Shipping packages through the mail is relatively straightforward. But there’s more to it than tossing your items in a box and dropping it off at the post office. If you want to ship efficiently and affordably and ensure your items arrive at the destination damage-free, there are specific steps you should take. That includes gathering the right shipping supplies and following best practices when packing for shipping.
If you’re ready to pack a box for shipping like a pro, this guide will tell you everything you need to know – from the best packing materials and packing methods to tips for shipping during the holidays and shipping fragile items.
Packing & Shipping Supplies
Packing for Shipping in 4 Steps
1. Use Recommended Packing Materials for Shipping
A standard cardboard box isn’t enough to pack your belongings for shipping. You also need packing materials designed to keep items safe in transit. Here is a list of the packing supplies recommended by the packing experts at U-Haul.
Shipping Boxes – We recommend using double wall boxes. Boxes weaken after each use, so use a new box to give yourself the best protection from damage. Be sure to use a box that is slightly larger than the item you’re shipping so you have room for packing supplies. Be careful not to use a box that’s too big, however.
Void Fill Packaging – Biodegradable packing peanuts are an eco-friendly and non-toxic void filler perfect for keeping fragile items like crystal vases, collectibles, and glass figurines from shifting or colliding during transport. Biodegradable packing peanuts are also anti-static so you can safely use them with your electronics.
Protective Material – Material like Enviro-Bubble gives the best protection for fragile items like glassware, dishes, artwork, and collectibles. Packing paper can also be helpful for cushioning items, but it's best for crumbling and filling gaps in the box to prevent movement. Learn more about choosing the best protective materials.
Packing Tape – It’s best to use strapping, stop, or packaging/mailing tape when sealing a cardboard box. Avoid masking, transparent, painters, electrical, and flooring tape. These types of tape are more likely to peel off the box and make your package more vulnerable. Learn more about the different types of tape.
2. Wrap Your Item(s)
Be sure to wrap your item in at least two layers of protective material, like bubble packaging, and center the item in the box as far away from the edges of the box as possible. If you’re packing multiple items, place the heavier items at the bottom of the box and be sure to wrap each item individually and add a layer or padding between each. Use a strip of tape to secure the bubble cushion or packing paper.
3. Fill the Void
We recommend using packing peanuts for your void fill material. To use packing peanuts, fill the box so that there's at least two inches of cushion on all sides (three inches for fragile items), firmly place your item in the bottom layer, then add another layer of peanuts on top and firmly press down to fill empty space. For extra cushion, layer the bottom and sides of the box with Enviro-Bubble or packing paper.
Other void fill packaging materials:
- Enviro-Bubble Wrap
- Paper Pads
- Packing Paper
4. Tape the Box
To tape a box for shipping, tape the center opening first, leaving about 2-3 inches of overhang on the sides of the box. Then, tape the side openings with some overhang on both the top and side of the box. Use multiple strips of tape if necessary. This is known as the "h-tape method."
Where to Buy Shipping Boxes
Shipping supplies, including boxes, tape, cushions, peanuts, and more, can be found just about anywhere you can find packing, moving, or home office supplies. It includes the thousands of U-Haul locations found across North America and Canada. Same-Day Delivery is available in most United States metro areas and suburbs for added convenience. Search for shipping supplies near you today:
How to Ship Fragile Items
If you’re shipping fragile items like glass or dishes there are several more steps you should take to ensure your items aren’t damaged during transport. Because the truth is, you never know how many tumbles a box will take going from point A to point B. Tips for Shipping Fragile Items:
- Use a larger box than a normal so you can add extra interior protection; use a double-walled box for extra cushion and impact protection
- If shipping dishes, line the bottom and sides of the box with a minimum of three inches of cushioning
- Indivudally wrap each item in at least three inches of cushion/wrapping material (Large Enviro-Bubble is recommended)
- Purchase shipping insurance or Special Handling-Fragile service; Add a ‘fragile’ label and mark the ‘right side up’
Using the Box-in-Box Method
When shipping fragile items, consider adjusting your packing technique to feature the box-in-box method. This packing method gives your item(s) twice the impact protection should the package be dropped or topple during transport. Here is how to pack your box using the box-in-box method:
- Use a corrugated box larger than your original box – about six inches taller, wider, and deeper is recommended. This will be your ‘outer’ box.
- Fill the outer box with void fill material, like Biodegradable Packing Peanuts, so there is a minimum of three inches of cushion on each side.
- If you don’t have enough void fill, wrap your inner box in a minimum of three inches of cushion like Enviro-Bubble, then place it in the outer box. It's important to make sure the inner box is wrapped in enough cushion to limit/eliminate movement while its packed in the outer box. Seal the outer box using the ‘H’ method.
How to Ship a Box
These days, the big name couriers have made the shipping process simple. If you pack your box effectively, you can take it to the post office or courier, and they will do the hard stuff (weigh the box, print the label, attach the tag, use the correct address info, etc.) for you. All you have to worry about is whether you packed your box correctly. But just in case, here are five tips for shipping boxes, small and large:
1. Know what you’re shipping – Certain items are prohibited from being shipped. It can include hazardous waste, fireworks, postage stamps, currency, and more. Other items are restricted. It’s best to know ahead of time if your shipment has any restricted or prohibited items so you don’t run into any unexpected problems.
2. Choose a carrier – There are a variety of pages out there. Some might be better for you than others, depending on your needs. For example, the postal service offers cheaper shipping in most cases, while a courier like FedEx provides faster shipping and more service options, like international shipping.
3. Use the correct address – When providing the shipping and return addresses to the courier (or handwriting them yourself), it’s essential to use envelope format and get all the details right. Forgetting an apartment or suite number could be the difference between a delivered and undelivered gift during the holidays.
4. Print and attach label – If you’re printing and binding the label to your package yourself, be sure it’s firmly attached to the box in a visible area. You may also want to leave a copy of the shipping label inside the package if the original is damaged or falls off. If you’re handwriting the shipping information, don’t forget to include the return address and print it legibly.
5. Hold on to essential information – After you drop your package off, remember to hold on to your tracking number and receipt. The receipt or package information will come in handy if your package doesn’t get delivered for whatever reason, and you need to find the shipping status. Many carriers print the tracking number on the receipt.
Tips for Holiday Shipping
Shipping a package during the holidays isn’t much different from sending any other time of year. However, the right supplies and packing techniques will go a long way toward avoiding holiday mishaps. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind.
Don’t Wait Too Long
Drop off your box with the carrier well ahead of time. You can pay for fast or even overnight shipping, but it’s best to get your package in the mail with time to spare in case there are delays as the holidays approach.
Watch Out for Batteries
When shipping toys or electronics, be sure that batteries are packed separately in the box in the manufacturer’s packaging. Any package making audible sounds or movement will be delayed for obvious security concerns.
Require a Signature
Unfortunately, stealing packages off porches and doorsteps is all too common, especially during the holidays. As such, you may want to add a “signature required” service to the package if you’re shipping items of high value.
5 Tips for Shipping Military Care Packages
Shipping a care package is a fun tradition for military families. But it’s not quite as simple as shipping a package across town. There are a few extra things you need to make sure your deployed loved one receives the care package as intended.
- Get the Shipping Information Right – Use the exact address, including first and last name, unit, title, DPO/FPO/APO, and zip code.
- Secure Your Box – Use plenty of shipping supplies to seal your package at every seam. Use as many packing supplies as needed.
- Avoid Prohibited Items – Many everyday items can’t be shipped. Be sure you don’t include these in your care package.
- Complete Customs Forms – Filling out customs forms is needed for any package going overseas or outside the U.S.
- Use a Quality Box – Corrugated cardboard is the way to go. Don’t reuse a box or use a cardboard box that’s not designed for shipping.