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How To Improve the Life Expectancy Of A Container

  • Care & Maintenance
9th February 2022

Shipping containers are built to withstand years of transporting cargo across the sea. With their intended purpose in mind, they are naturally robust, durable, and have a long lifespan.

On average, a shipping unit should last in excess of 30 years. A used unit lasts around 10-12 years at sea where it will be loaded on and off shipping vessels to transport cargo. After they are retired from cargo ships, it can last many more years with the right maintenance and care. We frequently convert used boxes and give them new leases of life for a range of projects across numerous industries with no concerns about their longevity.

If you are keen to preserve the long life of your unit, there are simple maintenance routines you can carry out to improve its life expectancy.

Checking Structure

Can the structural integrity of a container be compromised if there are dents in the unit? As all containers have been loaded on and off a cargo ship, it’s very likely that there will be some dents or scratches – even a single trip unit can have a minor dent or scratch.

Most of the time dents in the sides of the unit only affect it cosmetically, and won’t damage the overall structure of the unit.

Dents in the roof, however, can be more problematic. Although they are designed to be stacked on top of each other, used containers can have dents on the roof if they’ve been moved into a number of stacks. Rainwater gathers in roof dents, which can corrode the paint and lead to rust.

Regular checks on any dents or scratches in your container will ensure that they don’t become further damaged and cause long-term problems.


Repainting a container helps extend its lifespan. Over the years a container is at sea, its paint can chip and wear away which exposes the steel. Although most containers are made from CORTEN steel, rust can still form on the surface layer of steel so paint provides a protective coating for the container.

An additional benefit of repainting a container is that it improves the aesthetics of the unit. A new coat of paint can help cover small dents and scrapes in the sides of the container. Containers can be repainted in a vast range of colours, so you’re bound to find a colour that meets your needs.

Checking Foundation

If a shipping container is not kept on a level surface, you may struggle when opening and closing the doors. Keeping a container on hardstanding ground, or on level foundations, is the best way to prevent this.

Containers are known to be very strong but they are also rather flexible. This is ideal for when the container is being transported across sea, and needs flexibility to move with the ship movements, but not so good when the container is positioned for storage needs on uneven land.

With this in mind, a large number of door related issues can be solved with small adjustments to the siting. Placing a container on uneven land or soft ground can lead to the container twisting and make the doors stick so they are difficult to open. 

To account for the container’s flexibility, your site foundation must be able to take the weight of the box, plus the weight of anything stored inside, and be placed on level, hardstanding ground.

Alternatively, if you can’t level the ground then you can alter the foundations to create an even support for the unit to be placed on without the risk of twisting. There are many things you can use as foundations, including concrete slabs or railway sleepers.

Raising the container off the floor also prevents the unit being sat in puddles for long periods of time, which can cause damage to stored goods and the container itself.

Routine Checks

You can extend the life of a container by carrying out simple routine checks and maintenance.

Keeping your unit clean by removing dirt, puddles of water, and rust will help reduce the chance of further corrosion. Cleaning the container with a high-pressure water hose will remove any outside dirt that’s built up, just remember to ensure the container dries out properly after being hosed.

If you come across any areas of the container that are scuffed or scratched, treat the affected area by painting, sealing, and rustproofing to prevent further damage.

It’s important to make sure that door hinges are kept in good working order. Being unable to open the doors makes stored items difficult to access and can cause disruption. Look after door hinges by keeping them lubricated and clean. Keeping your unit on level ground will also help the doors stay in working order.

Keeping your door seals clean so that the rubber doesn’t perish is another check you should carry out when maintaining your unit. Clean seals will last longer, look better, and the doors will be slightly easier to use. Any splits should be repaired using sealer or similar in order to prevent damage getting worse, and to maintain overall wind and watertight levels.

Finally, make sure the roof is clear and not supporting excess weight. The middle of the roof cannot take very much weight, so prevent damage by removing anything on top of the unit that isn’t needed.

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