartender and the founder of Sorted, a professional home organization service.

While the best bins tended to be large, heavy, and lidded, not everyone has that kind of real estate to dedicate to a trash bin, so we talked through some of the more practical options available with both Rose and Feast, who helped us deduce the best possible categories for most households.

Here’s what we looked for in our top picks:

Ease of use: We used each bin as part of our daily routine for a week, noting how easy and intuitive the trash cans were to use and operate. 

Durability: We pushed over each bin and looked for dents, scratching, or damage. Where lids were applicable, we tested to see how smoothly they operated, and opened and closed them dozens of times to see if we could induce squeaking (or worse). In testing the pull-out bins, we were particularly rough in pulling them in and out in order to see if they might dislodge from their tracks, or if the screws holding them in place would give way, perhaps due to being undersized. 

Cleaning: After the testing period, we cleaned the inside and outside of each bin. The standalone step bins we tested were the hardest to clean because they had the most working mechanisms and therein the most nooks and crannies. Conversely, the bins without lids, including the pull-out (or under-counter) ones, were the easiest because they’re smooth surfaces with no mechanisms, like latches, lids, pedals, or truss rods to work around.

Odor: We also regularly sniffed around each bin during testing, though at the point of a week’s worth of garbage buildup, they all emitted some smell. The ones with lids lasted a couple of days longer before starting to let out the undesirable smells, and the tighter-sealing, heavier-duty stainless steel lid on our top pick, Simplehuman’s Rectangular Step Trash Can, did the best job. The pull-out trash cans were similar to the lidded ones, in that smells were contained within the cabinet.

What else we tested

Best trash cans What else we considered

What else we recommend and why:

Hefty Lockable Step-On Trash Can ($19.97): This trash can was the same price as our budget pick, but much flimsier and the pedal is plastic instead of metal. However, if you’re looking for an affordable trash bin with a lid for tight spaces, this would probably fit the bill.

What we don’t recommend and why:

iTouchless Deodorizer Automatic Sensor Trash Can ($70.54): We also tested the iTouchless Automatic Sensor Touchless trash can, and while the design is great in theory, we find it problematic in several ways. For one, you still have to wave your hand over it, and as one of our experts consultants, Kaddy Feast, noted, “If I’ve got dripping chicken juice on my hand, I’m gonna wave my hand and drip all over the trash can? Don’t think so. And then with some, you’ve got to move out of the way for it to open.”

We also found that the sensor didn’t always work, and that had us worrying that in time, it might not work at all. We’ll continue to try some longer-term testing and continue to keep an eye out for options we’ll recommend, but for now, we say stay away.

Rev-A-Shelf Pull-Out Trash Can ($64.99): We had also previously recommended this trash bin, but against the Simplehuman version we recommend above, it just wasn’t as smooth or as easy to use. Plus, the wire handle was thin and required more effort to reach for and grab.

What we’re testing next

We are currently looking out for touchless options, but also those with a push-button on top. Further, we’ll look to test door-hanging options as well, which are great for smaller households, or simply those that don’t produce as much trash or take out their trash more regularly.


best trash cans 2021 FAQs

What is the best trash can for my kitchen?

The best trash can for your kitchen is the one that fits where you want it to fit. We recommend determining where you want to (or can) place your trash can and then looking for something that meets the dimensions and specifications of that space. Yes, one with a tight-sealing, heavy lid would be ideal, but if you don’t have the space, then your options are limited.

What’s the best way to keep pests out of my trash?

The best way to keep pests out of your trash is to purchase a bin with a sealing lid, but again, only if you have a place for it.

Better yet, take particularly odious items out as soon as possible, and don’t store them in your trash. Meat scraps, leftover food, empty food cans (especially pet food cans), and things of that sort should go into a smaller bag, be sealed as best as you can, and taken to your dumpster that night. The less you have in your trash to entice unwanted critters, the less likely it is they’ll choose your home to invade.

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