How to Pack Liquids for a Move

Whether you’re hiring professional movers or sucking it up and doing a DIY move, packing liquids properly can be challenging.It isn’t fun, and if you get it wrong.

Let’s just say that spilled olive oil can ruin a $4,000 leather sofa.

While we always recommend using a professional moving company who can consult you on what items you can and cannot pack, let’s get into some practical tips on how to pack liquids for your big move.

Organize Your Liquids into Different Categories

There are some liquids you can’t transport under any circumstances.

Others can be, but in most cases, it’s probably best to get rid of them.

A week or so before moving day, start by organizing your liquids into the following categories –

  • Non-transportables (toxic substances)
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Automotive fluids
  • Perishables

Then for the ones you’re not sure about, consider how much it’ll cost to replace them and how much damage they could do to expensive items like upholstered furniture, clothes, and electronics.

Once each item is in its appropriate group, you’ll have the option of discarding it, leaving it for the new homeowner or renter, giving it to friends and family, or packing it for moving.

Dispose of Non-Transportable Liquid Items

Most liquids just aren’t worth moving, and thanks to state and federal laws, others are strictly prohibited.

Here we’re talking about –

  • Flammables and explosives like gasoline and lighter fluid
  • Corrosives like bleach, acid, and hydrogen peroxide
  • Marine pollutants and solvents like paint and paint thinner, oil, pesticides, and insect repellant

Also, you’ll want to either use, properly dispose of or give away things like batteries, coolant, transmission fluid, and nail polish remover before hitting the road.

If you’re moving locally and handling your relocation yourself, take extra precautions when transporting these liquids.

Did You Know?

If you’re not sure how to dispose of dangerous chemicals but want to be eco-friendly, call your local waste hauler or county government for help.

For more helpful information from the EPA, check out Household Hazardous Waste (HHW).

Get Rid of Perishable Liquids and Food

When moving to a new home or apartment, you’re always better off transporting the least amount of liquids possible.

Even if you pack them correctly and label the boxes appropriately, they could still leak, and the resulting damage could set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars.

While it’s OK to pack and move unopened items like canned goods, pickles, mustard, and ketchup, any liquid container that’s already open needs to go.

Also, check expiration dates and consider where you’re moving and when.

Even an unopened jar of mayonnaise can spoil in a heartbeat when buried in a moving van traveling through Arizona in the summer.

Insider’s Tip

Donating unused liquid perishables like condiments and canned goods to homeless shelters and food banks is a great way to lighten your load, protect your household goods and help those less fortunate.

Prepare Your Work Area

Proper pre-packing setup is key to working safely and efficiently.

When working with toxic chemicals, make sure there are ample lighting and ventilation and have a First Aid kit and cleaning supplies like rubber gloves and paper towels handy in case of mishaps.

It’s best to work on a countertop, tile, or Linoleum floor because they’re non-absorbent like carpet and hardwood.

When handling the really nasty stuff, work on a concrete floor like in a basement or garage.

Pack like Professional Moving Companies Do

There’s no one correct way to pack liquids for a move, but you’ll decrease the likelihood of leaks and spills by considering the following packing tips.

First, gather the following packing materials

  • Scissors
  • Packing tape
  • A marker or Sharpie
  • Heavy-duty plastic bags (like trash bags and garbage bags)
  • Extra-large zip-top storage or freezer bags (get the good ones like Ziplock bags)
  • Don’t waste your money on bubble wrap or plastic wrap – sealable bags are far better
  • For a full list, check out our moving supply checklist. 

Then –

1. Based on the size of each container’s top, cut squares from the trash bag that is at least an inch larger than the top itself

2. With the cap removed, place the plastic square over the bottle, jar, or container’s opening, then screw the lid down over it. Tighten it firmly, but don’t overdo it – the plastic between the container and lid will create a semi-leakproof seal

3. Either individually or in small groups, place the containers upright inside a freezer bag and seal the top.

4. Place a layer of napkins, rags, old newspapers, or paper towels in the bottom of your box to absorb any liquid that manages to leak out

5. For added protection, place the sealed liquid bags inside another container like a plastic bucket before placing them in the box

6. Better yet, use plastic bins or totes – they’ll contain spilled liquid without absorbing it as cardboard boxes will

7. Clearly label what’s inside the box, the room it came from, draw upward-pointing arrows on all sides, and write THIS END UPDO NOT TILT and/or LIQUIDS INSIDE

Insider’s Tip

Remember, do not pack food in the same box as chemicals and cleansers.

Don’t Try to Ship Prohibited Liquids and Hazardous Items on the Sly.

We know it’s tempting.

After all, that jumbo size bottle of generic bleach wasn’t free, and that nail polish remover will come in handy when you get to California.

That said, packing non-transportable items and not telling your mover about them is a horrible idea, especially on a long-distance move.

If something that you shipped damages other customer’s items, causes a fire or explosion or somehow finds its way into a stream, river, or waterway while the truck is en route, it could mean huge fines, criminal charges, and time in “The Big House.”

Most liquids are dirt cheap, and the risks of shipping them far outweigh the cost of replacing them, so always err on the side of caution.

 Other items you should not move

  • Aerosols
  • Ammunition
  • Dynamite
  • Propane and SCUBA cylinders
  • Matches
  • Fireworks
  • Old rags that you used for cleaning up gas (they could still contain volatile vapors)

Items You Should Move Yourself

Other items you should move include liquid and solid toiletries like lotion, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, moisturizer, eyeliner, and mascara.

And though they’re definitely not liquids, most moving companies request that their customers transport the following items on their own –

  • Firearms
  • Medical records and other important documents like wills and birth certificates
  • Family heirlooms like jewelry and photo albums
  • Priceless collections and precious metals
  • Checkbooks and passports
  • Medications

Last-Minute Tips

1. Make a packing list of boxes containing liquids – when doing the unpacking at your new home, check them first.

2. Ask your moving company for a list of items they can’t move.

3. If flying, consult the TSA website for regulations regarding checked bagscarry-on bags, and travel size liquids.

4. You may get better deals on moving boxes from online retailers like Amazon than from moving companies and home improvement centers.

From wine and cleaning supplies to sunscreen and automotive fluids, deciding whether to discard certain items or pack them for transport can be boiled down to common sense, federal regulations, and restrictions set forth by your mover.

At the end of the day, working with professional packers might be a good choice for you if you don’t want to deal with the headache of figuring out the right way to pack your liquids.

Likewise, when moving long distances, we always recommend working with a qualified moving company to make sure that all of your packed items are in good hands.

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