What is dunnage?

Understanding what dunnage is, how it is used, and why it is important.

Depending on the person or context, dunnage could vary in reference from an entire container to packing peanuts. More broadly, dunnage could refer to any kind of materials such as wood planks, blocks, or even prefabbed metal used in the packaging of goods. This is helpful, but we need a better answer to the question: what is dunnage?

broken plate

Table of Contents

Dunnage Definition

Dunnage is any kind of packing material used to protect shipping materials or merchandise (inventory). These materials are not considered merchandise and often discarded after the shipping process is complete.

The critical distinction is that the materials used to protect the merchandise is dunnage, meaning it doesn’t refer to just any materials in a shipment. The dunnage meaning in shipping refers specifically those materials only used to prevent damage during shipping.

The dunnage definition in manufacturing is exactly the same as it is in shipping. Both are considered to be materials (such as corrugated paper, air pillows, kraft paper, and bubble wrap) used to protect goods.

Types of Dunnage

From the beginning of the journey products make through the supply chain, they rely on good dunnage practices. Shipping containers import material from overseas and use pallets with basic carton boxes. However, shippers for small parcel usually prefer heavy duty carton boxes or padded envelopes. Each different type of material handling has various effective types of dunnage designed to mitigate damage.

Shipping Containers

Shipping containers load onto boats (which toss quite a bit during transit) which often requires special types of dunnage. For large, odd shaped materials, a custom built tiber frame helps secure cargo. Alternatively, larger volume projects may require custom manufactured frames. Frames such as these fit specifically into containers for safe transit.

Air bags are also a popular method for securing materials. Air bags are like large versions of the small “air pillows” that protect merchandise in small parcel deliveries. Their purpose is to remove voids between cargo items and eliminate sliding, dropping, and collisions.

uline dunnage bag
Dunnage bag by Uline


In freight transit, materials usually load on pallets (yes, a pallet is a type dunnage). Pallets help stabilize groups of carton boxes so they remain stationary. They also simplify the drayage of materials by forklift.

Shrink wrap and banding straps help stabilize materials for trucking freight. Of course, carton boxes also play a role in freight dunnage. Many companies, for example, may decide to use thicker carton boxes, or even double carton boxes to help protect their merchandise during freight transit. This is true for container and small parcel as well.

Small Parcel Delivery

Perhaps the most well-known type of shipping is small parcel. These are service providers who deliver small packages to home or business addresses. Also referred to as a “last mile” service provider, they are most often smaller packages in carton boxes, or even padded envelopes.

Dunnage for small parcel can include packing peanuts, air bags (as referenced earlier), foam inserts, or kraft paper. Additionally, small parcel packing can even include the design of blister pack components (often used in retail packaging) and the spacing of them. The goal for dunnage in small parcel, as always, is to minimize shipping damage wherever possible.

Why is dunnage essential?

Every type of merchandise in existence is at risk of damage or loss. Some types of materials more than others, but all carry a risk of damage. Bed pillows may not be prone to physical damage, but are susceptible to moisture.

Likewise, glassware may not be susceptible to moisture damage, but is very fragile. Dunnage provides ways to mitigate the risk for a very broad range of damage or material loss.

Packing in a box

Benefits of Dunnage

Businesses must be profitable to survive. After the initial P&L is calculated, most manufacturers go through a deep analysis of cost reduction. If enough time is not invested into ensuring that shipping damage is minimized, the success of a product is greatly diminished, or even eliminated.

Dunnage is one area that efforts can mitigate costly losses in material. It’s important to place proper consideration on dunnage as early in the supply chain as possible. This is because the further in the supply chain a product goes, the more costly it is to replace it.

The further in the supply chain a product goes, the more costly it is to replace it.

The costs of damaged goods can also be intangible as customers do not like receiving broken or unusable products. When that happens, it can result in the lost lifetime value of a customer and loss of market share.


If you are planning to ship materials, considering the type of dunnage for your products is an important step. Damaged goods can cost a lot to your bottom line, but also potential future business.

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