From tucking away totes on the highest shelf in the closet to cutting in paint edges along the top of a wall, a step ladder is the tool of choice for accessing difficult-to-reach areas. But not all step ladders are created equal. The best step ladders are durable, capable of safely supporting your weight (plus any tools and materials you’re carrying), and sturdy enough not to slip, tilt, or waver while you’re standing on them.
If you’re in the market for a step ladder, keep reading to find out why the following are some of the best choices for household use.
- BEST OVERALL: Delxo Lightweight Aluminum Woodgrain 3 Step Ladder
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: HBTower 3 Step Ladder
- BEST FOR DAILY USE: Little Giant Ladders, Jumbo Step, 3-Step Stool
- BEST FOR DIYERS: COSCO 2061AABLKE Signature Series Step Ladder
- BEST FOR PROS: Werner 6206 stepladders, 6-Foot
- BEST FOR PAINTING: Rubbermaid RM-SLA3-T Ultra Light Aluminum Step Stool
- BEST LEANING: Little Giant Ladders 13610-001 Green King Kombo
What to Look for When Choosing the Best Step Ladder
Unlike straight ladders—the type used to reach a roof or a gutter—step ladders don’t lean against a wall for support. Instead, they fold open to form a pyramid shape, with four feet providing stability. Their steps are also broader and deeper than the rungs of a straight ladder.
For anyone needing a boost to retrieve something from a seasonal shelf in the pantry or installing a rack on the wall, a step ladder will come in handy. Consider the following when shopping for the best step ladder.
The best folding step ladder options will keep users safe as they work. Be sure to choose the right type for the particular conditions and work required:
- A-frame: An A-frame is the classic step ladder. It is a freestanding ladder that looks like the letter “A” when viewed from the side. Specialized A-frames may feature a telescoping frame for use on stairs or ramps, or twin-steps with steps on both arms of the “A” allowing two workers to use the ladder at the same time.
- Leaning: Most step ladders are not safe to be used without opening the frame. Lean-safe step ladders are an exception to the rule. They may be used either open or closed, giving them additional useful flexibility.
- Extension: Multiposition step ladders offer adjustability for different working heights. An extension ladder, however, is not the same thing. Extension ladders are incrementally adjustable leaning ladders that are not freestanding. If you need adjustable height with free standing capability, search for a multiposition step ladder.
- Platform: A platform ladder is a step ladder with a broad standing surface and a safety rail at the top. This configuration offers extra working reach for projects like painting or cleaning windows.
Step ladders come in four primary materials: aluminum, fiberglass, steel, and wood, and each has specific benefits.
- Aluminum: Step ladders made from aluminum are lightweight yet strong and durable, making them easy to carry and convenient to use. Aluminum doesn’t rust or corrode as quickly as steel, but it’s not entirely impervious to moisture, so don’t leave it out in the rain.
- Fiberglass: Electricians favor this type of step ladder because, unlike aluminum or steel, fiberglass won’t conduct an electrical current, making it safer to use when working near live wires. It’s even more robust than aluminum and nearly as lightweight, but it’s pricier. Fiberglass is also the most durable material for resisting rust and corrosion.
- Steel: Steel step ladders are durable and heavier than either aluminum or fiberglass, so they offer a sturdy base on which to climb, but steel also tends to corrode and rust if it gets wet. A steel ladder will last longer if it’s used indoors and wiped dry if it gets wet.
- Wood: Before aluminum, fiberglass, and steel appeared in step ladders, wood was the material of choice. Wood step ladders are still available, and they’re often reasonably priced, but they may not support as much weight as other types of step ladders. Wood ladders tend to be less durable since they’re not weather resistant, but for purists, it’s hard to beat the look of a wooden step ladder.
Step ladders range in height from about 3 feet to 8 feet and usually feature three or more steps. The smaller version with just one or two steps is known as a step stool, and these may come with a support handle at the top the user can hold on to when stepping up. On a step ladder, the user holds the ladder’s sides for support when climbing up or down.
If a user must strain their arms, stand on tiptoes, or exceed the tallest climbable step to reach the desired height, that means the ladder is too short—with potential consequences ranging from minor discomfort to dangerous slips and falls. As such, it’s important to consider reach height, or the highest point a person can safely access while standing on the ladder. Reach height for step ladders is ladder height plus 4 feet. For instance, most adults can reach an 8-foot ceiling using a four-foot step ladder.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates step ladders by the amount of weight they will safely hold. The weight capacity will usually appear in the ladder’s description as maximum weight in pounds, such as “up to 250 pounds.” A ladder may also be listed as a Type I, Type II, or Type III step ladder based on the following weight ratings:
- Type I will support up to 250 pounds and is designed for contractor and commercial use.
- Type II supports up to 225 pounds, making it suitable for overhead painting projects and light commercial use.
- Type III will support up to 200 pounds and is suitable for most household uses.
As mentioned above, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates step ladders by the amount of weight they will safely hold. This number will usually appear in the ladder’s description as maximum weight in pounds. Load capacity is indicated by specific weight limits:
- Type IAA ladders hold up to 375 pounds.
- Type IA ladders hold up to 300 pounds.
- Type I ladders hold up to 250 pounds.
- Type II ladders hold up to 225 pounds.
- Type III ladders hold up to 200 pounds.
When determining the load capacity needed for a project, factor in the user’s own weight plus the weight of the tools and supplies needed to carry up or store on the ladder (if it has a built-in tray or shelf).
Ladders are designed for safe, long-lasting service when used as designed. Look for the listed duty rating, shown in pounds. This is the total weight of the user plus equipment that the ladder can safely support. Also consider the material it’s made of. When working around electricity, fiberglass ladders are the best choice. Those with slip-resistant treads are safer in wet conditions.
Think before setting up and climbing the ladder. Set it up on flat, level ground. Avoid working on a ladder in severe weather, high winds, and wet or icy conditions. Double-check that all hinges and adjustments are locked in place before climbing the ladder.
Our Top Picks
Among the handiest of tools, a step ladder will quickly earn its keep in a home when you want to access an item that’s out of reach or hang a painting without teetering on a kitchen chair. Step ladders fold up to just a few inches thick, making them suitable for storing in a utility closet. One of the following step ladders may come in handy at your house.
Weighing in at just 8.3 pounds but capable of supporting a hefty 300 pounds of weight, the Delxo three-step ladder is a great choice for most households. Its oversize top step (measuring 9.84 inches by 9.84 inches) offers a 25-inch lift off the ground, which is easy for a user to stand on comfortably with both feet while bracing their legs on the hand grip for balance.
The step ladder’s rubber feet won’t scratch or mar wood or laminate flooring; instead, they offer superior anti-slip protection. Constructed from high-quality aluminum wrapped in an attractive woodgrain finish, the Delxo step ladder spreads 26 inches when open, yet it folds away to a mere 5.1 inches for easy storage when not in use.
This folding ladder provides 3 feet of height to help reach items on top shelves, clean ceiling fans, change light bulbs, and more. The 500-pound duty limit ensures a sturdy platform while working with heavy tools and equipment, and the under-$70 price tag makes it a bargain.
A lock-and-open system makes it easy to open and close, with the metal safety buckle automatically locking in place when the ladder is in use. Cross bracing on the back reinforces the structure for less wobble and better support. Wide steps with nonslip rubber treads provide added safety and comfort. At just 1.6 inches thick when folded, the ladder requires minimal storage space. The heavy-duty steel frame makes it a bit heavier than some competitors, but it still only weighs 11.5 pounds.
For projects that require climbing up and down a step ladder often, the Little Giant Ladders 3-Step Stool will make the task safer and easier. It’s designed with stair-like steps that aren’t as steep as traditional step ladders, and it has nonslip treads to make it easy to safely reach the top step 26½ inches above the ground, even while holding tools or a paint can.
The extended tripod design makes this steel-frame step ladder one of the most stable ladders around, and its rubber-tipped feet won’t scratch floors beneath. Rated to support up to 375 pounds, this pick from Little Giant Ladders comes with an optional fold-up hand bar with tool holder
A high-quality step ladder is essential for all those DIY projects that require 45 inches of additional reaching ability. Whether it’s trimming out windows, hanging shutters, or pruning fruit trees, a user will appreciate the height and sturdiness of the COSCO Signature Series Step Ladder. Its lightweight steel frame (17.6 pounds) is easy to move and supports up to 300 pounds.
The ladder features nonslip feet and two project trays that fold out to hold tools or paint cans, so it’s a solid choice for DIYers who need to keep their supplies within arm’s reach while working. Topping out at 6 feet when open, the COSCO step ladder offers all the height and stability needed to safely complete projects.
The Werner 6-foot fiberglass step ladder is designed for heavy-duty industrial or rugged homeowner use. It is duty rated at 300 pounds. Fiberglass rails, plus aluminum steps and edge bracing, provide a balance of strong support and light weight—only 10 pounds.
Professional-grade features include double-riveted, slip-resistant 3-inch traction tread steps; heavy-duty pinch-proof spreaders; knee-braced steps; and a full set of rear horizontals spaced at 12-inch intervals. The holster top with lock-in accessory system and sturdy paint-can hanger includes holes and a tool tray to help users stay organized while working, and it keeps tools from falling.
This Rubbermaid step ladder is a perfect size for painting hard-to-reach areas but won’t fill up a storage space when not in use. It weighs less than 7 pounds for easy transport and supports up to 225 pounds. The working size is 52.4 by 19.69 by 26.75 inches, and it folds to just 3.5 inches thick when not in use, so it won’t eat up any storage space.
The ultra-light design features a one-piece locking top platform and padded hand grip for more comfort and support while you work. Non-marring feet will protect interior floor coverings. A convenient project tray holds a paint can or tools for home improvement projects.
When flexibility, strength, and safety are critical work components, this model from Little Giant Ladder Systems delivers. It is fast and easy to configure as a 6-foot A-frame, 6-foot leaning, or 10-foot extension ladder. Rugged fiberglass and aluminum construction is suitable for a wide range of work applications, including electrical and outdoor projects. It has a duty rating of 375 pounds.
The climbing side of the ladder features wide flared legs for sturdy support. The narrow, functional rear section features straight legs that fit between wall studs or ceiling trusses for easy access to tight work spaces. A rotating wall pad makes working on inside or outside corners safer and gets you closer to your work. It is made of nonconductive high-viz green fiberglass.
FAQs About Step Ladders
Step ladders are handy indoors and out, but first-time shoppers might still have a few questions.
Q. What is the difference between a Type 1 and Type 2 ladder?
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates ladders by the maximum amount of weight they can hold. Type 1 ladders can support 250 pounds; Type 2 ladders can safely support up to 225 pounds.
Q. What is the highest rung I can go up on a step ladder?
The highest rung a user should ascend on a conventional A-frame step ladder is two rungs down from the top. The average maximum safe reach is about 4 feet above the top of the ladder.
Q. Which is better, an aluminum step ladder or a fiberglass step ladder?
Aluminum ladders are strong, lightweight, and weather resistant. They are relatively inexpensive, resist corrosion, and are easy to set up. Fiberglass is even more durable than aluminum. It tends to be much stronger and more weather resistant. Unlike aluminum, fiberglass is nonconductive, making it the superior choice for electrical projects.
Q. What angle should a ladder be when in use?
For safety purposes, a straight or extension ladder should slope at a 75-degree angle when in use. This rule doesn’t apply to step ladders because they do not lean against a wall.
Q. How do I keep a ladder from slipping?
Step ladders are less prone to slipping than other ladders thanks to their pyramidal shape, but they can still tip if placed on uneven ground. Before ascending a step ladder, make sure it’s stable (not wobbly) and that it’s on solid ground. Do not climb above the third rung from the top, and always face the ladder when climbing up or down.
Whether you need to pull holiday decor out of storage or change the light bulbs in your recessed light fixtures, a step ladder provides a stable, freestanding work surface for those hard-to-reach areas. Be sure to pick the right one. Select for size, sturdiness, and safety to get the job done efficiently and without undue risk.