How to Use Packing Peanuts

Here’s five things to know before you start packing your china collection.

Written by Easton Smith
Nov 19, 2019
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Few things are more cringeworthy than opening up a box after your move to find that your glass coffee table has shattered or your computer screen is busted. But don’t worry: you can avoid such tragedies by using packing peanuts.

Packing peanuts! You know, those squeaky, styrofoam noodles that come with your Amazon shipments. Since their invention in the 1960s, these puffed-up pellets of plastic have saved many fragile items from unfortunate ends.

But in order for packing peanuts to work, they have to be used correctly. Here are five important things that you should consider before buying, using, and re-using packing peanuts.

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Tired of thinking about packing peanuts?
If you’re ready to let someone else worry about how to pack your fragile family heirlooms, then you might want to look into a full-service moving company. They’ll do the packing, loading, and driving for you so that you can worry about more important things (like finding a good burrito joint by your new house).

1. When to use packing peanuts

Packing peanuts might not take home the award for the most fun packing supplies to play with (that one goes to bubble wrap), but they are probably the most versatile.

Because packing peanuts are so light (they’re basically 99% air) and there are so many of them, you can use them to pack virtually any box, big or small.

Packing peanuts are perfect for any of these things: 

  • Packing many smaller items into a bigger box
  • Filling up empty space around awkwardly sized items
  • Protecting vases, china, ceramics, and other fragile home decor
  • Packing delicate photos, artwork, or statues

But there are some cases where packing peanuts may not be the best material for packing your fragile items. Both bubble wrap and packing paper can be better alternatives in certain instances.

When to use bubble wrap instead of packing peanuts:

  • Because standard packing peanuts can create static electricity, it’s good to use bubble wrap instead when packing delicate electronics.
  • Bubble wrap can be wrapped tightly around items like mirrors, frames, and glass tabletops. You may want to wrap these items in bubble wrap first, then place them into a box with packing peanuts.

When to use packing paper instead of packing peanuts: 

  • Because packing paper is much thinner than bubble wrap or packing peanuts, it’s great for packing large quantities of smaller items, like a set of plates.
  • Packing paper lies flat against surfaces like glass and polished wood, so it’s a good first layer of protection for anything that absolutely shouldn’t be scratched.

Of course, a combination of two or three packing materials is the best way to protect your prized possessions.

2. How to use packing peanuts correctly

Just tossing your antique vase into a random box of packing peanuts will do you about as much good as throwing it into a bag of popcorn—which is none. Here are a few tips for how to use peanuts effectively when you’re packing up your house.

Pack tightly: The most important thing that packing peanuts do is absorb shock when your boxes tumble around. The peanuts can only do this if they’re packed tightly, so that items don’t shift around and knock into each other or the end up laying against the side of the box.

Fill in hollow items: Vases, teapots, and other hollow items should be packed full of crumpled paper, peanuts, or some other soft material. If they aren’t, they could end up cracking if the box falls or is put under pressure.

Put a buffer between items: Your tightly packed peanuts are useless if you’ve got two glass jars touching in the middle of your box. Make sure that items have at least one layer of material between them. Professional packers will often use cardboard or corkboard separators to keep items from touching.

Packing your boxes correctly is the first step. But you also want to make sure that you’re packing up your truck (or moving container) correctly to avoid breaking fragile items.

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If you’re planning a DIY move, then picking out a good truck is one of the most important steps. Learn more about the best moving truck companies out there before you make your reservation.

3. Alternatives to styrofoam peanuts

You may have heard that styrofoam packing peanuts are not great for the environment. They’re produced with petroleum, contain toxic chemicals like benzene and styrene, and basically never biodegrade (at least not in your lifetime. . . or even your grandkids’ lifetime).

Thankfully, there are many companies now making packing peanuts from other materials, like corn starch.

These packing peanuts may be a bit heavier (and a bit more expensive) than traditional packing peanuts, but the environment will thank you for using them. They completely dissolve in water and are much safer for wildlife (and pets) to eat.

The other major advantage of these environmentally friendly packing peanuts is that they don’t produce static electricity, making them safe for packing electronic items.

4. Where to buy packing peanuts

You can easily find both environmentally friendly and styrofoam packing peanuts online. But we prefer to support local moving companies, who usually sell all of the packing materials you’ll need for your upcoming move.

But before you go out and spend even more money on your move, you might want to try getting your packing peanuts for free.

Word on the street (and by the street we mean internet forums) is that many health food stores that get shipments of vitamins and other smaller products will have packing peanuts just lying around. If you ask, they’ll probably be more than happy to give them to someone who will reuse them.

You can also check in with your friends. Throw up a Facebook post asking if anyone has old packing peanuts (and maybe even other moving supplies) sitting in their basement from their last move.

5. Other uses for packing peanuts

When you’re all done with your move (yes, it will be over someday soon, we promise), there are plenty of creative and useful ways to put your packing peanuts to work.

Some of our favorite alternative uses for packing peanuts are:

  • Filling big pots/planters: Filling up a huge pot with soil can be expensive and heavy. Packing peanuts are a lightweight, breathable alternative for filling the extra space below and around your plants.
  • Crafting: There’s no limit to the creative projects you and your kids can get into with some packing peanuts, popsicle sticks, and a bottle of glue.
  • Filling bean bag chairs: Does your bean bag chair seem to deflate over time? Rather than shelling out a bunch of money for replacement “beans,” just throw your leftover packing peanuts in there.
  • Insulation: Packing peanuts are great for keeping the cold in or out. Throw some in your cooler to keep those drinks nice and cold.
  • Construction projects: Avoid hammering your fingers by putting a packing peanut on the tip of a nail and holding onto that instead. You can also use packing peanuts to give more grip to stripped screws.

If we’ve missed any of your favorite uses for leftover packing peanuts, let us know in the comments section below!