How to Choose the Right Container Grade

Wondering how to choose the right container grade?

When deciding to rent or buy shipping containers, making sure you choose the right container grade is crucial.

But what exactly are container grades?

And why are they so important when picking a shipping container?

In this article, we’ll discuss container grades and how to choose the right one.

How to Choose the Right Container Grade


Before you can start choosing the right container grade, you have to know what it is. So, what are container grades?

Shipping Container Grades
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Container grades denote the condition of a shipping container, usually those that are considered used.

These grades were set forth by the Institute of International Container Lessors, who are the lead trade association for marine container leasing and chassis providers.

Established in 1971, the IICL helped to develop the international agreement for maintaining shipping containers in safe conditions.

This agreement would turn into the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC).

There are four container grades that have been given by IICL:

  • IICL – this is the highest category for used containers. These containers are usually in excellent condition both physically and cosmetically.
    • One-trip shipping containers are often times placed into this category, despite only having done one trip overseas.
  • CWO – the cargo worthy category represents containers that have been inspected and certified by licensed surveyors as being ship worthy.
  • WWT – the wind and watertight category is assigned to containers that are relatively in good condition. They are ideal for commercial and residential storage.
  • As Is – As Is containers are just as they sound – they are sold ‘as is’, without any repair work being done on them.

Shipping Container Grades

Now that you know what container grades are and what they represent, let’s look at what can affect a container grade.

Factors That Can Affect Grades


Container grades as we’ve shown are extremely important when choosing a shipping container, especially if you are buying a used container.

But how containers get these grades in the first place?

There are a few different factors that can affect the grade of a container, including:

  • Age
  • Miles traveled
  • Damage
  • Repair history
  • Weather conditions

Let’s look at each of these in depth.


Container age actually can have different lifespans depending on who you speak to.

In general, a shipping container can last between 25 and 30 years. Some homeowners have reported that their containers have lasted over 50 years.

When leasing or renting a container, some companies will begin to depreciate their containers over a period of 10 to 12 years.

Miles traveled

Shipping containers travel all over the world and to different global ports.

For instance, a container can travel nearly 9,000 miles from Malaysia to Los Angeles.

In the span of a year, a container ship can travel three-quarters of the distance it takes to go to the moon.

In a lifetime, a container ship travels to the moon and back, at least ten times!

Containers on a ship


In many cases, there will be very little damage to a shipping container, perhaps a dent somewhere. However, containers can also have major damage like:

  • Broken locking mechanisms
  • Rust
  • Cracks
  • Leakage

Repair history

Related to damaged containers above, the repair history of a container is also a consideration when it comes to grading.

The IICL, the body that organized the container grades, also developed a standard for repair. Their standard covers an overview and explains how to repair a container.

Other standards for container repair come from the Unified Container inspection and Repair Criteria (UCIRC) and the Common Interchange Criteria (CIC).

Weather conditions

Shipping containers are constructed to be extremely durable. This is because of their use across oceans as transport.

Despite being made to resist harsh weather, shipping containers can be damaged due to weather conditions.

Weather conditions outside of the container usually affect the inside of the container. This is where things like pests, mold, rust, and other things come from.

Why Container Grades Matter


We’ve discussed what container grades are, the types of grades, and what factors affect a container’s grading.

But what does it all mean? Why do these grades matter?

The point of container grades is to help shipping lines and leasing companies understand the shipping and repair history of a container.

For the purposes of container providers, it also helps them see how a container will perform as a portable storage unit, mobile office, or any alternate building material.

When businesses or individuals look to buy or rent a shipping container, the grades are an important factor in deciding which container you need.

Different Container Sizes, Different Container Grades

Your project will often dictate that size and type of container you will need and the grade of a container.

For example, if your project is going to be a livable environment, like a mobile office, one trip or new containers work well for that.

Storage shipping containers can also be one trippers, CWO, As-Is, etc.

As is containers are great being used to housed large equipment, especially if you don’t mind a few dents or peeling paint.

In this article, we looked at how to choose the right container grade when it comes to shipping containers.

These grades are put in place to help suppliers and customers alike know the condition of a container.

While these are helpful, you should still inspect both the inside and outside of a container. We looked at 3 of the most common problems with refurbished containers in one of our blogs.

If you’re interested in learning more about shipping containers, check out our ultimate guide! And if you’re looking to use a shipping container for your project, give us a call at 800.686.9114.

Our container experts can answer any question you might have on container grades, picking the right size, projects that can use containers, and more!