The Best Gear for Small Apartments: Wirecutter Reviews

Many small apartments and houses don’t have adequate closet space. And you’re lucky to get in-unit laundry! We’ve come up with a few creative solutions to help you save space and money when it comes to keeping your clothes organized and clean.

Compact closet drawers

Our pick

IKEA Algot Frame with 4 Mesh Baskets/Top Shelf

Small apartments usually mean small closets, but using the limited closet space you have to its fullest can make a big difference. A compact set of closet drawers lets you use otherwise dead space underneath a clothes rod to store clothing and other gear out of sight—and out of your living space. After looking at 10 models and testing five, we found IKEA’s Algot frame with 4 mesh baskets is a smooth-opening, easy to assemble, and affordable option that works great for most closets. Pair that with the Konmari folding method, and you’ll be able to fit all your clothes out of sight in a minimal amount of space.

We recommend the 4-runner Algot model. At 28 inches high, it fits comfortably underneath a standard rod mounted at 6 feet and hung with shirts, skirts, or other mid-length garments. (But we don’t recommend the 40⅛-inch model because the frame isn’t sufficiently braced for the height. As a result, it bows out slightly in the middle, which causes the drawers to slip off their tracks.) At 5 inches deep, the Algot drawers are a bit shallow (they also come in an 11½-inch depth, but that’s a bit too deep for clothing storage). Still, the 5-inch drawers can hold about 18 large folded men’s T-shirts. The fine-mesh baskets keep clothes tidy. This was not the case with the ClosetMaid 4-drawer basket kit’s wide-weave baskets, which allowed clothes to droop into the holes and develop unsightly creases.

The Algot drawers are also the only metal drawers we tested that have casters on the drawer runners, which helps the drawers open and close smoothly, unlike the clunky ClosetMaid, which dragged constantly and opened unevenly. We also found that the Algot’s drawer stops (plastic pieces that snap onto the corners of the baskets, preventing them from accidentally sliding out of the frame) worked better than the other metal drawers we tried. But you can still purposefully remove the drawer from the frame if you wish (useful for loading up with clean laundry, for example).

The Algot’s powder-coated steel frame was the easiest to assemble among the metal drawer sets we tested, simply screwing together using an included Allen wrench. The Algot drawers are also easy to disassemble—a plus if you need to pack them away for moving. There was no hammering required, unlike The Container Store’s Elfa drawers and the ClosetMaid. However, if you don’t plan on taking them apart, the Elfa drawers are a bit sturdier, have a nicer finish, and offer more size options and configurations than the Algot drawers (though at three times the price). At 7 inches deep, the midsize Elfa basket is more capacious than the equivalent Algot basket, offering about 40 percent more volume (fitting about seven more T-shirts). The Elfa baskets open and close smoothly even with the stops attached (though you can’t lift the drawers fully out of the frame, like you can with the Algot).

Also great

Whitmor Closet Organizer Collection 3 Tier Shelves

We think a set of drawers is ideal for storing clothes, but if you just need a quick way to add shelves and keep belongings together, the Whitmor Closet Organizer Collection 3 Tier Shelves will serve you well. We liked this better than the BrylaneHome 6-Drawer Storage Wardrobe  that we tried, because the canvas shelves simply snap onto the aluminum-tube frame, so there are no screws or small pieces to keep track of if you take it apart. The two canvas boxes measure 14 by 10½ inches, so they aren’t practical for storing most clothing, but work well for socks, underwear, or other accessories you need to stash away. The 12-inch-deep shelves were fairly stable, and though they won’t support heavy boxes or big items, they would be great for shoes, towels, sheets, and the like. —Courtney Schley

Over-the-door rack

Our pick

Nickel Duchess 5-Hook Overdoor Rack

After looking at dozens of models and testing two, we have found that The Container Store’s Nickel Duchess 5-Hook Overdoor Rack is the best around. It’s solidly built, and the oval nubs at the end of each hook are smooth enough that they shouldn’t damage delicate fabrics—unlike the blunt, mushroom-like ends on the Spectrum Windsor 6-Hook Over the Door Rack. The rack measures 19⅜ inches wide and 12¼ inches high, with a 1¾-inches-wide hanging bracket that should fit over most interior doors.

In our testing, we found the rack hung easily on a small door—24 inches wide and 1½ inch thick. There was a quarter inch overhang in the bracket, so the rack did wiggle a little on the door, but not enough to prove annoying. We didn’t find that the bracket scraped the door paint, although we did find one user comment about the bracket making it hard to shut a door—truthfully, though, this could be an issue with any over-the-door rack. The Nickel Duchess 5-Hook Overdoor Rack should be able to hold heavy bags and bulky jackets without bending or breaking. —CCC

Foldaway clothes-drying rack

Our pick

2-Tier Mesh-Top Drying Rack

After testing three top-rated racks, we prefer The Container Store’s 2-Tier Mesh-Top Drying Rack for a small apartment (which is the exact same rack as the Polder Two-Tier we tested in the most recent update, if that happens to be cheaper) . Although it holds only one load of laundry, it has a very small footprint—19 by 23 inches and 39½ inches tall. That’s small enough to fit into a bathtub, which we’ve found is often the best place to dry clothes in a small place.

Because this rack folds vertically, you can also fold it up while it’s loaded with clothes and move it to another room, or outside—a bonus if you’ve just hung up stuff, and then unexpectedly have guests. We like the mesh top, which would work nicely for drying delicate lingerie or a sweater that needs to be dried flat.The rack folds down to 2 inches thick, so it’s easy to stow behind a door or on a hook in a closet. In comparison, the Moerman Laundry Solutions Y-Airer Indoor Folding Clothes Drying Rack and Household Essentials Folding Clothes Drying Rack we tried were bulkier.

One quirk that we didn’t love is that the bottom bar that locks the rack into the open positions seems to slip pretty easily, but that’s what makes it so easy to fold up and move around, even when full. And the rack never fell. —CCC

Wall-mounted drying rack

Fully expanded, this wall-mount rack holds a large amount of laundry, especially if you add hangers to the sides. Photo: Michael Zhao
Fully expanded, this wall-mount rack holds a large amount of laundry, especially if you add hangers to the sides. Photo: Michael Zhao

Our pick

Polder Wall-Mount 24-Inch Accordion Dryer

If you don’t have space to store even a compact folding rack, a wall-mounted option can fit most of a load of laundry. We like Polder’s Wall-Mount 24-Inch Accordion Dryer, which takes up almost no space when folded, but provides the equivalent of a 12¼-foot-long clothesline (it folds out to 24 by 18 inches when expanded). If you get clever with your drying configurations and use some hangers on the sides, you can fit a full load of wet laundry on it. There’s a 22-pound weight limit, but we were able to load it past that without it showing signs of distress. We also liked that it comes with all the hardware you need to install it, including drywall anchors.

We like the Polder Accordion Dryer’s plastic-over-steel design more than all-steel designs, like the all-steel Aero-W because it’s much more affordable—the Polder costs only about a third of the price. If you have a larger household and could use the extra line space and weight capacity, an all-metal version would be worth looking into, but that’s less likely in a small apartment.—MZ

Hanger drying rack

Our pick

Whitmor Designer Plastic Clip and Drip Add-On Hangers (Set of 3)

For delicates and smaller items, we like Whitmor’s Designer Plastic Clip and Drip Add-On Hangers. The three hangers can be used separately or attached together for more storage. The hanger hooks have a unique locking mechanism that keeps them securely on a shower rod, and we like that the three hangers, which can clip to each other like a vertical mobile or hang separately on a horizontal rod, give you 24 clips to work with. In contrast, the Lingerie Drying Rack we tested from The Container Store felt flimsy, and none of the other racks we looked at offered as many hooks.

The Sweethome’s Harry Sawyers uses and likes the Whitmor for hanging baby socks and delicates that shouldn’t go in the dryer. If you use a tension rod, he cautioned not to overload one end. “The trick is to balance the hangers out through the length of the rod and not load them up on one end,” he said. “Or, you know, get a tougher, wall-mounted shower rod.” —CCC

Vacuum-sealing storage bags

Our pick

Ziploc Space Bags (Box of 15)

Like the Hulk crumpling a can, vacuum bags supposedly compress bulky jackets and bedding to a fraction of their size. Ziploc’s Space Bags don’t quite live up to the hype, but we still think they’re a great solution for stowing away seasonal clothing and bedding. In our tests, we found that the Space Bags lost their tight seal after about 24 hours, but they still kept clothes and bedding densely packed. Ziploc claims these bags allow you to pack twice as much in them as non-compression bags; after the bags lost their tight seal, we’d conservatively say they pack up about 25 percent smaller than when storing items in a storage box or duffle. They also sealed much better in our testing than Storage Kaddy’s Space Cube Compression Bags.

From our testing, we think the Space Bags seem durable enough to be reused, although they probably won’t stand up to the abuse that a plastic or cloth storage case could take. We read many positive user reviews that said Space Bags are reusable, but there seemed to be an equal number of reviewers that said the bags ripped or broke after one use.

We don’t think Space Bags are a perfect solution for everyone. Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves prefers stowing clothes in cloth bags from Muji (they’re unfortunately now discontinued), while Erin Dolan of Unclutterer prefers plastic storage bins or Eagle Creek’s compression sacks. But for the price, we think Ziploc’s combo pack of 15 small-to-large bags gives you lots of options for stowing everything from baby clothes up to a king-size comforter. We also like that they’ll protect your stuff from bugs like moths or (dare we say it?) bedbugs. —CCC

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