You need a container, but you’re not sure what kind. You type in “shipping container sizes and types”. The results pop up with things like “reefer container”, “40ft HC”, and “double door”. Great! Now which one to choose? We break down shipping container sizes, types and uses for you in this blog post. 

What you’ll read about in this piece:

  • There are 2 main types of containers: standard containers and special containers
  • Standard containers are simple boxes, whereas special containers have been modified for a specific purpose
  • Standard containers are generally cheaper to lease or buy than special boxes, which tend to be more pricey
  • Containers sizes are standardized worldwide to increase efficiency and minimize error in a fast-moving industry
  • With Container xChange, you can find the container you’re looking for quickly and easily on our platform, with over 800+ trusted partners to choose from

If you’re looking to buy or lease containers, you’ve come to the right place!

At xChange, we make it easy, quick and convenient to find the exact container you need at a rate you’re comfortable with. We’re a neutral marketplace for buying, selling and leasing containers, with hundreds of certified companies on board (pun intended). We connect container users and owners in over 2,500 locations worldwide.

If you’re interested in learning about how you can completely digitize your container logistics using one easy-to-use platform, look no further! Click below to get a free demo with xChange.

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Understanding the different shipping container sizes: an overview

First things first, we’ll start with the standard container types. These are the most commonly used containers, and are also called dry containers. We’ll expand more on what a dry container is later on in the post.

Standard dry containers are great for storage purposes and for transporting dry goods. They are usually the cheapest, and because they are basic boxes, they’re pretty easy to get your hands on.

Standard containers are also known as ISO or intermodal containers. These containers are manufactured according to specifications from the International Organization for Standardization. This means that they are suitable for multiple forms of transport, including rail, truck and ship.

20ft shipping container

The 20ft shipping container is the most popular and widely used container. It’s the smallest of the standard container range and is often used to transport heavy machinery, and raw materials like iron ore and rock.

The 20ft is used to transport cargo to ports and areas without sophisticated lifting equipment, because it’s light and small. It’s also the most popular choice for intermodal transport, as it’s the easiest to move around.

40ft shipping container

The 40ft container is also popular, and of course, it can pack in double the cargo of a 20ft box! While the 20ft is often used to carry heavy loads, the 40ft is used to carry larger amounts of lighter consumer goods. Think cotton, furniture, clothing, electronics and even vehicles.

Container users can be charged with a fine if their containers are overweight, which is why larger containers are generally used to carry more goods, rather than heavier goods.

40ft HC shipping container

The 40ft high cube container is a taller version of the 40ft container, and is great for moving over-height cargo (up to 2.7m or 8.1ft tall). Like the standard 40ft, it’s also used to carry large amounts of lighter consumer goods like furniture and clothing.

If you want to find out more about standard containers, check out this separate blog post.

Container ship

Why are shipping container sizes standardized?

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “wow, there are a lot of container types out there”, you’d be correct. There are loads of different containers available nowadays, all with different specifications and sizes. It’s great to have choices, isn’t it? Except that it can cause some major confusion, and make decisions difficult.

The good news is that container sizes are completely standardized world-wide. If you lease a 40ft container in the US, it will be the exact same size and dimensions as a 40ft container in India.

Standardization is necessary in order to keep the fast-paced logistics industry moving like clockwork. Boxes need to fit on-top of one another like tetris blocks, so that they can be packed quickly and efficiently.

Imagine the hassle of trying to categorize boxes of all kinds of random shapes and sizes? Let alone trying to pack them onto a ship in some kind of order? It would be a disaster!

Standardization allows for more consistent transporting, loading, and unloading of goods in ports throughout the world, saving valuable time and resources.

It also means that you’ll always know exactly what you’re getting, and never have to worry about measuring up a container yourself. A 40ft container will always be the same length, width and height, no matter where you get it, or who you get it from. This makes everyone’s lives easier.

Remember we mentioned that standard containers are also known as dry containers? We’ll now go into more detail about why standard containers are referred to as dry containers, so keep reading to learn more!

What is a dry shipping container? 

Dry containers, as the name suggests, are used to transport and store dry goods. They’re made out of steel or aluminum, and are airtight and water-resistant (as long as they are in a good condition). It’s possible to transport and store most kinds of dry goods in a standard container, including boxes, wooden pallets, barrels, sacks of grain, clothing, electronics, and more.

Dry containers are simple boxes, and do not have any kind of temperature control device within them. Therefore they can’t be used to transport temperature-sensitive items such as fruit, meat, dairy, frozen goods, or chemicals.

Dry container floors are usually made of plywood, although they can also sometimes be made of metal. This plywood is treated to make it waterproof and insect-proof.

It’s very important that a dry container is well maintained, otherwise the user runs the risk of the elements getting in and ruining the cargo. In the next section, we’ll highlight some of the important container conditions to look out for.

Container conditions for storage and shipping

Make sure that the container you’re leasing or buying is in good condition. Check the following:

  • Door seals: These must be in good working order, otherwise wind and rain can get into the container. Rodents and bugs could also squeeze through small holes, so the door seals need to be tight.
  • Container body: Your container should sit flat on the ground, and not be lopsided.
  • Flooring: Check that the floors are not damaged, peeling, or uneven, as this could cause items to wobble during transport.
  • Exterior walls: Keep on the lookout for major dents or bumps that could mean the container walls are uneven inside.
  • Locking bars and brackets: Make sure that these work correctly, as they keep your items safe and secure inside the container.

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Shipping container sizes and dimensions

Now that we’ve learned about the most common container types, it’s time to dive into the dimensions of shipping containers. It’s obviously important to understand the size of a container before choosing it. Otherwise, your goods might not fit inside – duh!

Standard container

Besides knowing the internal dimensions of your container, it’s also important to know things like the payload capacity (maximum capacity of cargo, which should not be exceeded), and tare weight (total weight of a container when empty). This will give you an idea of how much your container weighs, and how much weight it can transport.

Size 20ft 40ft 40ft HC
Internal length 5.9m / 19.4ft 12.03m / 39.5ft 12.03m / 39.5ft 
Internal width 2.35m / 7.8ft 2.4m / 7.9ft 2.35m / 7.8ft
Height 2.39m / 7.9ft 2.39m / 7.9ft 2.70m / 8.10ft
Cubic capacity 1,172 cu ft / 33.2 cu m 2,389 cu ft / 67,7 cu m 2,694.5 cu ft / 76.3 cu m 
Payload capacity 55,126.9 lbs / 25,000 kg 61,200 lbs / 27,600 kg 63,052 lbs / 28,000 kg
Tare weight 5,071.5 lbs / 2,300 kg 8,268.8 lbs / 3,750 kg 8,598 lbs / 3,900 kg

Special shipping container sizes and types 

Special shipping containers are containers that have been converted or manufactured for very specific purposes. They include the reefer container, the double door and the flat rack container, to name a few. The following are some of the things commonly changed on a special container:

  • The height and width of the container
  • Technological equipment
  • Different position of the door or doors

We’ll now introduce you to some of the most popular kinds of special containers:

Refrigerated shipping container sizes

Reefer

A refrigerated container is also known as a reefer container. This container is basically an extremely large, portable fridge. The floor of this container has T-shaped decking, which sends chilled air throughout the inside of the unit. Because of the consistent airflow, a reefer can maintain any temperature between -30°C and +30°C.

The reefer container is used to transport medication, ice-cream, dairy products, fruit and meat. These items require very specific temperatures in order to stay fresh. Areas of the container can be sectioned off for freezing, whilst other sections are used for cooling. Reefer containers are powered by fuel when on the road, and by electrical generators at other times.

It goes without saying that these containers are expensive to run, both in terms of the power required to keep them cooling the cargo, as well as the costs of maintaining the sophisticated technology inside them.

Find out more about the reefer container here.

Double door shipping container sizes

Double door

A double door shipping container is a container with doors on both ends. This makes it easy to load and unload certain kinds of cargo, such as vehicles. A car can be driven in forward, and also drive out forward on the other end, no need for reversing! These containers can also be used on construction sites, creating tunnels that workers can move through safely. When double doors are used in this way, they are referred to as tunnel containers (no surprise there!).

Learn more about the double door container here.

Pallet wide shipping container sizes

Pallet wide container measurements

Pallet wide containers are designed especially to fit wooden pallets inside. They’re used to carry Euro pallets, which are the pallets used throughout Europe. These Euro pallets have a very specific shape and size. Pallet wide containers come in 20ft, 40ft and 40ft high cube sizes. The container is designed leaving no room for pallets to slip around, as they have to be packed tightly. This prevents them from slipping and breaking during transport.

Find out more about the pallet wide container here.

Flat rack shipping container sizes

Flat rack container measurements

Flat rack containers don’t have walls on the longer ends, and have no roof. This container is perfect for items that need to be loaded from the top or sides, due to their shape or size. Once cargo has been loaded, strong lashing rings are wrapped around the container, securing the load tightly, and preventing anything from moving.

At present, newer flat racks can carry loads of between 40,000 and 50,000 kilograms! That’s pretty impressive, don’t you think? With a flat rack container, stacking is not possible due to the open top.

Has the flat rack container caught your eye? Find out more in this separate blog.

Shipping containers vs storage containers: what’s the difference?

Yes, containers used for shipping, and containers used for storage do have different requirements. Let’s dive into these now:

Containers for shipping

The conditions out at sea are often less than favorable, I’m sure you can agree. Think heavy rains, violent winds and thunderstorms. It goes without saying that containers carrying expensive items ranging from chemicals and medication to electronics and new cars need to be strong, sturdy and completely weather-resistant. A container can only protect its cargo if it is in a cargo-worthy condition.

Containers used for shipping need to abide by very strict regulations, and must have all of their certifications in order. Most importantly, a sea-worthy container needs a CSC plate. “CSC” stands for the “convention for safe containers”. This plate proves that the container is fit to carry cargo. The CSC plate also provides all of the necessary information about the container itself, including how much it weighs, when it was last fumigated, and the owner’s address.

A container is only cargo-worthy if every item on a very long checklist is in working order, otherwise it cannot be loaded onto the ship.

Containers for storage

For a container to be fit to store goods, it does not have to meet the stringent criteria of a cargo-worthy container.

A storage container still has to be WWT (wind and water-tight), but it can be made from various materials, and does not have to be of certain exact measurements. It also does not have to be in as good a condition in order to do the job of storing goods safely.

Most containers used for storage are old shipping containers that no longer meet the requirements to carry cargo. Often, these containers are refurbished.

If you’re looking for a container for storage, it would of course be important to make sure the container is in good condition. Make sure it doesn’t have holes, major dents or uneven flooring, and that the locking bars work correctly.

Get shipping containers of all sizes on xChange

Now that you know the dimensions of some of the most popular shipping container types, it’s time to get going finding the containers you need. It’s so simple to get your hands on the ideal container with xChange!

xChange brings you a neutral marketplace, with containers available to lease and buy in over 2,500 locations worldwide. All of our members go through a mandatory vetting process before joining the platform, so rest assured, you’ll work with only trustworthy partners.

While it’s often pretty tricky to connect with the big names right off the bat, xChange makes it possible for both small and large players to work together. We’ve connected with companies like Kuehne + Nagel, Seaco, NileDutch and Conway, and so can you!

You can find any container you’re looking for right away, by typing it in on our easy-to-use search tool. Once you’ve found exactly what you’re looking for, negotiating a deal is simple, and can be done directly with the partner, no middle-men!

On xChange, it’s also quick to compare the rates of multiple deals, so that you can feel confident you’ve selected the option you’re most comfortable with.

It gets even better! You can streamline your entire container logistics workflow on xChange. From making and receiving payments, to communications and invoices. Gone are the days of using a separate platform for every aspect of your container logistics. Digitizing your workflow is the way of the future.

With over 10,000 transactions taking place each month, it goes without saying that xChange is a simple and effortless way to lease containers.

Click below to get a free demo and start your container journey with xChange right away.

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What is the standard size of a shipping container?

A standard container is 8ft (2.44m) wide by 8.6ft (2.59m) high. The taller high cube (HC) container is 9.6ft (2.90m) high. The high cube has become very popular in recent years.

How wide is a standard 40ft shipping container?

A standard 40ft shipping container has an internal width of 7.9ft (2.4m), a height of 7.9ft (2.39m) and an internal length of 39.5ft (12.03m). The 40ft container is one of the most popular containers for transporting dry cargo on ships.

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Shipping container sizes [2022 overview]+ types, benefits & uses
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Shipping container sizes [2022 overview]+ types, benefits & uses
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Want to know all about shipping container sizes, types and uses? Get the complete guide to choosing the ideal container for your needs.
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Container xChange
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