IBC Tote Frequently Asked Questions

Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) come in various options when it comes to their engineering and total specifications. IBCs can differ in the manufacturing material of the IBC’s tank, fittings, or gaskets; the tank’s volume capacity; size dimension measurements; and the IBC container’s permit certifications for handling and transporting certain materials. IBCTanks.com — the IBC tote authority — has compiled for review some of our most frequently asked questions concerning IBC totes.

A rigid Intermediate Bulk Container, (also referred to as IBC, IBC Tote, IBC Tank, and simply Tote), is a UN/DOT permitted shipping container manufactured to specified gallon volumes, dimensions, base footprint, maneuverability, pressure-relief, and engineering standards for design and material options. Common IBC tank volume capacities are 110 gallons up to 550 gallons while maintaining UN/DOT approval for the handling and freight transport of potentially hazardous materials belonging to Packing Group II and III, as defined within the HMR (Hazardous Materials Regulation), OSHA, and U.S. DOT federal regulations.

Rigid intermediate bulk containers are approved for fabrication from select materials utilized according to CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) standards. These materials must meet and pass selective design criteria permitting the material for use in an IBC shipping container, especially IBCs designated for high purity applications as consumables, pharmaceutical ingredients, and high corrosives and caustics.

CFR Title 49 code standards approve the construction of:

  • Rigid plastic IBCs of polyethylene, typically high-density polyethylene (HDPE), often fabricated with rotational-mold methods and technology
  • Composite IBC totes of a rigid metal cage (often galvanized steel) containing an inner HDPE liner fabricated through plastic blow-molding methods
  • Metal IBCs of carbon steel, stainless steel construction that must meet specific engineering criteria for tank thickness and metal durability

*Note: we have specified our IBC totes as rigid intermediate bulk containers as Title 49 CFR codes approve the design and construction of other IBC types fabricated for different uses; and they are: flexible, fiberboard, and wooden IBC containers.

IBC Examples
IBC Specs
  • 110 to 793 Gallon Volumes
  • $180 to $3,000 USD Price Range
  • Composite, Rigid Plastic, Metal IBCs
  • HDPE, Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel
  • Manufactured, Tested per Title 49 CFR

The most common IBC container size (volume, capacity) across model types are the 275 gallon and 330 gallon sized IBCs. This capacity value is often chosen due to the IBC’s volume equivalence with 55 gallon drum-pallet volumes, selected as replacement options for logistic streams and for integration within applications and production operations.

For logistics, product handling, and delivery, reducing 1.5 pallets of six 55 gallon drums to a single 330 gallon IBC that occupies 1.0 pallets, can effectively:

  • Reduce load times (both containers and trucks)
  • Increase shipping efficiency (use less truck space with IBC one-pallet-footprint and stacking ability)
  • Increase worker efficiency (one IBC is filled vs. six drums; no drum-pallet loading)
  • Speed up product delivery (IBCs feature quick disconnect discharge valves)
  • Integrate into production lines (IBCs are stackable, pump/hose compatible, and have multi-directional access)
  • Increase container longevity and service-life (IBC construction and materials tend are durable and long lasting)

Intermediate bulk containers have an average size across models of 45”L x 45”W x 50”H. Metal IBC containers have base dimensions: 48”L x 42”W. Another common IBC base size is: 46”L x 46”W.

  • Chemical Process Industries: Chemical manufacture, by-product handling • Paper, pulp, whitening chemicals • Electroplating, waste • Fertilizer, agricultural chemicals • Textiles • Electronics, semiconductors
  • Industrial Processing: Manufacturing supplies • Process ingredients, chemicals, gases, solvents • Oils, greases, lubricants, hydraulic fluids • Fuels, diesel, natural, bio • Production wastes
  • Energy Sector and Power Generation: Resources, base materials, minerals, fluids • Process intermediates, products, wastes • Resource acquisition chemicals
  • Food and Beverage: Water, potable, bottled, pure, ultrapure • Food ingredients, intermediates • Wine, spirits • Dyes, flavors, fragrances, additives
  • High Purity Applications: Pharmaceuticals, intermediates, ingredients • Biotechnology • Chemical manufacturing • Health care solutions, materials, wastes
  • Water and Waste Water: Treating water and waste water, chemicals, minerals • Aquaculture, hydroponics, hatcheries, farming • Rainwater, harvesting, storage
  • Agriculture: Water, irrigation, provision • Fertigation, fertilization • Crop performance, pesticides, herbicides • Greenhouses, nurseries, farms, orchards, groves, vineyards
  • Construction: Road/Highway work, paint striping, water, chemicals • Deliverance, transportation, repetitive movement/relocation • Painting, cleaning

The following are some common advantages and/or benefits to IBC container use and integration:

  • Consistent product packaging
  • Reliable product containerization
  • Promote payload security
  • Promote product distribution
  • Hands-free discharge/transfer
  • Ensure sanitary product transfer
  • Eliminate container spills, product loss
  • Increase logistic handling, mobility
  • Large volume tank, highly relocatable
  • Easy to transport, maneuver
  • Multi-directional movement access
  • Limit contamination concerns
  • Limit cross-contamination concerns
  • Food grade storage, safety
  • Restricts pollutant infiltration
  • Space-saving cubical engineering
  • Volume maximizing design
  • Large capacity range
  • Standardized dimensions
  • Increased product safety
  • Application versatility
  • Long service potential
  • Reusable, cleanable, recyclable
  • Excellent cost-to-service life ratio
  • Integration within process streams
  • Improve logistic efficiency
  • International use, standards, regulations
  • International dimensions, acceptance
  • Improve handling timeliness
  • Reduce bottlenecks, delays
  • Reduce filling/dispensing times
  • Increase worker efficiency
  • Reduce operation costs

Specific gravity is the measure of a fluid’s density when compared to a reference fluid, usually water (often abbreviated: SG). All IBC design types, excluding Excalibur IBCs, are manufactured of materials and rated to tank thicknesses to support fluids up to 1.9 specific gravity. Excalibur IBC totes provide a 1.35 specific gravity model. In transport, storage, and handling containers, a tank’s SG rating is often related to total strength, especially containers designed for harsh chemicals, such as IBCs. Higher tank specific gravity ratings generally indicates a stronger container that is more resistant to chemicals, impacts, as well as weight pressures and constraints.

We are often asked if IBC containers need depressurization prior to unloading, with the question arising due to the IBC’s exposure to elevated temperatures and fluctuations experienced during transport. The answer is no, and this question also applies to general IBC operational handling, integration, loading, in addition to unloading.

Intermediate bulk containers have been engineered with vented inlet caps, vent bungs, or both. Standard IBC vacuum vents are designed to automatically operate when the holding tank’s internal pressure reaches a specific force, 0.25 psig (1.72 kPa), effectively moderating IBC containers’ internal pressure beneath safe handling levels.

Prior to regulated shipping of authorized materials, IBCs must be certified and permitted according to the requirements for IBC standards of the U.S. DOT, OSHA, HMR, and Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR, Subs. B, Ch. 1, Pt. 178). These guidelines place specifications on the IBC material and design, enforcing certain engineering standards that the IBC model must meet through actual product testing prior to distribution for use. IBCs will be tested and labeled for use according to the UN/DOT permitting that is appropriate for the IBC’s designated use (liquids, solids), IBC construction material, and particular design. Some common IBC permit label meanings include:

  • UN 31 for liquids;
  • UN 21 for solids, discharged via pressure;
  • UN 11 for solids, discharged via gravity;
  • UN HA for composite plastic and metal IBCs;
  • UN H/Y for rigid plastic IBCs permitted for shipping PG II and PG III;
  • UN 31A for metal steel IBCs labeled for liquid handling;
  • UN H1 for rigid plastic IBCs with structural equipment for load support when stacked;
  • UN H2 for freestanding rigid plastic IBCs;

Prior to release for use, all IBCTanks.com IBC totes must undergo and pass the following design qualification testing: (1) Hydrostatic Pressure; (2) Drop; (3) Leakproofness; (4) Stacking; (5) Bottom Lift and/or Top Lift, and; (6) Vibration tests.

  1. Hydrostatic Pressure Test: IBC container vents are plugged or replaced with non-venting devices and stressed with an amount of hydrostatic pressure that varyies with IBC type and intended cargo; Metal, rigid, and composite IBCs are often subject to pressure tests of at least 14.5 psig (100 kPa), with metal potentially of at least 36 psig (248 kPa); Test ensures IBC integrity against hazardous cargo expulsion. This test can be very dependent on IBC model and designated cargo, hazards, and vapor pressures, always verify IBC type with coded regulations.
  2. Drop Test: Container is filled to near max capacity, stored to -18°C (0°F), effectively freezing IBC and contents, placing the IBC thermoplastic in stress, which is then dropped from approx. 6ft. with impact on the IBC base’s most vulnerable part, often the discharge valve; Test conditions an IBC’s resistance against potential work environment falls.
  3. Leakproofness Test: IBC is closed, vents are sealed or non-vented, and air pressure is applied of no less than 2.9 psig (20kPa) while IBC seams are coated in a leak-detecting solution, with soap and water or heavy oil being common methods; Test ensures IBC tote’s seams, connections, potential weak-points, are secure with no air leakage.
  4. Stacking Test: Often performed one of two ways. IBC tote is filled to its max gross mass rating and submitted to either one or more of the same IBCs filled to max mass being stacked on top of for 5 minutes, or stacked on by a *superimposed test load. *From the CFR for all IBCs: “Calculation of superimposed test load. For all IBCs, the load to be placed on the IBC must be 1.8 times the combined maximum permissible gross mass of the number of similar IBCs that may be stacked on top of the IBC during transportation.”
  5. Bottom Lift Test: IBC is filled to 1.25 times its max permitted gross mass rating and lifted from all angles; Test ensures container maintains its integrity through use without deformation. Top Lift Test: IBCs with top lift capabilities are filled to 2.0 times its max gross mass rating and then lifted and held for five minutes at various orientations to induce container stress; Test ensures IBC will maintain its structural integrity.
  6. Vibration Test: IBC container is filled as if for transit and subjected to specific frequency vibration via a platform designed for the process;  Test ensures tote will not experience any rupturing or leaks during transport due to the container stress endured in transit.

Do not be led by company sales pitches into thinking that their IBC products are somehow superior due to passing these design tests. All UN/DOT approved IBCs listed and certified for sale have received and passed these engineering tests, effectively certifying the IBC container’s strength and durability for use with designated PGII/III hazardous, non-hazardous, IBC-compatible cargo. Additionally, all in-service IBC totes must be retested and pass UN/DOT re-certification tests every 2.5 years in order to maintain the IBC’s shipping permits.

Differences in IBC tote performance abilities depends on the tote manufacturer’s method, technology, equipment, and largely on engineering understanding, application, and experience. IBCTanks.com offers IBC totes fabricated from manufacturers that have extensive container-engineering knowledge and reputation within the field.

CFR §178.803 | Testing and Certification of IBCs.

The following is an excerpt from the CFR Title 49: Tests required for the certification of each IBC design type are specified in the following table. The letter X indicates that one IBC (except where noted) of each design type must be subjected to the tests in the order presented:

Performance test IBC type
Metal IBCs Rigid plastic IBCs Composite IBCs Fiber-board IBCs Wooden IBCs Flexible IBCs
Vibration 6 X 6 X 6 X 6 X 6 X 1.5 X
Bottom lift 2 X X X X X
Top lift 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 5 X
Stacking 7 X 7 X 7 X 7 X 7 X 5 X
Leakproofness 3 X 3 X 3 X
Hydrostatic 3 X 3 X 3 X
Drop 4 X 4 X 4 X 4 X 4 X 5 X
Topple 5 X
Righting 2 5 X
Tear 5 X

1Flexible IBCs must be capable of withstanding the vibration test.

2This test must be performed only if IBCs are designed to be handled this way. For metal IBCs, at least one of the bottom lift or top lift tests must be performed.

3The leakproofness and hydrostatic pressure tests are required only for IBCs intended to contain liquids or intended to contain solids loaded or discharged under pressure.

4Another IBC of the same design type may be used for the drop test set forth in §178.810 of this subchapter.

5Another different flexible IBC of the same design type may be used for each test.

6The vibration test may be performed in another order for IBCs manufactured and tested under provisions of an exemption before October 1, 1994 and for non-DOT specification portable tanks tested before October 1, 1994, intended for export.

7This test must be performed only if the IBC is designed to be stacked.

Per CFR guidelines, the IBC stacking test load for specific IBC design types will be listed:

  1. On UN/DOT labels immediately after the manufacturer’s information and before the total maximum permissible gross mass

Note this value is given in kilogram (kg) units; to convert to U.S. weight in pounds (lbs), multiply the UN/DOT label value by 2.2; Example: IBC Stacking Test Load – 4462 kg x 2.2 kg/lbs = 9,816 lbs

Per CFR guidelines, the maximum permissible gross mass for specific IBC design types will be listed:

  1. On UN/DOT labels immediately after the specified stacking test load and before the total volume capacity

Note this value is given in kilogram (kg) units; to convert to U.S. weight in pounds (lbs), multiply the UN/DOT label value by 2.2; Example: IBC Max Gross Mass – 938 kg x 2.2 kg/lbs = 2,064 lbs

Per CFR guidelines, the tare weight for specific IBC design types will be listed:

  1. On UN/DOT labels immediately after the total volume capacity and before the rated gauge test pressure

Note this value is given in kilogram (kg) units; to convert to U.S. weight in pounds (lbs), multiply the UN/DOT label value by 2.2; Example: IBC Stacking Test Load – 74 kg x 2.2 kg/lbs = 163 lbs

Every 30 months (2.5 yrs) of service—with current regulations. IBC containers must be retested for updating UN/DOT shipping labels every 2.5 years before certification for continued operation.

Highly dependent on the IBC’s use and the IBC’s ability to pass regular, DOT-shipping inspections approving it for continued use. Poly caged totes have seen greater than 7 years successful service within select fields. Rigid HDPE IBCs have seen over 10 years of service. Carbon and stainless steel IBC tanks have seen over 20 years of work life. Stress conditions of heat, high corrosives/caustics, semi-compatible materials, sustained pressure, extreme weather exposure can potentially contribute to accelerating an IBC’s service life.

IBC engineering intends for high density polyethylene totes to be reused, but the extent of the capability is highly dependent on the IBC design type, cargo, and work use scenario. All IBCs should be inspected prior to fill/use to ensure tank integrity and structural soundness, especially in IBC reuse situations. When reusing intermediate bulk containers, reuse with the same material is often best for tank longevity.

Conditions favoring polyethylene IBC container reuse include the transit and handling of inert, non-hazardous commodities that otherwise are not expected to react with HDPE. Examples of such materials are: water, sand and similar earthen minerals, ionic salt compounds, granulated plastic materials, agricultural products, grains, seeds, food and beverage industry ingredients, as well as a multitude of various compatible chemicals and solutions. Additionally, limiting the amount of work-stress the IBC container is subject too will also contribute to IBC reusability due to sustained tank integrity. Example conditions include extreme hot/cold temperature fluctuations, use within strong pressure systems, lack of proper tank maintenance or handling, work environment exposure to incompatible materials, and sustained physical impacts.

Other materials, IBC cargo, and work requirements may warrant a more selective approach to IBC reuse. More detailed pre-fill/use inspections are also recommended. Commodities that chemically attack or with reactivity for high density polyethylene or IBC fitting materials should be scaled based on its incompatibility for whether the material is acceptable for reuse within the poly IBC tote, with some potential examples including: strong acids and bases (alkalis), organic solvents, oxidizers, alcohols, petroleum products, oils, and waste products. The number of times the IBC has been reused, as well as conditions of temperature and pressure, can greatly affect the reactivity between the cargo and IBC tank wall.

These recommendations are made in general for IBC reuse within the handling and transport of commodities. Whenever considering an IBC container for reuse applications, always consider the IBC’s prior service record, work conditions, and the very specific compatibility characteristics between the IBC’s manufacturing material and the IBC’s cargo.

Yes, all IBC tote plastic and metal steel materials are acceptable for recycling based on select cleanliness standards. Plastic IBCs are made from high-density polyethylene, HDPE, a thermoplastic, which, as such, can be broken down, melted, and reused. Metal IBC tanks—carbon and stainless steel—are iron-based alloy containers that similarly can be melted down for reuse.

Yes, rigid plastic IBC containers can be cleaned. A dilute bleach (sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl) and water solution is recommended for the cleaning of the IBC interior after handling inert commodities such as sand, food ingredients, granules, water or mild chemicals that will not hazardously react with bleach or be insoluble due to non-polar or hydrophobic characteristics. Never clean a polyethylene IBC with a chemical that indicates incompatibility with high density polyethylene (HDPE) as cleaning with such chemicals would potentially cause chemical attack, tank surface damage, and eventual side-wall weakening/instability.

The short answer to this: abide by applicable NFPA fire codes and recommendations and OSHA guidelines for the storage, handling, and use of Class I, II, and III flammable/combustible materials within IBC containers. Given proper IBC handling, certain totes are approved for use with specific classes of flammable materials without experiencing an increased fire risk. General compatibility between the flammable commodity and the IBC material should always be verified.

Answer detail:

  • Metal IBC tanks–carbon and stainless steel–are the only IBC material approved for Class I flammable materials with a closed cup flash point < 100°F and that carry UL 142 certifications for above-ground flammable fuel storage
  • Metal, rigid plastic, and composite poly IBCs are approved for compatible Class II and Class III materials with closed cup flash points > 100°F and with proper IBC labeling and listing for the stored material

IBC Tanks is a leading industry authority concerning intermediate bulk containers; we have more than 25 years experience within storage, handling and transport IBC containers that are suited and used for chemicals, water, food ingredients, solvents, oils, and greases, for a few examples. The IBC totes we offer are fabricated from manufacturers with decades of experience in plastic and metal-working construction of intermediate bulk containers.

Our IBC tanks are manufactured from either Snyder Industries or TranStore Custom MetalCraft, who have a collective of almost 100 years industry experience and knowledge insight. Synder Industries  has over 55 years’ of providing and engineering top-quality products. TranStore provides over 40 years’ of knowledge and manufacturing know-how.

Additional Resources

[ IBC Specifications, Costs, Sizes, and Dimensions ]

IBC sizes range from 110 to 550 gallons, with 275 and 330 being the most common. Dimensions are internationally standardized to roughly 45″L x 45″W. They are engineered for forklift, pallet jack stacking, handling. IBC specifications support logistic scaling and supply of liquid to solid materials. [ More…. ]

[ Choosing an IBC Tank ]

Choosing the right IBC container for the job involves considering: (1) Tank total volume capacity; (2) Tank material compatibility; (3) Work environment compatibility; (4) Work-use scenario compatibility, and; (5) Any potential design requirements; e.g. large manway inlet, lifting lugs, gasket materials, IBC color, logo, design, etc [ More…. ]

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