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What is Dunnage? How Can it Protect Your Deliveries?

Unless you work within the manufacturing and shipping space full-time, with an in-depth understanding of the various logistics of packaging components, you might look like a deer in headlights should someone ask if your shipment services include ‘dunnage.’

Luckily, it’s not a complex term to understand! For some, it may refer to an entire shipping container. 

However, most of the time, dunnage materials refer to the various packaging components used to protect and secure various cargo and ensure that a shipment is kept safe during the handling and shipping processes and delivered effectively free of damage.

Today, we’re going to explore what dunnage is, why it’s used in shipping, the various types of dunnage and how Cantec Couriers can help solve your shipping problems with dunnage.

Let’s get started!

What is Dunnage?

dunnage definition

As we briefly touched on above, the term ‘dunnage’ describes the materials used to secure and support packages during the handling and shipping processes. The primary reason dunnage is used to protect items from damage.

Dunnage materials can include anything from bubble wrap to steel to wood or corrugated paper. The material used is dependent on the contents of the package itself.

Essentially, dunnage is meant to provide cushioning so that the items you’re shipping won’t move around or have any damage inflicted upon them during handling and transport. 

That said, while these materials are commonly used to protect items, more often than not, they’re used in conjunction with a proper box, bag or another type of storage/shipment container.

Unsurprisingly, different products will require different kinds of packaging and protection depending on a wide range of factors, including their weight, proportions, how fragile they are and their risk for potential damage.

To ensure the highest chance of a successful delivery without damage, courier services and manufacturing facilities will avoid placing small items in larger boxes, even if they’re able to fill the remaining space with dunnage material. 

In the same sense, they’ll also refrain from issuing deliveries without any packing containers at all.

Why is Dunnage Used in Shipping?

The shipping process can be arduous and unpredictable. From freight ships to trucks used in last-mile deliveries, the journey a parcel can take is often fraught with bumps and bruises. 

A wide range of variables could impact the integrity of a package in transit from the first point of contact to its eventual destination. 

Anything from adverse weather conditions to faulty package handling in sorting facilities to the potential for vehicle accidents in transit, there’s a plethora of things that could potentially go wrong. 

As such, you and the courier service you use should want to use the best construction of dunnage to ensure that deliveries are cushioned and protected from any and all things that it could ensure on their way to their final destination.

Below, we’ll outline some of the primary reasons why dunnage is used:

Protection from Physical Damage

Of course, the most obvious reason couriers and shippers use dunnage is to help occupy the empty spaces within a particular shipping package to minimize the amount of movement the item undergoes while inside the box or other packing container during transit.

If it is a multi-item delivery, dunnage may also work to effectively separate individual items from one another to prevent any sort of collision from taking place and to preserve and protect each separate item. 

This protection is paramount depending on the mode of transportation the delivery entails and how far the package has to go.

For example, shipments are initially picked up by a carrier and shipped to a sorting facility. 

From there, they may travel further distances by truck, plane, cargo ships or other vessels. Following this journey, a last-mile delivery carrier will meet and obtain them on the other end to transport the shipment to the final destination or its intended recipient.

There is an increased risk for damage at every stage of the delivery with so many different touchpoints. 

So, shipping companies utilize various dunnage materials to stop items from moving around in containers. They also use it to stop larger containers from moving and absorb shock and vibration that might impact the item when it’s moving.

Water & Moisture Protection

Whether it’s from moisture due to being in a cargo ship or from adverse weather conditions seeping in, environmental conditions can substantially impact the integrity of packaging containers. These conditions could also potentially lead to contamination if shipments are not packed appropriately.

In this way, couriers also utilize dunnage to protect items from water and moisture contamination. Whether it’s rain, condensation or a thin water film forming on ship floors, floor dunnage is crucial to help keep packages and containers above deck to ensure they won’t be damaged by water.

This defence is particularly vital in the context of condensation, specifically because, once condensation forms inside a container, there is no way to drain it, meaning that it could cause irreversible damage by the time the shipment reaches its final destination.

Protection against potential water and moisture damage is especially critical when delivering items such as electronics, prone to this type of contamination.

Easier Handling for Heavy Items

On top of preserving the integrity of various packages, dunnage also serves a safety purpose. It’s no guarantee that every package will be perfectly square and light regarding its weight. More often than not, in fact, this is not the case.

Shipping heavy and awkward packages, like a weighty piece of furniture or hefty and inconveniently shaped items, can be difficult to move and manipulate. In this way, to make such shipments easier to transport and manage, couriers will use dunnage to help more comfortably distribute items’ weight so that workers can either carry them themselves or use a forklift.

Typically, this is when wood dunnage is most widely utilized.

Ensuring that packages are accessible and secure helps protect against the risk of damage and protect the couriers themselves from incurring personal injuries while loading and conducting deliveries.

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Types of Dunnage

As we’ve touched on already, couriers will use several types of dunnage materials depending on the particular needs of the individual package, such as how fragile it is or how much support it requires.

In this sense, the materials used will range from lightweight to more sturdy and durable, depending on what is deemed necessary. Below, we will highlight five of the most commonly used dunnage materials.


wood dunnage

Wood is one of the oldest and still most widely utilized dunnage materials for shipping. 

Depending on the particular circumstance, couriers may utilize rougher lumber with similar thickness yet varying lengths to create barriers or separate items, promote air circulation, and protect shipments from physical damage.

Wood is arguably one of the most commonly used dunnage materials because it is affordable, easily recycled and can be responsibly sourced.


steel dunnage

As opposed to wood, steel is among the most expensive dunnage sources available on the market. In this way, its most common usage is to protect particularly expensive or highly valuable products.

Steel is often used to protect lighter products from incurring damage. 

Typically, this is due to the proximity of heavy products packaged in the same box as lighter ones because they are delivered in the same shipment.

Solid Plastics

plastic air cushion

Solid plastics are also among the more expensive options when it comes to dunnage. However, they pose several benefits, including being malleable, meaning couriers can mould them to fit the exact measurements of a given product.

This quality makes them ideal for effectively protecting valuable items.

Corrugated Paper

corrugated paper

Corrugated paper is a packaging material used in the creation of cardboard boxes. It is a popular dunnage material in certain industries, including the automobile industry, hardware, and more.

Corrugated paper is an ideal dunnage packing material because it can support relatively heavy weights and protect against moisture.

Bubble Wrap

bubble wrap

You can’t go wrong with a classic! 

Bubble wrap is instantly recognizable as one of the most widely used dunnage materials for wrapping fragile products. From moving houses to transporting goods great distances, bubble wrap remains a common go-to choice to protect packages affordably. It’s the dunnage of choice for eCommerce shipping and same-day delivery due to how versatile and lightweight it is. 

Common examples of items that could benefit from bubble wrap include small electronics or items made of or containing glass. 

One of the biggest benefits of bubble wrap is that it is recyclable and can be reused so long as the bubbles don’t pop!

The Dunnage Difference with Cantec Couriers

On top of our easy-to-use technological services, Cantec Couriers is passionate about doing the utmost to ensure that your eCommerce shipping and any other kind of shipping is packaged and protected wherever they may go!

No matter the parcel, size or delivery, we’ll source the right type of dunnage to protect your order and your store’s bottom line while doing everything within our power to protect against shipping damages.

All you need to do is enter your pick-up and drop-off details, confirm your package details, review and confirm your order and you can rest assured and have peace of mind knowing that your items are in safe, capable and responsible hands.

If you’re thinking of scaling up your delivery operations or just want to offer your customers the convenience of same-day delivery, be sure to get in touch and we’ll guide you through the process!

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