What kind of used wooden pallets are safe for upcycling?

Plain Pallets on 3 November 2020

People love to upcycle pallets and turn them into feature furniture items for outdoor or indoor use. But, while it's a great way to recycle materials, there are some hidden dangers involved in creating furniture made from pallets.

The good news is, once you know why pallets can be harmful, you can start to use them more effectively — and safely.

While we don't supply pallets for repurposed furniture in residential homes, our used wooden pallets can be used in a wide range of applications, including commercial furniture projects. Our experienced team can help you discover what these are, and help you find the right pallet dimensions for your needs.

The potential risks of wooden pallets

In Australia, wooden pallets are usually treated in one of two ways. Heat treatment is the most common form of treatment, and involves kiln drying or radiofrequency heating the wood to 56 to 60 degrees. The other method involves methyl bromide, a pesticide used to fumigate any pests which may live in the wood.

Treating wooden pallets is essential, it helps protect our ecosystem and prevent foreign pests from taking up residence in Australia.

You can reuse any wooden pallets which have been treated by methyl bromide as pallets — they're completely safe for shipping purposes. But you should never use them to create repurposed furniture for the home or garden.

How to know if a pallet is heat-treated versus methyl bromide treated

If a pallet has been used for overseas shipping, it will have been stamped by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The stamp contains information about the country the pallet originated from and the treatment method used on the pallet. Here are what the treatment codes mean:

  • DB: Debarked
  • HT: Heat treated
  • KD: Kiln dried
  • MB: Methyl bromide treated

Which treated wooden pallets can be used to build commercial pallet furniture?

The good news is, while methyl bromide treated pallets are not safe to use for furniture projects, heat-treated pallets are. When pallets are heat-treated, no chemicals are used in the process, making them completely safe for people to use in commercial furniture projects. Heat-treated pallets are now popular decor features in Melbourne bars and restaurants, thanks to the rise of the industrial-chic aesthetic. You might see pallets repurposed as:

  • Timber fences
  • Slatted beer garden pavers
  • Vertical garden beds for indoor/outdoor spaces
  • Indoor/outdoor chairs and tables

What if the pallet doesn't have a stamp?

If the pallet doesn't have a stamp on it, this means it is a national pallet, used for domestic shipping. In most cases, national pallets are not chemically treated as they won't be leaving Australian shores.

If your pallet doesn't have a stamp, you can't guarantee where it came from or what chemical have been used on it. If you can, ask the manufacturer about the treatment methods. If you don't know who the manufacturer is, then it's better to be safe than sorry — don't upcycle the pallet.

Are plastic pallets treated?

Plastic pallets do not need to be treated because pests and parasites can't survive in the plastic. As a result, they are primarily used for exports which require high standards of hygiene. Plastic pallets are a great alternative to wooden pallets because they are durable and lightweight. However, they are not as easy to recycle for home furniture projects.

Other things to look out for

If you obtained your pallet from the side of the road, or hard waste, then it's hard to ascertain where the pallet came from, and what it has been used for. If your pallet has any stains or paint on it, then it's best to leave it where you found it. You can't guarantee that it is free from chemical contamination, and it's not worth the risk to your health or those around you.

Some treated pallets are not suitable for DIY furniture in a residential home. But there are other situations in which a used wooden pallet might be the perfect solution for a commercial furniture project. To find out what these are, get in touch with our expert team of pallet professionals.