Shipping containers are metal boxes that can get very hot in the sun. Excessive heat can damage goods stored inside and make the containers unsafe for people. It’s important to understand how hot containers can get and how to prevent issues. 

How Hot Do Shipping Containers Get?

Shipping containers transport goods all over the world by land and sea. However, their enclosed steel construction makes them prone to getting extremely hot inside during transport and storage. Interior temperatures reaching over 100°F are common, which can damage cargo. Understanding what factors raise temperatures in containers, along with preventative solutions, is key for exporters and importers.

how hot do shipping containers get

Three Main Causes of Heat Buildup

Three Main Causes of Heat Buildup

Several variables directly impact how hot container interiors become:

  • Direct Sunlight – The radiant heat from sunlight striking the metal exterior is a major contributor to internal heat gain. Containers in full sun can reach 20-40°F above ambient temperature. Dark paint colors, like black, absorb the most solar radiation.
  • Lack of Airflow – Shipping containers are fully enclosed with little ventilation, preventing heat dissipation. Stagnant air and humidity become trapped inside, creating a sauna-like environment.
  • Ambient Temperature – If external temperatures are already high, like in deserts or tropics, container interiors will be even hotter. Humidity also plays a role in perceived temperature.

How Heat Damages Cargo

High temperatures inside shipping containers can cause significant damage to cargo during transport. Perishable foods like produce, meat, and dairy are especially vulnerable to accelerated spoilage from bacteria growth in hot conditions. Heat-sensitive chemicals, medicines, and materials like adhesives can undergo changes in their composition, reducing effectiveness. 

Electronics and other devices with tight tolerances are also prone to heat damage above certain temperatures. Even live cargo like plants or animals face increased risks to health and survival when exposed to excessive heat in containers. 

The result is spoiled or degraded products, equipment failures, and lost inventory value. Proper insulation, cooling, and temperature monitoring are essential to prevent heat issues for importers and exporters shipping temperature-sensitive goods.

6 Solutions to Prevent Heat Issues

There are several effective methods to help regulate interior temperatures in shipping containers during transport and storage:

  • Reflective Paint/Wraps: Applying a coat of white or reflective paint to the exterior of a shipping container can significantly deflect sunlight. This prevents the container from absorbing excessive heat. Additionally, specialized wraps, which serve a similar purpose, can be employed. These methods are highly effective in reducing the internal temperature of the container, potentially by 20°F or more. The principle here is akin to wearing light-colored clothing in the sun to stay cool.
  • Ventilation Systems: Implementing ventilation solutions such as vents, louvers, and exhaust fans enhances the container’s airflow. This improved airflow facilitates the escape of hot air while allowing cooler air to circulate inside. Strategically positioning these ventilation systems can create cross-breezes, which are highly effective in reducing internal heat. This approach is similar to opening windows in a house to allow a breeze to flow through.
  • Insulation: Insulating the interior surfaces of the container, including walls, ceiling, and floor, is a proactive measure to limit heat transfer. This results in a more stable internal temperature, irrespective of external conditions. Common insulation materials include mineral wool, polystyrene panels, and spray foam. Insulation acts much like a thermal barrier, similar to how insulated clothing keeps us warm in winter by trapping body heat.
  • Cooling/Dehumidification: Utilizing air conditioning units and dehumidifiers in shipping containers actively lowers the temperature and manages humidity levels. This is particularly beneficial for maintaining the quality and integrity of sensitive cargo. These systems function like home air conditioning, providing a controlled and comfortable environment within the container.
  • Shade Structures: Positioning containers under shade structures is a straightforward yet highly effective method to prevent solar heat gain. By avoiding direct sunlight, the internal temperature of the containers can be significantly reduced, often by 20°F or more. This method is akin to parking a car under a shade to keep it cooler on sunny days.
  • Temperature Monitoring: Employing temperature sensors and data loggers enables continuous monitoring of the internal conditions of the container. This real-time data allows exporters to proactively address any potential heat-related issues before they result in damage to the cargo. It’s similar to using a thermostat to monitor and adjust the temperature in a home for optimal comfort and safety.

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