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Where to Find and Inspect Free Moving Boxes

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Cardboard BoxesWhen we moved a few weeks ago, one of the things I swore I would never do was buy a single moving box. There’s just something about paying for cardboard I’ll only use for a couple days that irked me. That and moving boxes are (relatively) expensive!

To be entirely truthful, it was just my frugal side coming out and I just figured that with some creativity and a little bit of time, I could find a way to get enough free moving boxes to fit all of our needs.

Here is how we were able to get enough free moving boxes to avoid buying any.

Talk to Your Realtor

If your realtor is any good, he or she will have had a hand in many sales transactions within the last month. All of those people move. And all of those people use moving boxes that they will no longer need and they would love it for you to come and take those boxes off their hands. Just ask your real estate agent whether any one of her recent clients have boxes they no longer need. Since he or she will service a local geographic region, you probably won’t need to drive very far to get there.

Ask Your Friends

About half a dozen of our friends have moved within the last six months and most of them have moved into homes they will reside in for the next 20-30 years. They will have boxes you can use (or even simply “borrow” if they aren’t in their “forever homes”).


There are a lot of waste-not-want-not types on Craigslist and “freecycle” sites that will give you their used cardboard boxes for nothing, take advantage of their generosity and you can usually pick up a bunch of broken down boxes for free (sometimes they’ll charge you, but that’s usually posted in the listing).

Liquor Stores/Costco

Costco and beer/liquor stores are great for a large supply of sturdy boxes designed to carry heavy things. We hit up our local beverage store for a bunch of these boxes and it helps to call ahead to find out when their delivery day is. After delivery day and before recycling gets picked up is the sweet spot. One word of warning, and this applies for Costco boxes as well, is that sometimes you’ll get boxes with a hole at the bottom. Be sure to get some reinforcement.

Cardboard Box Tips

When it comes to free boxes, not all free boxes are created equal. This is especially true for those boxes that have been used. Here are a few tips when it comes to cardboard:

  • Inspect them thoroughly! Your boxes will be holding a lot of important things, check them for structural integrity, crushed walls, and anything that could put your items at risk.
  • Look for signs of moisture. Moisture will result in weakness as well as mold. Pitch any box that looks like it has ever seen water.
  • Review seams. Cardboard boxes are typically once piece folded together and glued on one seam. Inspect that seam to see if the glue is still in good shape. If you tape up a box well enough, losing that seam won’t necessarily tear open the box (it depends on how heavy the items are and how they are packed).
  • Understand what Edge Crush Test (ECT) means. When you move, you’ll probably be stacking boxes. The ECT is a measure of how much weight a box can handle in terms of pounds per inch. Exceed that and you risk crushing everything and having the boxes above it collapse into each other. It’s bad.

To find the ECT rating of a box, just look at the bottom. Here are two from our recent move. The red one is from a normal box and the blue one is from a wardrobe.
Wardrobe ECT Stamp
Red Box ECT Stamp

The wardrobe is a double wall box (if you look at the wall, you’ll see two rows of wavy lines instead of just one) and can handle 51 lbs per inch. The red one can handle a meager 44 lbs per inch! You’ll also notice two other numbers, size limit and gross weight limit. What you don’t see on either stamp is the bursting test, known as the Mullen Bursting Test, and that’s a measure of weight per square inch of the box. If you pack stuff that is both heavy and expansive, the bursting test is something to be aware of.

I don’t want to get too esoteric with the stamps on boxes but it’s important to know when transporting heavy things. Chances are moving boxes will be able to handle anything you move.

That covers basically everything I learned about moving boxes and how to get free ones. I hope that helps any future movers out there!

(Credit: erix!)

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5 Responses to “Where to Find and Inspect Free Moving Boxes”

  1. Francieidy says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m going to hit up the liquor store near my house today. We’re moving in a couple of weeks so I’ve started accumulating boxes. I did not know about the lbs/inches weight so thanks.

  2. SLS says:

    We’ve had luck with a liquor store (great for book boxes b/c they are small and made to hold a lot of weight!), friends, and our own apartment complex’s recycling area, where we stumbled upon someone’s pile of just-used boxes.

  3. We used liquor store boxes when we moved and I wrote up a few other places where we found some boxes for our multiple moves over on my blog 🙂

  4. Shafi says:

    When you go in the back of any store, you’ll find lots of empty boxes that are waiting to be recycled. Before taking them home, it’s better to ask the store manager.

  5. Kim says:

    Ask at the library! I work in one, we get super sturdy glued boxes to hold books. I periodically advertise them on Freecycle and Craigslist when we have a surplus.

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