Nowadays, you can find free wooden pallets almost anywhere. And there are entire sections of online classifieds that are filled with ads giving this stuff away.
Plus, there’s probably more than a few local stores who would be happy for you to take their old pallets off their hands for free. But just because pallet wood might be free, doesn’t mean that it’s safe to use around your home.
So, in this post, we dive into why wooden pallets have a reputation for being dangerous to have around. You’ll also learn why most heat treated wooden pallets are surprisingly safe.
And keep reading to discover how you can identify whether or not your wooden pallets have been heat treated.
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Is It Safe To Use Pallets Indoors? Or Are Wooden Pallets Too Toxic?
It mostly depends on how that wooden pallet has been treated — and what it’s been treated with.
You see, natural wood can have bugs and termites in it, after it’s been freshly milled. So, to get rid of those pests, wood needs to go through a treatment process.
But some of the treatments used to disinfect wooden pallets, (and preserve the integrity of that lumber), can be very toxic.
Do Wooden Pallets Always Have Bugs In Them? Not necessarily. But, wooden pallets are primarily used for transporting goods around the world. And, during transport on ships and planes — or whilst sat in stores and warehouses — those pallets can pick up bugs and other little critters.
OK…But What Does The Treatment Of Wood Have To Do With Pallet Safety?
Years ago, wooden pallets were put through a fumigation treatment in order to get rid of bugs. And the substance used to disinfect those pallets was a toxic chemical called Methyl Bromide.
Now, Methyl Bromide is some very nasty stuff. If you inhale it, ingest it, or any of it gets on your skin, it can cause serious health issues.
Which is why wooden pallets that have been marked as ‘MB’ (Methyl Bromide) are much too toxic to have in your home.
However, recently the way wooden pallets have been treated has changed. Nowadays heat, rather than chemicals, are used to treat pallets.
Related Post: How To Dry Pressure Treated Wood (Quickly And Without Warping)
And Are Heated Treated Pallets Safe For Using Indoors?
Well, in the US, Canada, and UK, pallets are more likely to be treated with heat, rather than Methyl Bromide.
These high-heated pallets are referred to as ‘heat-treated’ pallets. And they are heated to temperatures so hot, that it removes all insects that may be nestled in them.
But the fact that they are heat treated, rather than chemically fumigated, makes them safe to be around — or even sleep on!
So What Types Of Pallets Are Safe To Sleep On?
Well, there are three main types of heat-treated wooden pallets:
Heat Treated Pallets (Marked as ‘HT’)
These pallets are treated by placing them in a chamber, and baking them at temperatures of around 56°C (132.8°F) for over half an hour.
There are no fumigation chemicals involved here, which is why heat-treated pallets are safe — certainly much more so than any pallets disinfected with Methyl Bromide.
Kiln Dried Pallets (Marked as ‘KD’)
Kiln Dried Pallets get put through pretty much the same process as HT pallets. Except, they are super heated in a kiln oven, instead of a chamber.
Another key difference is the temperature they’re heated up to (and for how long).
Kiln Dried Pallets get heated to a sweltering 94°C (201.2°F) for up to 36 hours. Which is certainly more than hot enough to get rid of any pests still hanging around.
So, just like with HT pallets, KD pallets are safe to use.
Debarked Pallets (Marked as ‘DB’)
Last, but not least, are Debarked Pallets. These pallets get put through the same heat-treatment process as HT pallets.
Except debarked pallets will have had their tree bark removed before they get put through the heating process. The reason for removing the bark is simple; it makes it easier to heat up and dry out that timber.
And, once again, similarly to HT and KD pallets, debarked pallets are also safe for you to use.
So I Can Use Any Pallet Marked HT, KD, or DB Indoors, Right?
Almost, but not quite. While heat and fumigation do a great job at getting rid of insects, they do nothing to help stave off rot and decay.
So, if that pallet becomes damp with rainwater or humidity, wood rot can take hold. And sometimes bugs can even make a comeback as well.
Which is why wooden pallets often get put through a secondary treatment process, called pressure treatment.
And What Is ‘Pressure Treatment’?
Pressure treatments involve infusing wood with rot-resistant chemicals. The job of those chemicals is to act like a fungicide, and fight off wood rot bacteria.
However, those self-same wood preserving chemicals are made of some pretty toxic stuff too. For example, some pressure treatment wood preservatives — such as Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) — can even contain arsenic.
Related Post: Should You Use Nails Or Screws For Pressure Treated Wood?
So How Do You Check If A Pallet Has Been Pressure Treated?
Pallet wood, that’s been put through a pressure treatment, will have a stamp clearly indicating it’s treatment.
The two main stamps for pressure treated pallets, (from the US, UK, and Canada), are GC (Ground Contact) or PT (Pressure Treated).
So, if you’re using reclaimed heat treated pallet wood, make sure you check it carefully for those GC/PT stamps.
How Do You Prepare Heat Treated Wooden Pallets For Indoor Use? By disinfecting them as best you can. This typically involves rinsing them down with an antibacterial solution or bleach. And then, afterwards, rinsing away all of the dirt and grime using a hose — or better yet, a pressure washer.
OK, Got It. So Is It Safe To Use Heat Treated (Non-PT) Pallets Indoors?
If you’re absolutely certain that pallet has not been treated with toxic chemicals, then yes it is. Especially as most types of US pallets are made from lumber that can also make for fine furniture, such as Oak and Pine.
But, you should always avoid using any old or reclaimed pallet wood that you aren’t 100% sure about. If you don’t know exactly what that pallet has been put through, then it’s not worth taking the risk of bringing it into your home.
To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways From This Post…
- 1). Heat treated pallets marked as HT, KD or DB, are safe to use indoors.
- 2). However, avoid heat treated pallets that are also marked as GC or PT. Those pallets will have been infused with chemical wood preservatives that are too toxic to have in your home.
- 3). And completely avoid any wooden pallets marked as ‘MB’. These pallets will have been fumigated with Methyl Bromide, which is a dangerous chemical.
Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
Methyl Bromide | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)