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The Best Packing Materials and How to Use Them
To pay for packing services or to not pay for packing services—that is the question. Here’s another: Do you want to have to replace a broken dish set or risk chipping your precious china while it’s in the back of your moving van?
Broken household goods are top of the list when it comes to moving stressors. You have two packing options to avoid this calamity: hire professional packers, either through your moving company or a third-party packing service, or do it yourself.
Of course, a moving company or packing service can be pricey. So if you’re more DIY-inclined (and your budget can’t handle the cost of replacing a bunch of broken items) but aren’t sure how to pack your stuff safely, we’ve got your back.
We researched the best packing materials and consulted a few packing experts to find the best ways to protect your belongings—without hiring a professional.
Then we put everything we learned to the test. We shipped four cardboard boxes using each packing material across the country and back.
Here's what we found:
- Packing paper cushions boxes and fills empty space extremely well.
- Thick clothes are the best option for protecting fragile items (when used properly, of course).
- Bubble wrap is effective only when used with other packing materials.
- Most packing materials work best when used in combination.
We’ll break down the best packing materials and give you some basic packing tips. If you want to skip ahead, use the jump links below!
When you’re moving, packing paper is a necessity. Period. It’s a simple material for wrapping and protecting everything from your favorite dish set to your prized superhero figurine collection.
Plus, packing paper gets you great bang for your buck. We bought one box of packing paper and had more than enough to pack four full dish sets (plates and bowls). We also used crumpled-up packing paper to fill empty space in our boxes.
While packing paper is cheap, one downside is that it doesn’t provide a whole lot of protection. That’s why we recommend pairing it with other packing materials, like bubble wrap or styrofoam. Use packing paper first, and then cushion any items wrapped in paper, like mirrors and kitchenware, with these other materials.
Packing paper is meant to protect your dishware from scratches, scuffs, bumps, and bruises—it will not prevent breakage if your boxes get tossed around.
If you don’t want to spend money on packing paper, you can use old newspaper as long as you double-up your fragile items. Newspaper is thinner than most packing papers. Also, be aware of ink! It’s not common, but if newspaper gets wet it can bleed onto your pricey white Pottery Barn plates.
How to pack plates using packing paper
Step 1: Tear pieces of packing paper in half, then crumple the halves into balls. Use these to cushion the bottom of your box.
Step 2: Place one plate on top of one or two sheets of packing paper.
Step 3: Fold the bottom right corner of the sheet(s) and pull it toward the upper left corner of the paper. Fold each corner over until your plate is completely covered.
Step 4: Stack another dish on top and repeat the same process.
Step 5: Once every plate is stacked and covered, wrap the whole thing in multiple pieces of packing paper. Fold and tuck excess edges of paper under the plates.
How to pack bowls using packing paper
Step 1: Place a bowl in the center of a piece of packing paper. Pull one corner of the paper over the side of the bowl and tuck it into the middle.
Step 2: Wrap the remaining edges of the paper over the bowl, tucking them in as you did on the first go-round. Once the bowl is fully covered, flip it over and roll it in another sheet of paper (not pictured).
Always create a home inventory before you start packing. That way, you’ll be able to keep track of all your household goods and know which ones you’ve already stowed away.
How to pack plates and bowls in a box
Always stack upright plates side by side. Think of how you’d pack your record collection: instead of stacking one record on top of another, you’d file them next to each other.
Once all of your items are in the box, top them with rolled-up pieces of packing paper.
Make sure you add cushion between the plates and bowls and the box: packing paper, styrofoam blocks, bubble wrap, clothes, or any other soft material will do the trick.
Ask a rep at your local UPS store if they have any extra packing materials lying around. Our neighborhood UPS store had styrofoam that they were more than happy to let us use to pack our boxes.
Styrofoam and packing peanuts
In our testing, styrofoam and packing peanuts performed worse than any other packing material—in part because they weren’t used alongside paper or bubble wrap.
Packing peanuts (which are just small pieces of styrofoam) are great at filling up empty spaces in boxes, but they should never be used alone to pad your belongings.
Large pieces or bricks of styrofoam are great for cushioning your fragile items if you use them on all sides. This may mean you need a larger moving box than you originally thought.
For our mock move, we wrapped each plate in a foam plate pouch. Like packing paper, foam pouches are great for protecting your plates against scratches and dings—but never use foam pouches alone. They do not provide enough cushion for fragile items.
Always go bigger than you think. Get the size that’s slightly larger than what you’re moving—you’ll want to pad extra space rather than stuff it full of your fragile belongings. Check out our list of the best places to find cheap moving boxes.
Here’s the thing: bubble wrap is great, especially for wrapping up pictures, mirrors, and any other fragile items. Bubble wrap is best, though, when combined with other packing materials.
We do not recommend using bubble wrap on its own. It doesn’t pad objects tightly enough or do enough to prevent shifting (unless you buy an absurd amount of it).
Also, bubble wrap isn’t cheap. You’ll need a lot to properly pad your box, and the last thing you want to do is skimp on packing materials (or go over your budget).
Put your online shopping skills to good use! If you know you’ll be moving in a few months, stock up on packing materials by saving boxes and bubble wrap that come from packages.
Surprisingly, when we packed our plates and dishes, clothing worked the best of all four packing materials.
There’s really no “right” way to pack with clothes, but here are some simple tricks.
- Use only thick clothing (think sweatshirts and hoodies).
- Use as many clothes as you have available.
- Use thinner clothing (like t-shirts) to fill empty space, not to pad.
The only downside to using clothing is that it takes up more space in your box than other packing materials.
While we were able to fit almost every plate and bowl in each box with other packing materials, we were able to pack only some of the dishes and half of the bowls when we packed with clothing. (or check your closet!)
Moving your glass crystal ball or vintage vanity mirror? We break down the best way to approach these items in our How to Pack Antiques guide.
How to pack using clothing
Step 1: Pad the bottom of the box using thick clothing like jeans or sweatshirts.
Step 2: Place a plate inside the middle of the sweatshirt (if you’re using sweatpants, insert it into one of the pant legs).
Step 3: Wrap the rest of the sweatshirt around the plate to properly pad it.
Step 4: Wrap that in another sweatshirt.
Step 5: Repeat with each plate.
When using clothes to pack, avoid socks, thin T-shirts, blouses, shorts, and most pants. Thick sweatpants, sweaters, and hoodies are the best types of clothing to pack with.
We wanted to see for ourselves how well each packing material holds up in a real-life move. So we shipped four cardboard boxes containing brand-new plates and bowls 2,348 miles from Salt Lake City, UT, to Clearwater, FL (and back again).
Here’s which packing materials worked—and which didn’t.
To test the effectiveness of each individual packing material, we packed each box using only one material. Except for clothing, we found that none of the packing materials held up well on their own. For instance, packing paper needed more bubble wrap for cushioning, and packing peanuts didn’t provide much protection at all.
Packing paper, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap all work well to pad objects, cushion boxes, and fill empty space, but they aren’t substantial enough on their own to support the weight of dish sets.
Granted, every move is different. Our boxes were a bit more beat up than we predicted, which could have contributed to the high number of items that broke. But that doesn’t mean your boxes will flatten or get scuffed up like ours—especially if they’re organized well in the back of your moving truck or you use sturdy plastic bins instead.
How you pack your household goods is just as important as what you pack your belongings with. Most packing materials are most effective when used together.
For instance, we never recommend packing a box with only packing paper or only bubble wrap.
Here are the packing materials you should always splurge on:
- Packing paper
- Moving boxes
- Packing tape
- Bubble wrap
Here are packing materials that are helpful but that won’t make or (literally) break things:
- Packing peanuts
- Styrofoam blocks
- Foam plate slips
Remember: when in doubt, don’t be afraid to pad things using your clothes!
What are your favorite packing materials and methods? Drop us a comment and let us know!