Are Shipping Containers Toxic?

I recently witnessed a worker entering a shipping container at a nearby construction site. Because of this, I started thinking about workplace hazards, and I began to wonder are shipping containers toxic?

I decided to look into this a bit more, and I found out that containers can be toxic. The paint used on some containers could contain harmful chemicals like chromate and phosphorous. I also learned that pests are plentiful on ships, so container manufacturers often treat the flooring with insecticides to discourage pests from entering the containers. Read what else I found out…

Are shipping container floors toxic?

The flooring used in most shipping containers consists of 25-30mm thick marine plywood. Plywood is ideal because it is durable, water resistant, and can handle a lot of weight. Some container manufacturers are starting to use bamboo for container flooring.

Not all containers come with wood flooring. A refrigerated container has metal flooring.

Container flooring usually receives a pesticide application to comply with international shipping regulations. Without the use of pesticides insects and rodents will be able to get inside the container.

Pests can damage the cargo and potentially spread diseases if they enter the container. The pests from one country may be an invasive species to another country.

Containers usually have a metal template that says what pesticide treatment the floor received. If this plate doesn’t exist on your container, you’ll have to contact the container manufacturer. The manufacturer would be able to tell you if the flooring received a pesticide treatment.

container treated with insecticide
Container treated with an insecticide

The container in the picture above had it’s flooring treated with Radaleum FHP-60. The active ingredient in Radaleum FHP-60 is theta-Cypermethrin. Cypermethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid and a very effective insecticide.

Radaleum FHP-60 has virtually no vapour pressure, and therefore almost no fumes.

Radaleum FHP-60 is a much better option compared to the prior flooring treatments. Outgassing was a much bigger problem with older floor treatments.

What can you do to make the shipping container floors safe?

If your container floor is toxic, you can do a few things to fix the problem. The two most common fixes are to seal the floor with an epoxy paint coating or replace the floor.

You want to make sure you wear proper respiratory protection when you work on the container flooring. When you work on the floor, you may end up releasing toxic chemicals that have become trapped in the floor.

A shipping container may have contained many toxic substances over the years. Some of these toxic substances may have also leached into the flooring.

You have no idea what you could be breathing in. That’s why it’s imperative to protect yourself when working with the container flooring.

Wear proper PPE
Wear the correct PPE when working on shipping container floors.

You should avoid sanding the floor if you decide to use an epoxy paint coating. If you do choose sand and then paint, make sure you take proper precautions. The insecticides may have dissipated a little over the years, but they may be still at toxic levels.

If you want to be cautious, you can remove the flooring and replace it with a non-toxic alternative. It’s best to speak with a local flooring expert on the best options.

Newer containers often use less toxic materials compared to cargo-worthy containers.

You may even consider getting a custom built container. You may consider this if you have a larger budget for a container. With a custom made container you specify that you don’t want the floor treated with toxic chemicals.

A one-trip or a custom built container would probably be the best option for a container home. I would personally go with a one-trip container.

Are shipping container paints toxic?

Some shipping containers contain paint that may be toxic to humans. Some of the paints used may contain chemicals like chromate and phosphorous.

You can find out if the container contains toxic paint by asking the container supplier. If they are not sure, you will have to contact the container manufacturer. You can usually find this information on one of the metal templates located on the container doors.

What can you do about the toxic paint

If your container has toxic paint, you can cover up the hazardous paint with a non-toxic alternative. It’s best to speak with a paint expert in your area. They will be able to tell you what paint would be best.

You can also shot blast and repaint the container. The shot-blasting can be dangerous, so its best to have a painter do this for you. Proper ventilation and respiratory protection is a must for this task.

Shot blasting will cost a lot more money, so most people just paint over the existing toxic paint.

You may consider purchasing a one-trip container if you plan to use the container for a home. Container manufacturers often use less toxic materials for newer one-trip containers.

You may consider looking at a different container if you are unable to determine the contents of the paint. Containers are plentiful, so you should have lots of choices, especially if you live close to a port.


You should now have a good understanding of how to make a container safer. If you plan to use a container for a home, you will want to take care of the toxic paint and flooring.

Exposure to these toxic substances will be higher when you live in a container. If you plan to use the container as a storage shed, you may decide not to worry about the flooring and paint.

Remember to have proper ventilation and respiratory protection when working on the flooring. Sanding and removing the flooring will release all kinds of toxic material into the air, so make sure you protect yourself.

It’s a good idea to speak with a flooring expert. A flooring expert will tell you the best way to remove and finish the flooring.

If you don’t have time to repaint and fix the flooring, you may want to purchase a one-trip container. One-trip containers usually use less toxic building materials.

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