The Best Moving Boxes For Different Items

Moving boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and most have specific uses for which they’re best suited. Though many families opt for used packing material to save money, sometimes substandard cartons create more problems than they solve.

In addition, utilizing moving boxes correctly can help:

  • Lessen the likelihood of damage
  • Ensure maximum efficiency
  • Save time (and money)
  • Make packing and unpacking so much easier

If you’re moving soon, check out our moving cost calculator to get a personalized quote and find top movers in your area.

Now let’s take a closer look at the most common moving boxes, how to use them correctly and where to find great deals on cardboard boxes.

best moving boxes

1. Wardrobe Boxes for Hanging Clothes

Few boxes make moving easier than good old fashioned wardrobes.

Especially these days when many new homes and apartments have bathroom-size walk-in closets full of suits, shirts, coats and dresses, wardrobes allow you to keep these items on their hangers when moving.

But as professional movers (and anyone else who’s ever used wardrobes) will tell you, placing your hanging clothes on the metal bar, taping the top shut and hoping for the best just aren’t enough.

In fact, in most cases your clothes will wind up in a heap at the bottom of the box.

Instead, once you’ve placed your clothes inside the wardrobe, it’s a good idea to secure the hangers to the bar with twine or plastic zip ties.

This extra step will help ensure that your clothes won’t slip off while bouncing along in the moving truck or being jostled up and down stairs.

Insider’s Tip

Unless you’re filling your wardrobe with full-length coats, dresses and gowns, there will probably be lots of unused space at the bottom that’s perfect for pillows or a comforter.

2. Dish Boxes (Dish Packs)

Though they’re primarily used for kitchenware like plates, saucers, coffee cups and casserole dishes, dish boxes are also perfect for other breakables such as –

  • Vases
  • Table lamps
  • Electronics
  • Small appliances
  • Other fragile items

Compared to other cartons, dish boxes are made from thicker cardboard and therefore offer more protection.

On the downside they’re pricey, but from a value perspective, they’re usually well worth the price.

Though it may be tempting to spend extra on bubble wrap, cardboard dividers and foam padding, in most instances they’re not necessary if you know how to pack correctly.

Insider’s Tip

When packing cardboard boxes or dish pack cartons, start with a thick base of crumpled packing paper or a folded towel, and always stack plates on their edges (never flat) with a layer of paper or two between them.

3. Mattress Boxes and Bags

To box or bag, that is the question…

Depending on how, when and where you’re moving you’ll need to decide whether using mattress boxes or bags makes more sense.

In a nutshell –

  • Boxes provide better protection but cost more
  • Bags are less expensive but offer limited protection

If you’re going the full-service route and moving out of state, your movers should box your mattresses and boxsprings in new cartons.

On local moves they may use bags, or nothing at all.

If you’re doing your move yourself and are just moving around the corner, bags may be sufficient – especially if your old bed isn’t exactly in “showroom” condition.

Just remember, even clean trucks or U-hauls are full of dust, grime and grit that can permanently soil clean mattresses and box springs, and when left uncovered they’re more susceptible to rips and tears from –

  • Door frames and hardware
  • Protruding nails and screws
  • Shards of wood in truck floors and walls

4. Picture Boxes (Mirror Cartons)

A picture is worth a thousand words.

But if the aforementioned picture was broken during a move, most of them might be expletives.

Thankfully, keeping framed art, mirrors and glass table tops safe during a relocation isn’t rocket science.

Mirror cartons generally come in one or multiple pieces – the latter of which are more expensive, but can either expand or contract to match the exact dimensions of the item you’re packing.

Relatively thin items (pictures and glass coffee table tops) of similar size can be packed together in one mirror box.

Just make sure each is wrapped individually with a sheet, towel, or a brown paper moving pad like the professionals use.

The key is to minimize empty space while not overloading the carton to such a point that it’s bursting at the seams.

Pictures with delicate frames and thin glass may warrant their own carton and an ample layer of foam or bubble wrap.

Insider’s Tip

When loading picture boxes in a truck, stand them on edge against a flat surface like a wall – never lay them flat.

5. TV Cartons

Save the whales!

And your original TV carton.

Far and away, the box your television came in is the best place for it to be during a move.

Not only was it designed specifically for your television’s size, make and model, but it likely came with styrofoam inserts to hold it firmly in place during transit.

Thankfully if your original box is long gone, you can buy high quality TV boxes with all the bells and whistles.

Insider’ Tip

Before clicking that “buy” button, make sure the box your eyeing is the correct size for your television.

6. Book Boxes (1.5 cubic feet)

Small boxes (like book boxes) are generally best for relatively dense and heavy items like books, tools, hardware and canned goods, that if packed into larger cartons would make them prohibitively heavy.

But book boxes are also great for –

  • Kitchen utensils and silverware
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Record collections
  • Documents

Like packing glassware in a dish pack carton, it’s best to place books on edge when packing them into book boxes.

7. Medium Boxes (3.0 cubic feet)

As a rule of thumb, medium boxes are best for relatively light and bulky items that aren’t particularly breakable if packed correctly.

Here we’re talking about packing household items such as:

  • Toys
  • Baskets
  • Tupperware
  • Towels and toiletries
  • Shoes, clothes and sheets
  • Sporting goods

Medium boxes are among the most inexpensive and versatile of all moving cartons, making them popular choices for those with minimal packing experience.

Though it can vary greatly from home to home, in most instances medium cartons will make up about half the boxes used during a move, with the other sizes combined comprising the other half.

8. Large Moving Boxes (4.5 to 6.0 cubic feet)

By now you’ve probably already concluded that large and extra large moving boxes are generally reserved for the lightest and bulkiest items, including –

  • Comforters, pillows and sleeping bags
  • Baskets and flower arrangements
  • Patio furniture cushions
  • Stuffed animals
  • Overstuffed winter coats

You may have a harder time finding these types of heavy duty boxes for free but they tend to be available at moving supply stores, Amazon, Walmart, Lowes, or Home Depot.

For more on how and where to buy moving boxes, check out our full post on the best places to buy moving boxes. 

Packing Dos and Don’ts


  • Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to get the packing done
  • Label your boxes to make for an easier unpacking process.
  • Set a little time aside each day for packing
  • Pack the things you rarely use first
  • Consider buying your packing supplies online to save money
  • Ask able bodied friends and family to help pack a few boxes
  • Buy a few extra boxes so you don’t run out at the last minute
  • Ask your local mover if they’ll provide “loaner” or reusable boxes. These are more eco-friendly than cardboard.
  • Check out Craigslist or Facebook groups to see if you can get any free moving boxes
  • Weigh the pros and cons of packing yourself versus hiring a moving company


  • Pick up a tape gun – unless you know how to use one they’re usually a big waste of money. Using packing tape manually will work just fine.
  • Pack wardrobes, dish packs and large cartons with books and canned goods – they’ll be way too heavy to carry
  • Use water damaged, moldy or mildewed cartons
  • Assume that your mover will cover damage for items you’ve packed yourself
  • Procrastinate

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