Are You Maximizing the Space in Your Shipping Container?

Diana MaureShipping Guide45 Comments

Maximize space in container

When you’re just getting started in logistics, shipping items in containers can feel like a difficult task. There are a lot of options involved in the process,  including container types, sizes, uses, pallet selection, and modes of shipping. Even if you’re an experienced shipper you’ll want to make sure that you’re maximizing the space in the containers that you already use to make sure you’re getting the best return on investment possible.

When shipping with ocean containers it’s important to make sure you’re planning your shipments as efficiently as possible so you don’t waste money. Learning more about maximizing container space will help you create a more organized, productive, and cost-effective shipping strategy. You can use this resource as a guide to improving the logistics of your business.

The focus of this article will be on 20-foot and 40-foot containers. For more information on container descriptions, dimensions, and uses read our “Complete Guide to Ocean Shipping Containers” blog post.

How are Your Goods Packaged?

The first step to maximizing container space is determining how your product will be packaged before it is shipped. The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you will ship loose cargo or palletized goods.

Boxes on palletsPallets

Choosing the right pallet will maximize the storage space of your container, reduce transportation costs, and ensure the efficient handling of your goods from the point of origin to their destination. There are two factors that go into pallet selection: type and size.

The most widely used pallet types are Standard and Euro pallets.

A standard pallet is the larger of the two measuring 1 meter by 1.2 meters and comes in Full, Half, and Quarter sizes. The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) sanctions six pallet dimensions, detailed in ISO 6780.

A Euro pallet measures .8 meters by 1.2 meters and is widely used in many industries. The European Pallet Association (EPAL) governs all the details of  pallet manufacturing regulations down to the types of timber and nails used to make pallets. All manufacturers of EURO pallets must be sanctioned by EPAL. The EURO pallet is not a good option for ISO shipping containers and slightly wider containers are usually used for these types of pallets.

Loose Cargo

If you’re shipping loose cargo, it’s best to have your cargo palletized. Palletizing your cargo will ensure that your product stays safe and secure during transit. If your product is not palletized, the carrier may not accept your shipment because the freight will be at risk of being damaged during loading, unloading, or transit. If you don’t have the means to palletize your own cargo, we can recommend a trusted warehouse where you can have your goods palletized.

Full Container Load or Less than Container Load?

If you’re shipping multiple pallets (usually 8 or more) you’re better off shipping by Full Container Load (FCL) in either 20 or 40-foot containers. In FCL shipping, your freight gets its own dedicated container.

However, If you’re shipping one pallet or only a few, it’s best to ship by Less than Container Load (LCL). LCL shipping allows you to only pay for the volume that you need in your container and save you money by consolidating your cargo with other shippers in a 40-foot container.


If you’re losing money due to shipping too many loads that don’t fill a container or if you want to purchase goods from multiple suppliers, but they all require minimum orders that must fill a container, cargo consolidation is the answer to your problems.

Cargo consolidation occurs when cargo from one or more shippers is combined into one shipping container. Consolidation allows you to pay a bulk rate for shipping rather than shipping all of your items separately. Consolidation gives you more options, allows you to be more flexible in shipment planning, and can increase profitability.

For more information on consolidation head over to our article “How Consolidating Your Cargo at Origin Can Benefit Your Business”.

How Many Pallets Can You Fit in a Container?Pallets in container

The number of pallets you can fit into a container depends on the pallet type, how they are arranged, and the size of container you’re loading. Below you find a quick explanation on the pallet capacity of different containers and an image for your reference.

Standard pallets
You can load 9 or 10 on one tier in a 20-foot container, depending on how they are arranged, and 20 or 21 pallets in one tier in a 40-foot container.

Euro pallets
You can load 11 on one tier in a 20-foot container and a 40-foot container will hold 23 or 24, depending on how they are arranged.

Do you usually ship pallets or lose cargo? Have you been using the space in your container efficiently? Share your stories in the comments below!

Diana Maure on EmailDiana Maure on Linkedin
Diana Maure
Recently promoted to Sales Manager, Diana started in 2004 as the Foreign to Foreign Manager for ShipLilly. Her unique background has allowed her to help improve the supply chain of many international clients and provide customized logistical solutions throughout the years.

45 Comments on “Are You Maximizing the Space in Your Shipping Container?”

  1. John Carston

    I like the advice you’ve given for maximizing productivity through effective packaging in shipping containers. I’ll have to use your method of looking at the way things are packaged and considering how they can be consolidated to save money on shipping. I expect this should save a lot of money by making the items in the shipping containers more organized and productive, like you said. Thanks for the helpful post.

    1. Diana Maure

      Hi John – I’m glad you found the article useful and hope you use our tips on future shipments!

  2. container hire Christchurch

    Your blog is very interactive and knowledgeable. I like it so much. I think I need to subscribe it and make the most use of it by reading it regularly and keeping myself updated.

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Glad you enjoy it! I can add you to our newsletter list and our newest articles will be sent to you on a monthly basis.

  3. Patrick

    Hi Diana, is there a system you know to automate this. That allocates pallets /lcl based on size, weight type etc

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Patrick – a member of our team is always here to help! can also be used for a quick reference.

  4. Ross Black

    Thanks for the tips on pallet sizes and capacity Diana! We often have customers asking how many pallets can fit in a container. The diagram really helps. You are a great writer… keep it up!

  5. Shipping Containers

    I like the advice you’ve given for maximizing productivity through effective packaging in shipping containers. I’ll have to use your method of looking at the way things are packaged and considering how they can be consolidated to save money on shipping. I expect this should save a lot of money by making the items in the shipping containers more organized and productive, like you said. Thanks for the helpful post.

  6. Lisa manuel

    I really appreciate your the tips on pallet sizes and capacity Centro! We frequently have customers requesting how many pallets can easily fit in a container. The diagram really helps. You best writer… keep it up!

  7. Harry Hendy

    We are shipping 24 skids of material to New Zealand. Each skid is 36″ x 36″. We will have
    12 skids on the floor of the container and 12 skids stacked on top.
    What is the cheapest way to fill the void between the skids so that the skids on the top row
    do not move

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Harry – a member of our team would be more than happy to assist you with your upcoming shipment. Please send an email to and we will be in contact shortly.

  8. Linda

    Hi Lilly,

    May I know how do big companies ship their goods from Asian countries to Europe? Do they use Euro pallets (EPAL) or single-use pallets with dimensions which can maximize the use of capacity of the container? I am wondering how would the flow of EPAL be like if they do shipping using EPAL. Thank you very much in advance for your answer!

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Linda – thank you for reaching out! The type of pallet used can vary from shipment to shipment depending on your supplier and product type being loaded into a container.

  9. Anonymous

    I like this article. I am very happy to find this useful article. You blog is very informative. Thanks for sharing this information.

  10. John

    Thanks for the informative article. Is it difficult to consolidate shipment amongst multiple suppliers? Who takes responsibility for damage?

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi John – no, consolidation is common. The loading facility or party would be responsible for any damage.

  11. Hilary

    Pls i intend to ship process woods from Nigeria to China. I need to know how many cbm of the woods can fit into a 20 feet container

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Hilary – thank you for reaching out! We are more than happy to help, please email and a member of our sales team will contact you directly.

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Angela – palletized cargo is easier to move and load, generally keeping your cargo more protected. On the other hand, pallets take up space in a container which could reduce the amount of product you could ship.

  12. Dayo

    Tnx but I was actually hoping to get recommended % space utilization during transit for loose packs. I currently average 75% space utilization per container but want to know if it is safe to go up to 90%?

    Will be glad to know if there is a recommended standard.

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Dayo – thanks for reading! The space utilization would depend on the product inside. We are more than happy to help, you can email our team directly at

  13. Islam

    Great article
    Point 1
    I was wondering about the minimum free space shall be left, and found u relate that to the product nature.
    Point 2
    The luxery of palletizng the product may not be avaliable at all the company,
    Thank you

  14. Taylor Anderson

    My friend is working on setting up an online business, so he’ll need some shipping containers. It helped when you said that a 20-40 foot container should be used when shipping multiple pallets. Thank you so much for all the great tips on how to choose the right size of shipping container.

  15. Meisam

    I am new to the process of packing goods into containers. I have a question and I would be delightful and thankful to hear your advice. I would like to load 55-US-gallon barrels with a diameter of 61cm on standard size pallets (dimensions 121cm x 101cm) and load the maximum number of barrels in a 20-foot or 40-foot container. In what arrangement can I load barrels on pallets so that I can arrange them in tow tiers and maximize the number of barrels?

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hello Meisam – A 20’ container holds 10 standard size pallet positions. Depending on the height of each pallet, you may double stack and load up to 20plts total. The inside of the container has 85 inches in height and a standard 55-gallon drum is about 35 inches tall; so you should be able to load 4 barrels per pallet shrink wrapped and double stack each pallet.

  16. Khushnuma

    Normally the pallets are not of the same size and weight. Is there a way to calculate how the pallets can best fit to attain maximum availability of space?

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Khushnuma – It will all depend on the actual product dimensions to determine the best way to organize the pallets inside the container. Thank you

  17. patricio

    Hello i want to import 48 europalets from europe to caribbean, can i load a 40 feet conatiner in two tiers?
    The product resist double stacked.

    best regards

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Patricio, thank you for reaching out – We would need a bit more information about your cargo, like the weight and dimensions per pallet in order to provide you with an answer.

  18. Jon

    Can you compare the CBM capacity of using pallets vs. not? We’re trying to decide if the extra amount we could fit by not using pallets is worthwhile, since it takes much longer to unload and then we need to re-stack onto pallets when we receive it.

    1. LILLY + Associates

      Hi Jon,

      Floor stacking has a low monetary cost, but is very expensive in terms of space. Pallet racking requires a more significant investment versus stacking product on the floor, but for most businesses, it allows them to save money by improving productivity and maximizing every inch of their warehouse.

  19. Consultant

    Hello moderator, my name is Lara and I’m a consultant. Please I’ll love to share some information about how to get affordable and reliable shipping containers.

    Thank you for your time.

  20. Mike Moerman

    We need to optimize a 20ft container. I see where you can place 10 pallets on the floor. Our products are heavy and come in different sku’s. We would like to stack and add 10 more in the container. Are any containers equipped with a racking system, dividing them in half? This way the bottom skids could avoid be stacked directly on top of each other and thus reducing damage due to weight or crush. We are shipping adhesives (DG’s) and don’t want to have any type of ruptured packaging. Thank you!

  21. Aaron

    How many Europe Pallets(800*1200mm) can be load in a 40ft HC container
    Is the pallet wide container normal for using?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *