If you love noodles as much as we do (and we’re willing to bet you do) you need a colander to drain them. Lightweight, fine mesh strainers are useful for plenty of tasks, but for heavy batches of pasta or huge bushels of greens, a large, free-standing or over-the-sink colander is the right tool for the job.
To find the best models, we tested eight popular colanders, focusing on ones that were five quarts, which is spacious enough for draining and holding a pound of cooked pasta. We included a variety of materials (stainless steel, plastic, silicone) and styles of strainers (fine mesh, larger holes, and all-over, tiny perforations). Here’s what we found out—but, first, a look at our favorite colanders.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Colander: RSVP International Endurance Stainless Steel Precision Pierced Colander, 5-Quart
Thin stainless steel helped this colander achieve a balance between lightweight and durable. It drained quickly, and its handles stayed cool to the touch after being doused with boiling water. The small holes kept even the tiniest bits of pasta from escaping. And its smooth surface and tightly-sealed rim easily wiped clean and didn’t trap noodles or vegetables.
The Best Over-the-Sink Colander: U.S. Kitchen Supply Over-The-Sink Stainless Steel Oval Colander
The most surefire way to prevent water washing back up into a colander is an over-the-sink model. This strainer featured extendable handles that stretch out to span nearly two feet. They were easy to expand and collapse, and remained sturdy under the weight of one-pound of food. If you have an extra-large sink, measure the width before ordering to make sure this colander will fit.
- Straining Angel Hair Pasta Test: We cooked and strained one-pound of angel hair pasta using a stopwatch to time how long it took the pasta to completely drain. We also inspected the colander to see if any noodles escaped or were poking out.
- Straining Orzo Test: We cooked and strained one pound of orzo, using a stopwatch to time how long it took the pasta to completely drain. We also inspected the colander to see if any noodles escaped or were poking out.
- Straining Broccoli Test: We boiled and strained one pound of broccoli florets. We then cleaned each colander to see if any small bits of broccoli remained caught in the holes or under the rim.
- Usability and Cleanup Tests: Throughout testing, we evaluated how easy the colanders were to set up, pick up, and otherwise handle. We washed each colander by hand after every test. At the end of testing, we cleaned each colander in the dishwasher according to their manufacturer care instructions to see how they held up.
What We Learned
Hole Size Was Important for Drainage
When it came to draining, hole size and placement impacted performance. The most effective colanders had small, evenly-spaced holes all along their walls and bases. These allowed water to drain out quickly without any food escaping. Some models, like the KitchenAid classic plastic colander, had varied hole sizes, with lots of space between them (20 millimeters compared to the .5 millimeters of our favorite colander). More space meant more solid surface area, which slowed drainage. Poorer-performing models took upwards of 10 seconds longer to drain than the RSVP.
Additionally, larger holes (like the ones on the KitchenAid and All-Clad Stainless Steel Colander) allowed food to escape, creating waste. When tested with orzo, these models left the sink full of tiny noodles.
An Over-the-Sink Colander Helped Prevent Dreaded Backwash
To use a free-standing colander, you place it in the kitchen sink and pour directly from a pot into the colander. If the colander drains slowly, or if your sink is backed up, there’s a risk that water from the sink could wash back up into the colander, contaminating your food and ruining your day. We love our kitchen sinks, but we absolutely do not want to lick them, and cross contamination between the sink and our dinner is a no-go. The most foolproof way to avoid this is to use an over-the-sink colander. With a model like the U.S. Kitchen Supply, the bottom of the colander doesn’t touch the sink. So after the water runs through the mesh, there’s zero chance of it washing back up.
If your sink drains normally, a free-standing model with a fast drain time and tall (one-inch) base, like our favorite from RSVP, will work just fine.
Textured Holes Trapped Food Bits
All colander walls have holes—that’s kind of the point. The problem is that any uneven edges create a place where food can get stuck. The Bellemain Micro-Perforated Stainless Steel Colander drained well, but its holes had slightly raised edges that snagged small noodles and broccoli fibers. Wire mesh models, like the one from Williams Sonoma, faced a similar problem. Although they were the fast drainers, any little piece of food left behind had to be delicately extracted before the walls tore it apart like a cheese grater.
Large, Easy-to-Grip Handles Were Best
Handles are a must for keeping your hands out of the way of sloshing noodles or wafts of steam. Our favorite models featured handles large enough to grab securely with three fingers (at least three inches wide). The OXO Good Grips stainless steel colander was the only model with no handles. Instead, it featured a silicone edge with slightly wider silicone area for lifting. These hard-to-grip handles put our hands right in the action, and increased our likelihood of dropping the whole thing.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Good Colander
The ideal colander should be solid and dependable. Our favorite models were fast-draining and nimble. They held steady under the force of a pound of pasta, and had sturdy handles that made transferring food a breeze (and kept our hands safe from scalding). We also looked for a colander surface that felt smooth to the touch—the fewer ragged edges, the less likely it was to trap food.
The Best Colander: RSVP International Endurance Stainless Steel Precision Pierced Colander
What we liked: This durable, no-frills colander drained incredibly quickly (the second fastest of the bunch). Sturdy, wide handles made it easy to hold onto, too. The colander’s walls and base had hundreds of tiny, minimally spaced holes, which allowed water to escape, but still contained every last bit of food. The RSVP’s walls were smooth to the touch and easy to wipe clean after use.
What we didn’t like: There were no glaring flaws in this basic model. If your sink drains slowly, there’s a slight risk water could back up into the colander, but that’s no fault of the colander itself. (And if this is a known problem, you might want to consider investing in an over-the-sink model.)
- Weight: 14.9 ounces
- Product dimensions: 13 x 11 x 5 inches
- Base height: 1-inch
- Materials: Stainless steel
- Care instructions: Dishwasher-safe
The Best Over-the-Sink Colander: U.S. Kitchen Supply Over-the-Sink Stainless Steel Oval Colander
What we liked: This over-the-sink design is the best way to avoid water backwash. The handles extended and collapsed easily for easier use and storage and their rubber grips provided plenty of stability. We found this model stayed in place even when heavy foods were poured into it.
What we didn’t like: The mesh base of this colander was quick-draining and lightweight, but less durable than stainless steel alternatives. Wire mesh can bend or dent if stored improperly or vigorously scrubbed.
- Weight: 1.45 lbs
- Product dimensions: 5.71 x 3.74 x 1.38 inches; handles span 21 inches when expanded
- Base height: 1/2-inch
- Materials: Stainless steel; rubber
- Care instructions: Dishwasher-safe
- Bellemain Micro-perforated Stainless Steel: The Bellemain was a solid colander with many similarities to the winning RSVP International. However, bits of orzo and broccoli got stuck under the rim of this stainless steel model, making it tougher to clean. The slightly raised, perforated holes of the Bellemain created a rough surface that caught small strands of broccoli.
- KitchenAid Classic Plastic Colander: This plastic colander drained slowly. Although the smooth plastic was easy to clean, the large holes allowed orzo and the tail ends of angle hair pasta to escape.
- OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Colander: This colander drained well, but the small rubber handles were difficult to grab. Although they remained cool to the touch, they placed your hands close to the action and were slippery.
- Williams Sonoma Stainless-Steel 3-Piece Mesh Colander Set: We loved the super-fast drainage of this mesh colander. But, during cleaning, the wire mesh had a cheese grater effect on stuck food: it caught and ripped apart small noodles and bits of broccoli. The mesh can also bend out of shape.
- All-Clad Stainless Steel Colander: This solid colander drained quickly and was easy to handle. Unfortunately, the large holes allowed a significant amount of orzo to escape. At $80, it’s also incredibly expensive.
- Qimh Over-the-Sink Colander: This over-the-sink colander lost points for design and drain time. The unevenly distributed holes contributed to a slow drain. The expandable handles were also difficult to collapse, making it awkward to transfer food from the colander to a serving vessel.
What is the difference between a colander and strainer?
The terms colander and strainer are often used interchangeably. Both of these tools are used to separate solids from liquids, but the designs may vary. Colanders are large, sturdy, and bowl-shaped. They’re often footed and free-standing. Strainers are smaller mesh tools with long handles—useful for tasks like making silky-smooth pastry cream, sifting flour, and more.
What’s the best way to clean a colander?
The trick to cleaning a colander is to get started immediately. Food left to sit in a colander can dry out and get stuck in its small holes and crevices. After you’ve transferred food out of the colander and into another vessel, simply wash and dry with soap and water or place in the dishwasher. Be sure to double check for any bits of stuck food. If you do find yourself with stubborn food particles, let your colander soak in warm, soapy water for a bit before cleaning.
What size is a normal colander?
We recommend choosing a colander that’s approximately the same size as your cooking vessel. Most pasta pots hold between six to eight quarts of water, and are typically filled about 3/4 full. This means a 5-quart colander is easily big enough to strain a pound of pasta.