At best, a kitchen trash can is inconspicuous, relegated to a corner far away from countertop attractions like a shiny sparkling-water-maker or an extravagant espresso machine — although a particularly ingenious one might elicit some “ah”s. At worst, it’s the kitchen accent you can’t stop staring at, especially if it’s big and bulky and reeks of last night’s leftovers. But these days, “trash cans are not as ugly as they used to be,” explains interior designer Jessica McCarthy, adding that there’s been an effort to make them “somewhat attractive,” as most of us have to leave them out in our kitchens. To find the best kitchen trash cans, we asked interior designers, recipe developers, professional organizers, and a few Strategist staffers for their favorites. Plus, we made sure to search through our archives for notable nice-looking ones. You can scroll down for the criteria we considered when putting together this list or skip ahead to the picks by clicking through the links just below.
What we’re looking for
Capacity: The capacity of a trash can is twofold: how much it can hold (the gallons or liters listed) and how much space it takes to do so (the overall dimensions). The standard gallon size is around 13, and you’ll see that number on most trash-bag boxes. But more than that might be best for curious home cooks, while less is probably a better bet if you rely on takeout.
Even though most of us leave our trash cans out in the open, dimensions do affect the look of your kitchen. “If it’s too big, its bulkiness will detract from the rest of your space, while adding unnecessary clutter,” says professional organizer Caroline Solomon. In contrast, a small one could be out of proportion when placed next to a two-door fridge, while a tall trash can can’t easily sit underneath the sink if you prefer to tuck it away. Accordingly, you’ll see both the gallon size and general measurements for each pick mentioned below.
Material: In the trash-can-scape, functionality tends to triumph over form. That’s why plastic is particularly popular. It’s budget-friendly and easy enough to clean — and if you need a specific size, plastic trash cans generally come in odder ones (as opposed to the standard 13-gallon container), explains professional organizer Elsa Elbert of Composed Living. But while plastic trash cans do the rubbish-collecting part reasonably enough, they (usually) aren’t the prettiest to look at. That’s why several of our experts prefer durable stainless steel, which is just as utilitarian but offers an aesthetic and olfactory advantage — the material makes it more difficult for odors to linger, Elbert says. Solomon is another stainless-steel advocate, adding that “should any icky garbage spills appear, it’s incredibly easy to wipe down.” (Some even come with a smudgeproof finish.) On the design front, it’s sleeker and more sophisticated compared to its plastic counterparts, adds Allison Dunn, founder of Neat Rules. Or you could opt for a plastic-coated metal trash can if you’re in need of a pop of color, Solomon recommends, as these are rust-resistant and just need a swipe of soapy water to clean.
Compartments: One-compartment trash cans are common. But a multi-compartment trash can might make more sense if you are short on floor space, Elbert mentions. Solomon agrees that a compartment for trash and another for recycling helps manage waste in one place. (Keep in mind: Your local municipality might have specific recycling regulations, including an extra bin for paper or plastic, she adds.) If you’re more the composting type, an additional compartment could be used for scraps (instead of buying one of those mini-bins).
Closures: This has happened to me more than once: hands full of garlic and onion skins or browned banana peels and no way to open the trash can. Here’s where lids and pedals make all the difference. A lift-top requires a free hand, while a step pedal can be operated by foot. If you go the swing-top route, it’s all about the timing, while a thoroughly modern motion-sensor trash can is ready whenever you are. And then there’s how it closes: Does it have an open top? Or an automatic soft-close lid? When open, a butterfly lid (usually used in multi-compartment designs) only takes up a few inches versus other cans that can pop up to almost a foot, Elbert explains.
Price: This point is pretty self-explanatory, but allow me to complain for just a second: One of the pettiest injustices is that trash cans — cans for trash — can be expensive. So, based on what our experts recommended and what I’ve seen on the market, I ranked each as $, $$, or $$$, for under $100, under $200, and over $200, respectively.
Best overall kitchen trash can
10.6 gallons, 23.3” x 10.4” x 26” | Brushed stainless steel with postconsumer recycled inner buckets | Dual compartments | Butterfly lid, step-pedal | $$
Simplehuman was the brand that was mentioned most, with so much praise from designers, decorators, and organizers that it would seem wrong if it didn’t take the top spot. This trash can wasn’t the most popular pick — only Elbert pointed to it specifically, while Dunn prefers this super-similar can — but based on careful consideration of the criteria, it’s our winner.
As far as stainless-steel trash cans go, this option leans toward the more affordable side and offers a fingerprint-resistant finish. What sets it apart, though, are the dual interior bins for trash and recyclables (or compostables), which are made from recycled plastic and are designed to be removed and cleaned easily. Other multi-compartment bins from the brand are pricier— take this Solomon-approved version that Taryn Williford, lifestyle director at Apartment Therapy, says “soothes both the aesthetic and functional parts of my brain.” Its dual-compartment capacity might make you second-guess if it’ll fit in your kitchen, but Elbert especially likes how well it works for smaller spaces because of its slimness. It can sit next to an island, tuck away into a space between cabinets, or hide underneath the sink. On the functional front, the butterfly-style lid is a standout feature. The lid offers enough clearance if inside a cabinet: “When the lid is open, it only takes up a few inches, versus some cans when the whole lid pops up, it’s almost a foot tall,” Elbert says. The silent lid eventually shuts on its own (or alternatively, stays open for however long you need).
The one downside is that while the capacity is around ten gallons, that actually means that each side holds about five gallons (you could use any trash bags for this, but Simplehuman does make its own liners). But if you’re hoping for something slightly larger for trash, the highly praised (but pricier) Brabantia Bo has a six-gallon trash side and a three-gallon bucket for recycling. It’s even easier on the eyes: Alessandra Wood, vice-president of style at Modsy, says “it doesn’t even look like a trash can,” appearing more like a modern plant stand.
Best (less-expensive) overall kitchen trash can
18.5 gallons, 26.42” x 21.34”’ x 12.99” | Stainless steel | Dual compartments | Motion-sensored opening | $
For what you do get with this trash can, it’s a true bargain. (For context: McCarthy’s favored voice- and motion-activated model is $225.) Solomon thinks so, too, especially if “easy trash-tossing” is a concern (looking at you, pro home cooks). Instead of a step-pedal or a lift-top lid, the bin features a motion-sensor opening. (This requires three D-cell batteries to function.) If you want to make sure it’s secure when not in use, there are separate “open” and “close” buttons on top of the lid (which also soft-closes as you step away). Once open, it has the same dual-compartment structure as the Simplehuman can above. Comparatively, the Nine Stars holds more — with a total capacity of 18.5 gallons, or 9.25 gallons on each side — and comes with a removable ring liner to keep trash bags in place. But what kept it from taking gold is really down to its practicality. This is a trash can that’s going to take up space — and in a way that recalls school cafeterias (see the magnetic labels). Although it can sit against a wall, it doesn’t have a traditional rectangular shape that can fit in almost any size kitchen, Solomon explains. That’ll make it more difficult to find a proper place for it.
Best overall step-pedal kitchen trash can
8 gallons, 15.1” x 12.4” x 25.6” | Steel with postconsumer recycled plastic interior bucket | One compartment | Silent close lid, step-pedal | $
Here, you’ll find the same hands-free access as the two above in a much more space-saving design. The press-down pedal in particular has saved Sara Losonci, founder of Shelfie, from many potential messes, like when she recently repotted her plants and the can stayed open long enough for her to dump dirt in. The round-shaped lid is also an important feature: As most Manhattan apartments don’t have garbage disposals and composting can get complicated, Losonci likes how the opening is wide enough to scrape a plate of scraps into. The lid also ensures rubbish smells are covered up well enough, too.
Best-looking step-pedal kitchen trash can
8 gallons, 14.96” x 11.54” x 26.73” | Steel with plastic interior bucket | One compartment | Soft-close lid, Step-pedal | $
Dutch brand Brabantia came second to Simplehuman in mentions. The company’s colorful can comes in 12 hues, including a “terracotta pink” and “passion red.” Architect Ming Thompson (in our sister site’s “Curbed Catalogue” series) likes to use different colors (pine, cinnamon, watermelon) for trash and recycling. It’s tall and slim, creating “a design moment for trash” as “it’s not trying to hide that it’s a trash can, but rather makes it part of the design,” Wood adds. Interior designer Liz Lipkin says, “I’d go so far as to call this one ‘cute.’” Just under $100, the can also comes with a removable inner bucket and a silent, soft-close lid. It doesn’t have the multi-compartment feature — but for the price, you really can’t beat it.
Best slim kitchen trash can
11.8 gallons, 26.5” x 10.2” x 19.8” | Stainless steel | One compartment | Step-pedal, lid locks in place | $
There was really only one spot Strategist associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell could put the trash can in her studio apartment’s kitchen — against a cabinet — so she went with this slim, pedal-operated model from Brightroom. It’s flat enough on all sides that she can put it flush against the wall, she says. And even after “two years of stomping on [the pedal],” it hasn’t failed her yet. Although it’s reminiscent of sleek Simplehumans, with a similar glossy, fingerprint-resistant finish, the can comes in at just under $50. “If you want a large, relatively inexpensive stainless-steel trash can, this one won’t give you anything you complain about,” Milliner-Waddell says.
Best open-top kitchen trash can
5.3 or 8 gallons, 7.5” x 16.1” x 14.6” or 7.5” x 16.1” x 21.3” | Polypropylene with steel hanger | One compartment | Open-top (lid sold separately) | $
This option from Japanese housewares store Muji is the cheapest can on our list. It’s probably the most minimally designed, with only a silver interior hanger to hold bags in place. But that’s the appeal: There’s “nothing statement-y about them,” says Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens, adding that the shape sort of just disappears. She bought the bin initially for her retro-style, white-tiled kitchen in Los Angeles as it blended in better than stainless steel. Three years later, she keeps two of the cans in her kitchen to sort through garbage and recyclables. They’re super-easy to wipe down, either with a wet paper towel or a hose outside. And if you prefer it closed, the lid is sold separately.