While closet systems might not be the most mod thing I can imagine, they definitely meet the criteria of those who pioneered modern design: readily available materials used to affordably benefit the masses.
Also, I am constantly emphasizing the importance of maximizing storage space in modern homes… to keep that orderly/clean appearance, you’ve really got to be able to cram your stuff out of sight!
Recently we stayed in a vacation home in the mountains. While the home was a little more “contemporary” than what I tend to really like, it was cool nonetheless, and I was really impressed by some of the details (like all of the cabinetry, and there was a lot, utilizing SOLID WALNUT doors). One of the things of which I really took note (for future personal use) was the closet system utilized throughout the house’s bedrooms. Of course it was Elfa, which means it cost around 5x what a similar Rubbermaid or Closetmaid system would have run.
But as I started researching and comparing the different systems, I realized there was money to be saved in combining systems! All three of the main contenders (Elfa, Rubbermaid, and Closetmaid) utilize a double channel hanging rail that accommodates most of the other brand’s accoutrement. That means if you mix ‘n’ match you can save some coin.
Comparing systems directly is a little tricky, because it’s not exactly apples to apples (length of tracks, available accessories, kinds of shelves, etc.). But hopefully the information below helps people sort things out and make some decisions.
Where to Purchase
So let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: I’m not even considering Ikea’s Algot system. First of all, it’s not interchangeable with the other three brands (it uses a different track system), but MOSTLY because their “hanging clothes rod” is so awful. It’s more like a wire than a rod. It’s just bad (functionally and aesthetically). So no matter how much less expensive the Ikea closet system might be, and it isn’t that much less expensive, to me it just isn’t even worth considering.
While Lowe’s and Home Depot technically carry both Closetmaid and Rubbermaid, in my market (Boulder/Denver) Lowe’s pushes Rubbermaid while Home Depot pushes Closetmaid. You can also purchase Rubbermaid and Closetmaid on Amazon. Sometimes the prices are better (especially the kits), sometimes they are not (hanging wire drawers).
Elfa is available online and at The Container Store.
The Hanging System
It may seem odd, but the horizontal rail and vertical hanging tracks (the support structure) on all three systems cost about the same (even the Elfa). Rubbermaid’s super-economy line is a bit cheaper, but the hanging rails mount directly into the wall (not hanging from a horizontal support). This limits where your vertical rails can go on the wall, and also seriously hampers flexibility*** (being able to move those vertical rails). The cheapest “hanging” rail option is actually Closetmaid’s garage system. It’s the most sturdy, and the cheapest (except for the Rubbermaid direct-mount rails). Unfortunately, it sports a painted on (well, baked on, I assume) “hammered metal” look. It’s good that it’s dark, but it’s definitely a more industrial and less refined look.
***[update] After actually mounting a system, it has become evident that the position of these rails is less flexible than first anticipated. It’s best to anchor the vertical tracks that hang from the horizontal support to the wall in one or two places to keep them from swinging out or sideways. This doesn’t effect the flexibility of positioning brackets and shelves, but it does affect using Rubbermaid/Closetmaid and Elfa drawers interchangeably. Elfa needs 24” between vertical rails, and Rubbermaid/Closetmaid utilize a 22” spacing.
White is the cheapest (for everything), but I don’t think it’s as nice a look. It’s much more “utility room,” “mud room,” or “washing machine area” than classy closet system. So I say, if you have the option, spend the extra few dollars and go with the silver (it will be called either “nickel” or “titanium”). Elfa’s “titanium” looks a little more like bare metal or “brushed steel” (it is metal covered in enamel) while the other two contenders have a more “plastic-y” (but still fine) gray/silver powder-coat finish.
There is significant savings in purchasing a Rubbermaid kit (see some pricing examples below), but the kits contain the “HomeFree” line and the vertical supports are a little less thick (by less than a 1/4”). It doesn’t make them that much “flimsier” (if at all), but it does mean there are a couple of Elfa garage components that will not work with the HomeFree vertical rails. None of this makes any difference in regard to the brackets and pieces that just fit into the slots.
Rubbermaid FastTrack, Elfa, and Closetmaid MaxLoad all are the same thickness/depth (and probably a little sturdier than the HomeFree line).
Elfa Top Track (horizontal rail) Platinum 32”, 56”, 80” $14, $17, $20
Elfa Hang Standard (vertical rail) Platinum 20”, 36”, 60” 84” at $11, $14, $17, $20
Rubbermaid FastTrack 47.5” uprights in Nickel $11
Rubbermaid HomeFree 48” Horizontal Rail is $16
Rubbermaid HomeFree vertical extension 25” $9
Rubbermaid FastTrack 25” vertical extension in Nickel $9
Hanging System Winner: Rubbermaid FastTrack (Elfa is a VERY close 2nd), but the Rubbermaid Homefree “kits” win hands down for price
Ventilated Shelves (wire shelves)
Elfa “platinum” (silver) shelves come in a maximum length of 4 feet and depths of 12”, 16”, and 20” (standard widths for all makers, though the Rubbermaid FastTrack brackets are slightly different –by a fraction of an inch).
12” deep at 2’, 3’, and 4’ wide is $10, $14, $18
16” deep at 2’, 3’, and 4’ wide is $12, $17, $22
20” deep at 2’, 3’, and 4’ wide is $14, $20, $26
Elfa shelves require the Elfa bracket, because the shelves sit in little notches that keep them from sliding. The end of the bracket is flush with the edge of the shelf, and is preferable to the other two makers whose brackets jut through the edge of the shelf (it looks bad, and things can get snagged on the end of the bracket).
Elfa is also the only system that has a basket/shelf hybrid. These “shelf baskets” are 3-5/8” deep and pricing is as follows:
12” version: $15 for 2 feet, $19 for 3 feet
16” version $20 for 2 feet, $25 for 3 feet
Rubbermaid Fasttrack wire shelving is $14.75 for two 12” deep 4ft. racks and requires the Rubbermaid Fasttrack brackets. You can also buy a Rubbermaid 26” Add-On Shelving Kit (2x 26” shelves and Four Brackets) for only $20. I really don’t like how the bracket with Rubbermaid FastTrack and HomeFree protrudes through the front edge of the shelf (whereas the Elfa is flush at the end of the bracket). You can get the Closetmaid and Rubbermaid FastTrack shelves in longer lengths and cut them to size to save a little money if you don’t mind doing the cutting yourself (you obviously also can also span greater lengths if you wish). Also, the Rubbermaid FastTrack and Homefree shelves are made to overlap (the brackets specifically accommodate this) to you don’t have to cut them to length.
You can purchase lengths of Rubbermaid/Closetmaid up to 10, maybe even 12 feet. The maximum length of an Elfa shelf is 4 ft.
Rubbermaid’s ventilated shelving comes in Linen (regular), Wardrobe (no wires on the front rail), FreeSlide (built in wire hanging “rod”), and TightMesh (tighter spacing of the wires).
Closetmaid shelves come in SuperSlide and Maxload.
Closetmaid SuperSlide in nickel is $6.40 for 48”, $9.60 for 72”, and $12.80 for 96”. Maxload is slightly cheaper, but I could only find a maximum length of 6ft.
That means the Elfa ventilated shelf is 3x as expensive as the Closetmaid (but the Elfa is sturdier, the edge looks nicer, and you’ll need to cut the Closetmaid down from a larger piece to achieve the savings).
Again the Rubbermaid kits win hands down for pricing.
Ventilated Shelf Winner: Depends on Application
Oddly enough, brackets all cost about the same, with Elfa edging out the win on price because their 20” bracket is $9 instead of $10 like the others. 12” are $5, 16” are $7 and 20” are $9/10. You may find a little variety here, but it’s pretty much the same across the board. So again, the main factor is how the brackets match your pieces (the wall mounting stuff and the accessories you end up going with).
The Elfa bracket have a couple of notches to hold the wire shelves in place. So do a couple of the varieties of Rubbermaid. The Closetmaid brackets have no notches (just flat on top, but open like the Elfas.
The Rubbermaid and Elfa brackets are open on the top edge. As far as I can tell, this serves no purpose for the Rubbermaid components, but Elfa accessories actually sit down inside the top edge of the brackets (so Rubbermaid FastTrack brackets should accommodate Elfa accessories that don’t need the Elfa notches). The Closetmaid brackets are closed on top and will not work with Elfa.
The Rubbermaid HomeFree and FastTrack brackets as well as Elfa brackets have slits in the underside for clothing bar hangers and are necessary for their clothing bar system. As mentioned previously, the Rubbermaid HomeFree bracket only has a slot for the clothing bar in the 12” bracket. The Rubbermaid FastTrack has slots for the clothing bar hanger in the 16” and 20” as well.
NOTE: the HomeFree brackets are stamped/embossed with the Rubbermaid logo (kind of tacky but not really noticeable once they’re in the closet).
Bracket Winner: Depends
Hanging Clothes Bar
There are two factors to consider with the hanging clothes bar/rod: how it looks, and how it functions. Elfa wins both categories, but Rubbermaid is acceptable.
Both Elfa and Rubbermaid utilize a rod support that hangs underneath the shelf suspended from the bracket. The Rubbermaid HomeFree hook will ONLY fit in their 12” bracket (there is no slot for the hook in the HomeFree 16” bracket) and cannot be used with Rubbermaid FastTrack or Elfa brackets (the HomeFree hook has two vertical tabs and only the HomeFree 12” bracket has two corresponding slits). The Elfa hook works in both their 12” and 16” brackets, and will also fit in the Rubbermaid 16” and 20” FastTrack brackets (though it’s a bit loose). The Elfa hook will NOT fit in the HomeFree brackets (the slit is too small).
Closetmaid utilizes a giant plastic hook that looks awful and seems like it will eventually break (it’s plastic!). It also juts out in front of the shelves, so it doesn’t look as elegant/streamlined (not to mention it’s so far forward it could interfere with the doors in a shallow closet). The Closetmaid plastic hook ONLY works with the corresponding Closetmaid shelving, because it attaches to the two wire-rails at the very front of these shelves. Finally, the rod that works with these hooks is spindly and ugly, and makes the whole system look bad.
The Elfa hanger is made of metal (with silver enamel coating that makes it look like bare metal from a distance). It has a much lower profile than either of the other brands, and only costs $2. It’s definitely a look I prefer.
The Rubbermaid and Closetmaid hooks allow hangers to slide all the way across the bar and over the hook, while the Elfa hook acts as a stop. Thus, the Rubbermaid and Closetmaid bars require an “end stop,” which isn’t as nice/sleek a look (though sliding a hanger all the way across a longer bar and its support hooks might be preferable to some people).
Elfa’s clothing bar comes in 2’, 3’, and 4’, lengths at $4, $6 and $8 respectively. I was a little surprised by how thin the metal is. I assume this won’t affect strength (the bars aren’t that long) and helps keep the cost down. Elfa utilizes chrome end caps that insert into the end of the rod for $.50/pair. The Rubbermaid telescoping 48” clothing bar (two 4ft. pieces) is $10.74 at Lowe’s, so almost half price. The Elfa chrome end caps are a tight fit, but you can get them into the Rubbermaid bar (though they will no stop hangers from sliding off the end of the bar). Since the Rubbermaid bar is telescoping, one is slightly larger than the other. The thicker bar is tight in the Elfa hook (which is best), and the thinner bar is a little loose, but both still work.
Here’s where it’s at (Elfa)…
The bar hangs under the shelf, the finish looks nice, and the clothes bar is chrome, thick, and sturdy, with a nice chrome end plug.
Clothing Bar/Hook Winner: Elfa
Elfa usually charges $16 for the wire basket. HOWEVER, you also need the $30 rolling drawer frame. Plus you’ll need two 16” brackets to mount it on. $30+$16+$14=$60 for a functioning Elfa Hanging Wire Basket. The “kit” with those exact same parts offers no price break whatsoever (it’s the same price as just buying all the piece separate).
Rubbermaid’s sliding basket kit is around $40 at Amazon and Lowe’s. The kit includes everything you need. I also actually kind of like the chrome bar at the front of the drawer, so for the wire baskets, Rubbermaid wins for price and also aesthetics.
Closetmaid wins the price war with a 4 drawer kit that sells for $70, but there is just a “wire/rod” that slides in a metal groove (screeeeeech), so the Closetmaid drawers don’t have the same nice feel as the Elfa and Rubbermaid “rolling” drawers. Closetmaid also has canvas and wicker options, but without the smooth rolling mechanism, I can’t even consider the Closetmaid “sliding” (screeching) anything.
Sliding Wire Basket Winner: Rubbermaid
Elfa makes a wire mesh basket that in my opinion is FAR superior (functionally/aesthetically) to the wire basket. The mesh basket is $21 (compared to $16 for the Elfa wire), and can be purchased as a complete kit for $66 (which again is the exact same price as all the separate components). So add $26 more for an Elfa sliding drawer with the mesh (instead of wire) basket. That’s going to have to be a personal call (I’d love to go with the mesh drawer, but I don’t know if I can justify $78 extra dollars for only three drawers –three rubbermaid drawers are already $120, three of these are $200!!!).
I’m not a fan of rails instead of racks for shoes. Elfa does rails that hold nine pairs of women’s shoes for $45 (plus, you’ll need two 16” brackets). They also state clearly: “Accommodates only shoes with heels; not designed for flats or athletic shoes.” (This is why I don’t like rails).
The Rubbermaid Homefree 10” shoe rack kit is two 2ft. shelves and includes all the brackets for around $25 at Lowe’s. This is a pretty significant savings over buying four brackets and a two pack of Homefree shelves ($8x4 + $15 = $47). Obviously, it’s also a significant savings over the Elfa shoe rack ($45). The downside is that each 26” shelf will only hold three pairs of men’s shoes plus an extra shoe.
There is also a Rubbermaid 22.5” “Fasttrack” shoe bracket for $3.26 at Lowe’s. IT works with Linen and TightMesh shelving. This bracket is superior for looks and function, because it doesn’t come up over the edge of the shelf (and get in the way of your shoes). It is, however, a little less sturdy. Unfortunately I can’t find this bracket in silver.
However, Closetmaid also makes a ShelfTrack bracket that can utilize a regular shelf. You just flip the shelf over so the edge turns up and holds the shoes on the slanted rack the same way as with the Rubbermaid shoe shelves. Like the Rubbermaid FastTrack shoe bracket, this bracket is a little more visually pleasing than the Rubbermaid HomeFree shoe bracket, because it’s more out of sight (underneath the shelf and only half the depth). The Closetmaid brackets are around $7 a pair at Home Depot. There is also a kit with a shelf for $13.48. They hold 3-1/2 pairs of men’s shoes.
This Closetmaid bracket is a little less sturdy than the Rubbermaid FastTrack shoe bracket, and much less sturdy than the Rubbermaid HomeFree shoe bracket (the Closetmaid bracket wobbles/bounces back and forth if you grab the shelf), but it also has a much lower profile and doesn’t stick out over the edge of the shelf, so it looks better and doesn’t get in the way of your shoes.
Elfa also carries a solid (but very thin) metal shoe shelf that mounts directly into the vertical rail slots and runs $29.95 for a 2 ft. wide and $39.95 for 3 ft. wide. For some reason they are hard to find on the website (not found with a search for “shoe shelf”), but they’re there.
Shoe Rack Winner: Rubbermaid Two Shelf Kit ($25) (though I like the low profile of the Closetmaid bracket a little better, even though it’s flimsier)
Elfa is pretty much the only game in town when it comes to pants racks. Pants racks are cool. If you’ve got the space, you gotta have pants racks. At $70 a pop, they’re definitely a “save up for it” kind of item, but look how fancy!
There is a Rubbermaid pants rack, but it’s hard to find (Amazon is your best bet) and is advertised as only holding 7 pairs of pants. I guess it could hold 9 because there are two rods which are positioned over the sliders (for looks), but that makes me nervous that the pants would get caught and tear (or at least get a grease mark). Also, it’s white (even the “titanium” one in the photo above has white rods).
Pants Rack Winner: Elfa
While the $30 Elfa on the left may look a little nicer and the mounting is probably a little more stable/secure, I’m going with the $15 Rubbermaid on the right.
Belt/Tie Rack Winner: Rubbermaid
Fascia (finishing touches)
If you’re going for looks, then you’ll need to “finish” your closet system. Rubbermaid rolling hanging drawers have the chrome bar that actually looks pretty good (it looks like the clothing bar), so if you’ve gone the Rubbermaid wire basket drawer route, you’re probably fine there. But if you want the edges of your shelves and drawers to have a nice, “furniture-like,” cohesive look, you’ll need to add fascia. Elfa’s is certainly the nicest, though after taking an up close look, I don’t think it’s nice enough to justify the price. Elfa walnut fascia costs $15 for 1 foot, $18 for 18”, and $20 for 2 feet. The Elfa fascia will not fit on the Rubbermaid or Closetmaid shelves. It’s solid birch that is available in natural, walnut, or white, and the examples hanging in the Container Store display were all very worn on the edges (betraying the “solid wood” look). See how the edges of the shelves and fascia are all much lighter in the photo below…
Closetmaid’s fascia is particle board with a thin foil finish; it’s absolutely out of the question.
Rubbermaid does not have a fascia option.
Since I have tools and skills, I will likely end up making my own fascia from real wood. This also means I probably won’t be using that uber-expensive Elfa walnut drawer frame. Elfa looks nicest at first, but once the edges of the shelves wear off, it looks as cheap or cheaper than bare shelving. Using the birch finish (instead of the walnut I prefer) would minimize the appearance of this wear.
Fascia Winner: Elfa is the best off-the-shelf option, but it has it’s problems, so I’m making my own
As I mentioned before, it’s difficult to do an apples to apples comparison of the different brands (they come in slightly different lengths, etc.), but the Rubbermaid 4-8 foot kit (which is a considerable savings over even the Rubbermaid components bought separately), is a huge savings over a comparable Elfa composition. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the Rubbermaid 10 foot kit (even more savings) is not available in silver (Rubbermaid’s mind-bogglingly awful website, and I can’t convey just how awful it is, actually says NONE of the kits are available in silver).
4 to 8 Feet Rubbermaid Kit in Titanium $109 on Amazon:
- 3 26.25” shelves (8ft. shelf $18)
- 2 36.25” shelves
- 2 36” telescoping hang rods
- 2 26” telescoping hang rods
- 2 36” hang rails
- 5 41.5” upright rails
- 11 12” brackets
- 9 clothing rod supports
- 4 22” rail covers
Comparable (not exactly the same) Elfa pieces $256:
- 3 24” shelves $30
- 2 36” shelves $28
- 2 36” clothing rods $12
- 2 24” clothing rods $8
- 80” top rack $20
- 5 60” Hang Standards $85
- 11 12” brackets $55
- 9 clothing rod supports $18
So the Rubbermaid kit is less than half price (you could buy two kits and have all the extra stuff for still less than the comparable Elfa components).
However, use the 84” FastTrack (which is a little better than the HomeFree parts) instead of the Elfa hanging components and you’ve already knocked $33 off the Elfa system. Sub in the Rubbermaid HomeFree clothing rods and you’ve saved a couple more bucks, but you’ve also got an extra 4 feet of clothing bar.
Another advantage of any component system like these is that you don’t have to purchase everything all at once. You can purchase the bare necessities (the hang rails and brackets for clothing bars, and then ad components (drawers, tie racks, more shoe shelves, etc.) down the road. Not only do you get to spread out your investment over time as you add each piece, but you can see what might be most useful as you interact with your closet system!
Our 106” reach-in closet ideal solution would total $417 using the ideal combined parts.
- 2x Rubbermaid FastTrack 48” hanging rails at $10 each – $20
- 6x Rubbermaid FastTrack 70” uprights at $14.30 each – $86
- 1x HomeFree telescoping 48” bars (each 48” package is actually two 48” rods) – $11
(I will also be able to reuse the 106” bar that is already in the closet)
- 9x Elfa Rod Support Hangers at $2 each – $18
- 6x Elfa 12” brackets at $5 each – $30
- 2x Elfa 16” brackets at $7 each – $14
- 1x Elfa 16”x 2’ basket/shelf – $20
- 4x Elfa 12”x 4’ ventilated shelving at $18 each – $88
- 2x Rubbermaid HomeFree 4ft. kits for shoes (four 4 ft. shelfs with brackets) – $50
- 2x Rubbermaid Sliding Drawer Basket – $80
As I sit here and ponder all this, I can’t imagine NOT just “giving up” and going with the 10ft. Rubbermaid Kit. It’s unbelievably cheap (more pieces than I can use for less than half the price of the closet I designed with a combo of Rubbermaid and Elfa parts), it’s not that much less attractive, and the build quality is almost the same as the Elfa components. Why would I spend $417 when I can spend $179 and get more pieces?
Rubbermaid HomeFree 10ft. Kit ($179):
- 3x 48.25” shelves
- 7x 26.25” shelves
- 6x 47.5” uprights (vertical tracks)
- 3x 25” upright extensions (vertical tracks)
- 19x shelf brackets
- 1x 48.25” horizontal hang rail
- 2x 36” horizontal hang rail
- 10x rod support hangers (clothing rod hooks)
- 2x 48” clothing hang rods
- 2x 26” clothing hang rods
- 4x shoe shelf brackets
- 5x 22” rail covers (these go on the horizontal hang rail and help with spacing the vertical tracks)
In the end, I did in fact go with the 10 foot Rubbermaid HomeFree kit. I’m a little bummed that I couldn’t get it in a silver finish, but the white isn’t that bad after all, especially when considering I’m saving more than $200. Plus, the doors of the closet are always closed, so it’s not like we’re really “featuring” this item in our home.
There are only three 25” vertical extension in the kit (the additional vertical rail that goes almost all the way to the floor), so I had to buy two more of those. I also added a few more shoe shelves (and again, the Rubbermaid shoe shelf kits are vastly cheaper than purchasing individual components).
All in all, for a little over $200 for a 10 foot wide closet, I am extremely happy with the Rubbermaid HomeFree kit, which is a substantial savings over purchasing components from any of the three brands individually.
If you’ve got money to burn, I still like the Elfa stuff a little better. But if you’re on a budget, you’re not missing that much by going with a Rubbermaid HomeFree kit, and you will save quite a bit of money.
Consider the finish! (9-3-14)
It has come to my attention that there is another important factor in considering which system to go with. Elfa and Rubbermaid are epoxy coated (powder coated, the finish is actually baked on), while Closetmaid is PVC dipped.
If you have ever touched old Closetmaid shelves, you may notice that they are sticky or seem to be overly dirty. This is because oils used in the dipping process leach out and attract dirt and grime. This does not happen with the epoxy finish.
The epoxy finish is supposedly more environmentally friendly as well, as PVC is a less environmentally friendly compound and process.
I’m not sure who has created this site, but since they are lumping Elfa and Rubbermaid into the “good” category and not promoting one over the other, I’m assuming they are at least modestly trustworthy (unless there is just some extremely anti-Closetmaid group out there!).