Using Packing Foam to Protect Valuables

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You can use packing foam to protect your most prized and delicate possessions when you move. When done properly, the foam perfectly molds itself to whatever it is that you’re protecting to provide the maximum amount of protection. I’m going to walk you through the process that I use to get you up to speed more quickly. I’m also going to tell you how I use balloons to protect my valuables.

Where to Find Packing Foam

Real packing foam is expensive and usually only sold to companies. However, it is the most efficient and effective because it expands more and has more air cavities to provide cushion to your valuables. I pick up spray foam from Lowes or Home Depot. While I’m there I pick up some light plastic sheeting as well. Although, they’re not absolutely necessary, boxes of various sizes are also helpful.

Step 1: Build a Frame for the Mold

You can use books or whatever for this, but I’ve found that boxes work the best. Either way, you’re going to need something with weight to keep the frame closed as the foam cures. If the frame doesn’t stay relatively tight, the foam will leak through and your packing foam becomes useless. The ideal is for the frame to have just enough expansion to keep the foam from being too tight while not allowing the object to bounce around. If you’re using a cardboard box, tape the bottom closed.

Step 2: Line the Frame with Plastic

Once the frame is built, line the bottom of it with the light plastic sheeting you bought. Cut a piece that is big enough to reach the top of the frame when tucked into the corners of the frame. This allows you to use the frame more than once. Once the foam has cured sufficiently to retain its shape, you can remove it from the frame and start packing other objects.

Step 3: Lay Down the Bottom Layer of Foam

This can be a delicate process. You want enough foam on the bottom to cushion the objects, but you also want to leave enough room for foam on top to protect the objects. Read the instructions carefully to see what the expansion rate of the foam is. Keep in mind that this can be affected by the temperature and humidity throughout the curing process.

You can also use compressed air and a large straw to add air to the foam about a quarter of the way into the curing process to provide more cushion for extremely delicate objects. It’s best to use a larger straw or tube and have some sort of filter at the bottom to make a large amount of smaller bubbles rather that a small number of large bubbles which can collapse, possibly allowing your valuables to be damaged. Meter the amount of air to keep the foam from bubbling violently.

Step 4: Place the Objects in the Lower Layer

The first part of this step is to cut another piece of plastic big enough to tuck into the corners and have a little hanging over the frame. Place the object- let’s say Grandma’s fine crystal goblets, into the lower layer firmly, causing the foam to mold to its shape. Press it in about halfway.

If the box is big enough and you want to pack a few items together, repeat the process, evenly spacing the objects in the foam. When you’re finished, lay another layer of plastic down.

Step 5: Lay Down the Top Layer of Packing Foam

Shake the can of foam up again and lay down the top layer over the objects. Remember to keep in mind the size of your frame or box and the expansion rate of the foam. While not overly expensive, it’s also not cheap.

Again, you can enhance the protection given by introducing lots of small bubbles into the foam once it’s about a quarter of the way cured. As you carefully meter the speed and volume of air keep the tube or straw moving at a steady rate through the foam in an irregular pattern, making sure to cover the whole volume of foam.

Step 6: Close the Frame and Allow the Foam to Cure Completely

Besides getting the amount of foam just right, this is the most important part of the whole process. If the frame isn’t allowed to expand, Grandma’s crystal might get crushed, while if it expands too much, it’ll collapse and you’ll have to start over. It’s much easier with boxes or nailed together wooden crates, but, if you’re careful, just about anything will work just fine.

Since the foam normally doesn’t need air to cure, you can lay a big piece of plastic on the floor or work surface under the frame and close it up suing tape. Once the foam cures, open it up so you can verify the integrity of the packaging. If needed, you can use popcorn or balloons to fill any gaps.

One Final Tip

This is actually three tips. First, if possible, go through this process with objects that are a little more durable than Grandma’s heirloom crystal. If you use a little too much foam while packing a solid glass sculpture, all that’ll happen is the frame will bulge, but it can crush delicate crystal.

As added protection for stuff like fine crystal, I use balloons. Stick a balloon into the glass and blow it up enough to provide structure to the glass but not enough to break it. This is just another layer of protection in case a little too much foam is used. You can also make the process of packing lots of objects go faster by building more frames.

Let me know how it goes for you in the comments below.

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