In a study published in 2012, two fluid physicists at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) investigated the science behind spilling—specifically, why it's so hard to walk with a cup of coffee without spilling it. Apparently, liquid “sloshing” is a highly involved science involving the interplay of torques, forces and accelerations. The solution to coffee sloshing? Walk slowly, accelerate gradually, and watch your cup (not your feet). We can assume some of the same physics explain why liquids spill in transport. Fortunately, like the physicists, we can also offer some advice to lessen the chance your liquids will spill during a move.
How to Pack Liquids for Moving Without Spills and Messes
Move as few liquids as possible
Refrain from purchasing liquids as the moving day approaches to prevent moving a large amount of liquids. Use up as many of the liquids as you can, throw them away (particularly if they are expired or there is only a little left), or give them away. You can donate unopened cosmetic or personal care products to homeless or women's shelters. Most liquids are easily replaced, and it is sometimes less expensive to buy it new than to pay to have the moving company transport it.
Most liquids will have to remain with you in your vehicle for transportation. Moving truck and storage container companies offer a list of items you cannot pack and transport in their truck or container. The bulk of these are liquids. Prohibited liquids include explosives, flammable gases, poisons, corrosive materials, and toxic substances such as these:
- Aerosol cans
- Nail polish/remover
- Lighter fluid
- Chemistry sets
- Cleaning solvents
- Darkroom chemicals
- Fire extinguishers
- Fuels/oils (drain equipment of these fluids about three weeks in advance)
- Pool chemicals
- Propane tanks
- Rubbing alcohol
- Sterno fuel
- Weed killer
Potentially harmful chemical liquids are always best disposed of and not shipped or moved, regardless of whether you are moving them yourself or are using a company to move them for you.
Consider what liquids you really need to move. Dispose of or give away anything you don’t absolutely need.
Disposing of liquids
Dispose of unwanted liquids properly, particularly medication, cleaning products, and other chemicals. Do not throw away, flush, or pour them down the drain, onto the ground, or into storm sewers. Contact your city, county, or local waste management department to find out how to dispose of your household liquids properly.
Packing liquids for moving
If you are moving locally, it may be as easy as simply setting the items in a box and moving them yourself. But if you are moving cross country, it is more imperative that you seal and secure your liquids well so that they don't spill and ruin your other items.
- Use a plastic bin to transport chemicals. If they spill in a cardboard box, it will cause a bigger mess, potentially leaking through the box and spilling onto other items around the box.
- Line bins with garbage bags or towels. If the containers spill or leak, the towels or bags act as another barrier to prevent messes.
- Tighten the lids on each container and apply a piece of tape over the top to seal it. As an extra measure, remove the top from each item, cover the opening with plastic wrap, place the top back on the bottle, and then apply the piece of tape over the top.
- Place the container in a re-sealable zipper storage bag. You can place several bottles in each bag, but situate them in the bag so that the bottles can remain upright. Seal the bag shut.
- Set the sealed containers upright in the bin, keeping them as close together as possible. Fill open spaces between containers with newspaper or towels.
- Close the lid on the bin, and secure it closed with packing tape.
- Label the bin as “liquids” with other important identifying information such as “cleaning supplies” or “drinks.”
When you unpack your liquids bin, open the bin carefully and on a protected surface as the items will likely have shifted.
Consider what liquids you really need to move. Dispose of or give away anything you don't absolutely need. There is a risk anytime you move liquids as boxes can get tipped over, or pressure or temperature changes can cause a spill. But as long as you take the precautions mentioned, your items should remain closed and spill-free.