How Much Does a 20 Foot Shipping Container Hold?

How much will a 20 foot shipping container hold?

The quick answer is that your shipping container will hold 32.6 cubic meters or 1,172 cubic feet worth of material, but likely you will want to factor in room to maneuver stored materials.

The key to using your 20 foot shipping container to its storage capacity potential is understanding how much it can actually fit inside of it. Perhaps you’re trying to load it with vehicles, construction equipment, furniture, or you’re using it as a multi-functional storage space. 

Let’s take a look at some common ways to better understand what you can fit into one of these containers.

Figure out the Internal Dimensions

If you want to figure out how much can my 20-foot shipping container hold, you first need to determine the internal dimensions of the container. As we have mentioned before in other posts, this will vary by a few inches from container to container depending on which company manufactured it. But in general, a 20-foot shipping container’s internal dimensions will measure as follows: 

  • In imperial or US customary units: 19’4”L x 7’9”W x 7’10”H
  • In metric units: 5.898 m L x 2.352 m W x 2.393 m H

Area: Square Feet and Meters

So how much space does that really add up to? It translates to about 32.6 m³. Put in other terms, it translates to 146 ft.² or 13.86 m² of total space you can use on the floor.

Volume: Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room

While the above overall volume of 32.6 m³ or 1,172 cubic feet is a good rule of thumb, keep in mind that you won’t fill this full space unless you were to transport pallets or boxes that fit perfectly snug against one another. Even if you were to do this, the shipping container will need a little bit of wiggle room for vents, tools, mats, desiccant materials to prevent container rain (i.e. ambient water buildup over time), and room for you and any helpers to unload materials.

Your stuff, too, will take up more space than you might imagine when you factor in bubble wrap, packing materials, and irregular shapes (like most furniture).

It’s always best to plan to leave a little bit of space even if you try to pack the shipping container as tightly as you can.

So, How Much Does a 20-Foot Shipping Container Hold?

Common measurements for household furniture to help you pack

Now comes the real question: what does this translate to in terms of actual goods? As always, the answer is highly dependent on what you want to pack, but below we’ll give you some estimated ideas.

As mentioned, you can transport 10 standard pallets in a 20-foot shipping container provided that you don’t stack the pallets. It’s not unreasonable to assume that you could transport the entire contents of a one or two-bedroom apartment in a single unit.

The trick is that furniture and other common household items often have irregular sizes and may vary drastically. Roughly speaking, beds can be measured at:

  • 1.7 m³
  • 0.85 m³
  • 1.25 m³
  • And so on

Let’s be safe and assume that you have a 1.7 cubic meter bed. That means, you could fit roughly 19 beds.

Bookcases often measure at 1.1 m³ or 1.4 m³. And the average TV is somewhere near 0.75 m³. That is 23 book cases and 43 televisions respectively.

Still, the contents of a one or two-bedroom apartment are a good estimate.

If you’re shipping for business, go with the 10-pallet rule and try to estimate your shipping needs using that baseline.

How Many Cars Can A 20-Foot Shipping Container Hold?

If you’re storing or packing your shipping container with a vehicle, know that you should be able to fit most standard cars in a single 20-foot container with a little bit of space left over. We wouldn’t recommend trying to squeeze two cars into a single 20-foot container. Aside from the space issues, the two cars might also be too heavy for the container’s structural integrity.

Good Shipping Practices Can Maximize Your Space

You can always maximize your space inside a 20-foot shipping container by practicing good moving or shipping rules. 

Using easily understandable units such as boxes and pallets

For example, always try to break down any goods or furniture you want to move before loading them into a shipping container. Placing things in boxes allows you to stack all those goods atop one another on standard or Euro pallets. And they allow you to more easily understand how much volume you have.

Standard vs Euro Pallets

Chances are that, if you use a shipping container of any size, you’ll probably place your goods, products, or moving stuff on pallets. However, there are two main types of pallets you can place in shipping containers – Standard or Euro.

The standard palette has a size regulated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which many shipping companies use to keep their palette sizes standardized for easy transitioning from container to truck and so on.

Standard pallets are 1200 mm x 1000 mm while Euro pallets are 1200 mm x 800 mm. Practically, this means that you can hold 10 standard pallets or 12 Euro pallets in a 20-foot shipping container.

Which one is better depends on your needs, although most people choose standard pallets by default. Note that these values are assuming you won’t be stacking the pallets.

Have a plan before you load the container

Always try to have a plan when you load the container to save time with the loading and unloading process. 

Consider the door arrangement and placement

There are plenty of great tips and tricks to loading your storage unit. We recommend either creating walking lanes (if the shipping container will be stationary) to access all of your packed items, or be sure to pack the things that you won’t need access to immediately in the back.

If you have two sets of doors, one set on each end, then place the items that you won’t be needing urgently in the center of the container. 

For containers with a door on the side, there are multiple opportunities to stay organized. First, you could load your heaviest items, or large pallets of materials near the door side of the container. This will allow you to unpack these items with the help of heavy machinery. Or second, be sure to load any materials that you don’t need immediate access to on the opposite side of the door.

Some folks prefer placing all of the orderly boxes and stackable property in the back of the container and putting all of your irregularly shaped belongings in front. This can create an easier to understand mental map of your container space, but may not help you access the things you need later.

Consider the weight distribution

If you’ll need to move the container or are thinking about using it to ship your things, be sure not to put too much weight on one end of the container; keep things balanced if possible.

You should also use ties and other securing tools to make sure nothing moves during transit. Bubble wrap and other protective materials are key to ensure you don’t lose your stuff to damage during the trip.

Container Space Recap

All in all, a 20-foot shipping container is a great size for small apartment storage, or a car plus some miscellaneous items. Remember the above values when calculating how many containers you need to buy or rent, and you’ll be good to go!

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