The Best Kinds of Boxes to Use for Moving and Storage

Jay MacDonald
February 8, 2021
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Big move coming up? Picking the best boxes for moving will make sure the experience is as hassle-free as possible.

Choosing the best boxes for your move is essential to protecting your belongings in transit or in storage. 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.

The Best Boxes For Moving

While you may be tempted to scour for free boxes to save money on your move, buying quality moving boxes is one area you should not skimp on. Boxes designed for moving and storage are built for the task and will keep your items protected better than boxes designed for other things. Plus, moving boxes come in three standard sizes that make it easy to pack items and load boxes in a moving truck or self-storage unit.

You can purchase heavy-duty moving boxes from a number of retailers including:

  • Home Depot
  • Amazon
  • U-Haul
  • Walmart
  • Local self-storage operators near you.

What to Look For When Buying Moving Boxes

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

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.

Moving boxes most commonly come in three different sizes–small, medium and, large moving boxes.

Small Moving Boxes 

  • Dimensions: 18” x 12” x 12”
  • Volume: 1.5 cubic feet

Use small moving boxes for heavy items like tools, books, canned food, books, magazines, and vinyl records. Just about anything that’s heavy and will fit. Pack fragile items inside small boxes as well.The upside of small boxes: they’re hard to overload.

Medium Moving Boxes 

  • Dimensions: (18″ x 18″ x 16″
  • Volume: 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. Always pack the heaviest items on the bottom on the bottom of the box, and lighter items on top.

Large Moving Boxes

  • Dimensions: 18″ x 18″ x 24″
  • Volume: 4.5 cubic feet

Here’s where the larger, bul kier, hard-to-carry items will land, especially those that make sense to group together, such as larger dishes, vases and lamps. Fill empty space with soft blankets, pillows and linens, which add bulk and padding for breakables without adding too much additional weight.

Specialty Boxes

Beyond the three basic moving box sizes, there are a few other types of moving boxes that can help simplify the packing process.

Extra-Large Moving Boxes

  • Dimensions: 23″ x 23″ x 16″
  • Volume: 4.9 cubic feet

Extra-large moving boxes offer more room than the standard large box. These could be helpful if you have an abundance of linens and blankets, or large bulk items that just won’t fit in any other sized box.

Wardrobe Boxes 

  • Dimensions: 24” x 24” x 46”
  • Volume: 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.

Bankers Boxes

  • Dimensions: 15″ x 12″ x 10″
  • Volume: 1 cubic foot

Banker Box is a brand that makes a wide variety of standard box sizes. However when people refer to banker boxes, they usually mean the small rectangular boxes with lids. These boxes do not require any tape to assemble, and they are typically used for storing paper documents. Because they cannot be easily sealed with tape, they are not suitable for most moves or storage applications. If you only have a few possessions and are moving a short distance, bankers boxes will work just fine though.

TV Boxes

Also known as picture boxes, TV boxes are typically adjustable between 32 inches to 70 inches wide. These are great if you no longer have the original box for transporting your big screen. Use TV or picture boxes for framed artwork (you can fit multiple in the same box) or mirrors.

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 supplies such as packing paper, bubble wrap, storage pads, packing tape.

The good news? Boxes are relatively cheap. Prices generally start as follows:

  • 75 cents for standard small moving boxes
  • $1.30 for medium moving boxes
  • $1.50 for large moving boxes
  • $10 for wardrobe boxes

Look for a moving box package kit that has the right mix of sizes for your move.

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:

If you are feeling resourceful, there 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 Storage Bins

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.

Best Plastic Storage Containers for Moving

Some of the best-rated tubs include:

Reusable Storage Bins For Moving

While some moving companies rent reusable 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.

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 for glassware, and use the tubs for less vulnerable contents like clothes and linens.


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The SpareFoot Blog offers tips about self-storage, information about storage auctions, advice about home organization, news about SpareFoot and much more.
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