How Plastic Moving Boxes Stack Up Against Cardboard: Pros and Cons
You might pay a little more to rent plastic crates, but advantages could outweigh the price difference.
Peter is a writer and editor for the CNET How-To team. He has been covering technology, software, finance, sports and video games since working for @Home Network and Excite in the 1990s. Peter managed reviews and listings for Download.com during the 2000s, and is passionate about software and no-nonsense advice for creators, consumers and investors.
Expertise18 years of editorial experience with a current focus on personal finance and moving
When it's time to move to a new house or apartment, there's no doubt that you'll need moving boxes. But to get started, you need to figure out how many, what sort, which size and maybe most importantly -- where the heck are you going to get them?
While you can certainly spend your time driving store to store, pleading with local grocery and produce clerks to part with their boxes, renting plastic boxes may be a quicker and less stressful path to collecting enough packing boxes, but they come with a premium price tag over buying or finding free cardboard boxes.
Price, however, isn't the only factor to consider in choosing between cardboard boxes and plastic -- there's also convenience and time. If you decide to go with cardboard, you need to purchase or find the boxes, assemble them before you pack and then deal with the empty boxes after unloading -- all those tasks become easier when you rent plastic boxes.
Get everything you need to know about the difference between plastic boxes and cardboard boxes to decide if renting plastic crates for moving makes sense for you. For more moving tips, learn how to figure out which size moving truck you need.
How does renting plastic moving boxes work?
Plastic moving box rentals are simple -- you place an order for a certain number of boxes at a certain size, which are then delivered to the address you're moving from. You pack, move and empty the boxes, which are then picked up by the rental company at your new address.
You'll have a specific time period to make the move and return the boxes -- usually one or two weeks, although most companies let you hold on to them longer if you keep paying.
Most companies will offer a rolling dolly with each order. These carts are specially designed to fit the plastic crates you rented and let you roll heavy or unwieldy boxes across flat surfaces, which might be more valuable than it seems -- think of books, records or heavy kitchen supplies.
Companies may also offer helpful extras like moving labels or zip ties for securing the boxes.
Most of the plastic moving box rental companies just serve specific metropolitan areas -- U-Haul is one of the few that claims to be national -- so check that the company serves your moving locations. See the chart below for geographical coverage info.
What are the benefits of plastic moving crates?
If available in your area, there are lots of reasons to go with plastic boxes.
Convenient. There's no assembling, no taping, no breaking, no breaking down or recycling. No cluttering up garages, basements and attics with sad cardboard husks. Once you've moved into your new place and emptied the plastic moving boxes, the company will come pick them up and you'll never see them again. And they stack easily, both empty and full.
Easy to secure. Most plastic moving boxes use a locking mechanism on the top that eliminates the need for tape. And unlike cardboard, plastic boxes are mostly immune to water, hot or cold temperatures, and sharp edges (and rats).
Reusable. Environmental concerns favor reusable moving boxes. Most of the crates and boxes are made from recycled plastic, and they can be used many times -- Miami provider StowSimple claims 400 average uses. Cardboard boxes won't last nearly as long before they need to be recycled or trashed. Plastic boxes also eliminate the need for disposable packing tape.
What are the downsides of plastic moving boxes?
While convenient and durable, plastic boxes also come with a few downsides.
Pricier. You're going to pay a little more to use plastic moving boxes compared with cardboard boxes. Even if you can't get boxes for free, cardboard boxes only cost about $2 each, while renting equivalently sized plastic crates may cost $3 to $6 per box.
The one exception to that general price rule I found is U-Haul. I was able to find large plastic moving boxes -- 20 inches by 24 inches by 12 inches -- from U-Haul for $1.50 a piece. U-Haul doesn't throw in the dolly, but that's only $7 to $12 more to rent.
However, boxes at U-Haul's cheapest rate didn't seem to be widely available in several large cities when I surveyed the company's website. (In fact, boxes at $3.50 a piece weren't plentiful either.)
Limited box sizes. While some of the companies let you mix and match plastic moving box sizes, others offer rental packages with the same size box -- the general standard box is 27 inches by 17 inches by 12 inches -- which could make packing up oddly shaped items challenging. A few providers like Rentacrate, Denver's Moving Boxes and Lend a Box offer wardrobe-size plastic crates and other unusual box sizes.
Tight schedule. You're also on a strict schedule with plastic boxes. You need to pack up, move and finish unpacking by the time the boxes are scheduled for pickup. (It could benefit procrastinators, however, who need a little encouragement to finish unpacking.)
More fees if you underestimate. If you need more boxes than you ordered, you'll probably need to pay a delivery fee to get more, along with the additional cost of the extra boxes.
Limited availability. The biggest downside to renting plastic moving crates is their limited availability. If you're in a major metropolitan area, you probably have options. However, much of the country is still left out.
How much do plastic moving boxes cost to rent?
While you can find new, large cardboard boxes for about $2 a piece (and less in bulk), plastic boxes can rent for $3 to $6 each.
In plastic's favor, the more plastic boxes you rent, the cheaper the rate (except at U-Haul for some reason). Renting 20 boxes might cost you $4 to 6 a box per week, but if you need more than 100, the price can come down to as low as $2 or $3 a piece.
I did find one spot -- Utah Box Rental in Salt Lake City -- that rents 20 boxes for a week for $35, or 100 for $148, which is even slightly less than U-Haul's cheapest $1.50 rate. However, there are no extras listed, and you have to pick up and return your boxes yourself.
How long can you rent plastic moving boxes for?
Most companies offer a one-week rate for renting plastic moving boxes, with additional costs for longer rentals. But some begin with a minimum of two weeks. If you're willing to keep paying, you can usually keep the boxes for as long as you want.
Which companies rent plastic moving crates?
Renting plastic boxes for moving is nothing new -- Rentacrate has been providing plastic moving crates since 1991. Several companies ship across the US, but a quick survey of one of them -- U-Haul -- found limited supplies. If you're moving locally, it might be easier to go with a regional company that delivers and picks up crates in your area.
See the chart below for information and links to companies that rent plastic moving boxes.
Many professional moving companies offer plastic moving crate rentals on the side as a separate business opportunity. If you live in an area that's not on this list, give some local moving companies a call to see if any of them rent plastic boxes for moving.