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Are Recycled Pallets Safe to Use for Gardening, Furniture & Craft Projects?

Updated on October 29, 2015
Wood Pallet
Wood Pallet

There has been a lot of buzz about using pallet wood for home and garden projects lately.  Pallet projects recycle perfectly useful wood to make all kinds of interesting things using free or inexpensive materials.  But concerns about their safety have been raised by environmental and health advocates, and for good reason.  Pallets can contain potentially harmful substances.  Here are the risks and the steps that you can take to avoid them.


1. Look for the IPPC symbol.

The International Plant Protection Convention requires new pallets to display an IPPC logo, which certifies that the pallet was either heat-treated or fumigated with Methyl Bromide. This is good information for consumers because Methyl Bromide is a chemical pesticide that is linked to human health risks and ozone depletion. Older pallets may not display the IPPC logo, making it difficult to ascertain whether or not they contain pesticide chemicals.

Here is how to read and decipher the IPPC symbol. The logo includes a 2 letter country code (such as US for the United States), a unique number manufacturer number assigned by the National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO), HT for Heat Treatment or MB for Methyl Bromide, and DB to signify debarked.

Pallets that are heat treated and debarked are most likely safe for use. Avoid using pallets treated with methyl bromide or pallets that do not display and IPPC logo for food gardening or furniture projects.

2. Consider how the pallet was used.

What has been on the pallet? Perhaps there were foods or chemicals shipped on them that could become trapped in the pores of the wood. If this sounds far-fetched, consider that in 2010, following a recall of E. coli tainted lettuce, the National Consumers League performed tests on pallets to discover if they could potentially carry the harmful bacteria. Not only did 10 percent of the pallets test positive for the presence of E. coli, but an additional 2.9 percent carried dangerous Listeria pathogens.

Pallets can also be exposed to unsanitary conditions on loading docks, barges or trucks and in warehouses, or they may have been used to ship chemicals and other toxic materials. If you are unable to discover the source and original use for the pallet, avoid using the wood for food gardening or furniture projects.

3. Clean the pallet.

Even if you have verified that the pallet was not fumigated with Methyl Bromide and that it was not used to transport any item with potential toxicity, it is still a very good idea to clean the pallet prior to use. Scrub the pallet with hot, soapy water. The addition of vinegar or bleach will help to reduce any residual bacteria that may be present on the wood. Use a brush to clean crevices and avoid splinters. Allow pallets to dry thoroughly in the sun for several days.

Keep in mind that while cleaning is a great idea, it will not completely eliminate the presence of E. coli, Listeria or other harmful substances. Porous wood provides many places for pathogens to hide, so it is still advisable NOT to use pallets of questionable origin for food or furniture projects.

4. Use the pallet for outdoor, non-food related projects.

If you are still unsure whether or not the pallet is safe, use it for a project that will not come in contact with food or with the skin. Search the internet, especially sites such as Pinterest and, for ideas.

Photo credite: flickr/epanto

5. Protect your pallets.

Now that you have gone to the trouble to ensure that your pallets are safe for use, protect the wood using an environmentally friendly and safe wood sealer. Many good options are available, ranging from VOC-free varnishes to a full range of paint colors. Some of our favorite options are listed below, and all of them are available on

For more information about safe wood sealers, visit Safe Wood Sealers.

Photo credit:

Got a tip for using recycled pallets?  Share it here!

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    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 3 years ago

      Very interesting article. I was surprised to see that my 'When death looms...' article was noted on the bottom as 'You might also like.' I'm not sure about that!

    • graysquidooer profile image

      graysquidooer 3 years ago

      Just though I'd say there is a local Birmingham pizza business who used pallets for making tables and benches and chairs painted white , which they then covered with throws and cushions

    • fibonacci1123 profile image

      fibonacci1123 3 years ago

      Great job!

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 3 years ago

      Good read! Sundae ;-)

    • profile image

      DebMartin 3 years ago

      Great Info.

    • profile image

      ideadesigns 3 years ago

      People are using these more and more for furniture and recycling ideas, great to know that some might not be up to par. I wonder if they could be disinfected then painted over to get around this.

    • profile image

      angelatvs 3 years ago


    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      This was such a timely subject since I am currently working on a couple of pallet projects. I did not know about the chemicals and bacteria. Thanks for providing critical information for those of us who do love to recycle pallet wood. Appreciated. Congrats on LotD!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Good to know information.

    • tabletalk profile image

      tabletalk 3 years ago

      The very first Coffee Table i ever made was in 1979. It was when i was in the military stationed in Holland. It is abig coffee table made from a pallet, and i still have it. Maybe I will post a pic of it. Thank you for sharing this Kari.

    • profile image

      Im2keys 3 years ago

      Excellent information, thank you so much for this. I have wanted to try building my own pallet-projects and now I shall proceed armed with good info.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      They make great frames for raised bed gardening.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      My father-in-law used old pallets to make each of his 8 children an adirondack chair.

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      This is really important information. I think it should be shared with all gardeners! Thanks for doing this service for us.

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 3 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Thanks so much for sharing this important information... it is truly appreciated.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Excellent info for the Do it yourselfer. Thanks.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Great information that most would never have stopped to think about! Great well deserved LOTD!

    • profile image

      burntchestnut 3 years ago

      Good information. While many of us are into recycling, we also have to be aware of possible dangers. Remember when most homes and buildings contained asbestos?

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Congratulations on Lens of the Day! Enjoy seeing the ideas you included here, as well as the safety info.

    • astevn816 lm profile image

      astevn816 lm 3 years ago

      great lens and good advice

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Thanks for sharing this very important advice, and congratulations on the well-deserved Lens of the Day!

    • GypsyOwl profile image

      Deb Bryan 3 years ago from Chico California

      I have used pallets for many projects over the years including making a chicken coop out of them. I had never thought of the possibility they needed to be cleaned prior to using them. This is an informative page thank you! I have been seeing the pallets used for planters and other projects where if they were toxic could create issues for pets and people. Congratulations on a well deserved LotD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Very good advice. Congratulations on getting LotD!

    • ologsinquito2 profile image

      ologsinquito2 3 years ago

      What great advice. I'm pinning this to my Natural Living group board.

    • profile image

      ColettaTeske 3 years ago

      I've never liked used pallets to upcycle projects. It's sometimes impossible to determine where the pallet has been and what harmful chemicals or germs it has been around. I love these tips to safely recycle pallets!

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 3 years ago from Canada

      Back to add, I'm pinning it to my Pinterest board, How to eBay.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 3 years ago from Canada

      Great post. I've been seeing more and more crafts made from these pallets.