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Published Sep. 13, 2021

Every home needs at least one step ladder. Many light bulbs can’t be changed safely without one. Step ladders are often needed to reach the top of cupboards or closets. They are also essential for many DIY and decorating tasks. A chair is a poor substitute, and often dangerous.

In response to varied needs, manufacturers have created a sometimes bewildering array of solutions. While a step ladder is, in essence, a fairly simple device, safe platforms to stand on come in many different sizes, materials, and designs.

We’ve examined the key features to look for in choosing the correct step ladder for your particular requirements, and provided our recommendations for some of the best models currently available.

How We Picked the Products

Methodology

As a keen DIY remodeler and home renovator, I have had my share of step ladders. My experience helped me set the following criteria when selecting our top picks:

Physical characteristics: How high a step ladder can reach is a major consideration, but different people have different needs, so I’ve tried to ensure a wide variety of choices. A step ladder is always being moved around, so portability is key, as is compact storage. Obviously, there can be big differences between a kitchen step ladder and one used for construction, but some respond well to these demands, while others do badly.

Build quality: Regardless of materials, a close examination of how a step ladder is put together can often turn up weaknesses. Any sections that hinge, rotate, or support need to be substantial, or durability will be compromised.

Safety: It’s obviously important that a step ladder provides a safe platform. I’ve paid particular attention to how this is achieved. Many low-cost step ladders, and a few more expensive ones, failed the test.

Value: One or two brands in this marketplace have stellar reputations for quality and durability. I also looked at less well-known manufacturers to ensure a good balance between performance and cost.

The Best Step Ladder: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Delxo Aluminum 3 Step Ladder

Sturdy, Strong, and Attractive

The wood grain finish conceals a strong and stable aluminum construction. Delxo

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Why It Made The Cut: The Delxo step ladder will appeal to many for its clever combination of appearance, strength, and safety. It would be equally useful for home, office, or store use.

Specs:

  • Material: Aluminum
  • Load Rating: 330 pounds
  • Maximum Standing Height: 25 inches
Pros:Cons:
  • Combines good looks with high strength
  • Not particularly compact when folded
  • Wide treads offer comfortable foot support
  • Premium price for a ladder this size
  • Automatic safety latch adds security
  • Three-step ladders are a popular homeowner choice because they are usually fairly light, are easy to store, and provide good reach. A top step at 25 inches might not seem particularly high, but a 5-foot-6 person standing on that platform could easily reach a standard 8-foot ceiling.

    The Delxo is a particularly attractive model that covers a strong aluminum frame in a durable wood-effect finish. Wide and deep treads make for good foot comfort and a feeling of security. The top platform is almost 10 inches square, and in combination with a wraparound top handle, provides confidence-inspiring support. Safety is underlined by the award of Germany’s TUV GS certificate, considered to require among the strictest independent testing in the world.

    Anti-slip rubber feet ensure the Delxo step ladder stays where you put it, but with a weight of just 9 pounds, it’s also easy to move when necessary. It folds flat for storage, though at 5.1 inches deep it is not the most compact.

    Best Value: Rubbermaid Steel Step Stool

    Versatility on a Budget

    The Rubbermaid step stool provides low-cost assistance with dozens of household chores. Rubbermaid

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    Why It Made The Cut: The Rubbermaid is a style of step ladder that has long been popular for its durability. This one comes with the added value of a useful tray.

    Specs:

    • Material: Steel
    • Load Rating: 225 pounds
    • Maximum Standing Height: 26 inches
    Pros:Cons:
  • Tough tubular steel construction
  • Tray cannot be detached
  • Incorporates useful project tray
  • Heavier than it looks
  • Very competitive price
  • The tubular steel frame of the Rubbermaid 3-step ladder looks a little slender compared to more modern aluminum designs, but it’s a proven design that is strong and supportive up to the 225-pound weight rating. The top step locks into position for safety, and the wraparound frame has a rubberized hand grip for additional user support. A powder-coated finish prevents rust.

    Treads allow good space for feet and have a molded, nonslip surface. Padded rubber feet also offer good grip and minimize the chances of damage to floors. Rubbermaid describes their step ladder as lightweight, though at 16 pounds it’s heavier than many in its class. It is nice and compact when folded, at just 2.4 inches deep.

    Anyone who has climbed a step ladder to realize they left necessary tools behind will appreciate the useful tray. The lidded right-hand section can be lifted out, so it can be prefilled with nails, screws, brackets, etc. However, the main tray itself cannot be removed.

    Most Versatile: Little Giant Ladders Velocity Ladder

    A Multi-Position Marvel

    A remarkably versatile step ladder from one of the market leaders. Little Giant Ladder Systems

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    Why It Made The Cut: Little Giant is a highly regarded brand that produces innovative climbing solutions. This model’s outstanding versatility makes it a top choice for home and trade users.

    Specs:

    • Material: Aluminum
    • Load Rating: 300 pounds
    • Maximum Standing Height: Step ladder 4 feet, 10 inches, standing ladder 11 feet 7 inches
    Pros:Cons:
  • Can be used as a step or standing ladder
  • Considerable bulk even when folded
  • Ratcheting legs adapt to uneven surfaces
  • Expensive
  • Has wheels for easy transportation
  • The Little Giant Ladders Velocity Step Ladder has been designed for the sort of person who is painting the stairwell one minute and cleaning gutters the next. It can be used as an ordinary step ladder or configured as a secure platform on stairs.

    Thanks to what the company calls “rock lock” adjusters, it can quickly transform into a standing ladder. Flared legs offer a solid base, but can also be extended independently. Up to 7 inches of travel allows for safe positioning on slopes or uneven ground. The adjusters are big enough to be operated by foot while the ladder is held upright.

    Thick, rubberized feet add to security and won’t mar flooring. This Little Giant Ladder can be further accessorized with a cargo holder tool pouch, a work platform, or a wingspan extension that can allow working directly in front of a window without resting on the glass or frame. At 35 pounds it is fairly heavy, but wheels have been fitted to help move it around.

    Best for DIY and Decorating: Cosco Signature 6ft Step Ladder

    The Great All-Arounder

    The ideal solution for DIY jobs in and around the home. CoscoProducts

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    Why It Made The Cut: This step ladder is designed for DIY enthusiasts or trade users and provides a stable platform with excellent reach, plus a large tray for tools or decorating supplies.

    Specs:

    • Material: Aluminum
    • Load Rating: 300 pounds
    • Maximum Standing Height: 45 inches
    Pros:Cons:
  • Box frame is strong but light
  • Tray cannot be removed for cleaning
  • Large platform top step locks for safety
  • Convenient, well-balanced carry handle
  • Six-foot step ladders have long been the standard for DIY enthusiasts, decorators, and contractors. They provide extended reach over 3-step models, which makes them a great general-purpose choice for all kinds of painting, repairs, and installation tasks.  

    The Cosco Signature step ladder offers several advantages over similar competitors. Widely spaced feet with nonslip pads make it very stable. At 13.5 inches by 14.2 inches, the locking top step provides a particularly spacious standing area. Above that, there is a project tray with slots for tools or brushes, holders for small components, and recesses specifically sized for standard paint tins. There is also a convenient paper towel holder. The top of the frame provides a convenient handhold if required, and includes an additional small tray.

    At just 17.6 pounds, it’s easy to move around. A locking clip that doubles as a carry handle makes the job easier. When folded it is a relatively compact 5.5 inches, and could easily be hung from a garage wall.

    Best Large Step Ladder: Louisville Ladder 8ft Step Ladder

    Heavy-Duty Quality

    A sturdy, high-strength step ladder that is also nonconductive. Louisville Ladder

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    Why It Made The Cut: Impressive strength, great reach, and tremendous durability combine in this heavy-duty step ladder that has been designed for remodeling, construction, cable, or utility work.

    Specs:

    • Material: Fiberglass
    • Load Rating: 375 pounds
    • Maximum Standing Height: 68 inches
    Pros:Cons:
  • Very strong, high-quality fiberglass construction
  • No standing platform
  • Nonconductive
  • “Pro Top” tool system
  • For those who want maximum reach but with the inherent stability provided by a step ladder, the Louisville Ladder is an excellent choice. The nonconductive fiberglass frame gives great strength and is further reinforced with steel braces along the non-standing side. Treads are supported with steel strips and fixed with steel rivets. The company has a “SHOX” system that’s designed to absorb accidental impacts and improve durability. Feet are aluminum, shrouded in thick, nonslip rubber boots.

    At the top of the ladder sits the Pro Top tool and accessory system. This is much more than a simple tray. There is a magnetic hardware tray, plus various slots for tools—including one for a cordless drill—and two areas that take belt clips like those found on tape measures and some power tools. There is also a paint bucket holder and a pipe holder, which can also accommodate 2×4 lumber. Many tradespeople will be able to do away with a cumbersome tool belt, giving greater freedom of movement and improved safety as a result.

    Despite its size, at 21.5 pounds, the Louisville 8-foot step ladder remains very manageable.

    Things to Consider Before Buying a Step Ladder

    Although designs vary, all step ladders perform the same job in raising people above ground level. Here are the important features that distinguish step leaders, so you can find the type you need.

    Height and Weight Rating

    Step ladder height can be confusing. When manufacturers talk about a 6-foot or 8-foot ladder, that’s the height to the top of the ladder when in use, not the height of the top step, which will be lower. Smaller 2-, 3- , and 4-step ladders often don’t give heights, so it’s a good idea to find out the height of the top step.

    All step ladders have a weight rating and should meet standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Bear in mind these maximums are for both the user and whatever they are carrying.

    Material

    Step ladders are made from steel, aluminum, fiberglass, or wood. Steel is cheapest, and is strong but can be quite heavy. It’s also prone to rust. A tough, corrosion-resistant powder coating is usually applied to combat this.

    Aluminum is lighter than steel. Though theoretically not as strong, sectional construction provides more than enough support in the majority of cases. Aluminum is also highly resistant to corrosion, which often makes it more durable.

    Fiberglass can have the strength of steel and does not corrode. It is also nonconductive, so it’s safest when working with electrical wiring or near cables. It is often considered the optimum material for step ladders. However, it is noticeably heavier than aluminum and usually more expensive.

    Wooden step ladders are the traditional choice. Unfortunately, they lack the strength and durability of other types and generally cost more. They can be very attractive but are perhaps best kept for offices or libraries.

    Versatility

    If all you need is a platform for changing light bulbs or reaching a high shelf, then a basic step ladder is ideal. A step up from this are step ladders that have a platform for decorating equipment or a hanging bag for tools. Some can be unfolded and used like a standing ladder, or adapted to stairs and uneven surfaces.

    FAQs

    Q: What is the best step ladder to buy?

    It very much depends on your needs. The quality of the brand, the jobs you want done, and factors such as material, height, weight, and versatility are the key elements that are important to consider. Our recommendations provide a range of quality solutions to suit different tasks and budgets.

    Q: Which is better, an aluminum or fiberglass step ladder?

    Aluminum step ladders are lighter and so easier to move around. Fiberglass step ladders are stronger, but heavier and often more expensive. It’s important to think about what you need from your step ladder. While fiberglass step ladders can be better, aluminum step ladders offer greater mobility.

    Q: How long do fiberglass ladders last?

    The ultraviolet in sunlight can degrade fiberglass and will often bleach the color, but this does not mean there is serious damage. You should make regular checks that hinge areas are secure, and that there are no cracks in sides or treads. If looked after, a fiberglass step ladder could last a decade or more.

    Final Thoughts

    The Delxo 3 Step Ladder combines light weight with strength and safety. It is not just practical; it’s also attractive. Promotional images show it used as a bookcase or plant stand. While those are perhaps a stretch, many owners won’t be in a hurry to hide it away. That said, the Rubbermaid step stool puts practicality first, with a useful tray for tools. It doesn’t quite have the strength of the Delxo, but can help accomplish many household chores and is a terrific value.

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