As anyone who’s spent any time on Pinterest or on DYI sites will tell you, there are hundreds of ways to reuse those wooden pallets that are seen lying around. While the idea of reusing something that would normally just get thrown away or burnt really appeals to many, it only makes sense if those pallets aren’t going to cause safety concerns.
What am I talking about?
The chemicals that might leech from the wood because of how it was treated
Pallets are made of wood and wood isn’t just cut from the tree and nailed together, it’s treated before it can be used. There are several ways that pallet wood can be treated:
- Heat treatment: This is good and it is chemical-free. The wood is basically dried in a kiln to remove moisture and stabilize the wood. This is the same process that is used with most of the lumber you’ll see in your local home improvement center. The HT mark might be followed by or preceded by a “DB”. The “DB” stands for debarked, which simply means that the bark has been removed from the wood before the wood is used.
- Methyl-Bromide Fumigation: This NOT GOOD. Methyl-Bromide is a pesticide that is toxic. While it has been mostly banned, pallet made with wood that is treated with Methyl-Bromide are still out there.
The “IPPC” symbol and initials stand for International Plant Protection Convention and basically lets you know that the wood has been treated with approved measures. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT CHEMICALS WEREN’T USED HOWEVER, so don’t rely on that to determine the safety of the wood treatment.
The other codes on the pallet refer to the country of origin and the registration number of the supplier (in the photo above, for example, MA stands for Morocco. You can download a complete list of the country codes here).
The chemicals that might have been transported on the pallet and may have leaked.
- Colored Pallets: Avoid colored pallets as these are usually painted to denote the fact that they are being used to transport chemicals.
- Stains on the pallet wood: You don’t know what caused the stain and therefore you should avoid using the wood.
So what about pallets that don’t have any markings on them?
You’ll quickly find that a lot of pallets have no markings at all on them. The reason for this is that they are most often locally built and intended for domestic use only. The wood from these pallet is often inferior quality wood as the pallets are basically built to be disposable. They are not required to have the IPPC stamp. Having said that, if they are newer and look to be in good shape the wood is generally safe to use. Most of the wood used for domestic pallets is not treated with chemicals.
The bottom line is that when using pallets, pay attention to the markings and use common sense. If it looks stained or dirty, pass.