February 3, 2023

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The Best Kitchen Trash Cans for Everything You Can’t Reuse or Compost

Are you filled with existential dread over your contributions to the great Pacific gyre and other increasingly bloated trash dumps every time you stare into the maw of your flip-top garbage can? Well, I can’t solve that for you, because, same! What I can do, however, is suggest the very best maw you can find on the market.

I researched the most popular widely available flip-top trash cans online before narrowing it down to 11 different models. Then I tested those 11 side by side to determine which trash can was the very best trash can for the kitchen.

The Best Trash Cans Overall: Kohler Step Can and Simplehuman Rectangular

Yes, these trash cans are tied, but they aren’t exactly the same. Both trash cans earned top marks when it came to securing a standard bag, containing smell, and overall construction. Both cans have a notch in the back of a removable interior bin, which allows you to twist and secure a normal trash bag (meaning no special brand-specific bag is required), without any unsightly overhang or risk of the bag coming loose. (You’d be surprised how poor most trash cans are at simply holding a bag in place.) Both trash cans successfully managed to thwart my coworker Andrew’s dog Kate despite her best efforts to go dumpster diving. Both trash cans have ten-year warranties. There are a few subtle differences, though, which I’ll outline below.

The Kohler

This trash can has a slim profile and sits flush against the wall, making it a discreet presence in the kitchen. Many flip-top trash cans whack the wall behind them if you step on the pedal too hard, but the Kohler’s lid lifts gently even if you stomp on the pedal.

The stainless-steel finish is fingerprint-resistant and slightly matte, which gives it a stylish brushed-nickel look. The top lid is quiet as a whisper, and all you have to do to lock it in the open position is push the rim of the outer lid up all the way with your hand—a nice design touch for when you need to remove a full bag or add a new bag. Speaking of which, I found a few complaints of issues with the Kohler foot pedal breaking over time. While the pedal proved to be quite sturdy in our test, this is something to keep in mind.

Kohler 13-Gallon Step Can

$140.00, Amazon


The Simplehuman

Simplehuman is the big name in trash cans. I have one, as do several of my coworkers. This did not make us biased; if anything, our collective experience helped us better scrutinize these trash cans. However, when it came down to the side-by-side tests, the Simplehuman rectangular flip-top was hard to beat: Any standard grocery-store bag will fit nicely and securely in the trash can, it’s well-built, sleek, sturdy, and reliable. The lid opens and closes silently, and all odors are contained easily.

Compared to the Kohler, the stainless steel on this trash can was a little more shiny. It claimed to be fingerprint-proof, but the model we tested got a bit smudgier than the Kohler. On the other hand, many in my office found the stainless-steel finish of the Simplehuman a little nicer-looking than the Kohler’s. To keep the lid open on the Simplehuman model requires flipping a little red lock on the inside, which felt a little more fussy. Again, small details.

Simplehuman Step Can

$130.00, Simple Human


A note on price point

Yes, both of our top picks for the best trash can are expensive. Why shell out so much on something that holds…waste? Before doing this test, I was definitely in the camp of finding it a bit absurd. After all, it’s a can for garbage. After testing 11 trash cans, however, I learned that you really do get what you pay for. Our top picks were the only cans capable of containing odor and properly securing a trash bag, while still looking nice.

If you’re not interested in spending so much, opt for the functional-but-not-stylish Glad or Rubbermaid models. These cheaper plastic trash cans had very sturdy bag-securing mechanisms and would also be easy to clean in the event of a spill. But you should place them underneath the sink or in a cabinet—or empty them more frequently—since we found that plastic couldn’t contain smells the way stainless steel could.

Okay, but what about an inexpensive stainless-steel trash can? The stainless-steel Ikea cans we tested looked dazzling, but did a dreadful job at securing bags—a mess waiting to happen. Think of your trash can not as a home for trash but as an appliance, whose job it is to effectively contain your kitchen waste in a hygienic and sanitary fashion. Opt for the ugly plastic models if you’re going to go cheap. They’ll clean well, and odor won’t be a problem if you’re vigilant or stash them in the right place.

How I Tested and What I Looked For

Since there is a whole world of garbage-containing contraptions out there, we had to set some initial parameters in order to conduct a reasonably fair test for the best kitchen trash can. I limited the test to single-compartment step cans that were around 13 gallons in volume. (One had a press top; it was sent voluntarily by the manufacturer.)

The most significant factors in our test were the following questions, which represent the most common sources of frustration based on input from coworkers and online product reviews:

  1. Can it accommodate a standard store-bought trash bag? Many trash cans come with their own special bags, designed to fit perfectly. We were fine with that, but we wanted to be able to use a standard grocery-store trash bag in them as well.
  2. Is the trash can built to last?
  3. How well does it contain smell?
  4. How easy would the trash can be to clean if a bag were to break? Our ideal model would have an external body and a removable interior bin. In the event of a bag break, the interior bin adds an extra layer of protection to prevent a spill from getting deep down into the actual can itself, which tends to have all sorts of hard-to-clean nooks and crannies due to the internal mechanics. A removable bin is much easier to clean. Some models were just the bin itself; some even had open bottoms, which would be quite unpleasant in the event of a tear or spill.

I also considered secondary factors such as sturdiness, appearance, and mobility.

Before doing anything, I took stock of each can and made general observations about its construction, paying particular attention to the open and closing mechanisms and the design of the interior compartments.

I began my test simply by inserting a standard trash bag into each can. Many high-end trash can makers, like Simplehuman and Brabantia, recommend using the custom bags they designed to fit perfectly into specific models. In conversations with my coworkers, we unanimously agreed that the best trash can should accommodate any typical store-bought bag. Inevitably, there will be a time where you might need to buy more bags in a pinch, and waiting on a mail-order delivery of expensive custom bags seems like an unnecessary hassle.

I then dropped 10 pounds of potatoes into each can to test how well it secured a bag.

To test for smell-containing capability, I placed an air freshener in each trash can, leaving them for an hour in a conference room before returning to sniff around each can. For the most part, this test revealed that metal does a much better job than plastic at containing odors, and the more plastic parts there are to a trash can, the less likely it will effectively contain smell.

Other Trash Cans I Tested:

Glad Step Can

Umbra Trash Can

Simplehuman Step Can With Liner Pocket

Barbantia Pedal Bin Flatback

Barbantia Pedal Bin New Icon

Barbantia Flip Bin Rubbermaid Trash Can

Ikea Kallgrin

Ikea Mjösa

The Takeaway

Finding the best kitchen trash can feels a lot like those “You can only keep two” scenarios, where the traits to select from are affordability, proficient design, and aesthetic appearance. You’ll be hard-pressed to find one that satisfies all three criteria (if you do, let me know and we’ll test it). One big lesson we learned is that if a trash can is good-looking and affordable, chances are its functionality will not be suited for food waste disposal. Since a kitchen trash can needs to accommodate wet and perishable waste, the ability to contain smells and stay clean mattered most. That’s what justified the price to us, and guided our preference toward the Kohler or the Simplehuman. If your budget doesn’t allow for this, choose a plastic variety from Glad or Rubbermaid—and opt for a smaller kitchen trash can.

Originally Appeared on Epicurious