Electric Can Openers
Electric can openers make a difficult job easy, but some models are unreliable. Could we find one that works flawlessly every time?
How We Tested
Whether you open a ton of cans, find it uncomfortable or difficult to operate a manual can opener, or simply prefer automatic appliances, an electric can opener is an appealing option. There are two styles: small countertop appliances and even smaller battery-powered models that sit on top of cans. To find the best openers, we assembled a lineup of eight models (five countertop and three battery powered), ranging in price from about $16 to about $50. Testers, including one with arthritis, used them to open more than 100 cans of varying sizes—from 5-ounce cans of tuna to 28-ounce cans of tomatoes. We even included dented cans and cans with pull tops, both of which can be difficult to open. We evaluated how easy the openers were to operate, their cutting styles, and their durability.
How They Work
The countertop models all operated similarly. They each have a lever and a circular blade that latches on to the can’s rim, suspending the can in midair. Once you’ve positioned a can in place, you push down on the lever to engage the blade and the opener spins the can, cutting as it goes. When it’s done, you lift the lever, extract the can, and then remove the opened lid.
To use each battery-powered opener, you position it on a can’s rim and press a button on the device that causes the opener to slowly make its way around the rim, cutting as it goes (no hands needed). After the opener has completed a full revolution, you press the button to turn off the opener (or it will continue spinning and cutting), and then you remove it along with the opened lid.
Operating the Openers
A can opener’s success depended in large part on how well it latched on to cans. Five models were difficult to use; they required that cans be positioned just so, without clear indicators for ideal placement. The three other models latched on to cans with ease.
We also noticed that some models were more stable than others. All the countertop models required us to keep pressure on their levers in order to operate their motors; lighter models started to topple over when we took our hands off them, threatening to spill a can’s contents and even cut us with blades or sharp can lids. Only the heaviest models were sturdy enough to suspend 28-ounce cans of tomatoes when we took our hands off them. Two of the battery-powered openers often wobbled on the cans’ tops and nearly fell off. The third was stable during each revolution.
Opening a can should be quick, but opening speeds varied among models. The countertop models took an average of 12 seconds to open a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, whereas the battery-powered openers took 34 seconds on average. And one battery-powered opener took a whopping 46 seconds, which seems like a lifetime in a busy kitchen.
Evaluating the Different Cutting Styles
The openers in our lineup made cuts at three different locations on the cans’ rims. Four models used a traditional can-opening method: Their vertical blades cut down into the lid, inside the rim, creating jagged edges both on the lid and the can. Two openers cut horizontally into the side of the can below its rim, taking off the whole top of the can. This left sharp edges behind as well. We preferred the third cutting style used by two openers: Their horizontal cutting wheels sliced into the rim itself, separating the lid from the can’s body at the seal and leaving behind smooth edges on both parts. Six models had magnets that lifted the lids off the cans once they were cut. This minimized our contact with jagged edges, but it didn’t remove the risk completely, and liquid sometimes dripped from the lids in the process and dirtied the counter.
Dented and Pull-Top Cans
Dents can bend cans’ lids and make them harder to open, so we wanted to see if the models in our lineup could efficiently open dented cans. We dented cans’ sides ourselves, keeping the dent size and placement as consistent as possible. The dents stopped three models in their tracks and prevented them from opening the cans. The remaining five models successfully opened the cans.
We also tested the openers with pull-top cans, since they can be difficult for people with disabilities or diminished hand strength to grasp. Some models weren’t able to latch on to these cans at all; others started cutting but then got stuck when they reached the pull tabs. Only two models, one countertop and one battery powered, did well with pull-top cans.
After opening a dozen cans each, the countertop models remained perfectly functional. The same couldn’t be said for the battery-powered openers. The two that were consistently wobbly and difficult to operate stopped working, due to either a part breaking off or the motor giving out. We ordered replacement copies of both models and got similarly inconsistent results while testing them, so we don’t recommend them. The blade of the remaining battery-powered model became slightly bent, though this did not affect its performance.
We then used the best performer from each category to open cans of varied shapes and sizes, from oval-shaped 7-ounce cans of kippers to supersize 90-ounce cans of tomatoes. Only the elliptical cans tripped up the openers: They weren’t able to maintain a connection on the cans’ longer sides. To round out durability testing, we knocked the countertop models over on the counter and dropped the battery-operated models onto the counter from a height of 6 inches. Every opener survived.
The Best Electric Can Opener: Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch Electric Can Opener
One countertop can opener, the Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch Electric Can Opener, was durable and performed well, so we named it our winner. It easily latched on to cans of all sizes, and it was sturdy enough to open even heavy 28-ounce cans without tipping over. It cuts into the side of cans’ rims, leaving no dangerous, sharp edges behind, and it successfully opened pull-top and dented cans. It also passed our durability tests. One battery-powered opener, the Kitchen Mama Electric Can Opener, also performed well throughout testing, but its cutting wheel got slightly bent. It still opened cans with ease, but we took off points for durability. If you’re looking for a more portable option, it fits easily in a drawer and doesn't have to be plugged in.
- Test eight electric can openers (five countertop, three battery powered), priced from about $16 to about $50
- Open two 5-ounce cans of tuna in water
- Open two 6-ounce cans of tomato paste
- Open two dented 14-ounce cans of white beans
- Open two 15-ounce cans of black beans
- Open two 15.5-ounce cans of black beans with pull tops
- Open two 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes
- Have a user with arthritis test the openers and provide feedback
- Top performers: Open round and oval-shaped cans in the following sizes: 2 ounces, 7 ounces, 13.5 ounces, 20 ounces, 40.5 ounces, and 90 ounces
- Knock the countertop openers over onto the counter
- Drop the battery-powered openers onto the counter from a 6-inch height
Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to latch the openers on to cans, operate them, and keep them steady on the counter or can tops.
Performance: We tested how well and quickly the models opened cans, whether they cut smoothly and left safe edges, and whether they were able to open dented cans and cans with pull tops.
Durability: We tested how well the openers held up to repeated use and abuse.