All you should know about shipping containers

What are the shipping containers?

Shipping containers are large rectangular boxes that are used to carry different categories of goods from one place to another. You have seen them on rolling trucks, long hauling trains, and huge vessels carrying a huge number of boxes at once. Invented back during the period of 1950s by an American Entrepreneur McLean Malcolm, no one knew that those large size boxes will have such a big contribution in simplifying international trade. Without them, the trade wouldn’t have become so easy and growing. Today, the contribution of shipping containers in international trade is remarkable because they are responsible for the carriages of tons and tons of goods every day from port to port. Talking about their design and structure, they are manufactured from high quality corrugated steel that provides immense strength to carry loads of goods. They are loaded on vessels and trucks via forklift or cranes.  


Shipping containers are known to be very versatile. Though they were invented solely to fulfill shipment needs, today their application can be seen in almost every field.

Shipping – Shipping containers are hugely being used for the shipment of different types of cargoes (large, heavy, bulky, liquid, gaseous, perishable, hazardous chemical, etc). Everyday tons of goods are loaded and unloaded onboard to support the supply chain system to further meet the consumer demands across the world.

Storage Besides shipment of goods, shipping containers act as perfect storage units. Due to their large size, lockable doors, and portability features, they are used for storing all types of goods. Be it for industrial use, storing raw materials, manufactured goods, household equipment, or anything.

As building material – From the past few decades, these huge boxes have found their way to the construction field in making creative, quirky, and beautiful things. Shipping containers homes, offices, stores, malls, restaurants, garages, gyms have been in the recent trend catching the eyes of millions. Countries like the USA, Brazil, Australia have witnessed a good number of container buildings along the lane.

Types of shipping containers

To suit almost all types of goods, a different range of shipping containers have been designed till now.

Dry Van

Dry Van is one of the most versatile container types. It can carry almost all types of dry freight. It is suitable both for transportation and storage. These are large, massive boxes that have wheels attached to them at the bottom, which is why instead of loading, they are hooked to a tractor and rolled by a tractor or trailer. Due to their capacity of carrying a wide range of dry products, its demand is always on the surge. Its design and structure promise full security to the cargo residing inside.

Pallet Wide

Pallet Wide is another very common container type that is much in demand in Europe. In Europe, a certain type of pallet of dimension (1200x800x144) mm is used. To accommodate these euro pallets inside a container box, a special type of container was designed called Pallet Wide. It is designed to optimize the carriage of euro-pallets while only being minimally wider than the Dry Van Container. It is constructed by a four-way wood pallet nailed with iron nails in a uniform pattern. When compared to general standard boxes, they can carry three to six extra pallets, which is the biggest advantage it serves.  

Double door

Unlike other shipping containers, double door containers are slightly different in design. Where a general box has a door on one side, a double door has a door on both sides. That is why it has been named double door and tunnel tailer. It has 14 gauge welded to the main structure. These boxes are best suited for the transportation of large, oversized cargoes. The two doors allow for easier access during the loading and unloading of cargoes. Also, goods can be well stowed.  

Side door

Just like double door boxes, side door containers are also famous for their unique design. They have bi-fold doors which makes them unique. It can be opened both partially or fully depending upon the space required for loading and unloading. When the door is opened fully, one side of the containers gets completely opened. The concept behind designing such boxes was to accommodate large size cargo inside a box easily. Due to its design and structural integrity, they also find their application as a storage unit. Moreover, side doors are also the best option for building houses. A side door container provides the maximum holding capacity which makes them suitable for the building of homes, garages, swimming pools, stores, malls, etc. 

Open Top

Open top containers are yet another container type known for their unique design and structure. As the name suggests, an open-top box does not have a fixed steel ceiling. The top part gets open and is covered using a tarpaulin instead of a solid roof. It has a movable top rail and a swinging header facilitating convenient loading operations. This container was designed to suit the cargoes that are heavier enough and can only be loaded from the top using cranes or forklifts. The box is also used for the transportation of goods that protrude beyond the standard height of the box. 

Hard Top Open Top

These containers are mostly used for the transportation of heavy and bulky cargoes that can be easily loaded with cranes or crab. In most of the context, they are similar to open top, with the only difference being they have a removable steel roof instead of a tarpaulin. The removable steel roof can be either removed or put fixed depending upon the need. The roof weight approx. 450kg and can be conveniently lifted using a forklift. Goods are bounded using lashing rings installed in the lower and upper side rails. Due to their capacity of holding large and bulky cargoes, these are much in demand by industrial companies. 

Flat Racks

Flat rack containers are designed to facilitate the transport of heavy and oversized cargoes that cannot be fitted inside a closed body. There are certain goods like automobiles, trucks, planes, army tanks, jets, that cannot be accommodated inside a closed container box and hence these are shipped on flat rack containers. A flat rack container has just two walls on its shorter side which are either fixed or collapsible. The flat rack also acts as a platform container when both of its walls are folded and kept aside. It comes in two different dimensions- a 20ft and 40ft flat rack.


As mentioned above, a collapsible flat rack container is similar to a platform container. A platform can accommodate the cargo exceeding beyond the dimension of the box. It is comprised of a reinforced base with no walls on any of its sides, no roof, and just a floor. The cargoes are secured using lashing bars on the outside profile of the bottom rail. The flooring is done either with wood or steel and bears a very high loading capacity. Specific dimensions and capacity of platform containers may vary depending on the container manufacturer, the age of the container, and the container owner. They are specially designed to ship irregular sized cargo that cannot be accommodated into any other container and is suitable for extremely heavy-duty.

Insulated Containers

As the name itself speaks that insulated containers are containers that have a certain type of insulation done on their body. It is used for the shipment of temperature-sensitive products like medicines, foods, biological goods such as organs, blood, etc. It is well insulated using insulation material, bubble glass, gas-filled pipes, airtight doors. All of this contributes to maintaining their temperature for a long allowing goods to remain fresh for days. 


Many people confuse reefers with insulated containers but both carry a slight difference. Reefers are like big size fridges that are built to store and transport perishable items over a long distance. Unlike insulated containers, reefers have an inbuilt refrigeration unit that enables them to maintain temperature for a long without letting the goods rot. It is fitted with an electric or diesel heating or cooling unit that can retain temperature from-35◦ C to +30◦C.


Bulker is one of the container types that is extremely used in the shipment of dry bulk cargoes like coffee beans, grains, fertilizers, cement, sand granules, etc. It has an opening on its top through which the goods are loaded. While the unloading takes place from hatches built on its lower doors or front panels. It has a built-in ladder that takes you to the top to examine the loading process. Bulkers are very useful for dry bulk cargoes because they are designed specifically to facilitate their shipment. 


Tank Containers are one of the most sought-after container types. This is because they are solely capable of carrying certain goods that other containers fail to ship. Liquid and gaseous goods to hazardous chemicals stuff, it carries swiftly. It is manufactured from stainless steel which is surrounded by a layer of insulation and an external protective layer of Polyurethane or Aluminium. The goods are loaded via a central hatch on the roof while unloaded through a valve outlet made at the bottom of the tankers. 

Different dimensions of shipping containers


8ft shipping containers are the smallest size containers. These are mostly used for personal usage or small business storage like for shifting home, storing small industrial equipment, carrying camping essentials for the whole family, etc. It is extremely handy for shipping smaller volume goods within the country or overseas. It usually comes in dimensions of 7ft x 6ft x 6ft.


10ft shipping containers are the smallest of standard shipping container sizes after 8ft. It is mostly used for the portable storage of business units which can be stored and secured and can be transported wherever required. Since these containers are very small in size, they can fit any vehicle with other goods. It is an excellent shed solution with the added security of a steel container shell. It is considered ideal for industrial equipment shelters and mobile machinery storage. This sized container is not so common in shipping. Most often second-hand 20ft containers are used to cut two 10ft containers out of them. It offers the internal space of 9’3 x 7’8 x 7’10


20ft shipping container is considered standard shipping containers. It is comprised of 14-gauge corrugated steel panels throughout. It offers 1169 cubic feet of space which are roughly equivalent to the storage capacity of a car garage. It is equipped with 1-1/8” thick marine plywood flooring on the interior. Due to their dimension and sturdiness, they are extensively being used for the transportation of a large variety of goods, used as storage units, and for building purposes. A 20ft box can fit in a single parking space. All 20ft boxes have the same exterior dimension except a few like insulated boxes and reefers due to the modification done on internal walls. It offers interior space of 19’4 x 7’8 x 7’10

20ft high cube

20ft high cubes are one of the preferred choices when it comes to the transportation of heightened goods. These are 30cm higher than standard ones. It offers an internal dimension of 19’4 x 7’8 x 8’10. The internal dimension may vary slightly depending upon the type of material used during manufacturing. The heightened goods can be easily stowed without touching the ceiling of the box. In fact, for building purposes too, these boxes come to be an advantage. Anything can be made out of it- be it a swimming pool, house, store, or cafe. 


40 ft container is double in the size and volume as compared to a 20 ft container, and is just 15-25% costlier than the latter. This size container has mostly commercial and industrial applications. It can accommodate a good volume of goods to be shipped over long distances. Built from high-quality corrugated steel, it has the capacity to bear the load of heavy cargoes and withstand the worse climatic condition. It offers an internal space of 39’5 x 7’8 x 7’10.

40ft high cube

The 40ft High Cube Container is similar in structure to standard boxes. But these are about 1 foot taller than regular 40ft boxes. It offers a better option for heightened goods ensuring that goods protruding the height of 40ft can easily be stowed in them and set for shipment. Their extra foot of height results in 2,660 cubic feet of total storage space. It weighs 8,775lbs. Extra care must be taken while carrying these shipping containers to height-restricted areas such as bridges or tunnels. It offers the internal space of dimension 39’5 x 7’8 x 8’10.

45ft high cube

The 45ft high cube containers offer huge storage space. These are very much compatible with heavy and bulky goods. Made sturdy & durable enough to withstand harsh weather these containers can carry a large volume of goods. It offers an internal space of 44’5 x 7’11 x 8’10. These are equally compatible for building purposes due to increased height and internal dimension. Besides, these are highly preferred for building purposes as well. It is designed in a way that could easily ship lighter and heavier general cargo on the sea and land to utilize the maximum cubic capacity. These are hugely being used for constructing bridges, stores, cafes, shopping malls, homes, swimming pool.


48ft shipping containers are also high cube containers that are 9’6” tall on the exterior. It is an over-sized version of a 40ft box. In comparison to ISO containers, these are 6 inches wider. It has lockable doors on one end that come standard with an easy open-door handle, as well as a high-security lock. Their size was first time introduced by the shipping company APL (American President Line) in 1986. Since then, the box started to be used in every mode of transportation and got into the category of intermodal containers. These large size boxes are perfect for just about any ‘on-site’ storage requirement you may have. It offers an internal space of 47’5 x 8’11 x 8’2.


The 53ft container is much larger. It provides a volume of over 4280 cubic feet. It was first introduced in the United States in 1989. It offers an internal space of 53ft x 9ft x 8ft. It offers a floor space of 424 square ft which can accommodate a large volume of goods. It is used mainly for domestic road and rail transport. Due to its height and length, it comes to be very suitable for building purposes. For this very reason, it is one of the favorite choices of cargotecture companies. Several 53ft boxes can be combined to make a large residential building. 


Some 20 years after the introduction of 53ft boxes, 60ft boxes were launched. 60ft shipping containers are the largest metal containers manufactured today. It can accommodate a large volume of goods at one time. It once allowed Canadian Tire to ship 13% more volume of goods per box.

New vs Used shipping containers

Containers can be both brand new and second hand. The condition of the container is one of the primary factors on the purchase price. Both are equally in demand because even if it is a used one, it poses equal worth in terms of functions, sturdiness, and durability.


New Containers are either SOC Containers or One-trip containers. Around 97% of the world’s containers are manufactured in China due to cheap raw material and labor costs. China being the largest exporter has always surplus goods in stock to export to different countries of the world. New containers are often used to export goods from China for single trips and then they are set for sale as one-trip containers.

When should I buy a new box?

There isn’t a certain condition which can describe that you should buy new containers. However, it can be determined by following things like

  • if aesthetic is important for you
  • if you want them for 15 to 20 years
  • if you are doubtful about used boxes


The used containers or second-hand containers are ones that have already been used by other shippers. It can either be a month used or 10 years used. A used box doesn’t mean they aren’t strong or durable. They are often in excellent condition only with slight signs of blemishes, dents, or rust, or holes. A little evidence of wear and tear doesn’t destroy the real worth of the containers. They can still last for decades. It all depends on what grade of the container you are buying.

Used containers are of typically three grades:

  • IICL
  • Cargo Worthy
  • Wind and Water Tight

When should I buy a used box?

Buying a used box can be a good decision if aesthetics is not so important and you want to save on your expenditure. You will find used containers cheaper than the new ones. Another thing you should keep in mind while buying a used one is- their condition. If the supplier promises you for its quality, do not forget to inspect it on your own.

What are the options to acquire shipping containers?

One can acquire shipping containers through two ways- buying or leasing.
Both have their own pros but depend hugely on your purpose and the period for which you want them.

Buy shipping containers

Shipping containers are the greatest assets if you buy them. People generally buy them when they have a long term need. Instead of paying rent to the carriers every time for containers, buying gives you added benefits- you own it, you control its supply, you can plan your shipment anytime for any location. When you buy, you incurred a one-time cost and avail complete ownership of it. You also escape from additional demurrage and detention charges. While leasing can dig money from your pocket monthly or quarterly. Although the initial cost is high, it is worth it in the long run (if you want them for the long run). 

Lease shipping containers

Leasing shipping is yet another good way to acquire shipping containers. There are several ways by which one can rent them- One Way Lease, Long Term Lease, Master Lease Agreement, Short Term Lease. Like buying, leasing too has its own pros in conditions like:

  • When you need them to use as temporary storage space
  • To manage the factory storage overflows
  • In case of sporadic shipping
  • When you want them for a single trip

How do you sell your used shipping containers?

This is a very common question asked by shippers that how to get rid of the old/used containers. Most people after using their containers for several years find no application in the future and just want to get rid of them. You wouldn’t want them to give away anyone for free when you had purchased it after paying a hefty sum. To sell your used boxes, you can either contact a carrier company, shippers, freight forwarders, or just scrap dealers. To your concern whether you will be paid a worthy sum in return or not, we could guide you to another amazing platform- takes you through a number of buyers across the world who would be willing to buy your used containers. It’s an open marketplace that allows people from all around the globe to buy and sell containers online. The multiple negotiation facility enables you to make a deal only when you find it profitable.


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