Trash cans are, inevitably, dirty things. No matter how much you avoid it, they get coated in coffee grinds, splashed with raw egg, filled with diapers, and splattered with who know what else. They are also frequently used when our hands are occupied with something messy, like cutting up a chicken or dredging something in egg yolk.
The solution to all of this? A touchless trashcan.
Touchless vs. Hands-free Trash Cans
There is more confusion about touchless trashcans than you might expect. Let’s cut right through that now.
A touchless trash can isn’t the same thing as as hands-free trash can because a “hands-free” design might use a foot pedal to open the lid. A touchless trashcan will either be motion-activated or voice-activated, or both depending on the model you get.
These trashcans usually will not have foot pedals or handles because the electric motor that opens the lid will do the job for you and most of these motors aren’t compatible with being forced open and closed when they are powered down. Basically, if you have the motor, you have to use it and a hybrid solution (human or motor opening) isn’t something you’d commonly find.
To avoid confusion touchless trashcans are sometimes known as “automatic” or “motion sensor” trashcans.
It’s 2021, and you can have Siri answer a call, your refrigerator is connected to the internet, and, yes, you can tell your garbage can to open. Even so voice activation remains a premium feature that will normally only be found in trashcans above the $150 (or so) price point and only from technology-friendly brands.
Voice activation is is useful for opening a can when you are coming at it from behind or when your hands are occupied and you can wave to active the sensor.
In the case of Simplehuman cans, the trashcan has three microphones that listen for the phrase “open can” which can then be followed by “stay open” and “close can”. The triple microphone design is meant to allow for recognition of the phrases even when there is a lot of sound happening at once, say music playing or people conversing in the area.
Power Source Required
With a touchless trashcan, there is a motor that is doing the work of opening and closing the lid. This means you’ll need to power that motor.
A typical power source will either be a wall outlet or six AA batteries. The wall outlet power adapter will be included, but then you’ll need to make sure your trashcan is within 6 feet (give or take) of an outlet and you want a cord dangling against the wall for the life of the garbage can.
Top Touchless Trashcans
Here are some options to consider it you want a high quality, buy-it-once can.
Simplehuman 45L Semi-Round Automatic Sensor
If you have been reading around this site you’ll know we are big fans of the Simplehuman trashcans. A great all-round pick in their motion-sensing can line is the 45-liter automatic semi-round model. It’s a great size, it’s a handsome stainless steel, and it comes with all features you’d expect from the brand, like fingerprint-free stainless and a trash bag holder built into the back.
The model has a 5-year warranty so you can feel good about your motor working for the foreseeable future.
Please note: While it is a motion sensor can, it does not have voice-activation!
Interestingly Simplehuman also sells a 45-liter foot-pedal trashcan, which gives us a good reference point for how much extra the motion sensor and motor will cost ($150 vs $100).
Don’t miss our guide to Simplehuman trash bag sizes.
Simplehuman 58L Dual Compartment
If you want to upgrade to a trashcan with all the features, this is the one you need. The Simplehuman 58-liter has two compartments (one for trash, one for recycling) and it has both motion sensing and voice activation, making this as premium a trashcan as you can get.
While the can itself is quite big, the two compartment design means that your main trash receptacle isn’t huge, you have a 34 liter compartment and a 24 liter. This means your overall trash capacity is about 75% that of a standard single compartment trashcan.
HomeLabs 21 Gallon Automatic Trash Can
Simplehuman is the big name in premium trashcans, but they don’t have a monopoly on high-tech. The HomeLabs 21 gallon is a button- and motion sensor-operated trashcan with a butterfly style door that opens in the middle. It can use four C batteries (not included) or AC adapter (included) to open and close the doors.
This is a good looking, fully stainless steel can that’ll be a fit for any modern kitchen. It’s a good options if you want something that is perpendicular to the wall, which is not a placement that really works with a Simplehuman or any can that uses a full lid.
There are two clever features on this model that you should know about. First of all, the motion sensor can either work up or out, so if your trashcan is under a counter or need an overhang then the sensor can focus on the side and it will still work. Second, motion sensors are great, but they aren’t the fastest option. For times when you don’t want to wait, there is a button which will instantly trigger the opening and closing of the lid.
This can is also sold in a smaller 13-gallon size that will be good for bathrooms, smaller kitchens, and under counters.
Eko Motion Sensor Trashcan
Similar to the Homelabs cans are the EKO Motion Sensor models, like the:
These also use butterfly-style half doors which put less strain the motor when opening and closing as they split the load and reduce the leverage created by a single large lid.
While these don’t quite look as a good as the Simplehuman models, you get lots of competitive features like fingerprint-free stainless steel, a removable liner ring for better trash bag holding and fewer rips, and an interior deodorizer compartment.
On the downside, these models only work with AA batteries and don’t include and AC adapter. The batteries are, disappointingly, not included so make sure you get them.
These cans nicely use standard size trashbags instead of Simplehuman’s custom bag sizes.
AmazonBasics Motion Sensor Trashcan
It will come as little surprise that AmazonBasics sells a motion-sensing trashcan. This is a popular, well-reviewed model that sells for a reasonable price, but it has one major downside: it’s only sold in a 13-gallon (49-liter) size. That makes for a garbage can that is about 26 inches tall and then 16 inches wide and 11 inches deep.
So while this can has a nice stainless steel design and of course the motion sensor, it’s going to be too small for families of 4+, unless you are making a lot of runs out to the garbage.
As a nice bonus, this model requires only two D batteries to run and they are included!
- Can my dog open a touchless trash can?
Assuming your dog is large enough to get over the top of the lid, either with its nose or by standing on its hind legs, yes, the motion sensor will activate and the lid will open. This is a definite issue with touchless trashcans and it not a problem with a foot pedal design.
- What do I say to open a Simplehuman voice-activated trashcan?
To open the can you must say, “Open Can” in a clear voice. The phrase cannot be changes and only English is supported at this time. The trashcan will also understand the phrases, “Close Can” and “Stay Open.” The can is sold in German-, Spanish-, and French-speaing (and others) but the phrases are always the same in each.