Is Reclaimed Wood Safe?

Determining if reclaimed wood is safe involves looking for mold, animal waste, exposure to chemicals, and no insect infestations.

How To Avoid the Top 5 Dangers When Making a Reclaimed Wood Wall


Browse Instagram or Pinterest for “DIY wood projects” or “reclaimed wood” and prepare to be amazed and impressed. There are tens of thousands of different projects showcased that are made with barnwood, pallet wood, repurposed wood, and reclaimed wood. But, there are some things you should know before starting out on a project of your own. The importance of knowing where your reclaimed wood comes from isn’t just about sustainability or being eco-conscious; it’s also about your health. Here are some things you might not have known about barn wood, pallet wood, or salvaged wood.


Mold and Mildew In and On Reclaimed Wood

Recently there was an issue with mold in Nova Scotia where reclaimed wood from downed timber due to hurricane Juan was used in a shopping market. This wood eventually had to be replaced because of health concerns. When using recycled wood it is best to use wood that had minimal exposure to water and moisture. Ideally, the recycled wood should have never been in contact with the ground where it could get wet due to rain. Mold and mildew will look white and fuzzy when growing on wood. It is possible to treat wood with a bleach or vinegar solution and then let it dry for a couple of weeks, but it’s best to avoid using wood with signs of mold or mildew altogether.


Volatile Organic Compounds In Repurposed Wood

“Off-gassing” or “out-gassing” is when gases — called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — that were once trapped inside a material are slowly released into a new environment with the potential to affect the health of both people and pets. This isn’t an issue for exterior siding projects, but tainted recycled wood inside your home (or used to make a raised vegetable garden) may leach VOCs into the air or soil and can become health hazards to you and your family. Make sure that any barn wood or pallet wood that you bring into your home has been properly sanitized.


Termites and Other Insects in Reclaimed Wood

In addition to off-gassing, older wood has other unique issues to consider such as insects and in particular, termites. Reclaimed wood with termites can bring an infestation into your home. Specialists can easily tell you if the wood you’re interested in shows signs of termite damage or habitation. Be sure to investigate this if there is barn wood or pallet wood that you’re interested in purchasing or reclaiming.

It also helps to know the history of the barn you’re reclaiming from. A barn that housed animals will require additional consideration and treatment. Animal feces and urine can contain bacteria that resides in the wood itself that can lead to illnesses like bacterial pneumonia if you aren’t properly protected when working with the wood. The only way to be sure your reclaimed barn wood is safe for indoor use is by having it kiln dried by a professional. Always wear work gloves and a respirator mask when handling, cutting, and sanding barn wood.

Save a barn - use reclaimed wood from Wyoming snow fences.

Old Lead Paint on Wood

If the wood you are recycling is from 1978 or earlier beware of lead paint. Wood with lead paint can release dust when cut or sanded that will contain lead particles that will make it into the air and then your bloodstream. In old houses dust can be composed of any number of unpleasant substances like black mold, dander or animal feces. These dust particles can be released into the environment when working with old wood from an unknown source.


Wood with Toxic Chemicals Like Creosote or Pentachlorophenol

Railroad Ties and Trestles are a gorgeous way to add character to a project, but their industrial origin presents a host of chemical hazards. In order to preserve the trestles, softwoods are often treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has noted some especially nasty side effects for working with wood treated with creosote. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled pentachlorophenol as a “probable human carcinogen.” Railway trestles are not required to have any markings as to whether or not they’ve been treated, so it’s safest to stay away from them for project use, especially indoors.


Where Can I Find Safe Reclaimed Wood?

Reclaimed wood sourced from recycled Wyoming snow fences by Centennial Woods is cleanest and safest reclaimed wood available. It’s the only non-engineered, naturally-aged reclaimed wood certified GREENGUARD Gold for low chemical emissions. The aged wood from these 12 foot tall snow fences is naturally distressed by the intense Wyoming weather for an average of 10 years. The fence slats are aged above the ground away from barnyard animals, chemicals, and moisture. These conditions create insect-free reclaimed wood that has never been treated with chemicals. Centennial Woods’ provides guaranteed 100% recycled and carbon-negative reclaimed wood planks that are safe for homes, restaurants, and businesses. Learn more about Centennial Woods’ reclaimed wood products.

Snow Fence Road in Wyoming.