Which is Better For Moving: Plastic Containers or Cardboard Boxes?

Moving from one home to another can be an enormous and overwhelming task. You need to be as efficient as possible while packing so that your belongings are well protected.

Moving companies sell cardboard boxes especially designed for moving household items. And many also rent out plastic containers, specifically meant for moving.

Which is better, cardboard or plastic? Here are some considerations.


  • Cardboard boxes sold by most moving companies and storage facilities.
  • Available for free on sites such as Craigslist.
  • Some moving companies rent plastic containers.
  • Many moving companies will deliver plastic containers to your old home and then retrieve them from your new one, saving you the hassle of breaking down and recycling cardboard boxes.
  • Plastic containers do not have to be put together and taped before your move, which saves time and effort.

Young couple moving in into new apartment


  • Empty plastic moving containers can be nested, making it easier to keep down the mess while packing and unpacking.
  • Cardboard boxes come in different sizes. Small boxes are best for smaller but heavy items such as minor appliances, books, tools, canned foods, movies and more. Keep down the weight by putting a small amount of heavier items and then filling the rest of the box with lighter items such as linens, blankets or pillows.
  • Thick corrugated boxes are best for fragile items such as glassware, dishes and vases.
  • There are cardboard moving boxes made especially for lamps, mattresses (though some movers will simply wrap your mattresses in plastic), sporting equipment, record albums, TVs, other electronics, mirrors or pictures and more.
  • Cardboard wardrobe boxes have bars for hanging your dresses, coats and other clothes.
  • There are also plastic wardrobe containers.
  • Plastic storage containers are great for items that conform to their shape, such as pillows, blankets or stuffed animals.
  • You don’t need to purchase tape or box cutters if you use plastic containers, which can be secured with zip-ties.
  • It’s easy to label plastic containers using masking tape and a permanent marker.
  • Once packed, plastic bins are easier to reopen (perhaps to check contents or to add last-minute items) than are cardboard boxes, which need to be cut open and re-taped.

Plastic shipping boxes for delivery logistics, Blue plastic crate


  • Many moving companies have dollies that specifically fit plastic moving bins.
  • Cardboard boxes stack well, edge-to-edge, so they don’t slide around in a moving truck.
  • Because cardboard boxes fit snugly against each other, they take up less space, which means you may pay less.
  • Some plastic bins do not stack as well; they don’t fit flush against each other because of their shape.
  • The flexible plastic of containers can break, so some types of plastic containers should not be stacked.


  • Corrugated cardboard, which is specifically designed to move household goods in transit, is durable.
  • Insects such as silverfish, termites, roaches, beetles and others like cardboard boxes, though, and you could inadvertently bring some with you from your old house to your new.
  • Such insects do not eat plastic containers.
  • Plastic containers are not damaged by water, so your electronics, photos and other valuables may be safer in plastic, for instance, if it rains on moving day.
  • A plastic tote will not burst from the bottom as an overpacked cardboard box might.


stack of colorful plastic boxes.

Environmental Considerations

  • Most cardboard boxes are made from re-used material.
  • Boxes can also be reused or recycled after you’re done with them, and they are biodegradable.
  • Many plastic containers, too, are made from recycled materials.
  • Plastic totes get reused many times.

After the Move

  • Because you own cardboard boxes, you can take your time unpacking them.
  • Rented plastic containers must be returned by a certain date, which means you need to unpack right away.
  • Purchased plastic containers can be re-purposed for storage in your home.
  • Boxes are easy to fold flat and store.
  • Plastic containers are often better for long-term storage because they do not attract insects, they are resistant to water and they are durable.
  • If you are storing items in a climate-controlled storage unit, though, cardboard boxes may be fine.

The Verdict

Everyone’s situation is unique. Whether you decide on cardboard or plastic, make sure you fill and label one box or container with the things you will need right away – dishes, bathroom necessities, phone chargers – so you can find them easily in your new home.

Leslie Lang

Leslie has worked as a professional freelance writer for 18 years and specializes in travel and tourism, hospitality and hospitality technology, hotels, Hawaii, non-profits, small business, opinion/op-ed, and ancestry/family history.