What is Dunnage

Instead of opening a shipping crate and discovering hundreds of cracked or broken items, the right dunnage ensures that your stock arrives safe and ready to sell. After all, the more damage and loss, the lower your bottom line.


In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about dunnage and how it can protect your business and cost of goods.  

What is Dunnage?

Dunnage is the term for the material used to fill space in a shipping container or cargo hold. One of its primary purposes is to absorb sound and vibration during transportation. It can also be used to protect fragile or delicate items from damage, especially if they are stacked on top of each other. The word “dunnage” is derived from the French term meaning “stuffing.”

Dunnage typically includes wood chips, shredded paper products, plastic packing foam and newsprint. For dunnage to be effective, it should have a high density with low compressibility so that it will not move around too much during transport, as this may cause damage to nearby items. Of course, to minimize weight-related shipping costs, you also want to find a dunnage material that is as lightweight as possible while remaining effective.

There are many companies that specialize in providing dunnage materials, offering a wide array of different options to keep your cargo safe and intact. From the small plastic inserts in a pair of shoes to massive sacks of wood chips stuffed around your crates of goods, dunnage is an inexpensive material that secures and protects more expensive cargo.

In today’s world, we rely on dunnage more than we usually realize. After all, without dunnage, your next Amazon delivery would likely arrive battered and broken. Likewize, the ‘overnight delivery’ economy of the 2020s and beyond depends on dunnage.

What is the Purpose of Dunnage?

Simply put, dunnage keeps your products safe in transit so that they arrive to you or your customers in good condition.

Protecting products 

By surrounding your cargo, particularly oddly shaped or fragile items, with soft yet sturdy packing materials, dunnage protects them from damage.

Reducing returns 

You make your first (and most important) impression when your clients open their delivery. If their items are damaged or broken, they’ll blame your company for not taking the required time and care to ship them safely. Of course, accidents happen. But if you deliver broken or damaged packages too often, you’ll soon lose clients and gain a reputation for shoddy customer service.

Speeding up the packing process 

Using dunnage lowers your labor costs because employees don’t have to spend time looking for the right materials. The packing process is much faster, so you can get more done in a day with fewer people on staff. When your items are correctly packed, you’ll also get fewer returns and need to issue fewer refunds. Even if a dunnage switch only prevents a few broken items, it can have a significant ROI.

What Are the Most Common Types of Dunnage?

Did you know that you can use almost anything as dunnage for your deliveries? We’ve all seen newspaper balled up alongside our deliveries, for better or for worse, as well as fabric, wood chips, and shredded cardboard strips. Eco-friendly companies often use biodegradable plant-based packing peanuts, while old school shippers still use Styrofoam and plastic. Wood chips, twine, shredded paper – we’ve seen it all.

Here are some of the most common dunnage materials.

Kraft paper 

Flexible, inexpensive, and plentiful, kraft paper remains a popular shipping option. It’s simple to repurpose it to your exact specifications, ripping it, bunching it up, crumpling it, or using it to wrap objects. It doesn’t offer the most intensive level of protection, but it is easily recyclable and easy to find.

Shredded cardboard 

The texture and heft of shredded cardboard offer more protection than kraft paper, and it’s also very inexpensive. You can buy shredded cardboard for dunnage purposes, or you can purchase the correct machine to cut your old cardboard boxes into thin accordion-like sheets. It’s flexible and robust, so shredded cardboard is a great choice for shipping bottles, jars, and other breakables. Customers appreciate that it can be easily recycled.

Bubble wrap 


 Is it a fun pastime or a packing material? Despite its high environmental toll, bubble wrap remains a popular choice for wrapping fragile items. By surrounding your products with tiny pockets of air, bubble wrap protects your investment. If you want to reduce its environmental impact, encourage your customers to reuse the bubble wrap again and again.

Foam wrap 

While bubble wrap offers a layer of air for protection, sometimes it’s a bit too heavy-duty. If you’re shipping fragile products that don’t need quite as much protection, foam wrap might be a better choice. It’s a thin, lightweight material that offers padding and prevents scuffs and cracks. It’s ideal for packing china and dishes and comes in rolls or individual sleeves.  

Packing peanuts 


Seeing packing peanuts often makes you step back in time – this is a traditional solution with a serious environmental impact. You’re likely to lose favour with your customers if you stick with old school packing peanuts. These are already banned in many US cities.

However, you still have options. Newer packing peanuts are made from corn starch or other vegetable by-products. That means you get the versatility and cost-effectiveness of packing peanuts without the negative environmental impact. Make sure you advertize the eco-friendly nature of these packing peanuts to your customers, so they don’t confuse them for the old-fashioned version.

Styrofoam balls 

These small Styrofoam balls do a great job protecting your cargo, but they annoy customers because they stick to absolutely everything. Due to their static cling, they adhere to fabrics, textiles, and carpets, and even to your pets! Make the switch to a different material – your customers will thank you.

Moulded Styrofoam

If you ship or manufacture electronics, you are likely familiar with moulded foam. This bespoke material fits snugly around a product, such as a television, headphones, or computer equipment, and then slips into a box. It provides effective shock absorption prevents nearly all damage, other than intense crushing.

Air pillows

Air pillows are a newer innovation in the dunnage industry. While they do use some plastic, they need to use far less than bubble wrap. Each thin plastic pillow is tautly inflated with air, adding support and cushion without any weight. They’re also very affordable, and don’t add any extra weight costs to your shipment.

Wood chips 


Wood chips can be used as dunnage in both dry and wet environments, so they’re often an effective way to protect your goods during shipping or storage. The more moisture that you have present when packing materials, the better wood chips perform as dunnage. Wood chips do not conduct heat or electricity, making them ideal for use in harsh environments where temperatures fluctuate dramatically. This also means that they don’t need special packaging like plastic wrap!

In addition to using wood chips for cushioning purposes, some shippers of delicate items such as glassware may choose to fill boxes with different material densities depending on the distance and cost. Therefore, it’s often a good idea to use a mixture of plastic and wood chip dunnage when packing delicate items.

Hard plastics 

Plastic dunnage is a great way to protect large fragile products during shipping. It uses rigid plastic, which makes it easy for you and the shipper to stack pallets, but also protects heavy or sharp items from damage better than other materials, such as shredded cardboard. Rigid plastics are often moulded in different shapes that can fit easily into any container, so they’re perfect if your products are unusual sizes.

Custom Dunnage Materials 

Perhaps none of the dunnage materials listed above will work well for your business. If you ship unusually shaped materials or particularly fragile items, you might need to use a combination of the materials listed above. Or, perhaps you need bespoke dunnage materials, such as custom-cut boxes or moulded Styrofoam. Some companies also like to print their logo and branding on their dunnage, which is possible when you create custom options.

Which dunnage is right for your next shipment?

Dunnage is an important aspect of shipping – it can make all the difference when it comes to your customer service, labour costs, and preventing broken or damaged items. Whether you’re looking for wood chips, moulded Styrofoam, or bubble wrap sheets, ensure that your dunnage materials suit the items you’re sending.

If you want to improve your shipping and fulfillment performance, you will need to make sure you have a solution capable of working in the connected world of multichannel ecommerce. See how Veeqo's shipping software can improve your fulfillment operations today.

Related Pages

How to create a shipping label

How to optimize your picking and packing process

Guide to perpetual inventory systems

What is order fulfillment?

Shipping for small businesses

Reduce your shipping costs

Join Veeqo

Start shipping with Veeqo today