Bulk Transportation: Liquid Freight

05/23/2022 by Christine Morris

Bulk Transportation: Liquid Freight

If you’re a large-scale manufacturer, getting liquid freight transported in bulk is a non-negotiable complexity. Bulk transportation, especially liquid freight, has its challenges and may seem daunting. But, with the right information and provider, it doesn’t have to be. So, whether you’re new to bulk transportation for your liquid freight or a seasoned vet, this article breaks it all down so you can safely and efficiently have your liquid bulk product transported.

What Is A Bulk Product?

What Kinds Of Bulk Liquid Products Are There?

What Is Bulk Transportation For Liquid Freight?

Complexities Of Bulk Transportation For Liquid Freight

What Can Go Wrong With Shipping Bulk Liquid Freight?

What Kind Of Equipment Is Needed For Bulk Liquid Transportation?

How Do You Transport Bulk Liquids?

Bulk Transportation: Liquid Freight Regulations


Before we dive into bulk liquid freight, let’s go over what bulk products are. The term “bulk” is used in transportation to describe goods that are not in containers and loose, transported in mass quantities or volumes. Bulk products are usually packed in one large container to be moved, such as a tanker trailer. Bulk products are often not intended for general consumers but are useful to manufacturers. Examples of bulk products are raw materials, ingredients for food manufacturing, materials for landscaping, gravel, dried beans, oil, or grains.

Another term to be aware of when working with bulk products is “break bulk”. Breakbulk is when a bulk shipment is broken down into smaller containers. This is important to know because bulk shipments are handled as loose goods whereas breakbulk shipments are loaded individually in some sort of container. Therefore, when you have a product to ship, it’s very important to properly communicate whether your shipment is bulk or breakbulk.


There are many sorts of liquid products that ship via bulk transportation. These types of liquids are often used in manufacturing, food processing, agriculture, and more. Some examples of bulk liquid freight are:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Alcohol
  • Milk
  • Juice
  • Syrup
  • Sugar alcohols
  • Vinegar
  • Essential oils
  • Mineral oils
  • Artificial colors or dyes
  • Chemicals
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Sulphuric acid
    • Nitric acid
    • Mining chemicals
    • Solvents
    • resins
  • All types of water


Bulk transportation for liquid freight involves using a tanker trailer instead of smaller drums or tanks. Bulk liquid transportation usually refers to the act of moving liquid freight by truck over long distances.


Bulk liquid freight, especially when it’s hazardous, can carry more risk than other types of freight. For example, an accident involving a tanker truck can cause the shutdown of roadways, manufacturing production lines, and ultimately, the loss of raw material needed for many products.

The first complexity of bulk liquid freight is the way it’s packaged and stored. Unlike other freight, it’s not packaged in totes or smaller containers. Instead, bulk liquid freight is stored and transported in large containers and tankers, and because of their liquid state, they can slosh around and spill.

Since bulk liquid freight shipments transport differently than dry van shipments, you’ll find complexity in its logistics like:

Longer Lead Times

Tanker transportation is considered more of a specialty compared to dry vans, so you’ll notice fewer tankers available. This can make finding an available tanker longer to find.

Higher Rates

Being a specialty type of transportation, it’s easy to see why rates will be higher for this type of shipping. First, carriers pay more for this kind of special equipment. On average a tanker trailer can cost $100,000 to $125,000 compared to the cost of a dry van around $35,000 to $40,000.

Also, your shipping costs will include deadhead miles every time as each delivery requires a trip to wash the tanker. And unlike other types of transportation, you’ll have the same rate regardless of how full the tanker trailer is since different liquid freight cannot be combined for motor carriers to create a “full tank load” shipment.

Different Driver Requirments

No matter the product, tanker drivers are required to have a tanker endorsement, and if the liquid freight is hazardous, they’ll also be required to have a hazmat certification as well.

More Insurance

Carriers hauling hazardous liquid freight in bulk must carry a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance.


A lot can go wrong when shipping bulk liquids, so working with an experienced provider is very important. Drivers must be extra careful when pulling a bulk tanker trailer of liquid freight. Just as you must be careful when carrying a glass of water, liquid freight in a bulk tanker sloshes around with movement. If a driver brakes too hard or turns too fast, the weight of the liquid freight can surge to one side and topple the trailer. And if the freight is hazardous, then massive environmental damage can also happen.

Outside of concerns about a toppled trailer, drivers must be mindful of other issues. For example, what happens when you shake or stir liquid? It agitates and causes foam. This also happens with liquid freight during bulk transport. While foam can be annoying when later unloading the trailer, at worst, too much aeration can ruin a shipment depending on the kind of liquid.

Another thing that can go wrong when transporting liquid freight is contamination. Therefore, tank washing is a requirement for every shipment. If a tank isn’t properly cleaned before the next shipment is loaded, residue from the previous shipment can contaminate it.

Lastly, leaky tanks are another serious issue with bulk liquid shipping. If a leak goes unnoticed, even a small one, a significant amount of product can be lost during transport.


Bulk liquid freight cannot be transported without the proper equipment. Most often, a bulk tanker trailer is needed to haul liquid freight. A bulk tanker is a large, cylindrical metal tank pulled by a standard freight truck.

But there are several different kinds of tankers that can be used for the bulk transportation of liquid freight. For example, there are tankers designed to keep a product’s temperature regulated or tankers with hoppers on the bottom to make unloading easier. In addition, some tankers include pressurized tanks or acid-resistant tanks. Which type of tanker you’ll need is determined by the liquid freight you need to transport.

Some questions to ask yourself, or that your provider may ask of you, to determine what kind of equipment is needed are:

  • What bulk liquid do you intend to transport?
  • Is the freight hazmat?
  • Is the freight temperature sensitive?
  • What volume are you transporting?
  • From what kind of container(s) will you be loading it?
  • Can the loading facility accept a center or rear unload trailer?
  • Does the tanker truck need special connectors?
  • Is a pump or compressor required for unloading?
  • Can the customer accept air compressor offload?
  • At what pressure can the tanker unload?
  • Does the product need a rubber-lined trailer?
  • Are there any prior content restrictions we need to be aware of?
  • Will you need a dropped trailer?
  • Do you need any extra hoses for loading or unloading?
  • What are the pre and post-wash requirements?

Types of Tanker Trailers for Liquid Freight

Tanker trailers can be categorized into two categories, depending on the content they transport or their structures.

Tankers by Structure

General Purpose Tanker

These tankers are used to transport bulk liquid freight that doesn’t require special care or procedures. They are usually made of steel.

General Purpose w/ Heat Coils

These tankers are the same except for the addition of heat coils to help raise or maintain the temperature of the product.

Pneumatic Tanker

These tankers have a series of hoppers on their underbellies to help with unloading. Although pneumatic tank trailers are mostly used to transport dry bulk freight. They are also effective for liquid bulk.

Vacuum Tanker

This is simply a tanker with a pump to help load bulk liquid from underground or any other location into the tank. These tankers are most used to transport septage, industrial liquids, sewage, or animal waste.

Rubber Lined Tanker

These tankers are commonly used to transport corrosive chemicals.

Aluminum Tanker

These lightweight tankers can carry more volumes before reaching their weight limit and have lower operating costs. They are typically used to transport petroleum and petrochemicals.

Compartmentalized Tanker

These tankers have compartments built into them that allow tanker carriers to ship different chemicals.

Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic Tanker

These tankers are most used for food-grade bulk liquids, corrosive chemicals, and other hazardous liquid freight.

ISO Tankers

These tankers are built according to the standards of the International Standard Organization (ISO) for the shipping of most bulk liquid freight.

Tankers by Liquid Content


These carry gasoline, fuel, oil, or propane. Most often these tankers are required to carry a hazmat certification, also making this a more dangerous job.

Food Grade

These tankers carry liquid freight like water, milk, or juice. These tankers can be equipped with heating or cooling systems for temperature control.


These are used to transport many types of industrial chemicals. Some are designed to carry corrosive chemicals.

But Wait, There’s More…

Before we move on to the next section, two things you might want to know about are baffles and tanker weight limits.


What are baffles? Remember when we spoke on liquid agitation earlier? That’s where baffles come in. Most tankers have baffles on the inside to help reduce the movement of the liquid. They act as different chambers to help divide the liquid up into smaller compartments, so the entire weight of the liquid is prevented from surging up against the side of the tank.

Tanker Weight Limits

Tankers are not limited by the amount of liquid they can contain, but by their weight. The U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that the maximum weight limit for trucks on public roads cannot exceed 80,000 pounds. So, if the liquid you need to transport is dense, like syrup or paint, you might not be able to fill an entire tanker truck. This is essential to keep in mind when arranging your bulk liquid shipments.


Now that we know what kinds of equipment are used in transporting bulk liquid freight, let’s talk loading and unloading. These proper handling procedures ensure your liquid freight is transported safely.

Loading and Unloading

Before loading, the carrier must have the tanker cleaned so that it is without any residue or odor. The only time a tank washing may not be required is if the tanker is transporting the exact type of chemical it most recently unloaded.

They must also thoroughly inspect that nothing is out of place and there are no leaks. If there is any concern, the entire tank can be filled with water to test for leaks. Not only is a leaking tank inconvenient and expensive, but it’s also illegal.

There are two major methods for loading and unloading liquid freight from a bulk tanker: compressors and pumps. Pumps suck the liquid out of the tank while air compressors rely on pressure to force liquid out. It’s important to know that you cannot use air compressors for any flammable liquids as static electricity could build up and cause a spark.

Fun fact: When you unload a tanker of liquid freight using a pump, you must vent it by opening the hatch on top. The trailer can implode if this step is missed, just like your pressurized cooker at home. However, if you’re unloading with a compressor, make sure the hatch is closed.

When a bulk liquid shipment arrives for unloading, the receiver should always first take a sample to confirm the right product was delivered and in good condition.

Hazardous Labeling

Regulations mandate that any trailer transporting hazardous materials must be labeled. This helps anyone recognize the kind of content the trailer is carrying so they know what precautions are required.


It’s important to know your and other parties’ responsibilities to ensure a safely transported bulk liquid shipment.

Shipper Responsibilities

  • Have knowledge of the properties of the liquid product you’re shipping
  • Communication that information with the provider, along with any needed equipment or certifications
  • Know which regulations apply
  • Give the driver any placards, seals, or other items required
  • Give the drive all paperwork for the shipment
  • Provide personnel to load the tanker

Receiver Responsibilities

  • Before unloading, verify that you’re receiving the correct commodity and in good condition
  • Make sure there’s enough room for the delivered product
  • Provide a clean and safe environment for unloading
  • Assign someone to check unloading

Carrier Responsibilities

  • Provide a clean tanker
  • Have appropriate insurance
  • Provide a driver who is well-trained and has all necessary licenses, certifications, or permits
  • Provide any safety equipment required by the shipper to ensure safe loading
  • Provide proper driver safety equipment, such as personal protection equipment (PPE), if the shipment is hazardous


Depending on what kind of liquid freight you’re transporting in bulk, regulations can vary. For instance, if you’re shipping liquid intended for human consumption, you’ll need to abide by any regulations set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), like the Food and Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

If you’re shipping hazardous liquid freight, you’ll need to abide by any hazmat regulations.

Regardless of the kind of liquid freight you’re transporting, you’ll need to make sure the provider you work with has a tanker endorsement.