What You Need to Know about Dunnage

admin-14 April 2020

Dunnage is a common term in the shipping industry that’s used to describe padding materials such as Kraft paper, bubble wrap, wood, and solid plastics that protect and secure packages during the shipment process.

If you work with a fulfilment partner and utilize their pick and pack service, then it’s likely that dunnage is or has been used to secure your orders at some point.

Here’s an example to prove that point; if you shipped an antique ceramic vase, it’s likely your fulfilment partner’s delivery team used bubble wrap (dunnage) to fill the spaces in the container so the jar wouldn’t move around.

Obviously, some products do not require dunnage. If you shipped a chair cushion, for instance, there wouldn’t be any need for dunnage since it’s unlikely it would be damaged.

What you need to Know about Dunnage

Why dunnage is important

The most pertinent reason why shipping companies use dunnage is to secure goods while they are unloaded, loaded and transported. Dunnage will keep a container’s contents stationery irrespective of whether it’s carried by road, rail, or sea. Dunnage airbags, for instance, can withstand up to three pounds of pressure per square inch, and some models can auto inflate to protect cargo.

Dunnage also shields merchandise and its packaging from moisture and contamination, and facilitates the handling of delicate cargo.

How dunnage is used

Dunnage materials are used in multiple ways. Cargo ships use floor dunnage to protect sensitive merchandise such as electronics from the dampness that commonly forms on the ship’s floors. It works by keeping the cargo above the deck, leaving the moisture to travel beneath it without causing harm.

Dunnage is also used inside shipping containers. Since they are meant to be leak-proof, a freight ship’s containers lack openings to eliminate water. Any moisture that forms on the inside has no means of escape, so it could destroy the cargo within.

To address this issue, shippers fit the containers with side and floor dunnage to protect their cargo. Top dunnage may also be used to contain moisture that forms on the ceiling of a shipping container. Top dunnage is typically made from paper or any other absorbent material. In some situations, plastic tarps are suspended beneath a container’s ceiling to capture moisture after it has evaporated from the container’s floor.

Types of dunnage

Shipping agents may choose from a wide variety of dunnage materials, depending on the merchandise to be shipped. Cheap, light-weight materials such as bubble wrapping are suited to small packages. If an item is heavy and expensive, then more robust materials, such as steel are utilized. Shipping agents may also develop custom packaging for products with unique dimensions.


Wood dunnage is one of the easiest to acquire because there’s often plenty available in warehouses and production facilities, and it can be easily shaped to fit the shipment. Besides its abundance and flexibility, wood is environmentally sustainable. In fact, it is the only dunnage material that is entirely renewable.

Unfortunately, despite all its benefits, however, wood dunnage has a few drawbacks. A few ports impose customs duties on wood dunnage because it is a form of imported timber. Some authorities also have quarantine rules to prevent foreign pests from reaching the shore. The international plant protection convention requires all 134 member states to adhere to the ISPM 15, which requires heat treatment or fumigation for all wood dunnage.

Corrugated paper

Corrugated paper is often used to fill spaces such as pallet under-hang. Corrugated papers are light-weight, reliable, and easy to install. They stabilize bulk bins, cartons, bags and other containers by securing them in place and preventing movement.

Solid plastics

This type of dunnage is utilized in industrial, high-value shipments. It is usually made from high-density polyethene, a sturdy, durable plastic adept at preventing abrasions. Solid plastic is more expensive than other kinds of dunnage, but it is worth the investment for high-value cargo.

Air pillows

Air pillows are manufactured plastic product used to cushion fragile items. They are made from a non-abrasive polymer that keeps items from chipping and scratching. Air pillows offer exceptional protection during transit by shielding products from the edges of the hard outer packaging.

Unlike packing peanuts and bubble wrap, which allow items to move, products protected with air cushions remain stationary. As the name suggests, air pillows are light-weight and hardly add to shipping costs compared to other dunnage materials. Also, they are inflated on demand, so they won’t take much floor space during storage.

Kraft paper

Kraft paper is a permeable type of paper that is highly elastic and tear-resistant. It is designed to package items with high requirements for durability and strength. Pulp from the Kraft process is tougher than that from other techniques. This is because the Kraft process removes most of the lignin present within the wood, an important pre-requisite for strength. Kraft paper is a popular dunnage choice because it is strong, durable, and light-weight. It is also eco-friendly. This may improve brand perception and help your business conform to environmental regulations.

Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap is a flexible transparent material used to pack fragile items. It is filled with regularly placed air pockets that cushion fragile items. It is one of the most popular methods used to secure glass and other breakable items. Bubble wrap is inexpensive and can be reused, provided that its air bubbles have not popped.


Steel dunnage is one of the more expensive options, and it is commonly used for high-value cargo. Steel dunnage platforms can also be used to protect light-weight packages from damage if they are shipped together with heavy items.

Custom dunnage

Custom dunnage refers to specialised packaging solutions tailored to suit delicate items with unique dimensions. The seller must often work with dunnage providers to create a custom packaging solution that fits the product’s unique characteristics.

Dunnage is a small but essential part of the packaging process. It is made from various materials, comes in different forms, and can be used to secure any type of shipment during transit, unloading and loading. It is crucial not only for significant freight shipping agents but also for e-commerce vendors preparing their products for transport.  The right dunnage will help you avoid returns and losses from damaged products.

Admittedly, choosing an appropriate dunnage option can be difficult, but there’s no need to worry. Nextsmartship will give you expert advice on the best dunnage type for your products. Partner with us, and you’ll enjoy the full benefits of a highly sophisticated intercontinental distribution network and an expert team dedicated to helping you choose the safest packaging options for your merchandise.

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