We’ve reviewed this guide and continue to stand by our picks.
June 25, 2021
In the quest to tidy, storage containers can make the difference between an organized home and one heaped with mismatched boxes in the closets and garage. To find the best, we tossed 32 bins and totes down a flight of stairs, left them in the rain, and stuffed them full of books and blankets. We found seven for indoor and outdoor use that’ll keep your stuff clean, dry, and easy to access.
All of our recommended containers will stow your things safely and are easy to carry (or roll around). Our picks include clear plastic storage bins for indoor closets, a heavy-duty garage tote, cheap bins for big projects, an extra-large wheeled bin, an indestructible container that’s great for camping, an easy-access box, and zippered cloth boxes for clothes.
Why you should trust me
I’m Wirecutter’s resident textile writer and I’ve worked on our guides to closet organizing ideas, clothing irons, and ironing boards. I’m also a published quilt designer and former librarian. I’m a born organizer. I have experience maintaining entire school libraries, keeping hundreds of yards of fabric organized, and storing and cataloguing the onslaught of sheets and blankets I’ve tested for Wirecutter.
Best clear plastic storage bins: Iris Weathertight Totes
Best for: Seeing what you’ve stored and keeping a range of everyday items from pet supplies to linens inside the home.
Why it’s great: Any closet could benefit from a few Iris Weathertight Totes. They’re sturdy and easy to use and they come in more sizes (12) than any other bins we tested. They were also the tightest-sealing clear bins we tested, thanks to a foam gasket in the lid and extra latches around the edges (most bins have only two on each end). The Irises also stack more securely—each bin’s base sits snugly into a groove on the lid of the one below. In addition, the Iris bins maximize interior space because they have straighter sides than several other bins we’ve tested.
Iris makes similar totes for three brands: The Container Store (top), Ziploc (middle), and Home Depot (bottom). Colors and sizes vary, but they all work together as a system. Photo: Rozette Rago
Strong latches keep the sides and ends of the lid securely closed. Photo: Rozette Rago
The large, smooth latches double as comfortable handles—especially important when the bin is full of heavy stuff. Photo: Rozette Rago
Iris manufactures the Weathertight in slightly different sizes and lid colors for The Container Store, Ziploc, and Home Depot, but you can use them all interchangeably. Staffers who have used these boxes for moving, and to store countless items over the years, highly recommend them. We also recommend the under-bed size in our guide to closet organizing.
The Weathertight Totes receive strong owner reviews, with a 4.6-star (out of five) average across almost 400 customer reviews on The Container Store’s site. We took particular note that commenters—ranging from a personal historian stowing photos and personal documents to small-apartment dwellers—rave about the watertight seal and neat stackability.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Like other polypropylene bins, they’ll become brittle in cold temperatures; we don’t recommend them for storage in a freezing garage or basement. If you live in a temperate climate you can probably get away with using these in a garage or unheated part of the house. But we wouldn’t risk it in colder climates. They chipped and lost latches in our drop tests, so look to our heavier-duty bins if you plan to treat them roughly.
Long-term test notes: Over the past two years, I’ve used the Iris test samples for everything from storing my daughter’s artwork in a closet to housing baby chicks (with a hacked lid to let air flow) until they’re old enough for our family’s chicken coop. The bins have stayed watertight when I’ve left some outside in the rain for weeks here in the Pacific Northwest, and even after they’ve lost a latch or two (which happens a lot), the seal still keeps moisture out. Several other Wirecutter staffers have used these bins for years, although a couple of people have noted that the bins can be smelly when you first get them. Because they stay so well sealed, the smell can transfer to clothes and linens inside, so one senior staff writer recommends throwing some cedar blocks in.
Sizes: 19, 30, 41, 46, 62, 74 quarts (The Container Store); 6½, 19, 30, 41, 62, 74, 103 quarts (Home Depot); 16, 26½, 44, 60 quarts (Ziploc)
Best bins for the garage, basement, and attic: Rubbermaid Brute Totes
Best for: All-purpose storage in basements, attics, and garages.
Why it’s great: If you want bins for your garage, attic, or basement that can take a lot of abuse, we recommend the Rubbermaid Brute Totes. These containers are made with high-density polyethylene, a sturdier and more temperature-resistant plastic than the clear polypropylene containers we’ve tested, like the Iris Weathertight Totes. The Brute’s molded handles also made them more comfortable to carry than the less expensive garage bins we recommend, the Home Depot HDX. Like most bins we tried, the Brutes didn’t let water in, although in our tests, the deeply grooved lid collected a lot of water, which can attract bugs and bacteria.
The Brute’s deep lid helps it stack more securely but also allows water to pool. Photo: Rozette Rago
The 20-gallon size we tested was big enough to hold eight throw blankets. Photo: Rozette Rago
The large, sturdy handles made this tote comfortable to carry—especially important for heavy loads. Photo: Rozette Rago
The Brute comes in two sizes: 14 and 20 gallons. We tested the larger size and it held 59 books or eight throw blankets. In our drop tests (down a flight of stairs), the Brute was one of our only picks to survive damage-free—the lid popped off, but the container itself was completely intact.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Brute’s lid was tricky to open when the bin is empty but it was much easier once the bin was full of heavy books. If you need something more accessible, the butterfly lid of the Akro-Mils bins we recommend might work better.
Long-term test notes: In two years of long-term testing, we haven’t had any problems with the plastic degrading, although we have seen at least one reader comment noting that this happened to their bin. We’ve stored ours in an unheated workshop year-round, and so far the bins look new, have kept the contents dry, and prevent mice and insects from getting in.
Best cheap storage totes: Home Depot HDX Tough Storage Totes
Best for: Organizing on a budget or large-scale projects.
Why it’s great: If you’ve decided that this is the year you’ll organize your basement and you’re looking to stock up on storage, consider Home Depot’s HDX Tough Storage Totes. They come in eight stackable sizes and they’re cheap—you can buy a dozen HDX totes for the same price as one or two of our more expensive picks. Unlike the super-durable Brute totes, the HDX bins are made with polypropylene, so they’re not as tough in extreme cold temperatures and they break more easily when dropped. But if you live in a mild climate or aren’t worried about years-long durability we recommend them for garages and basements. We even spotted them in an episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in a freshly decluttered garage.
Although you could technically use these for closet storage, they’re much bigger than the Iris totes and won’t work as well for most indoor spaces. Even the smallest, 12-gallon size is almost three times as big as the smallest Iris. The HDX totes are reliably available in Home Depot stores—many of our other picks are mostly sold online—so you can see them in person to figure out exactly which sizes you need.
The HDX totes get very strong owner reviews on Home Depot’s site, with a 4.7-star (out of five) average across over 17,000 reviews. Common praise for the boxes include that they stack easily, they’re durable, and they’re a good size for the price.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: In our drop tests, the HDX cracked and lost a small chunk of plastic. The lid stayed on, though, unlike with the Brute Totes. Though the container would probably need to be replaced after a major fall, your stuff would stay inside.
Long-term test notes: Test bins have held up after two years of long-term testing in an unheated workshop, and they seem to be pest-proof: At my house, we used to keep our animal feed bags on a shelf, but after mice began eating into them we moved them to these HDX bins, and the mouse attacks stopped completely. In addition, one Wirecutter staffer says that at her previous job people used these bins to haul AV equipment back and forth to various locations, and they were durable and comfortable to carry.
Sizes: 12, 17, 27, 38, 55 gallons
Best bin for bigger loads: Sterilite 40 Gallon Wheeled Industrial Tote
Best for: Oversize items or big loads that are hard to carry.
Why it’s great: The extra-large Sterilite 40 Gallon Wheeled Industrial Tote is helpful for anyone who struggles to carry heavy containers or for those who want to save multiple trips by filling one giant bin instead of several smaller ones. It’s the only bin we’ve found with wheels and a big, comfortable handle that folds down when it’s not in use. Though the HDX bins we recommend come in an even bigger size (55 gallons), they don’t have wheels. In testing we consolidated three bins of holiday decorations into the Sterilite and wheeled it into storage—quick and easy. This bin is bigger than most people probably need (and more than most wirecutter staffers we asked actually want), but if you have the space, it’ll save some backaches. It also didn’t let water in when we sprayed it with a hose.
The Sterilite gets a 4.6-star (out of five) average across more than 200 customer reviews on Walmart’s site. Commenters use them for everything from camping gear to storing holiday decorations.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Sterilite is too cumbersome to carry up and down stairs. In testing the wheels did pop off of this bin—we think that’s due to the sheer weight and size of something this big taking a tumble down a flight of stairs—but we easily reattached them. The container was otherwise undamaged. It’s usually sold in a two-pack (Sterilite told us that it sells the bins to retailers in pairs), which may be more storage than many people need. If you do plan on packing one of these full to the brim, be mindful of weight (we’d recommend things like clothes and decorations over documents and dry goods).
Long-term test notes: I’ve used these bins to pack away all of our family’s holiday decorations for three seasons now, and the wheels, handles, and latches have held up to an increasingly large amount of stuff packed inside, in addition to surviving being dragged up and down a hill and across our gravel drive (our storage room is outside). The bins keep everything dry and secure, and they’ve made digging out the holiday decorations much more pleasant every year. One note: I noticed that while the bin was empty and in storage over this past holiday season, a critter got in and chewed up a small box. This is the first such problem we’ve had, but I’d stuffed the bin so full last year that the lid bent upward, leaving an air gap. So this one is the result of my own user error, not a fault with the bin itself.
Best camping storage bin: Rubbermaid 24 Gallon ActionPacker
Best for: Keeping things secured and safe outside.
Why it’s great: Take the Rubbermaid 24 Gallon ActionPacker camping or throw it in the back of your truck—it’s the best storage container we found for outdoor use. Nothing we tested, including the smaller and larger ActionPacker sizes, beat the 24-gallon size for its combination of durability, security, and portability. In our drop tests, it outperformed everything else we tried. After we threw it down the stairs, a few corners were a bit dented but the latches held and the lid stayed tightly closed. It’s also our only pick that can be padlocked.
The ActionPacker’s deep, rounded handles make it easier on the hands than the Brute, Roughneck, and HDX bins we tested, and the 24-gallon size is much easier to haul around than its big sibling, the 35-gallon ActionPacker.
The ActionPacker’s lid was one of the few we tested that didn’t allow water to pool, so it’s ideal for outdoor use. Photo: Rozette Rago
It was the only bin we found that lets you use a padlock for extra security. Photo: Rozette Rago
Like many bins we tried, the molded plastic wastes some interior space. Photo: Rozette Rago
We prefer it to the Brute and HDX bins for long-term outdoor storage, too—those bins have lids with raised lips that help them stack securely but also allow water to collect. If the ActionPacker is sitting outside for long periods, water will run off, so the lid won’t turn into a putrid pool (where bacteria and bugs can fester). This bin is made with durable HDPE, so it will withstand weather better than many others we tested.
On REI’s site, the ActionPacker receives an average of 4.4 stars (out of five) across more than 100 reviews. Many commenters seem to use the box as storage. We saw several commenters saying they’ve used the ActionPacker for years and that it’s held up through all types of weather.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Because of the thick plastic and bulky design, it doesn’t make the most efficient use of the space inside, which is why we don’t recommend it for everyday garage storage.
Long-term test notes: We know these bins can survive tremendous wear and tear. Staffers have kept them outside for years in all kinds of weather (one senior editor has stored hers outdoors in both Los Angeles and in Maine). And one of our two-year-old test samples survived a bear attack last year and is still going strong. The bear stole the bin from outside my chicken coop, dropped it on the latched side until it popped open, and made off with some chicken food. The only lasting damage was a small puncture hole from one of the bear’s claws. The latch still works perfectly, and if I had padlocked the bin (the lock was purchased but sitting in the house forgotten), I’m pretty confident the bear would have failed in its quest for food.
Easiest to open: Akro-Mils KeepBox Attached Lid Container
Best for: Convenient, easy-to-open storage when bugs and leaks aren’t a concern.
Why it’s great: The Akro-Mils KeepBox Attached Lid Container is the most convenient bin for anyone who struggles with tight lids. The lid has no latches to secure it—its two halves just lift open—so it’s easier to open than any other we tested. The flip-top (also called a butterfly lid) is attached to the container, so it’s also ideal for anyone who tends to misplace container lids. The KeepBox was just as sturdy as the one other butterfly-lid bin we tried (the Quantum QDC2115-12) but about half the price and more widely available. We also like that the KeepBox is clear so you can easily see what’s inside. We’ve seen the KeepBox used to store everything from Legos to home-birthing supplies.
This style of container is used for industrial shipping because it can take a beating and it stacks neatly. It’s made of a polypropylene and HDPE blend, so it’s stronger than the clear polypropylene Iris Weathertight Totes. In our drop tests we didn’t see any damage to the plastic, but the loose lid did fly open. To ensure the lid stays shut on things you want to store long-term, these bins have eyelets at their connection point that can perfectly hold a zip tie. One of our staffers has owned several of these bins for years, so we know they hold up over time.
The KeepBox receives an average of 4.6 stars (out of five) across over 2,000 owner reviews on Amazon. One reviewer uses them to stow Legos, and we saw several mentions of people keeping craft supplies in the boxes. We did note some complaints about the boxes cracking but it wasn’t an overwhelming complaint.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: This is the only plastic container we recommend that let water in when we hosed it down. Water gets in, and bugs can probably also climb in. This isn’t the bin to use to protect your stuff against the elements.
Long-term test notes: We still think these are the best easy-access bins, and although they don’t seal as tightly as our other picks, I was surprised to see how dry, dust-free, and pest-free our test Akro-Mils bin stayed after a year in my storage room. Also, our family used to store pellet litter for my 8-year-old daughter’s indoor rabbits in an Iris Weathertight Tote, and she never reattached the lid because the six latches were too tricky; instead, she frequently left it tossed aside somewhere, which meant stray litter ended up all over the carpet. I switched to the Akro-Mils bin last year, and now she can easily manage the lid—and we never have carpet spills. It’s a secure, accessible alternative to latched bins.
Best cloth storage bins: iWill Create Pro Storage Box with Zipper Lid
Best for: Seasonal and long-term clothes storage.
Why it’s great: The breathable, zippered iWill Create Pro Storage Box with Zipper Lid is a simple, inexpensive way to store and protect clothes. It’s perfect for garments that need airflow, like wool sweaters (just keep in mind that they aren’t moth-proof). We also like the iWill for items like scarves and belts—accessories you don’t use every day but still want ready access to. We tested three cloth storage containers and the iWill’s zippered top and structured sides made it the easiest to use. Retrieving items was much less frustrating than with the smaller and more expensive front-loading Container Store Sweater Box, which had to be completely emptied to pull out one thing. We also tried the Sorbus Foldable Bags but they were so floppy that filling them was a challenge—the iWill’s rigid sides were much easier to pack.
The iWill’s rigid sides and large opening make it easier to fill up than floppier boxes. Photo: Rozette Rago
The breathable fabric and zipper are ideal for protecting clothes from dust, although they may not keep out moths. Photo: Rozette Rago
The iWill’s handles made the containers easier to move around a closet or grab off of a high shelf than others we tested that lacked handles. Photo: Rozette Rago
The Iris Weathertight Totes we recommend will also work in your clothes closet and they’re clear, so you can see what’s inside, but we prefer the iWill’s zippered closure to the Iris’s heavy latches, which can feel like overkill when you just want to grab something. We also think the iWill containers are a good-looking storage option for any area where you’ll have to look at them frequently; we’ve seen commenters on Amazon who use them to store weights in a living room, linens in a hall closet, and odds and ends in a car.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The iWill doesn’t have a slot for a label and because the container is opaque identifying what’s inside is difficult. We tried to attach a few sticky labels but they fell off immediately, so we think a marker or a good memory is the best way to keep track of what’s inside.
Long-term test notes: I’ve used the test samples for two years, and they do a solid job of keeping everything inside clean. They fit neatly on my closet shelves, but they’re not firm enough to stack if I fill them with anything bulky or heavy. They’ve withstood a lot of handling as I take them on and off the shelves, and I appreciate that each lid zips completely open, which makes it easy for me to see everything I’ve stored and to add more stuff.
Size: 17.6 by 13.6 by 9.7 inches
How we picked and tested
To find a range of containers that work for a variety of needs we researched a total of 82 bins and used these criteria to narrow the field:
Holds a lot: We considered bins that would neatly and securely hold a variety of items and stack without wobbling. Organizer Beth Penn told us to look for the squarest bins possible to maximize the space inside.
Widely available: A helpful storage bin is one that’s easy to buy. Some popular bins were hard to find, so we focused on containers sold by multiple retailers or sellers with reliable inventory. Sometimes you need to see a container in person, so we also looked for options that could be picked up in store.
Durable: All bins should have closures that work consistently and materials that won’t break or tear with everyday use. Not every bin needs to withstand heavy abuse, so we also considered some that were less durable but highly practical for storage. Our plastic picks are made with polypropylene (labeled PP, the most common plastic we found) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE, for heavy-duty containers). Both PP (PDF) and HDPE (PDF) will degrade eventually from exposure to oxygen and UV from sunshine—which can cause discoloration—but the bigger concern is cold. Polypropylene can become brittle at just below freezing, which is why we don’t recommend PP bins for storage in an unheated basement or garage. Instead, choose HDPE bins, which won’t become brittle until nearly –100 degrees Fahrenheit. Neither material should be affected by the hottest outdoor temperatures—weaker PP doesn’t break down until about 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
Easy to carry: We tested for handles that didn’t hurt our hands and lids that didn’t dig into our stomachs when carrying a full box.
In 2015 we tested 11 bins; for our 2019 update we tested 21, in a range of sizes. Over the years we’ve simulated flooding and water leaks by hosing the bins down, submerging them in a kiddie pool, and leaving them out in the rain overnight. We’ve dropped them and tossed them down flights of stairs (which, we’ve found, is relaxing and pretty good for stress relief). If a container survived those tests, we filled it with household goods to see how much it held, if it closed when overstuffed, if it stacked securely, and how comfortable it was to carry. We filled clothing boxes with sweaters and hoodies, noting how much the boxes held and how easy they were to pack and empty.
A note about labeling
We recommend investing in a label maker. Labels are easy to remove and replace if you decide to repurpose a box. If you still prefer writing on the bins, we suggest dry-erase markers instead of Sharpies, particularly on clear storage containers. A quick pass with a wet wipe or magic eraser will take off the marker so you can reuse the box. Penn also suggests keeping an index inside the closet so you’ll never forget what you’re storing.
The best way to label your stuff
The Best Label Maker
We printed dozens of labels while testing the top seven label makers to find the best one to organize your office, kitchen, media cabinet, and more.
We like the Sterilite Ultra Latch containers, and used to recommend them, but they’re harder to find and come in fewer sizes than the Iris Weathertight Totes.
The lids on the IKEA Sockerbit Boxes don’t latch, which made the boxes uncomfortable to carry and less useful than our picks.
Rubbermaid’s Roughneck Totes, which we tested in 18-gallon, 10-gallon, and 3-gallon sizes, are excellent, and a favorite with a lot of our staff. They’re just really hard to find.
The Quantum QDC2115-12 storage containers were very similar to the Akro-Mils KeepBox in testing but they aren’t clear and they cost a lot more.
Closet storage boxes
Even when empty, the now discontinued Sterilite 25-Gallon Ultra Tote was warped. Our recommendations are better-made.
More ways to store your stuff
Beth Penn, home organizer and founder of Bneato Bar, email interview, December 27, 2018
Ductile/Brittle Transition Temperature, Omnexus by SpecialChem
Rebeca S. Grecco Romano, Washington Luiz Oliani, Duclerc Fernandes Parra, and Ademar Benevolo Lugao, Effects of Environmental Aging in Propylene Obtained by Injection Molding, AIP Conference Proceedings 1914, December 15, 2017
P.C. Lodi, B.S. Bueno, and J.G. Zornberg, UV Degradation of HDPE and PVC Geomembranes in Laboratory Exposure (PDF), proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Geosynthetics, May 1, 2010
Peter Dunn, Why Do Plastics Get Brittle When They Get Cold?, MIT School of Engineering, June 2, 2009
About your guide
Jackie Reeve is a senior staff writer covering bedding, organization, and home goods at Wirecutter since 2015. Previously she was a school librarian, and she’s been a quilter for about 15 years. Her quilt patterns and her other written work have appeared in various publications. She moderates Wirecutter’s staff book club and makes her bed every morning.
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The 6 Best Plastic Storage Bins of 2021
Best Stackable: iDesign + The Spruce 12 x 8-Inch Plastic Multi-Use Insert Drawer Organizer
If you want to keep your items organized, but still easy to access, try these stackable containers from The Spruce Organization line. Each of the 12 x 8 x 8-inch containers come with a removable divider to help keep different items separate, and the containers are easily stackable, so you can add a few to your bathroom cabinets, kitchen pantry, or even your craft room for easy storage.
These bins are also compatible with other, smaller storage bins in The Spruce Organization line in case you have lots of cords, buttons, cotton balls, or spices to keep organized. Each bin also has a handle in the front, so while these bins aren't sealed against outdoor conditions, they're perfect for indoor use when you need to quickly access what's inside.
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