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Can You Burn Pallet Wood? Is It Good Firewood?

man holding pallets

Fireplaces and bonfires are always bliss, but only until the firewood runs out and you are forced to find alternative wood to burn. Pallet wood, for instance, is commonly available in plenty and for free, and it can be an excellent solution for your firewood needs if it hasn’t been treated with toxic chemicals.

But how do you identify a treated pallet wood? What are these toxic chemicals used to treat them, and what are their effects? Well, we are just about to learn them, so, keep reading.

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Which Wood Type Is Used to Make Pallets?

The lumber used to make pallet wood consists of a mix of the core of both softwood and hardwood trees. For this reason, manufacturers of pallets can’t specify the type of wood that makes them up.

However, two of the most popular tree species found in the lumber mixtures used to make pallets are the southern yellow pine and an oak tree. Whereas oak is considered because of its strength and availability, pine, being a softwood, is preferred for its weight – the combination gives the final product a good strength-to-weight ratio.

carpenter measuring wood
Image Credit: Christine Bird, Shutterstock

The Reason Why Pallet Woods Are Treated

The essential purpose of pallets is to aid in the packaging and shipment of goods. But since they are made from organic materials (trees), they should be treated to kill all insects and larvae in them. In the treatment process, also, all moisture is removed to ensure the pallets last as long as possible.

Wood can either be treated through kiln drying or heat treatment. All wooden products that are exported outside of the US must be heat treated to prevent introducing and spreading invasive pests and plant diseases to the recipient country. It’s a guideline that’s regulated by the World Trade Organization. If the products will be shipped within the US alone, heat treatment isn’t necessary – kiln drying will just do.

What Types of Pallets Cannot Be Used as Firewood?

wooden pallets
Image Credit: Piqsels

Chemical-treated pallet woods are unsafe for use as firewood.

All treated pallets must be inscribed with the ISPM15 stamp (The International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15), which symbolizes that they’ve passed the standard phytosanitary requirements outlined by the World Trade Organization. If you come across the following types of pallets, you should avoid using them for firewood:

1. If They Are Marked As MB

Methyl Bromide is one of the fumigants used to treat most timber products. Shortened to MB, the chemical was widely used to treat pallet woods that were transported globally.

Although its use has been on the decline since it was banned in 2005 by The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), it is not surprising to find them out there. So, it’s important to note that burning pallet wood treated with Methyl Bromide is not recommended. You can, however, burn single pieces of treated pallets outdoors where the flow of air is high.

2. If They Are Painted

Why are some pallets blue? Well, because they came from the pool industry, meaning there is a possibility they were treated. If you come across painted pallets, just let them be. They should not be burned at all since the toxic elements released from the paint will not only put your health at risk but also affect the environment.

paint wood pallet
Image Credit: Kissu, Pixabay

3. If They Are Visibly Contaminated

Pallets are used to ship various types of items, ranging from live animals to gasoline, paint, and drugs. As a matter of fact, we can’t be sure what item they were transporting. If you notice spill marks or any other sign of contamination, avoid using them for firewood. Keep them off the fireplace even if they look as old as last century’s.

While the aim of treating wood is to keep them as sanitary as possible, the wood fumigants are harmful if burned.

This provokes a critical question that leads us to our next section; what safety risks do burning them pose?

divider 4 Is Treated Pallet Wood Toxic? What Are Their Effects?

There are a lot of controversies surrounding the use of treated pallets for firewood. Whereas some people argue that they are toxic to our health and environment, others say they aren’t toxic enough. Let’s put it straight.

Up until the end of the 20th century, wood was primarily treated using arsenic. They were banned when found extremely toxic and replaced with copper-based fumigants because they were less toxic—but they are still toxic.

Some of the complications you can be exposed to when you burn treated pallet wood include the following:

  • Cancer
  • Lung irritations
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Damage to the kidneys
fire wood in a brick fireplace
Image Credit: Engin_Akyurt, Pixabay

Is It Safe to Burn Unmarked Pallet Wood?

Overall, pallet wood is safe to be used as firewood if they are neither treated nor painted. But you should be aware of spill marks and clear contamination as we mentioned earlier. Also, it’s worth noting that not all markings on pallets mean they’ve been treated with toxic chemicals. Ensure you look out for the following signs to determine whether a pallet wood is safe to burn:

  • DB: It means the wood product has been debarked. While removing the bark of a tree can treat it to some level, DB-marked pallets are generally safe for use as firewood.
  • HT: Such pallets undergo a heat treating process, whereby they are subjected to intense temperatures of 56° Celsius for about 30 mins. Generally, it is safe to burn wood that has undergone heat treatment.
  • EUR: This wood mark represents the old EU Pallet logo. Since they were probably manufactured before 2005, they could contain toxic chemicals; avoid using them for firewood.
  • EPAL: It represents the new EU Standard logo. Overall, they are safe for firewood because they are treated by debarking or heat treating.
epal wooden pallets
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Well Do Untreated Wood Pallets Burn?

Depending on the type of wood used to manufacture them, wood pallets can either burn quickly or much more quickly.

Some of the trees used to make pallet wood include pine, spruce, poplar, and oak trees. Typically, these trees have low density when dry and will burn hot and fast. If you come across pallet wood made from a combination of oak and cherry, they are likely to burn longer because of their high density.

It’s no secret that pallet wood burns excellently well. And the fact that they have already been cut into small pieces makes them burn even faster. For this reason, most people prefer using pallets as kindlers or in combination with conventional firewood. Using them as the primary source of firewood will require lots of them unless the fireplace is too small.

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Limitations of Using Pallet Wood for Firewood

As much as you can easily obtain them for free and in plenty, it doesn’t mean that pallets don’t have a downside. In most cases, they cost us our time while also deteriorating our equipment. Do you wonder how?

1. Time

Locating and transporting pallet wood requires time and effort. Most often, you are forced to disassemble them before loading them onto a truck for transportation. If you think the disassembling process is unnecessary, then you have to carry them in a truck with a utility trailer or prepare for multiple trips because they will take up a lot of space.

Again, after transporting them to your home, you’ll need more time to remove the nails and screws used to attach them to other wood during shipping. You’ll also have to cut them into smaller pieces that properly fit into your fireplace.

fireplace in the living room
Image Credit: joseclaudioguima, Pixabay

2. They Deteriorate Your Tools

Remember when working with pallet wood, you must incorporate equipment such as saw blades, chainsaw chains, and power tools. And they become dull faster as compared with using them on other wood types, thanks to the sand and dirt layers that cover them.

The rate of deterioration is much higher if you hit unremoved nails while cutting them. In such cases, you’ll have to sharpen the tools almost twice as often, therefore quickening the wear and tear rate.

3. They Don’t Last Long in the Fire Pit

Despite burning better than ordinary wood, pallets aren’t as reliable and effective. They burn too quickly because of their extremely dry nature. In comparison, the same amount of pallet wood may take less than half the time conventional firewood would take to run out.

Image Credit: emilymatych, Pixabay

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So, Should You Use Pallet Wood For Firewood?

Although burning treated pallet wood can be deadly, untreated ones are an excellent source of firewood. First, you have to check if they have been marked or stamped before blindly throwing them into the fire pit.

If you notice MB or EUR markings on them, keep them as far from the fireplace as possible. Such wood contains Methyl Bromide fumigants, which get released upon burning and can cause health problems such as kidney failure, lung irritations, and cancer.

On the other hand, they are safe to burn if they are neither marked nor painted. However, you shouldn’t entirely depend on pallet wood for firewood because they burn so fast. They work best if used as kindlers.

Featured Image Credit; Lamarinx, Shutterstock


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