Packing Fragile Items

The Finesse Job

Learn how to:

  • Slip mirrors and pictures into form-fitting cartons.
  • Master the art of the dishpack.
  • Tame lamps and large items.

As you will see in a couple of the following DN Van Lines and Storage videos, bubble wrap can be used to effectively protect fragile items. Another way to pad breakables is by using packing paper (as we have been talking about up to this point - and will continue to do so at the risk of offending all the zealous bubble wrappers out there). Used correctly, packing paper performs on par with bubble wrap at a much lower cost, is much more compact in its pre-use state than bubble wrap, and afterward is eminently reusable and recyclable. That said, if you prefer bubble wrap for certain items - or all items - go for it. What matters most is a job well done.

To stock up on packing paper check out the links on our Moving Equipment Guide.

Paper or Plastic?

Packing paper performs on par with bubble wrap for less $$$.

(Note: We do suggest bubble wrap for some items, as explained below.)(Note Again: Rumor has it some folks still use foam peanuts; the sheer volume of the stuff paired with the possibility of extensive clean-up after the fact dissuades us from recommending these Styrofoam legumes but again, do what works for you.)

To stock up on packing paper click through the links here.

Mirrors And Pictures

Protecting your customers images... and your image.

As outlined in the 'Boxes' section above, mirrors, pictures and paintings should be packed in flat, specifically-designed cartons. And again, you can avail yourself of either the two-piece variety or the more versatile four-corner type. Either way, let's lay out a few quick pointers for packing MPPs.

First, this is one occasion we recommend bubble wrap. Make sure the item is completely and securely covered – corners as well as front and back faces are quite vulnerable to damage if not properly protected. Tape the bubble wrap firmly in place before you...

Place the item in the carton you've so carefully prepared. We say prepared because if the item does not conform to the cartons dimensions (we are talking about a 2-piece carton here) you'll need to either fill the impending empty space with ample amounts of crumpled packing paper or get out that pocket knife and perform a little reconstructive surgery. Then, since any item you put into a mirror carton should not have room to move or shift, once you've cut the carton down to size you should add some packing paper anyway, in the corners as well as along the edges. Bubble wrap is great – unless the bubbles start popping under pressure (which we will of course guard against but still…). So you've got what we'll call the bottom half of the carton ready. Now drop (no, not drop, slowly place) the item in and adjust both item and paper as needed in preparation for the top half of the box.

Next step is to line the edges of that top half with more packing paper, then slip it over the top of the item you are packing, down to where it fits snugly on the top edge. Some guys – like Dave from the DN videos here – suggest sliding the top half of the box over the bottom half. Others like to slip it inside. Do what works better for you, but either way make sure you get that snug fit.

Ensuring adequate protection here means taping all the way around the box both vertically and horizontally. Some movers will even use shrink wrap to keep those extra large, unwieldy mirror cartons secured. Don't skimp here, especially on long distance moves. Keeping everything in one piece brings peace of mind.

If you go the four-piece mirror carton route the same strategies apply: secure bubble wrap, packing paper in the corners, sizing the box to conform to the item's proportions and using enough tape to prevent the pieces – and, in turn, the item inside – from wandering. Since we are dealing with four pieces now instead of two there's a bit more work involved. The concept is simple; turning the idea - of securely overlapping four pieces of paper-stuffed cardboard corners into one tight, snug package - into reality is quite another matter.

One problem that guys often come across is getting the packing paper to remain in place throughout the packaging process. One solution is to tape the packing paper in place along the edges of the bubble-wrapped item before trying to wrangle the cardboard components into place around the item. Others will simply use lots of muscle and tape. Devise your own favorite strategies for taming these corrugated, incorrigible beasts. Just remember to load them vertically!

Dish Packs

Bringing Your Skills to the Table

The art of packing dishes, plates, glasses and even china seems contradictory. That is, these extremely fragile items go in large boxes that can end up being quite heavy and so will go on the bottom when loaded onto the truck. But this is indeed the industry standard, and if it didn't work it wouldn't be. Packing the kitchen does remain an art, however, and knowing how to do it right is critical.

As a first step, let's add a balancing act to the contradiction. Glasses, tableware and china need to be packed tightly for stability yet with enough padding to protect them from outside forces (not to mention each other). So tape the bottom of your dishpack securely and get a healthy stash of packing paper ready.

Dishpacks (the jury is out as to whether that is one word or two) are fashioned from double-layered cardboard, but don't rely on this for keeping your customer's breakables unbroken. Be generous when you create a layer of crumpled packing paper at the bottom of the box, keeping in mind that additional settling will occur once the truck leaves the driveway.

Aim for an assortment of items in each dishpack you pack. Larger plates and bowls normally boast the highest weight-to-volume ratio and thus should go on the bottom. Each successive (padded!) layer should consist of lighter items with glasses near the top - and of course cushioned carefully with more packing paper, above, below and on all sides.


There's more than one way to skin a cat. Packing stemware in a dishpack separate from those heavier-by-volume items is another strategy for preventing breakage. Dishpacks containing a lighter load, i.e. that generously-padded stemware, can then perhaps be suitably placed on top of the heaviest dishpacks in the load.

Regardless of your plan of attack, every single item you put in a dish pack (our spellchecker tells us it's two words) should be wrapped individually. Get into the habit of using two or three sheets for each item, wrapping them in a way so that the paper is not perfectly tight and flat against the item but somewhat wrinkled; packing paper's protective qualities come from creating a sturdy cushion around and between items.

Place plates, dishes, platters, saucers and glasses vertically in the box. Doing this is less crucial for bowls, of any size. Stemware too is best packed vertically; to really guard against cracks, chips or compound fractures of these highly-fragile items use cardboard spacers/dividers. (Then watch your claims rate plummet and your ratings soar.)

At the risk of sounding redundant, make sure you pack tightly to prevent movement or shifting inside your dish packs. Crumpled paper in any empty spaces and against every wall of the box will complete the task.

Dish packs normally have the word 'FRAGILE' printed on them, at least on two sides, plus a few arrows to make it clear which end is up. If not, write and draw them yourself to make it crystal clear that 'Hey I spent twenty minutes packing this one box so don't turn it on its side and start piling book boxes on top of it!'

Lamps And Lampshades

Depending on size and material, table lamps can be properly packed in regular cartons or, for more fragile types, dish packs. Remove lampshades and all related hardware along with the light bulbs - all these will go in a separate box. Floor lamps, by their very nature, will not usually go in a box; either they are too tall (for a wardrobe even) or, if they are of the sort that can be broken down, do not need to go into a box. Instead, floor lamps - whether made of one piece or a few pieces that allow for disassembly - will normally do just fine wrapped in pads and loaded into the top of the truck.

As with any fragile item, pack table lamps using plenty of packing paper and good sense. Avoid damaging the light bulb socket and switch casing by placing only light, cushioning materials on top of them. Pack lamps vertically with plenty of side cushioning, keeping them both protected and secured.

Packing lampshades - despite their light weight or perhaps because of it - takes extra attention and care. The edges of a lampshade should never rest against the inside of its carton; exterior bumps and even moderate pressure can bend the lampshade's delicate frame. And this is not something easily fixed. To avoid having to even try, make sure each lampshade has at least an inch or two of room on all sides. Then pack them upright or upside down - but never sideways, as this is just one more way to increase your chances of ending up with a bill for a new (and quite possibly outlandishly expensive) lampshade. The metal braces that accompany your typical lampshade, along with the light bulbs and any other bits. Should all be carefully wrapped and marked as it is too easy for these items, as light as they are, to go unnoticed in the unpacking process and get thrown away or recycled with the rest of the packing paper.

Finally, be sure to mark lampshade boxes clearly and write "TOP LOAD ONLY" on a least a few sides. As these cartons tend to weigh barely more than theoretical zero they likely would not end up anywhere but the top of the load but it never hurts to be careful.

DN Van Lines & Storage has helpful videos on packing lamps and lampshades as well as mirrors, pictures, paintings and kitchens (dish packs), all viewable below.

Video on Packing Lamps and Lampshades

Video on Packing Mirrors, Paintings and Pictures

Video on Packing Kitchens

Packing Large Items

Thinking Outside the Single Box

Occasionally (if not often) you will come across an item that needs to be packed but is too tall or bulky to fit into any of the cartons you have on hand. In a situation like this you'll need a little creativity and your pocket knife. Or just use the following advice (and your pocket knife).

Item 1 - A Large Ceramic Japanese Vase

A big fat ceramic Japanese vase that is too wide to fit into a dish pack but is too valuable (and fragile) to go onto the truck as is. Solution – Take two dish packs, cut each vertically along two opposing corners to create four overlapping corners of one large dish pack. As with pieces of a mirror carton, arrange them so they form a container just slightly larger than the vase and tape the four pieces securely together. You'll want to lay an extra piece of cardboard in the bottom of the box to lend some added stability and cover up the hole in the middle – and again at the top, after packing the vase as you would a lamp, with enough packing paper to prevent shifting inside the box.

Item 2 - A Large Artificial Flower Arrangement

A large artificial flower arrangement that is a little too tall to fit in a dish pack but does not merit a wardrobe box. Solution - Place the arrangement carefully into a medium-sized carton with the flaps taped into a vertical position. Then slide an identically-sized carton over the top, taping the (vertical) bottom flaps around the vertical top flaps of the bottom box, leaving enough room to be able to tape the top of the top box closed without crushing, bending or otherwise deforming the upper ends of the flower arrangement that is now resting safely inside.

Upside-Down Tip

Make sure both boxes are upright, meaning the print on the outside of the top box is not upside down. If the top box is upside down it may be easy for someone to get confused as to which end is the top and which is the bottom and end up turning (and maybe even loading) the item upside down, negating all the care you put into packing it correctly. Of course, marking the box with a bunch of arrows and THIS END UPs will also help.

And now, more DN Van Lines and Storage videos, as promised.

Video on Packing Miscellaneous Items