Please read our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) update here.

888-717-7511 Get a Free Quote

What is Dunnage? A Definition, Types of Dunnage and Uses

September 2, 2020 Published by

wood board

Although having an effective return process is important, it is best to avoid returns when possible. Twenty-percent of ecommerce returns occur because of shipping damage. Therefore, it is important to use proper packaging and dunnage to protect packages as they are shipped to their destination. We’ll explain what dunnage is, why it’s important, and how to use it.

What is Dunnage?

The word “dunnage” encompasses the different types of packaging components used to protect and support goods throughout the shipping and handling process. This includes materials like kraft paper, crinkle paper, packing peanuts, and custom blocks that provide a cushion for items so they stay in place.

Dunnage works most effectively when it is used in conjunction with a suitable box or poly bag. For example, placing a small item in a large box and filling it with dunnage will not work as effectively as using a more size-appropriate box.

The Importance and Uses of Dunnage

Throughout the fulfillment process, packages will go through a variety of rough conditions as it moves from warehouse facilities to trucks and other vehicles. It is important to use dunnage as it keeps goods from shifting and assists in shock absorption. The three main uses of dunnage are as follows:

  1. Damage Protection

Dunnage prevents damage to products as they are transported. When an item shifts on a vehicle like a truck, it can easily scratch or have parts come loose. Using dunnage can provide the support an item needs to avoid this.

  1. Moisture and Contamination Protection

Though it may have been a dry, sunny day as your package boarded the truck, environmental conditions can change quickly. Dunnage provides moisture and contamination protection. This is especially important for electronic items that suffer greatly from exposure to wet or dusty conditions.

  1. Shock Absorption

When items shift on a vehicle they can easily fall, or get crushed by other packages. Dunnage helps absorb the impact of any collisions and prevents damage.

Dunnage Material Types

A wide range of dunnage materials exist. This makes it easy to choose a material that will appropriately protect the products you sell. For example, you can use strong materials like wood to secure heavy items and light materials like foam for fragile products. Here is a breakdown of the most common dunnage materials used.

Lightweight Dunnage:

  1. Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap is frequently used to ship fragile products like glass and can be reused if the bubbles do not pop.

  1. Air Pillows

This dunnage is inserted into packages to prevent items from shifting. They can be used as a gap filler for missing space inside a package.

  1. Foam

Foam is commonly used to support medical equipment, electronics, sensitive products, and sharp or fragile pieces. It comes in a variety of densities, and can be shaped to product dimensions for custom-level protection. When you buy a computer online, you will sometimes find foam padding is used on the sides of its packaging.

  1. Kraft Paper

This is a recycled paper that is typically crinkled and stuffed into packages. This dunnage material is popular as it is eco-friendly, inexpensive, reusable and effective.

  1. Corrugated Paper

Though it may not be a heavy material, the high-tech construction of corrugated paper allows it to support a wide range of weights and provide moisture protection

Heavy Dunnage:

  1. Wood

Wood is especially useful for heavy goods and can be used as a barrier between products.

  1. Steel

As one of the most expensive dunnage materials, steel is usually reserved for high-value shipping. It is best to use steel when products are heavy, as it keeps heavier items in place so they don’t damage lighter ones.

Finally, if you cannot find a dunnage material that works for you, it is possible to purchase custom dunnage. This typically happens when you sell fragile products with extremely specific dimensions. Work with a dunnage provider to design a material that will protect your items. Many dunnage providers and major carriers have staff and laboratories that can help you redesign and optimize your packaging. For example, both FedEx and UPS have their own package testing and dunnage engineering labs.

Never Skimp on Dunnage

Keeping your products safe is vital for the survival of your brand and your bottom-line. Make sure you conduct thorough research on the dunnage that will work best for your products. By using the correct dunnage, you can prevent unnecessary product returns.

Also, when outsourcing your logistics to any 3PL, be sure to ask them about their dunnage options as well as their process for keeping your items safe during fulfillment.