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New-Generation Kitchen Trash Cans

From Back to Basics

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 $200.00. 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 $17.99 to $180.00.

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.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*