The Best Kinds of Boxes to Use for Moving and Storage

Big home move coming up? Congratulations!

Want to assure it goes as hassle-free as possible? Then you will want to make sure you select the right boxes for your move.

Choosing the best boxes for your move is essential to protecting your belongings in transit. You will need to make sure the boxes you choose are strong enough for the journey, as well as make sure you choose the right type box for the contents that you are packing.

Moving Boxes 101

“Boxes are critical to ensuring a successful move,” says Lisa Warren, marketing manager for major box maker 3M.

“Boxes that crush easily will not have contents that arrive undamaged to your new destination, and a box that doesn’t have a sturdy bottom will likely drop all of its contents on the driveway where you definitely do not want them,” Warren says.

Corrugated brown cardboard boxes, also called kraft or moving boxes, are the most widely used and versatile packing and shipping containers worldwide, for several reasons:

  • Weight: Because they’re constructed of a fluted corrugated paper medium encased within two flat paperboard liners, moving boxes are strong and impact-resistant without weighing much.
  • Strength: Corrugated box strength is measured in two ways: the older Bursting Strength Test (BST), also known as the Mullen test, which measures in pounds (#) the force it would take to rupture or puncture a box, and the newer Edge Crush Test (ECT), which gauges the stacking strength (max pounds per load) by measuring the minimal pounds per linear inch it would take to compress the edges of a box.
  • Cost: Cardboard boxes are inexpensive to manufacture, making them appealingly affordable. (We’ll discuss pricing below.)
  • Versatility: Home movers and industrial shippers both benefit from the relatively simple, name-your-size cardboard construction process. Uline, a nationwide distributor of packing and shipping materials, lists more than 1,450 stock box sizes in their catalog. (We’ll consider box sizes and shapes shortly, too.)
  • Earth friendly: Not only are cardboard boxes recyclable; they are also often made from recyclable materials. Their strength, as well as their typical one-time-use status, has spawned a strong secondary market in almost-new used moving boxes.

Industry strength standards for moving boxes are:

  • Standard box: 200# BST, 32 ECT, 40 pounds max load.
  • Heavy duty: 275# BST, 44 ECT, 65 pounds max load.
  • Heavy duty (double-walled): 275# BST, 48 ECT, 80 pounds max load.

Manufacturers often include one or both strength measures on their box stamp, while online retailers typically list them on the product specifications tab.

What Size Boxes Will You Need for Your Move?

As you survey the contents of what will soon become your previous home, the size and shape of the boxes you’ll need for make an effective exit become clearer. However, while it may seem counterintuitive, you’ll typically want to tuck heavier items like books and tools into smaller boxes, reserving your larger boxes for lighter, bulkier items like clothes and blankets.

Here’s a breakdown of box sizes by typical contents:

Small boxes (18” x 12” x 12”, or 1.5 cubic feet)

Think tools, books, canned food, books and magazines, gaming consoles, DVDs and just about anything that’s heavy and will fit. The upside of small boxes: they’re hard to overload.

Medium boxes (18″ x 18″ x 16″, or 3 cubic feet)

Here’s where your bric-a-brac belongs: photo albums, toys, kitchen utensils, small appliances and awkwardly-shaped things like your cool collection of straw beach hats. You’ll use these boxes most. Think heavy items on the bottom, light on top.

Large boxes (18″ x 18″ x 24″, or 4.5 cubic feet)

Here’s where the larger, bulkier, hard-to-carry items will land, especially those that make sense to group together, such as larger dishes, vases and lamps with soft blankets, pillows and linens.

Wardrobe boxes (24” x 24” x 46”, or 13.4 cubic feet)

As the name implies, this gap-mouth tall boy with its mountable, removable metal rod enables you to transfer all of your hanging clothes directly from closet to box without removing their hangers. Fill in with taller, awkward lighter fare such as tennis rackets, brooms and vacuum cleaners.

There are also a wide range of specialty moving boxes, including:

  • Extra-tough dish packs
  • Mirrors
  • Picture frames
  • Flat-panel TVs
  • Segmented boxes for glass wear
  • Custom shapes for musical instruments, standing lamps, bottled wine and mattresses.

How Much Will Your Moving Boxes Cost?

First, the bad news: you’re going to need more boxes – in some cases, many more boxes – than you think you will. Estimates vary depending on the amount of items you have and your packing style, but you will almost always need more boxes than you think you will. Add to this packing paper, bubble wrap, storage pads, and most important, the right tape.

The good news? Boxes are relatively cheap, starting at 75 cents for standard small, $1.30 for medium, $1.50 for large and $10 for wardrobe. And you’ll do even better by purchasing a moving box package kit specially designed to the box mix you’re need for your abode.

Check with your moving company for suggestions, or shop around at major box suppliers such as SpareFoot, U-Haul, Uline, U-Pack, YouMoveMe and the big box stores for your best mix and price. Some vendors let you build your own kit; others will beat your best quote. Popular box brands include:

  • Pratt
  • Uboxes
  • EcoBox
  • Duck
  • The Boxery.

If you are feeling resourceful, their are several places you can find gently used boxes for free.

But before you haul your nice, compact moving boxes home, be sure you have a dry, temperate, out-of-the-way place to store them as you fill them. First-timers often underestimate what a major hassle it can be to relocate un-taped, half-filled boxes.

Cardboard Boxes vs. Plastic Tubs

Which raises the question: why not use plastic tubs? They’re large, waterproof, with those easy-grip handles and easy-open tops, and best of all, they’re already assembled.

Some models are clear so you can more easily find items you may have misplaced and readily identify where you’ll unpack the contents on the other end. If you loathe packing tape, you can secure them with zip ties. What’s more, unlike cardboard boxes, insects detest them.

So what’s not to love about plastic tubs?

Well, for starters, they’re a bit pricier than cardboard; 20-gallon standard tubs run $5-$6; 30-gallon large tubs run $9-$10 and 45-gallon totes with wheels cost $20, or the price of eight cardboard boxes. Because totes are typically thin, flexible and built for storage rather than moving, there’s a greater chance they’ll split or pop their top in transit. While they appear to stack well, they take up more room than boxes when stacked, and that’s room you’re probably paying for.

While some moving companies rent tubs, they typically do so at a fixed rate for a set time period, usually two weeks. Take longer than that to pack up, transport and unpack and it’s going to cost you more, whereas if you own your boxes, your time is your own. And as we’ve seen with cardboard, the fixed sizes of tubs won’t work for everything.

Some of the best-rated tubs include the 30-quart Sterilite Ultra Latch, the 20-gallon Rubbermaid Brute and the Ziploc 60-guart WeatherShield storage box.

Bottom line: If you have need for plastic tubs for storage at the other end, it may be worth investing in some to save money on you moving materials. But most movers will encourage you to keep some boxes in the mix, especially wardrobes and dish packs, and use the tubs for less vulnerable contents like clothes and linens.

Feeling Boxed In? Consider Renting a Storage Container

Perhaps you’ve spotted those ginormous walk-in storage boxes at a neighbor’s driveway and wondered, hey – can I move in one of those without all this tedious boxing up?

Sorry, partner: you’ll need to hand-box your stuff just as securely – and perhaps even more so – to keep your belongings in one piece in a storage container, whether you opt for a PODS, a ReloCube from U-Pack or a U-Box from U-Haul. That’s because storage containers, which hold one to three rooms of furnishings and belongings, are typically used by DIY movers to avoid a short-but-costly detour into a storage facility when the timing is off between their move-out and move-in dates.

A one-bedroom move from Dallas to New York City using a U-Pack ReloCube would cost around $1,750 for one cube, $2,600 for two, provided you drop off and pick up your boxes at U-Pack terminals. A door-to-door move via seven-foot trailer would run $2,850. Plus, you’ll usually be working against a time limit to complete your move-out and move-in.

But the real downside of big boxes is that securing your belongings is up to you, whether you choose a freestanding storage container or a trailer. Failure to do so correctly, especially in a cube being transported on the back of an 18-wheeler, can result in a roomful to rubble at the other end.

Bottom line: While renting a storage container can buy you time, it won’t make your packing any easier

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