New-Generation Kitchen Trash Cans
How we tested
Gone are the days when a kitchen trash can was nothing more than a simple plastic bin with a lid. These days, your choices include sleek models in fingerprint-proof stainless steel with motion sensors that can set you back close to $200. No matter its cost, a well-designed trash can should combine a sturdy, spacious, and easy-to-clean frame with a lid that opens wide and then seals tight to trap in odors. It should also be easy to use, allowing us to quickly deposit trash and swiftly remove a full bag and insert a new one. To find out what our money would buy, we purchased five tall kitchen trash cans, including standard bargain bins and luxury models, priced from about $18 to about $180.
After confirming that standard 13-gallon trash bags fit into all the cans, we stuffed them with identical assortments of garbage, knocking off points if the bags slipped off the corner of the bin or fell down entirely, snagged, or were difficult to fill or remove. Compared with round or square frames, testers preferred rectangular models, which had a small footprint if placed against a wall and offered plenty of room for trash to settle into even layers instead of forming pyramids. (Although all the bins had similar capacities, it’s no fun pushing down on trash to make it fit.) We also liked lids that attach on a hinge and swing back completely for full access to the barrel. Two models had a small swinging door set into the lid and were difficult to use without dropping food scraps onto the floor or the exterior of the can. Trash also tended to pile into pyramids under these small openings.
To evaluate odor retention, we lined each can with a fresh bag and then dropped three peeled hard-cooked eggs, a cup of chopped raw onions, and an open can of tuna fish into each one. We closed the lids and let them sit for a weekend and then sniffed for odors on Monday. The top performers remained virtually odor-free, whereas a model with a charcoal pack built into the underside of the lid failed to adequately contain smells. We also evaluated sturdiness with several weeks of daily use in home kitchens, with testers finding that the heaviest models were also the sturdiest.
Finally, since we often approach a trash can with both hands full, how the user opens the bin (step pedal, button, motion sensor, or manually) was an important consideration. We preferred hands-free models, but only one truly delivered, with a wide foot pedal and a slow-close lid that lowered gently when we released the pedal. (The lid on the other foot-pedal model occasionally sprang open too far and had to be closed by hand, and the motion sensor on a high-priced bin was inconsistent.) Though it’s a serious investment, our winner shows attention to detail that impressed even our most dubious testers. The lid opens fully and quickly for complete access to its sturdy, roomy barrel and can be kept open with the flip of a small switch, and it has a lightweight liner that can be removed for cleaning. But if you don’t want to spring for high-priced bells and whistles, it’s better to skip them altogether than to buy an unreliable midpriced model. Our runner-up and Best Buy is lightweight and has to be opened by hand, but its simple construction makes it stable, reliable, and easy to use.