Key Points:

  • Dunnage is any padding material used to cushion, secure, and protect items during transportation
  • Bubble wrap, solid plastic, packaging peanuts, and air pillows are good examples of dunnage
  • Foam is best for padding sensitive, fragile, or sharp pieces such as electronics and medical equipment

Shipping-related damages can be devastating to your store's bottom line, as they can lead to returns, refunds, profit loss, replacements, and more. While it’s a good start, it’s simply not enough to have a killer eCommerce return policy.

So, what is there to do? The answer is simple but comes with a bit of an antiquated vocab term. To prevent damaged packages, you’ll want to up your dunnage game. Essentially, this means using packing materials to cushion your goods throughout the shipping and handling process. From bubble wrap to kraft paper, there are many packaging components that shippers use to ensure that packages arrive safely despite any bumps in the road.

In this article, we’ll help you figure out what dunnage means, why it’s useful to shippers, the different types of filler materials, and help you avoid product damage during shipping. Want to brush up on your shipping terms? Head over to our shipping glossary, where we cover everything from AWB to VAT.

Table of Contents

What is Dunnage?

Ask anyone who has picked and packed a product, and they’ll tell you dunnage is vital when it comes to padding items to protect them from damages during shipping.


Since dunnage plays such an important component in the shipping process, let’s start by defining it. Dunnage is any padding material used to cushion, secure, and protect items during transportation. Bubble wrap, solid plastic, packaging peanuts, and air pillows are good examples of commonly used materials.

Different products require different types of protection depending on their fragility, weight, and risk of damage. For example, shipping a glass vase or a TV set will require careful cushioning with bubble wrap or foam. Conversely, you may not need to use any added protection when shipping a pillow or a mattress due to their low risk of damage.

Of course, dunnage works best when packed into the right-sized box, poly bag, or any other shipping container for the product. That means for dunnage to work efficiently and effectively, you should always make sure that your product is packaged in a size-appropriate box, using packing materials to fill empty spaces and secure the item in its place.

Why is Dunnage Useful for Shippers?

A lot happens during the shipping process. From unpredictable weather and package handling in sorting facilities to vehicle collisions and movement of packages on delivery trucks, there’s no shortage of tough conditions that your items will be exposed to.

Shippers use materials to cushion, protect and prevent items from any movements and shocks, ensuring they reach their destination in the best condition possible. Here are the main reasons why shippers use dunnage:

1. Protection from physical damage

Shippers use dunnage to fill empty spaces inside the shipping box to restrict items from moving within the box. Dunnage is also used to separate items in a package and prevent any form of collision.

This helps to prevent physical damage that can arise as packages slide back and forth during the delivery process.

2. Water, moisture & dust protection

Environmental conditions can change quickly. Your package may board the truck in sunny weather, but a few miles down the line, it starts to rain. Shippers use dunnage to protect items from water and moisture contamination.

For packages that travel by ship, floor dunnage is used to keep them above the deck, ensuring that they won't get damaged by the thin water film that forms on ship floors.

Dunnage is also used to protect packages in a shipping container from moisture that forms inside the container as a result of condensation.

This is especially important for electronics and other items that are prone to dust, water, and moisture contamination.

Related post: Shipping Tips: Tips for Packing and Shipping Boxes Securely

3. Shock absorption

Shippers put dunnage in place to act as a shock absorber to prevent items from feeling the vibrations that arise due to package collision and movements during transportation that make packages slide around, drop, or get squished. This helps to prevent damage.

4. Easy handling of heavy items

Cumbersome items, such as a couch or beanbag, can prove difficult to handle during transportation. Shippers use wooden dunnage to distribute their weight heavenly to make for easy maneuvering, making them easy to carry.

5. Ensure Air Circulation

Shippers use packing materials to separate packages in closed compartments like refrigerated holds and ensure that the chilled air circulated freely to reach every corner of the hold.

10 Types of Dunnage Material Shippers Use

From lightweight to heavyweight items, there is no shortage of materials that you can use to mitigate damage. Whatever you use depends on the type of product you want to protect. Here is a rundown of different materials that exist that shippers use to protect items on transit.

1. Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap is one of the most commonly used materials in the shipping industry. It comes in handy when shipping products such as electronics or fragile items made of glass. It can be reused many times as long as the bubbles don't pop.

2. Foam

Foam is best for padding sensitive, fragile, or sharp pieces such as electronics and medical equipment. It is also excellent when lining small shipping envelopes to prevent the content from physical damage.

3. Air pillows

Shippers use these to create barriers, keep items separate in containers, fill empty spaces, and prevent sliding inside a box or container.

4. Solid plastics

Solid plastics are a common type of dunnage material used in industrial, high-value shipping. They are expensive, but ideal for protecting high value-items since they can be modeled to the exact shape and measurements of the product.

5. Kraft paper

Although kraft paper doesn't guarantee a lot of physical protection, it’s commonly used for filling empty space inside a shipping container. It is also good for protecting products from moisture, dirt, and dust. It is cheap, eco-friendly, and reusable.

6. Corrugated paper

Used in the production of cardboard boxes, corrugated paper is a popular material in the automobile and hardware industry. It supports a lot of weight and also protects items against moisture.

7. Wood

It is one of the heavyweight dunnage materials used by shippers for strong goods. It is used to create barriers between items, partition containers and keep packages traveling by sea from touching the ship's deck. Plywood and rough lumber are good examples of the wood used. Generally speaking, it is recyclable and can be used for a long time.

8. Steel

Steel stands out as an expensive, heavyweight dunnage that’s used to protect high-value products. It is used to keep heavy items from damaging light products shipped in the same container or box.

9. Blurb

Blurb is excellent for filling empty spaces inside a shipping box. It can be made up of rolls or squares to provide a more compact cushioning.

10. Custom dunnage solutions

Businesses dealing with cumbersome products or products that have multiple pieces and uncommon designs can collaborate with dunnage providers who can design the right personalized dunnage materials to protect their products.

Fix Your Shipping Problems with Dunnage

About 20% of eCommerce returns are attributed to shipping damages. As such, retailers must use the right packaging and dunnage to secure, protect and prevent packages from any form of physical damage while in transit.

Now that you know what dunnage is, how it's used, and the different types of it, it’s time to jump in and fix any shipping problems by packaging products with the right type of dunnage in your eCommerce store.

Easyship's global fulfillment center partners offer packaging expertise, even for the most fragile and sensitive items, and can package all your products with the right type of dunnage and protect your store's bottom line from losses caused by shipping damages. If you're thinking of scaling up your fulfillment operations, get in touch and we'll guide you through the process.  

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