These are the best ways to wrap, pack, and ship those fragile and otherwise oddly-shaped packages.

By Zee Krstic
October 17, 2019

You're well aware that taking the time to pack your gifts before sending them to loved ones is important—but even good intentions can lead to fragile items ending up broken in transit. And since the average American sends upwards of six packages in November and December, according to a 2018 FedEx survey, discovering the best way to protect your gifts while in transit is time well spent. Speaking with representatives from leading mail carriers, including the United States Postal Service and FedEx, we asked them for the answer to the question that's on everyone's mind during the holidays: What's the best way to pack and ship the items you've so painstakingly crafted as holiday gifts this year?

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Related: When to Mail All of Your Holiday Gifts So They Arrive on Time, According to Officials

How to Pack Fragile Items

As anyone will tell you, shipping items on time doesn't always mean that things will go smoothly. Maybe you're shipping a hand-knit sweater that's made of angora wool yarn, an edible treat that is sensitive to high temperatures, or a delicate liquid that requires extra shipping time. All of these items are examples of things that must be packaged carefully to reach its destination without suffering a tragic end while in transit.

According to Kim Frum, a senior public relations representative for USPS, the most important tip is to pack your fragile item appropriately—and that starts with the box. While reusing a shipping box is perfectly acceptable for softer, non-breakable items like clothing, you want to use a durable box to protect handmade items. Start by layering the bottom of your box with soft, absorbent tissue paper or shredded materials; then, if possible, bubble-wrap your item before wrapping it in a layer of tissue paper. If the gift is hollow (like a vase or bowl), then you'll want to stuff extra packing material inside the box to keep the item supported. Be sure to place the item inside the right-sized box; you don't want the box to be too small as it could rip open during transit, but too-large boxes may also collapse or continually shift the contents inside.

Believe it or not, asking for a simple "fragile" stamp on your package will help postage handlers quickly identify that it may need an extra set of hands, or be packed delicately into a truck or air cargo hold. If you're sending an item through a nearby post office, the USPS has published a collection of useful how-to videos, including best practices on packing fragile items

FedEx Office professionals often pack fragile office trinkets and awards, which can be oddly shaped; they recommend padding these kinds of nonlinear items with at least 1-inch of bubble wrap around its base, according to Rae Lyn Rushing, a communications advisor for FedEx. In addition to the tips above, you should also reinforce the lid of your box by sealing all flaps and seams with packing tape in the shape of an "H" on the box's lid. You'll want to make sure to print out a typed label for your package that has been covered with tape; handwritten labels can smudge in bad weather, especially if it's not covered. While postage officers will often place a "fragile" tag on your package (and in the system's tracking for workers' insight), you can also use a black magic marker to cover every side of your box with the warning. Lastly, both FedEx and UPS offer packing services for customers who may need the assistance—and in some cases, they guarantee the package will arrive safely with extra complimentary insurance.

Related: DIY Holiday Food Gifts for Everyone on Your List

How to Pack Liquids and Heat-Sensitive Items

Believe it or not, you can send most anything in the mail domestically. But there are special rules and regulations for many of these special items, including perishable items. If you've baked a holiday pie and wish to mail it off as a Christmas gift, you can do so, but postal officials expect you to select a speed of delivery that will ensure it doesn't spoil (and disrupt mail flow) while it's in transit. It seems that perishable items, including any non-shelf-stable food items, are sent at the owner's risk, too, meaning forms of postal insurance associated with Priority and First-Class mail may not apply. 

Try to pack food items as tightly as possible. If you're sending a shareable treat like fudge, brownies, or cookies, try wrapping individual servings in wax paper, then inside plastic sleeves. This gives you more opportunities to surround the goods with packing materials to keep them as stationary as possible. If you sent a dozen cookies inside a sealed plastic container, for example, they would probably end up a pile of crumbs and bits due to the movement of transportation. Homemade food of any kind cannot be sent internationally, but if you're sending a dish from one end of the country to the next, then you may wish to use dry ice to keep it cool. The USPS permits you to use dry ice as long as you place it in a box that allows the gas to slowly release (otherwise, that package may turn combustible). Rushing tells us that perishable and heat-sensitive gifts should be sent overnight, as this ensures minimal risk of spoilage overall.

Many forms of liquid—from soaps to perfume and nail polish—can be shipped via ground transportation. However, anything flammable won't be allowed in postal cargo on planes and can't be shipped internationally. FedEx officials say that liquids should be stored in plastic containers, if possible, as this prevents breakage; using three inches of bubble wrap around the item should provide enough cushion and support. Both UPS and FedEx officials will help you pack a liquid properly and complete any special paperwork if the gift has certain restrictions; the same applies to perishable food items. 

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