container cleaning fee

What Is a Container Cleaning Fee?

Shipping containers are used for almost all types of cargo, from perishable goods and electronics to clothing and machinery. Therefore, carriers need to ensure that their containers are clean and in good condition before making them available to their customers.

A container cleaning fee is charged by shipping lines to consignees for cleaning a container after it has been imported and returned to the container depot. This ensures that carriers are able to offset the costs of having them cleaned so that the next shipper is able to utilize them. 

As carriers are not able to fully assess the cargo that is shipped, containers need to be cleaned after every use. Every container is carefully inspected for assessing its need to be cleaned.

This article aims to explain the concept of the container cleaning fee and focus on information about who this charge is billed to, where the respective containers are cleaned, how much it costs and how to potentially avoid these fees. 

How Much Is the Container Cleaning Fee?

It’s ultimately up to the shipping line to decide how much they charge for cleaning the container after it has been returned. Usually, they consider the condition of the container, as well as the location. 

Keeping that in mind, carriers typically charge a container cleaning fee of about $20 – $50 per container or Twenty-Foot-Equivalent Unit (TEU). Certain carriers also charge a higher cleaning fee for reefer containers compared to general purpose containers.

Who Pays For the Container Cleaning Fee?

Container cleaning fees are mostly part of the destination charges and billed to the consignee, who is typically the importer. The reason why container cleaning fees are part of destination charges is because the physical cleaning takes place at the destination, where the consignee is based. 

Where are Containers Cleaned?

Containers are cleaned in the carrier’s designated container depot, where the empty shipping containers are received after they have been unloaded and returned by the consignee. 

The depot’s operations team is entrusted to do a full check on each container’s condition. According to the assessment of the container, it’s then cleaned and repaired.  

Once the cleaning process is completed and the container is dried, an Equipment Interchange Receipt (EIR) or Container Release Order is prepared, certifying that the container is clean, in seaworthy condition and ready to be used again for export.

Who is Responsible for Checking the Cleanliness of a Container?

The first point of checking a container’s cleanliness is the trucker who picks up the empty container at the carrier’s depot. The appointed trucker is often requested to do a basic cleanliness and condition check before it’s delivered to the loading site at the shipper’s premises. 

The second and more thorough point of checking happens at the shipper’s premise, when the container is received. A quality assurance (QA) team is often tasked to evaluate the container cleanliness, spot for any signs of odor or damages, measure moisture levels and assess various other parameters. 

What Happens When an Empty Container Doesn’t Arrive Clean?

When a shipper places a booking with a carrier or shipping line, they are required to provide them with an empty container that is in good condition and seaworthy – this also means that it’s fit for loading and has been thoroughly cleaned. 

Depending on the type of commodity that a shipper is exporting, empty containers are thoroughly checked for cleanliness and damages. Some shippers even have their own container inspection and loading procedures that are carried out by a quality assurance team. 

If the shipper deems the empty shipping container to be in an unacceptable condition, it can request the carrier to exchange the container for a clean and seaworthy one. 

In the event this happens, the shipper will provide evidence of why the container has been rejected. Subsequently, the carrier is usually required to make a replacement container available to the shipper. 

Depending on the agreement between the carrier and shipper, the carrier may need to absorb the additional transportation costs that arise from the container replacement process.