Shipping Containers: All You Need to Know (2023)

Shipping containers have been around for over 50 years, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) spearheaded its standardization shortly thereafter. They are used to transport millions of tons of cargo every day to thousands of ports worldwide. Without shipping containers, the world supply chain would come to a halt, and the world economy would be highly affected. As a shipper, you must know what container best meets your shipping needs most affordably. To learn more about them, their types, and how to choose the right one, continue reading this post.

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Table of Contents

What Are Shipping Containers?

Shipping containers are large, strong, rectangular boxes that are used to transport goods by ocean, land, and air. They are typically made of steel but can also be made of aluminum and are designed to be stackable and weatherproof. Shipping containers come in a variety of sizes, but the most common are 20 feet (6.1 meters) and 40 feet (12.2 meters) long.

Where Did Shipping Containers Come From?

In 1852, Malcom McLean was born in North Carolina. McLean was a truck driver who became interested in the efficiency of shipping cargo after he saw how much time was wasted loading and unloading cargo onto ships. In 1956, McLean bought a shipping company and began using containers to transport cargo. This method was much faster and more efficient than the traditional method of using cranes to load and unload cargo onto ships.

Since the introduction of shipping containers, the efficiency of transporting cargo has increased dramatically. Containers can be loaded and unloaded quickly and easily, and they can be stacked on top of each other, which saves a lot of space. Shipping containers have also made it possible to transport cargo by rail and road, which has further increased the efficiency of the shipping industry.

Key Benefits of Using Shipping Containers

  • They are extremely strong and durable, able to withstand heavy weather and rough conditions.
  • They are easy to transport and can be stacked on top of each other, meaning they take up less space.
  • They are simple to modify and can be adapted to suit various storage needs
  • They are sustainable, made from eco-friendly materials, and can be recycled when no longer needed.
  • They are available in various sizes, meaning there is a perfect option for every project.

6 Main Types of Shipping Containers

There are many types of shipping containers out there, each with its specific purpose. The most common type of container is the ISO Standard container, which is used for the vast majority of intermodal freight transport. These containers are generally either 20 or 40 feet long and are 8 feet wide and 8.5 feet tall. They are made of steel and have either corrugated or smooth sides. There are also specialized containers, such as reefers (refrigerated containers), tank containers (for liquids), and flat-racks (for oversized cargo or oddly-shaped cargo). Here are the six main types of containers used for shipping various commodities.

Shipping Containers: All You Need to Know (1)

Standard Containers

A standard shipping container is the most common type of container used for shipping goods by sea. They are typically made of steel and are available in various sizes, from 20 feet to 40 feet in length. Standard shipping containers are used for a variety of applications, including the transport of general cargo, automobiles, and construction materials.

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High-Cube Containers

High-cube shipping containers are similar to standard shipping containers but are taller. They are typically used for shipping taller items, such as machinery or furniture. High cube shipping containers are available in a range of sizes, from 40 feet to 53 feet in length.

Refrigerated Containers

Refrigerated shipping containers, also known as reefers, are used to transport perishable goods that need to be kept cool or frozen. Reefers are typically made of steel and are available in various sizes, from 20 feet to 40 feet in length. Reefers are equipped with a refrigeration unit that maintains the desired temperature for the goods transported.

Flat-Rack Containers

Flat-rack shipping containers are used to transport oversized or oddly-shaped items that cannot be loaded into a standard shipping container. Flat racks are typically made of steel and are available in a range of sizes, from 20 feet to 40 feet in length. Flat racks can be equipped with walls, doors, or covers, depending on the shipment’s needs.

Open-Top Containers

Open-top shipping containers are a type of container with a roof that can be removed. This makes them ideal for carrying tall or bulky items that must be loaded from the top. They are also often used for carrying dangerous goods or hazardous materials, as the open top allows for ventilation. Open-top containers are available in various sizes and can be made from steel or aluminum.

Tank Containers

A Tank shipping container is a large metal container used to transport liquids and gases. They are often used to ship crude oil, chemicals, and other hazardous materials. Tank shipping containers are made of thick steel and are lined with an impermeable material, such as rubber or plastic. This prevents the contents from leaking and keeps the cargo from being contaminated. Tank shipping containers are typically much larger than other types of shipping containers and can hold up to 80,000 gallons of liquid. They are usually transported by train or truck.

How to Choose the Right Shipping Container?

There are a few things to consider when choosing the right shipping container for your needs. First, you need to decide what size container you need. Shipping containers come in a variety of sizes, from small 10-foot containers to large 40-foot containers. The size you need will depend on the amount of goods you need to ship.

Next, you need to decide what type of container you need. There are two main types of shipping containers: dry containers and reefers. Dry containers are used for general cargo, while reefers are used for perishable goods or temperature-sensitive products that need to be kept at a specific temperature.

Finally, you need to decide what kind of container you need. There are three main types of containers with different container shipping rates: new, used, and one-trip. New containers are the most expensive but are also the most durable. Used containers are a cheaper option but may not be as durable. One-trip containers are only used once and then sold, so they are the cheapest option but also the least durable. When choosing a shipping container, it is essential to consider all of these factors to ensure you choose the right container for your needs.

Shipping Containers: All You Need to Know (2)

Let Us Choose the Right Container for Your Shipment

DFreight is a leading digital freight forwarding company in the UAE, offering various freight services by sea, air, and land. We can help you with all of your shipping needs, no matter where in the world you need to ship your goods. We are partnered with a wide range of shipping lines worldwide, so we can help you choose the most suitable and affordable option for your shipment. Contact us today to get started.

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What Are Shipping Containers?

Shipping containers are large, strong, rectangular boxes that are used to transport goods by ocean, land, and air.

Who invented the first shipping container?

Malcolm McLean, a truck driver from North Carolina, invented the first shipping container in 1956.

(Video) How to "NOT" Buy a New Shipping Container

What are the main types of shipping containers?

The six main types of shipping containers include standard containers, high-cube containers, refrigerated containers, flat-rack containers, open-top containers, and tank containers.


What you need to know about shipping containers? ›

Standard containers are made of strong steel or aluminium to protect your goods from water, humidity, wind, or any kind of damage. Standard dry shipping containers mainly come in these lengths: 20 ft, 40 ft, and 45 ft. These are usually about 8 feet (2.43m) wide and 8.5 feet (2.59m) high.

What are 4 types of containers? ›

The 4 Most Common Types of Shipping Containers
  • Dry Storage Container. Dry storage containers are among the most common shipping containers on the market. ...
  • Flat Rack Container. Flat racks are another common type of shipping container. ...
  • Refrigerated ISO Containers. ...
  • Special Purpose Containers.
Jun 13, 2022

What are the three categories of shipping containers? ›

Types of Shipping Containers
  • 1) 10', 20', and 40' Dry Storage Containers.
  • 2) Flat Rack Containers.
  • 3) Open-top Containers.
6 days ago

What is prohibited in a shipping container? ›

The flammable and toxic items you are to avoid putting in a shipping container are batteries of all types, aerosols, household cleaners and solvents, nail polish and nail polish remover, fireworks, various chemicals, oils, fertilizers, and similar.

What is the most common container? ›

Standard container types and dimensions

A standard container is the most common type of container in the market. They are available in two common sizes: 20ft containers and 40ft containers. They're usually made of steel or aluminum.

What kind of container is best? ›

In our tests, we found that glass didn't stain or hold onto stubborn odors, whereas plastic and silicone were more susceptible to those. All that being said, plastic containers are usually more affordable and lighter than glass options. And, especially if they're empty, they're less likely to break from a fall.

What do shipping container colors mean? ›

Dark colours tend to absorb the sun's heat and increase both the inside temperature and the humidity levels. Light coloured containers, such as white, grey and yellow, refract the sun's rays and allow for a somewhat cooler environment.

What are the seven major types of container ship? ›

Container ships are distinguished into 7 major size categories: small feeder, feeder, feedermax, Panamax, Post-Panamax, New Panamax and ultra-large.

What type of container is best for storing water? ›

When storing safe water (water that has been treated to make it safe to use), it is best to use food-grade water storage containers, which do not transfer toxic substances into the water they are holding. FDA-approved food-grade storage containers can be found at surplus or camping supply stores.

What is difference between cargo and container? ›

General cargo vessels carry packaged items like chemicals, foods, furniture, machinery, motor- and military vehicles, footwear, garments, etc. Container ships (sometimes spelled containerships) are cargo ships that carry all of their load in truck-size intermodal containers, in a technique called containerization.

How many 40ft containers can a ship carry? ›

They have 24 bays and carry between 18,000 and 21,000 TEUs or 9,000 to 10,500 forty-foot containers. The TEUs are a unit that indicates the number of containers the ships can carry.

What does TEU stand for? ›

TEU is an acronym used in logistics, which means 'Twenty Equipment Unit' or in other terms a '20-foot container'. TEU is the smallest equipment used to transport goods with Twill.

What are Grade A containers? ›

Many companies grade their containers with on a three grade scale: A, B, and C. Grade A containers are in top shape and are probably worthy of shipping, grade B containers may have a few dents and scratches but can be used for storage.

What equipment is used to load shipping containers? ›

Forklifts are vehicles used to move heavy containers around a terminal. This might be to move them on and off trucks or to move them to storage areas. There are two types of forklifts which pick up containers.

What is the proper name for a shipping container? ›

Shipping Containers are known by many different names: conex, cargo container, sea van, dry box, freight containers, etc. In the container industry, they are referred to as ISO Containers or Intermodal Containers.

Can a shipping container sink? ›

Most containers sink quite rapidly to the ocean floor once they hit the water. But depending on their contents, they may stay afloat for days or even weeks before sliding beneath the surface. This process can take even longer for refrigerated containers on account of their buoyant insulation.

Do you need permission for a container? ›

Planning permission may be required for a container home on your land if it changes how the land is used, say, from agricultural to residential. This is no different from building any kind of house. A container home will be very economical by comparison.

Do I need permission for a shipping container? ›

Shipping containers are classified as temporary structures and so you do not normally need planning permission. However, it's always a good idea to check with your local authority as we can't guarantee that you won't need planning permission for a shipping container.

What is the safest container? ›

Containers made of glass are a safer, more sustainable option for storing food. They're made from natural materials and can be recycled indefinitely. Bamboo lids are another great option for non-plastic food storage. They're durable and eco-friendly, and they look great in the kitchen!

What company owns the most shipping containers? ›

First is the number of ships they own, and second is their total shipping capacity measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). A TEU is based on the volume of a twenty-foot long shipping container.
Ranking the Top 10.
# of Ships718
9 more columns
Jul 26, 2022

Who is the largest manufacturer of shipping containers? ›

Biggest companies in the Shipping Container Manufacturing industry in the US. IBIS World covers 4 companies in the Shipping Container Manufacturing in the US industry, including AP Moller - Maersk Group, Thurston Group Limited, W&K Containers, Inc. and BSL Containers Ltd.

What are the strongest shipping containers? ›

Steel shipping containers found on cargo ships, trains, and trucks are much stronger than wood. Made of durable steel, they can often be stacked eight or nine containers high.

What container is best for the environment? ›

Glass and aluminium don't break up into harmful microparticles like plastic does. Plastic recycling requires less energy due to the lower temperatures involved in melting the raw material. But plastic, unlike glass or aluminium, cannot be endlessly recycled.

What is a Class B container? ›

Fileguard Class B SCEC Endorsed Security Containers are suitable for the storage of confidential classified material. These containers are designed to delay access by covert means and to provide visible evidence of any physical overt attack.

What is the most efficient container shape? ›

It seems that tetrahedra, with their four triangular faces, are the most efficient shape for filling a container randomly, as opposed to carefully stacking objects within it.

What is the cheapest shipping container? ›

The 20ft shipping container is the most commonly used intermodal shipping container. It's the smallest and the cheapest container size. Its lightweight structure makes it easy to transport cargo. So, if you have a small shipment, then you should opt for the 20ft variety.

What is the most common container size? ›

Most commonly, containers are around 10-feet, 20-feet, or 40-feet long, each at around 8 feet wide. The height of each shipping container varies between standard height (8 feet 6 inches) and "high cube" (9 feet 6 inches), which are often used to increase storage space or create better air circulation.

What are container codes? ›

A container number is a unique alpha-numeric combination of seven numbers and four letters used for identifying containers internationally. It's assigned to each container by the classification agency International Standards Organization (ISO) through the Bureau International des Containers (BIC).

What is the typical lifespan of shipping containers? ›

Shipping containers have an average lifespan of 25 years thanks to a design that ensures their durability when traveling by sea. After manufacturers modify cargo containers and transform them into container-based structures, the container's longevity remains.

Why do shipping containers rust? ›

Shipping containers are almost always constructed from steel, which is an alloy of iron, and are therefore susceptible to rust. Marine grade steel is used with anti-corrosive properties, but due to the harsh environments that containers encounter, rust will eventually, inevitably occur.

What are the 5 types of cargo? ›

There are five main cargo types:
  • Containers. This is the cargo that most laymen are familiar with. ...
  • Dry Bulk Cargo. Next, we have dry bulk cargo which is usually homogenous, in large quantities, and unpacked. ...
  • Liquid Bulk Cargo. ...
  • Break Bulk. ...
  • Roll-On Roll-Off. ...
  • Getting Freight Management Services.

What is the most important factor to consider while loading containers? ›

The most important factors to consider when loading containers are weight distribution and ease of loading and unloading.

What container ship holds the most containers? ›

This is currently the largest container ship in the world, with a capacity of 23,992 TEU. Her maiden voyage was in July 2021. There are two other ships that are the same length as the Ever Ace, at 400m long (1,300ft). However, the Ever Ace is wider, at 61.5m (202ft) and slightly deeper.

How much bleach do I add to water for storage? ›

Each gallon of water should be treated with 4 – 5 drops of liquid chlorine bleach or 16 drops of liquid chlorine bleach if the water is cloudy. This is just under ¼ of a teaspoon per gallon. One teaspoon of bleach disinfects 5 gallons of water.

How much bleach do I need to purify 250 gallons of water? ›

A general rule of thumb to shock chlorinate and disinfect a storage tank is to mix non-scented NSF-approved household bleach (5.25% chlorine) in the reservoir at the ratio of 1 gallon of bleach for every 1,000 gallons of water (i.e., 1 quart for every 250 gallons of water).

Do containers need to be certified? ›

ISO containers are required to be inspected before they are put into service, within five years of construction and after that should be inspected no more than 30 months later. This common set of safety regulations is set out by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the Convention for Safe Containers (CSC).

How do I start a container shipping business? ›

  1. Choose the Name for Your Shipping Business. ...
  2. Develop Your Shipping Business Plan. ...
  3. Choose the Legal Structure for Your Shipping Business. ...
  4. Secure Startup Funding for Your Shipping Business (If Needed) ...
  5. Secure a Location for Your Business. ...
  6. Register Your Shipping Business with the IRS. ...
  7. Open a Business Bank Account.

Do shipping containers need ventilation? ›

While shipping containers | storage containers are built with small pressure vents that allow the unit to breathe, they are not sufficient to create functional ventilation inside the container. For this reason, ensuring that you have adequate ventilation is essential.

Can I put shipping containers on my land? ›

Yes, they're generally classed as temporary structures and no, that doesn't usually mean you'll need planning permission to put one on your land. But regulations change from one area to another, so you should definitely check with your local authority first.

Can I load my own shipping container? ›

Most containers you see for sale are not licensed or up to shipping standards to be loaded on a ship. Also most shipping lines do not like to load other people's containers and at the very least are going to always give priority to using their own containers first.

Can I have a container on my driveway? ›

So yes, you can put a shipping container on your property.

What does ISO stand for shipping? ›

ISO containers are more commonly known as shipping or storage containers. The 'ISO' stands for 'International Organisation for Standardisation', who are the body who have set the specifications to ensure that they are uniform and can be packed onto a ship properly.

Do shipping containers need a slab? ›

Footings – A container can sit directly on level ground, or you can place on footings to keep the container off the ground. If you want to keep your container of the ground you can use wooden beams, poured concrete footings or a concrete slab.

Do shipping containers expire? ›

Shipping containers have an average lifespan of 25 years thanks to a design that ensures their durability when traveling by sea. After manufacturers modify cargo containers and transform them into container-based structures, the container's longevity remains.

How many people does it take to run a container ship? ›

These ships can fit much larger crew sizes, but the crew tends to be composed of no more than about 20-30 people. There are usually 6-14 main officers responsible for overseeing each deck, maintaining safety systems, and keeping the ship going. Besides the officers, there will be 6-14 crew members who assist them.

What is the most profitable transportation business? ›

Top 10 Profitable Transport Business Ideas You Can Start Now
  • Towing Service.
  • Taxi Cab Business.
  • Trucking.
  • Car Hire.
  • Bus Transport Services.
  • Shipping Services.
  • Driving School Service.
  • Limousine Services.
Apr 29, 2022

How much should I pay for a shipping container? ›

But generally, you can find a brand new 20ft dry container between the range of $1,500 to $3,500. A new 40ft dry container will cost somewhere between $2,500 to $4,500. Whereas, a new 40ft high cube (HC) container will cost you around $2,500 to $6,000.

Do shipping containers get moldy? ›

Many people have found that when they come to retrieve their items, they are damp, soiled and in some cases, unsalvageable. If moisture gets into a container before it's sealed, there's a good chance that mildew will grow and fester on your belongings and on the box itself.

How cold can shipping containers get? ›

One study conducted by engineers at Xerox found that, when shipping containers are traveling via either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, temperatures can drop as low as -21 degrees Fahrenheit and reach as high as 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Are shipping containers heat proof? ›

There is good news – shipping containers are largely fireproof, and shouldn't burn. Containers are made from galvanised steel which ensures shipping containers are tough, weather-proof and able to withstand the elements. This includes being highly fire-resistant.


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