TL;DR You want your boxes to arrive uncrushed and undamaged. Large players, like Amazon, use 32 ECT boxes. It’s not just the standard but it’s the go-to for almost every major ecommerce company. That means you can feel comfortable shipping your products in any 32 ECT box, including ours.
This post has been updated as of January 2020.
The most important thing about a corrugated shipping box is that it gets your products to your customers safely. You want your box to withstand the shipping and transportation process. How can you ensure your boxes won’t wind up crushed when they arrive at their destinations?
Two things—the ECT and Mullen Test.
We’ll walk you through what these tests are and offer up some tips on what to avoid when shopping for shipping boxes so you don’t end up with boxes that fall apart. We even did an unofficial test ourselves to see how much weight our 32 ECT boxes can hold packed inside. You can watch our video below, but let’s dive right into box quality.
What Makes up Box Quality
The packaging industry has two major ways of measuring the strength and durability of a cardboard shipping box. Each test is designed to determine the same thing but in different ways. They tell you how much pressure your box can take before it breaks. As ecommerce business owners, we need to know how well our boxes can stand up to being stacked and packed into a shipping container.
The ECT, which stands for Edge Crush Test, was designed to test and measure the durability of a corrugated cardboard box. It works by applying pressure to either the top or bottom of the box and seeing how much it can withstand when vertical before collapsing.
Essentially, it tests the strength of a shipping box from top to bottom. This is important for when boxes are stacked on top of each other when shipped in pallets.
Invented in the 1990s, the ECT is the most common test used and 32 ECT is the most common corrugated box sold. This is largely because it costs less and partly because stacking strength is a better indicator of how a corrugated box will hold up while shipping. The major benefit of this test is the lack of weight requirements. Boxes that use this test can be lighter and more environmentally-friendly.
The number in front of the ECT ratings corresponds with how much weight per inch width the box can take stacked on top. So a 32 ECT box can take 32 pounds of weight per inch width before collapsing.
The Mullen Test
The Mullen Test, or Bursting Test, tests the bursting strength of a corrugated cardboard box. It determines how much pressure the walls of a shipping box can handle before it bursts or punctures. With this test, corrugated boxes must have a minimum base weight requirement meaning they’ll be heavier boxes by default compared to boxes measured by the ECT.
While the standard result of the ECT is 32, the standard result of the Mullen Test is 200# — measured in pounds. The higher the number, the stronger the box. While the ECT focuses on how a box will hold up while stacked, the Mullen Test focuses on how a box will hold up when being handled individually, including when it’s handled roughly.
Our Unofficial Test: How Much Weight Can a 32 ECT Box Hold Inside?
What Makes Our Test Unofficial
I, the associate editor, and our marketing analyst tested our 8x8x8 custom white shipping box by putting gym weights inside the box. We know from our parent company and several sources linked in this article that 32 ECT boxes can hold a range of 30-65 pounds. With our test, we used three kettlebells of the following weights: 25 pounds, 40 pounds and 60 pounds.
We didn’t use any packing material to eliminate extra space or evenly spread out the weight. We understand that several factors go into how much weight a box can take before it gives. Like how the weight is distributed and if there is too much empty space (which should never be the case since you should always pack your product snugly before shipping, but that’s another video).
What We Learned
60 pounds is heavy and we most likely need to hit the gym more. Our test shows that technically, you can place a 60-pound kettlebell in a 32 ECT box and the box will hold. But we believe it wouldn’t hold very well during the shipping process.
It comes down to how well you pack your shipping box. Leaving extra space in your box will cause trouble for your product inside.
Understanding What Kind of Boxes to Avoid
Boxes That Aren’t Measured With the ECT or Mullen Test
When you’re shopping for boxes online, you’ll see most likely the product specifications in the details of each product description. Most corrugated boxes have a 32 ECT or 200# specification. This measurement is like having the packaging industry’s stamp of approval. Without that spec on the page, you run the risk of ending up with boxes that aren’t sturdy or durable.
Boxes That Can Only Hold Less Than 30 Pounds
A standard corrugated box should have 32 ECT or 200# if you want to pack 30-65 pounds of products in your box. We know this range is wide, but it depends on how you pack your product in your box. However, if you opt to use a box that can hold no more than 30 pounds you may have crushed shipping boxes and angry customers to deal with later.
Boxes That Have Been Used Previously
Don’t sacrifice box quality just to save a few dollars. Used boxes may have more dents and bruises than a new one. It’s best to avoid the stress of wondering whether or not the product you worked so hard on will make it to its destination in one piece.
If you’re concerned with waste, there’s an easier solution than you think. Recycled shipping boxes are the best option for strength, durability and sustainability. Just because something is recycled doesn’t mean it’s low quality.
In fact, Brandable Box shipping boxes are made from 100% recycled materials and have a 32 ECT. It’s like the best of both worlds. Browse shipping boxes.