Shipping containers are often used for storage; however, it’s crucial to recognize that not everything is suitable for containment within these steel boxes. 

While they provide robust protection against the elements and secure storage, there are specific items that should never be placed inside a shipping container due to safety concerns, legal regulations, or the risk of damage to the container or its contents. 

What not to store in shipping containers

In this comprehensive guide, I will delve into the details of what items are prohibited or ill-advised for storage in a shipping container. From hazardous materials that pose a risk of combustion to perishable goods that require controlled environments, understanding these limitations is essential for anyone using shipping containers for storage or transport purposes. 


  • Check local regulations on hazardous material storage
  • Consult experts on proper storage methods
  • Use appropriate containers designed for specific hazards
  • Ensure adequate ventilation if storing any chemicals/fuels
  • Consider risks before using shipping containers for storage

The following should not be in shipping containers.

Whether you’re a business owner, a logistics professional, or simply looking to utilize a shipping container for personal storage, this guide will equip you with the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions and ensure the safety and integrity of your stored items.

Flammable/Explosive Materials

Storing these materials in shipping containers can lead to the accumulation of vapors, posing a significant risk of fire and explosion. Exposure to a heat source may ignite these vapors, causing fires or explosions that could result in injuries. 

Flammable/Explosive Materials

The National Fire and Protection Association has found that flammable or combustible liquid fires lead to approximately 454 civilian deaths, 3,910 civilian injuries, and $1.5 billion in direct property damage annually.

Corrosive Chemicals

Highly reactive, corrosive chemicals can damage materials like living tissue, metal, or wood. They should be stored separately from other materials and in areas designed to minimize damage from leaks, spillages, or fire. Incompatible materials should never be stored together, as they can react violently, generating heat and toxic gases. Storing corrosive liquids in direct sunlight or near heat sources can increase vapor production and pressure, risking container rupture or dangerous ejections of liquid when opened.

Unstable Materials

Perishable foods like fresh vegetables, seafood, meat, and dairy products deteriorate quickly under extreme temperatures and humidity, leading to spoilage. Additionally, such items run the risk of contaminating the entire shipment with hazardous materials, endangering the health of cargo handlers, luring pests and bugs, and being susceptible to mold and mildew.

Heavy Equipment

Storing heavy equipment in shipping containers poses risks related to the equipment’s physical movement, including blind spots for people carrying it and potential accidents during loading. Incorrectly rated equipment for the load can cause damage to the equipment and surroundings, leading to road damage and injury risk. 

There are also accidents related to ejected material, sharp edges, crushing, shearing, hazardous emissions, electrical shocks, and burns. The loss of shipments, damage to goods, and associated costs are significant economic risks, requiring insurance coverage and careful planning. If the equipment is moved improperly, warranties might be affected, and manufacturers may require specific procedures for safe transportation.


The smuggling of contraband cargo poses severe legal risks, including heavy fines, cargo seizures, and even the death penalty in some jurisdictions. Smuggling contraband is dangerous, highly illegal, unethical, and can severely damage one’s reputation. 

The consequences of being caught with contraband vary by country and type of goods, ranging from imprisonment and fines to deportation and confiscation of goods. In the UAE, for example, the penalties for contraband can be very severe, including large fines and lengthy prison sentences.

Live Animals and Plants

Storing livestock, pets, or certain plants in shipping containers is not advisable. Animals can face health risks due to inadequate ventilation and care. Some plants are banned from being transported across borders to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

Food and Organics

Perishable food items may spoil without proper temperature control, leading to waste and the potential for health hazards. Organic matter like yard waste can attract pests and promote mold growth, damaging the container and its contents.

Weapons and Ammunition

The transport of firearms, ammunition, knives, and similar weapons in shipping containers is generally prohibited in many countries. Special licenses and procedures are required for transporting these items due to safety and legal concerns.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Transporting undeclared alcohol and tobacco products across borders in shipping containers is often prohibited. This is due to import restrictions, taxes, and regulatory compliance issues.

Valuables and Important Documents

It is advisable not to store cash, jewelry, important files, certificates, titles, and other irreplaceable items in a shipping container. The risk of damage, theft, or loss is high, and these items are better kept in more secure and controlled environments.

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