Use this as your guide to packing materials for the moving season ahead.

By Kelsey Mulvey
Updated September 11, 2019
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I know a thing or two about packing materials. When I was an intern and assistant at various furniture brands and home decor publications, I spent a significant amount of time thinking about how I was packing borrowed wine glasses, scratch-prone furniture, and the occasional porcelain vase. (Packing these valuables is not like packing a suitcase.) I learned a lot about packing materials and tips in the process: You can never have too much bubble wrap on hand; packing peanuts are not your friend.

Now, as I’m packing up my apartment of five years and moving from New York City to San Francisco, I’ve become once again laser-focused on moving tips and packing my valuables with care. Do certain packing materials work better for different types of home decor? Are packing peanuts all that bad? In a world where sustainability is a priority, how can we make our packing habits more eco-friendly—or even zero waste?

To help make your next move easier, I’ve asked a handful of experts some of your most pressing packing and packing materials questions—with any luck, your next move will be much smoother as a result.

When to use bubble wrap

According to some experts, your packing materials will mostly depend on the container you’re using, not the items you’re packing. But if you’re looking to give your fragile belongings some extra cushioning, bubble wrap is a consistent crowd-pleaser.

“Bubble wrap will work just fine for a vase, it all depends on what box are you packing it into,” says Katie Hart, a relocation manager at Fantastic Removals, a removal and storage company in London. “If you are throwing it in a cardboard box that is a bit large for the job, yes, you can fill the gaps with packing peanuts. However, it is still a good idea to wrap the vase in bubble wrap.”

In addition to cocooning your valuables in a sheet (or two) of bubble wrap, many professionals recommend adding a few layers to your shipping container.

“We found it best to line the bottoms and sides on the inside of the boxes with bubble wrap,” says Vasilis “Billy” Markou, the national move coach at College H.U.N.K.S. Hauling Junk. “The bubble wrap will allow you to create a buffer zone within the confines of the box.”

The catch? Bubble wrap isn’t the most sustainable packing material out there. If you’re looking to decrease your waste, try preserving used bubble wrap for your next big move and reusing one sheet of wrap a few times before tossing it.

When to use packing peanuts

Anyone who has ever unpacked a box of candles only to have their hands covered in small styrofoam remnants knows how annoying packing peanuts can be. But if you want to ensure your belongings get from point A to point B in one piece, packing peanuts are a necessary evil. This cumbersome packing material is actually the unspoken hero of your packing strategy: In addition to successfully filling up awkward nooks and crannies, packing peanuts can protect your valuables in a few ways.

“They protect items from humidity by absorbing a portion of it,” Hart says. “That is why they are often used in packing metal items and electronics.” Packing peanuts’ volume in size makes them a top contender for packing heavier items such as auto parts, too, Hart says.

When to use paper

Ever wonder why that vase or set of wine glasses arrived wrapped in brown paper? Turns out, packing paper (or unprinted newsprint) is a favorite amongst the professionals. (Yes, even more so than bubble wrap.)

“Professional packers utilize unprinted newsprint, which is biodegradable and eco-friendly,” says Jennifer Doran, vice president of sales and marketing at Liberty Moving and Storage.

Not only is this an environmentally conscious alternative, but it also gets the job done.

“The packing paper is not only form-fitting to the contents being packed, but the paper can be layered, providing more protection to the packed contents,” Markou says.

At first glance, filling your cardboard boxes with a bunch of paper doesn’t seem as secure as, say, a roll of bubble wrap or packing peanuts. So how do you use packing paper? The key, according to Doran, is getting the strategy down pat.

“A generous amount of new print goes a long way and the best tip for using this paper is to wrap in layers and ensure your boxes don’t have dead space,” she says. “Ball up newsprint to fill in empty spaces in your box. The less items can shake around, the more secure they will be.”

How to pack sustainably

Just because you’re packing up and moving somewhere new doesn’t mean you need to wreak havoc on Mother Nature. If you’re in the market for eco-friendly alternatives to packing materials, there’s a good chance you might already own some of your packing essentials.

“We highly recommend using reusable plastic containers to move your items,” says Lior Rachmany, CEO and co-founder of New York-based Dumbo Moving+Storage. “They are stable and waterproof, can double as storage containers, [and] they also are environmentally friendly.

Lior adds it’s a good idea to wrap dainty mirrors in some spare blankets. Looking to protect some smaller picture frames or coffee mugs? A chunky sweater or pair of sweatpants will also get the job done.

Now that you know all the packing materials to use, the only thing that’s left to do is break out the packing tape and reusable containers. Happy moving!