How to Use a Dolly

Whether hiring pros or renting a moving truck from U-Haul, having the right moving equipment and knowing how to use it makes all the difference when relocating to a new home or apartment.In fact, on office, local and long-distance moves, dollies are professional movers’ best friends.They come in various shapes and sizes for moving everything from boxes and pianos to heavy appliances and furniture.

And when used properly, they can reduce loading and unloading time, minimize accidents and injuries, prevent damage to your residence and household goods and save you money.

Important stuff, right?

Yup, but before jumping in, it’s important to note that using dollies can be dangerous.

This is why we always suggest hiring reputable movers with verified customer reviews. For more information on how to hire the right movers, check out our list of the best interstate movers of 2024.

What is a Dolly

Or more accurately, what are dollies? (plural)

There are a few different varieties of dollies, such as:

  • Box dollies
  • Appliance dollies
  • 4-wheel dollies (also called utility or furniture dollies)

In short, a dolly is a device consisting of a platform and wheels designed to facilitate the moving of large, heavy, and bulky items.

And thanks to their inherent mechanical advantages, they allow users to move items more quickly and safely than carrying them.

Now let’s take a closer look at each.

Different Types of Dollies

Box Dollies

Box dollies – also known as hand trucks of all-purpose dollies – are two-sided aluminum or steel dollies with tall, straight vertical backs and horizontal platforms or “lips” at the bottom that form an L shape.

They usually have two pneumatic or inflatable wheels connected to an axle that act as shock absorbers when hauling heavy loads up and downstairs and walk boards.

Box dollies have semicircular handles at the top, or sometimes two bicycle-style handles covered in rubber grips.

Hand trucks are the most versatile of all dollies, though you shouldn’t use them for moving large items like refrigerators and armoires.

Each manufacturer’s product is different, but box dollies can generally handle a few hundred pounds.

Typical box dolly loads include –

  • 4 book boxes
  • Between 3 and 4 medium or large cartons
  • 2-drawer filing cabinets
  • A standard single dresser (emptied of its contents)

Appliance Dollies

Though they’re similar in appearance to box dollies, appliance dollies are taller, wider, more sturdy, and have small solid wheels.

Most appliance dollies also have built-in nylon ratchet straps to secure large appliances like freezers, washing machines, and dryers to the frame before moving them.

Keep in mind, before strapping an appliance like a washer to a dolly, you’ll want to pad it adequately to avoid scrapes, dents, dings, and chipped paint.

Appliance dollies are generally capable of handling loads of about 600 lbs, and professional movers use them to move safes.

Insider’s Tip

If your appliance dolly doesn’t have a built-in strap, secure the appliance to the frame with rope or a logistics strap from the truck.

4-Wheel Dollies

4-wheel dollies are flat (horizontal) rectangular dollies with wheels at each corner.

They’re usually made of wood, heavy-duty plastic, or in some cases steel, and most have thick rubber or carpet padding on top for added protection.

Unlike other dollies, a furniture dolly doesn’t have handles or built-in straps. Still, their solid scuff-proof wheels swivel 360 degrees, making them perfect for maneuvering large furniture like triple dressers, desks, file cabinets, and upright pianos in tight areas like bedrooms, hallways, and elevators.

Of course, the difficult part is getting your heavy items onto the dolly in the first place, but we’ll cover that shortly.

One downside of 4-wheel dollies is that under no circumstances can they be used on stairs. 

Did You Know? 

Small rocks and glass fragments embedded in dolly wheels can cause severe flood damage, so make sure to inspect them carefully before getting to work.

How to Use Dollies Safely

All upright dollies (box and appliance dollies) are used in pretty much the same way.

That said, there are a few differences.

How to Use a Box Dolly

1. Make sure the route between your starting and endpoint is obstruction-free

2. With the dolly on a flat surface, stack the largest and heaviest box on the bottom plate and work your way up with progressively smaller and lighter ones

3. If moving pre-stacked cartons, carefully tip the boxes with one hand until there’s a 1 or 2-inch gap between the bottom of the stack and the ground. Then nudge the dolly plate underneath with your foot and knee

4. The top box should at least partially rest against the dolly’s back frame, so it doesn’t slide backward while moving, and they shouldn’t be stacked so high that they obstruct your view

5. Once the stack of boxes is on the dolly, place your foot on the axle to hold it in place and tilt the handle backward toward your chest

6. Keep your foot on the axle until you get a sense of the load’s “balance point.”

7. Going too far backward may send the dolly rocketing in the opposite direction, so take it slowly at first

8. When on level ground, dollies should be pushed (not pulled)

9. When going up or downstairs and walk boards, you should always be above the dolly with a spotter below to help navigate and steady the load

10. Never go over a lip, bump, or threshold at an angle as the load may become unbalanced and tip over

Insider’s Tip

Especially for the inexperienced, using dollies should always be a 2-person job.

How to Use an Appliance Dolly

Using an appliance dolly correctly isn’t rocket science, but the loads are wider, taller, and heavier, so taking the following precautions is vital.

1. Check out this article – How to Move a Refrigerator

2. Measure doors and hallways to make sure they’re wide enough to accommodate your heavy appliances (you may need to remove refrigerator doors)

3. Defrost, disconnect and unplug your appliances and move them away from the wall (if you and a helper can’t lift them, slide them out using a moving pad to prevent floor damage)

4. Secure hoses and electrical cords

5. Wrap each appliance in moving pads and secure them with rubber bands or tape before placing it on the dolly

6. With a partner’s help, tip the appliance over a few degrees and slide the appliance dolly under the left or right side (never the front or back)

7. Using the built-in nylon ratchet strap, cinch the appliance snugly against the frame, but don’t overdo it and make sure it’s straight and kink-free

8. Especially with appliances, ALWAYS WORK WITH A HELPER

9. As with box dollies, always make sure you’re above the dolly when going up or downstairs or walk boards (your helper should be below you guiding you and taking some of the weight)

Did You Know? 

Most appliance dollies have rubber or felt padding on the back frame to prevent damage to appliances while moving them.

How to Use a 4-Wheel Dolly

1. Clear a path and measure doors and hallways.

2. Ensure the floor or ground is relatively flat and solid (4-wheel dollies don’t work well on moist ground, grass, sand, gravel, and carpet).

3. Empty contents and remove the drawers of the item you’re moving.

4. Wrap each piece of furniture in moving blankets and secure it with tape or rubber bands.

5. Horizontal dressers and desks should be lifted and set on the dolly on their sides or backs (whichever is more solid and level).

6. To move tall items like 4-drawer file cabinets, tip them over until their back comes to rest centered on the dolly.

7. Ensure each item’s weight is distributed evenly (which in some cases means it won’t be centered).

8. If possible, secure heavy objects to the dolly with rope, movers straps, or rubber bands.

9. To get the dolly moving, push from the back while your helper guides you from the front, and take it slow around corners and on unlevel ground.

10. To use 4-wheel dollies outside, lay a path of heavy-duty plywood or masonite on the ground to facilitate rolling.

Insider’s Tip

To see how to use dollies before moving day, consider checking out a few step-by-step moving dolly tutorials on Youtube, like these –

How to Use an Appliance Dolly

How to Use a Hand Truck

Last-Minute Moving Tips

  • Wear close-toed footwear or steel-toed boots if you have them.
  • Wear long pants to protect ankles, shins, and knees.
  • Keep kids and pets out of the way.
  • If a dolly is damaged, don’t use it.
  • Don’t forget about Move Day Etiquette.
  • If you’re not comfortable moving heavy items on dollies, do yourself a favor and hire a professional moving company – they’ll provide dollies free of charge.

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