What is a Shipping Container?

Here at Southwest Mobile Storage, we get a lot of questions about storage, customization, modifications, offices, and more.

But one of the questions we get asked most is – “what is a shipping container?”

Shipping containers have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years, thanks to their popularity as container homes or tiny homes.

Also known as intermodal containers, Conex boxes, or corrugated boxes, shipping containers have a varied history of use.

In this article, we’ll answer the question ‘what is a shipping container’, why they have so many names, and what they can be used for.

What is a shipping container?


So, what exactly is a shipping container?

A Southwest Mobile Storage container

In general, a shipping container is an ISO steel container that is able to withstand shipment, storage, and handling.

In many cases, shipping containers are synonymous with intermodal freight containers.

Intermodal freight containers or intermodal containers are the familiar type of shipping containers that most people might think of.

These containers are built and designed for freight transport, such as ship, rail, or truck. Intermodal containers are also called:

  • Cargo containers
  • ISO containers
  • Sea or ocean containers
  • Sea van
  • Conex box
  • Sea or C can

Shipping containers are made of corrugated weathering steel or CorTen.

This allow for the containers to be sturdy, resilient, and resistant to many weather conditions.

While there can be many varying sizes of containers, the most popular are the standard sizes of 20-feet and 40-feet containers.

There is also 45-foot ISO containers.

Depending on what you plan on using a container for, you can modify these lengths to suit your project.

Over 90% of all purchased items are shipped in a shipping container, with 20 million containers traveling across the oceans.

Shipping containers have a very interesting history and something we explore in our ultimate guide.

What can shipping containers be used for?

Now that we’ve explained what a shipping container is, let’s look at what shipping containers can do.

As mentioned, containers are used to transport goods across the world.

These days, shipping containers have discovered a new life as repurposed units for a variety of different projects, such as:

  • Container homes
  • Storage options
  • Mobile offices/temporary workspaces
  • Pop up shops
  • Hospitals/mobile medical units
  • Restaurants
  • Schools

Why are people turning to shipping containers?

First, shipping containers are extremely durable and strong.

Because they are made out of steel, they are designed to handle rough weather, such as storms, fires, and other natural phenomenon.

This actually makes them ideal for people who live in areas that may be susceptible or have been susceptible to natural disasters.

Shipping containers are also great for storage because they were built to hold a lot of goods and items.

Advantages of shipping containers

One of the most unique and creative uses for shipping containers is using them in place of traditional building materials.

For instance, here’s a list of 10 restaurants that were made using shipping containers. They go from simple coffee bars to actual sit down eateries.

As we mentioned earlier, container homes that have been built using shipping containers have become very popular, thanks to their durability and portability.

Another creative use has been to modify containers into hospitals or mobile medical offices.

At the time of this writing, the world has been deeply affected by the COVID-19, or coronavirus, outbreak.

As such, many health officials are finding it difficult to find space within their hospitals or available testing centers.

Organizations globally are responding by turning shipping containers into extra exam rooms, hospital ICUs, and mobile testing labs.

In this article, we answered the common question of what is a shipping container, what their general purpose is, and how they’re being used in unique and creative ways now.

Shipping containers have become great alternatives for a variety of projects, from home renovation to providing patient care when and where needed.

If you’re wondering if your project would benefit from a shipping container, please give us a call at 800.686.9114. Our expert container specialist will help you pick the right container for your needs!