How Big are Shipping Containers: Ultimate Guide to Container Sizes

How big are shipping containers?

With so many alternatives for their use, it’s not surprising that customers have questions when it comes to shipping containers.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll answer a popular question – “how big are shipping containers?”

We’ll look at a few different things like:

  • Shipping container sizes
  • Size modifications
  • How to pick the right container size

Let’s get started!

What are the Shipping Container Sizes?


When talking about shipping container sizes, most will mention the ‘standard’ sizes. Standard sizes are usually:

  • 10-foot container, which are measured as 10’ x 8’ x 8.5’ and can hold around 80 square feet, which is 680 cubic feet
  • 20-foot container, which are measured as 20’ x 8’ x 8.5’ and can hold around 160 square feet, which is 1,360 cubic feet
  • 40-foot container, which are measured as 40’ x 8’ x 8.5’ and can hold around 320 square feet, which is 2,720 cubic feet

20-foot containers are the most popular choice container size for both individuals and businesses.

The reason is because of the available space that the container can hold.

So how much do each of these containers hold?

In terms of items, a 10-foot container can hold about 40 full sized oil drums.

If you’re using a 10-foot container for moving, it holds enough for a studio or a small one-bedroom apartment.

A 20-foot container can hold about 100 washing machines or 400 flat screen TVs. It’s perfect for a standard two bedroom home.

40-foot container can hold 160 full sized oil drums and is best used for a larger home of 3 bedrooms or more.

40 foot container sizes amount of items held

While these are the standard sizes of shipping containers, there are others.

Many popular container providers offer containers as small as 8-feet to larger containers around 52-feet. But what if you don’t need something as small as 10-feet, but not as large as 20-feet?

Simple – you modify it!

Let’s look at modifications for shipping containers

Container Modifications


In above section, we looked at the different sizes of containers and how much stuff they can hold.

But if you need more space or your project is bigger than the standard container size, you can customize or modify it.

Container modifications give you additional options for creating the container that you need. Some of the basic modifications are:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Security locks
  • HVAC/ventilation
  • Shelving

These types of modifications are perfect for storage projects. But there’s more to modifications than just these options.

Interior Modification of a Container

Unique modifications can do even more.

These types of modifications go past simple storage and enters into what is now known as cargotecture.

Cargotecture is the process of using shipping containers as alternative building material, replacing traditional components.

Container homes and tiny homes are the most common example of cargotecture; however they are just one option.

Businesses are using containers as low-cost means to traditional building or renting building space.

Pop up shops, for instance, are temporary and moveable shops that businesses can use to display new inventory or products.

Pop up shops are very popular in the retail industry, but they can be used for others as well.

Why have one shipping container shop when you can have several all in one place?

Container malls, like Seoul’s Common Ground or the UK’s BoxPark, are shopping malls that have been created out of shipping containers.

Common Ground South Korea Displaying Different Container Sizes

Other businesses using containers include:

There is also the option for mobile offices. Mobile offices can be used when businesses are under a certain type of construction, like renovations.

But they can also be used for satellite offices at multiple locations. Construction sites, for example, have a long history of using them for both storage and mobile offices.

Picking the Right Container Sizes


Now that you know the different container sizes and that modifications are available should you want to create a custom size, let’s discuss how to pick the right size for your project.

How do you pick the right container size?

It really all depends on a few factors:

  • Your project situation or basis
  • Length of time you need the container

Let’s look at those in depth.


Project basis

What is the project that requires a container?

Do you just need extra storage for inventory or equipment?

Or you renovating or moving?

Your project can help determine the container size you need. As mentioned above, even the smallest container size can offer enough space for several rooms.

For example, if your office is undergoing a renovation or a repair, a small 10-foot mobile office is perfect for one to two people.

Don’t forget you can also modify and customize containers to fit your particular project size. This option is great for things like pop up shops or portable pantries.

Night Container at Office

Length of time

Once you know what you need a shipping container for, the next question is how long will you need it?

Many providers, like Southwest Mobile Storage, usually require a minimum of a 28 day rental term for their containers, however you can extend that should you need to.

An example of this is during a move. Items can be boxed and put in the container while cleaning or packing up other items.

What if you need a container indefinitely?

Not a problem!

If your project will extend past a year or you know that you will need to use a container in the future, you can purchase one.

A rule of thumb when it comes to renting, leasing, or purchasing a shipping container is to rent or lease if you’ll use it for less than a year.

If your project runs for more than a year, then the better option is to purchase the container.

In this guide, we looked at the different container sizes, how to modify containers to get custom sizes, and how to pick the right container size for your project.

Shipping containers have evolved past their original tasks of just carrying cargo across the sea. They are now being used for a variety of uses.

Are you looking to use a container in your business?

Give us a call at 800.686.9114 today and one of our shipping storage container experts can help you pick the right container size to fit your project and your budget!