Cleaning Your Shipping Container Before Use

Cleaning Your Shipping Container Before Use

Getting your goods ready for international shipping is a process. There are so many steps involved, such as wrapping your cargo, blocking and bracing, getting cargo insurance, and many others. If you are shipping FCL (Full Container Load) as opposed to LCL (Less-Than Container Load), you will be solely responsible for obtaining an international shipping container. But simply getting the container to your door isn’t all you have to worry about.

Customs has cracked down significantly in the last few years on products being shipped into or out of the United States. Concerns over hazardous materials, agriculturally disruptive, or illegal materials move through the U.S. has lead to Customs inspecting more containers than before. But you don’t have to worry about this since you’re not shipping anything illegal, right? Well, not quite.

Contaminated Shipping Containers

International shipping containers are, well, traveling internationally. They go from port-to-port and to buyers’ and suppliers’ facilities. Along the way, these shipping containers make contact with more liquids, pollens, and materials than you’d like to believe. Since these containers are often left with doors wide open at ports during expectations, or loading facilities dock doors, all these substances make their way in and out of containers on a frequent basis. Pollen is blown in, the doors are shut, and the container is sent on its way to its destination.

But what happens when the container arrives and these seeds, pollens, or liquids are discovered? Most of the time, the containers are rejected from U.S. Customs. The container then has to be sent back, repackaged in a clean container, and shipped again. Depending on the incoterms agreements associated with the transaction, someone is going to end up forking forward the big bucks.

“That sounds a little extreme. That can’t actually happen, can it?”

Oh, it can. And it does. The end results – dreams and banks alike are broken, with U.S. Customs inspectors sharing their inflated tales in the break room over expired Folger’s and stale donuts.

Cleaning Your Shipping Container: How To Do It

Cleaning your shipping container doesn’t have to be an intense process. We understand that tight deadlines and frequency of shipping can make the process a bit tedious. But we promise, it is significantly less tedious than dealing with a rejected shipping container. Here are some tips:

1)  Initial Inspection

Time to bust out that 19 LED utility flashlight that you bought 25 years ago, brush off the cobwebs, and put it to work. Most the time, a simple walkthrough of a container can reveal seeds, pollen, liquids, smells, stains, etc. Get your eyes in every corner of the container and pay attention to everything. If that container gets pulled for an inspection by customers, you better believe they will look for any reason to turn it around. Seeds, even in small quantities, are completely unacceptable. Which leads to our next point…

2)  Leaf Blower

Air compressors and leaf blowers are both great options for airing out your container. Whether or not you see pollen or seeds in the container, a strong blower will get rid of most of the detached stuff floating around your container.

3)  Spray it Down

In some cases, it may be necessary to spray down your container. Sometimes, leaking drums or flexitanks can cause sticky substances to stain a container. During your initial inspection, if you notice stains, sticky substances, or strange smells, it’s worth it to give your container a good spray. A simple hose will do the trick. Just make sure you get it all so you don’t have to do it twice.

4)  Vinegar Anyone?

In some extreme cases, you need to put some elbow grease into it. But careful – we’re not entirely sure that elbow grease passes customs inspections. Better to play it safe with vinegar. If your container has stains that are not coming out from a simple water spray-down, fill up a spray bottle with a vinegar solution and apply it to the affected areas. Leave it to sit for a few minutes and scrub it down.


Clean your shipping container before use! Customs is quick to reject any containers that are contaminated by liquids, seeds, pollens, and bugs that so easily land in containers during loading. Any leaks from prior shipments or pollen-ridden winds are sure to land you in a sticky situation with U.S. Customs. Avoid the awkward, “Who’s paying for it?” conversation with your supplier or customer by simply cleaning your shipping containers. Do a thorough walk-through of the container to look for any stains, seeds, or pollen. Depending on what you find, spraying the container down with compressed air or a hose may be enough to do the trick. In those tough situations where the stains just won’t come out, we recommend a good vinegar spray (if Billy Maze were still here, he may have alternative recommendations.)

If you have any questions regarding renting or cleaning shipping containers before use, give one of our team members a call. We have plenty of recommendations and are happy to make sure your containers are ready to clear customs without any hiccups.


6 thoughts on “Cleaning Your Shipping Container Before Use

  1. I appreciate that spraying the container first can help you assess if it might have leaks or not. I will definitely do this when I buy one to keep the temperature inside constant when I put some of our belongings there. It is important to ensure that they will not be damaged while we still don’t need them. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Thank you for pointing out that a simple walkthrough of your container can help you identify things you need to clean. Making sure you get the best shipping containers seems very important. Hopefully, any company shipping their products looks into finding the best container possible.

  3. Nice information! I am totally agreed with your blog, cleaning your shipping container doesn’t have to be an intense process so I will suggest to other before using shipping container everyone follows these useful tips.

  4. I like what you said about using an air compressor or a leaf blower when looking to clean out your large container before using it. Construction containers are incredibly useful because they can store mass amounts of items. If I were to need such a container, I would look for a reliable company in my area that charged fair prices for container rentals.

  5. That’s good to know that you can fill a spray bottle with a vinegar solution that you can use to clean up affected areas inside shipping containers. My sister wants to get a shipping container so she can store a lot of her furniture while she waits for her house to be built, so I’m helping her look into how to clean one. We’ll have to find a place that uses these containers as storage units and see if they clean them and, if not, we can clean it up with some vinegar.

  6. I liked that you mentioned air compressors and leaf blowers are great options for airing your container before use it. My husband and I are thinking about renting a shipping container, and we are looking for advice about how to clean it. I will let him know about your recommendations to clean the shipping container and have it ready to store our belongings.

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