You're thinking of a new pallet project but not really sure how to know if a pallet is safe or not. Keep reading and get all the information you need.
RELATED: 19 Cool Pallet Projects | Pallet Furniture and More
In this article:
- Pallet Home Projects
- How to Know If a Pallet Is Safe to Use
- The Things You Will Find Stamped on a Pallet and What They Mean
- What If There Is No Stamp or Marking on the Pallet?
- Are Pallets with Color Safe to Use?
How to Know If a Pallet Is Safe for a Project
Pallet Home Projects
Recently, a reader drew our attention to the possible dangers of using shipping pallets, especially in DIY projects like our smoker, where the pallets will be used near food. Some, but not all, pallets have toxic chemicals on them or have exposure to a chemical treatment that makes them inappropriate for use in home projects.
We spent a lot of time finding the best, safe pallets for our use, and we wanted to share with you some tips that will help you find good, usable pallets.
Even a brand new wood pallet can have chemical treatment. We did some research to figure out how we can assure that you can use wood pallets safely.
Pallets are great for building things and DIY crafts, but we want everyone to be able to stay safe doing so.
Any pallet you find may have been:
- Exposed to chemicals and/or toxins. These can include toxic bacteria from food or animals, chemicals, and/or drug residue.
- Fumigated with toxic insecticides to prevent insect infestation.
There’s no way for us to be able to tell how much danger there is in using pallets, but we can tell you what we do know.
We also put together an article on how to find the best pallets, with free ones being our favorite.
How to Know if a Pallet Is Safe to Use
Any shipping pallet you find on the side of the road or at a local source needs to be inspected for a few things.
Step 1: Determine That the Pallet Is Relatively Clean
There should be no signs of spills or leakage of items. If there are any spills on it, either oil, food, or unknown substances, you should pass on this pallet.
It is much safer to just stick with clean ones and not try to identify what might be on your pallet.
Step 2: Look at the Stamp and Markings on the Pallet
Almost all pallets will have a stamp, found somewhere on one of the sides. There are two main things to look for on the pallet stamp:
- The IPPC Logo – This is the logo for the International Plant Protection Convention ( IPPC). Pallets that come from an international shipment requires a material that will not carry invasive insect species or plant disease. To meet IPPC standards, a pallet can not be made of raw wood that has not been treated. These pallets require treatment by one of the two following methods, and the treatment will be under the supervision of the right agency. Without this stamp, the pallet may be safe, but we would rather use pallets whose source can be traced.
- The Method of Treatment and Code
- Heat Treatment [HT] – The wood has to be heated for at least 30 minutes to a minimum core temperature of at least 132.8 °F /56° C. A Pallet treated this way will be stamped with [HT], and it should appear near the stamp of the IPPC logo
- Chemical Fumigation [MB] – The wood was fumigated with a chemical called methyl bromide. A pallet treated with this should be stamped with the letters [MB] and it should appear near the IPPC logo. Although the use of methyl bromide was banned in March 2010 as an acceptable treatment under IPPC, you may still find a pallet that was treated using this method.
- Debarked [DB] – This means the pallet was debarked under IPPC regulations, and many pallets have this stamp.
RELATED: Where To Find Free Pallets For Reclaimed Wood Projects
The Things You Will Find Stamped on a Pallet and What They Mean
Wood packaging materials must be debarked prior to being heat treated or fumigated to meet regulations. These regulations prevent the re-infestation of insects while lumber is waiting for manufacture.
These items are likely visible on a pallet stamp:
- IPPC certification symbol – The IPPC regulates wood products like pallets and ensures that they meet specifications for international shipping.
- XX – Two letters that represent the two-letter ISO pallet country codes (e.g. US for the United States, CA for Canada, AU for Australia, GB for the United Kingdom, EUR for the other parts of Europe).
- 00 – Represents the unique certification number issued to agencies that regulate and oversee the individual wood packaging manufacturers. This certification number allows the wood packaging material to be traceable back to the NPPO/auditing agency.
- 1111 – Represents the unique certification number issued to the manufacturer and/or treatment provider. This certification number allows the wood packaging material to be traceable back to the provider.
- Compliant stamps may include further information as producers and suppliers may choose to include additional information for identification purposes.
Note: All stamps on pallets may not be clear.
During our first inspection, the logos and stamps are not very clear and do not exactly follow some of the guides online.
- F&W Media-Adams Media Books: DIY Wood Pallet Projects
- Personalize your space without having to spend a fortune on getting that perfect rustic chic look! These creative upcycling ideas will help you transform old wood pallets into beautiful projects to fill your home and yard with style and personality
- This book contains thirty-five different wood pallet projects
- Author: Karah Bunde
- Softcover; 207 pages
What if There Is No Stamp or Marking on the Pallet?
It means this pallet is likely for domestic transport, and do not require an IPPC stamp since the pallet is not for international transport.
These pallets are likely safe. However, it is better to be careful.
We recommend that you use pallets with stamps so you can trace and know the pallet treatment.
You can make a sturdy bed frame out of these pallets. You can check out this link if you're looking for one.
Are Pallets with Color Safe to Use?
Why are some pallets blue? We do not recommend that you use these types of pallets, as they are often from the pool industry and can contain chemicals.
Remember, you can always buy new pallets:
If you are apprehensive about using pallets, there are chemical-free pallets from a wood supplier called The Eco Fix. This company specializes in wood and shipping supplies and has an extensive catalog online.
If you need to make sure you can prevent insects (especially if you are using your pallets outdoors) you can buy pallets from them that are heat treatment (HT) This will mean the wood has treatment to a certain temperature without the use of chemicals, and this treatment will eliminate the risk of insect infestation.
Watch this video from Vashon Borich for more information about toxic pallet wood:
You will be using any pallet you use at your own risk. Use your own judgment to determine what type of pallet works for your project.
There may be old pallets at home you would like to use or a friend offered some unused ones from his garage. It's nice if you don't have to spend extra money buying new pallets but if you want them to be totally safe for your new project, consider the information given above.
What pallet projects do you have in mind? Are these tips helpful for your project? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 25, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
Ken Giaccio says
I own and operate a pallet company.
The IPPC is only concerned with invasive spices (bugs) getting from one country to another.
The “wood” is not treated. The finished pallet is.
Heat treating 140 degrees kills bugs and larva, nothing else.
Hardly anyone is the US uses MB to treat pallets, however all most all fruit and produce importers use MB on the fruit and produce.
Thanks, Ken! We appreciate your feedback. Please let us know if you have any other tips you recommend to help people find the safest pallets. How would you go about finding the safest pallets?
Patricia Sellers says
Glad to find A PLACE TO BUY SAFE PALLETS FOR MY PROJECTS. P.Sellers
Another thing to look for is how the tops and bottoms are separated; if they have blocks roughly 4″x4″x6″ between them, they’re good for pulling apart and making walls, floorboards and roof slats from. If they have 1″x5″ stringers that basically run the length of the forks that pick them up, they’re good for supporting weight for long periods of time- making good material for walls, flooring and roofing.
I work at a place where they use pallets every day. Some are the blue colored pallets that belong to CHEP, which is a place that rents thier pallets out. But most of them are wood and are made over using smaller scraps of wood. This means that the strips do not go all the way across and they use two strips rather than one. When a pallet is damaged beyond repair, it is usually thrown in the garbage.
the project “build your own smoker from pallets for under 100.00. I don’t see where the heat/smoking source is for this project…can you elaborate?
Lincoln Chan says
These are all great tips, and things people need to be aware of. One thing I do strongly recommend is to just be 100% sure what those pallets were used for and where they came from. This will give you more insight to what they have been around. As well, ask how they were transferred. With all this being said, you mentioned colored pallets too. You really have to be careful with these because the colored ones are the most chemically treated pallets. DO NOT USE!
Thank you for posting this, I was a bit sketched out about taking the pallets I collected inside, having no idea what they could have been used for or what could be on them. Found this as I was trying to find out about how to clean them and get any bugs off before the paint goes on. I live behind a garden center and there’s tons of those tiny little bugs that look like dots (usually red, could be a very small spider.) Do you know whether any spray or base that I could quickly get on it that would do something along the lines of killing any, sealing the wood, etc. I am going to paint my boards inside to avoid more bugs, I would want to spray or whatever I got to do and then bring it in to safety immediately. Thanks!
Patrick M. says
The blue pallets are not FOR swimming pools. They are part OF a pallet pool, where a supplier provides and rents out a pool of pallets to whoever wants to rent some.
The blue ones belong to CHEP, a huge international pallet pool company. They do not sell those pallets, only rent them out. So nobody but CHEP can own them or reuse them. There are other similar companies with different colors. For example, red ones are from another pallet pool rental company.
These color pallets remain the property of the rental companies and they usually ask that they be notified if someone has obtained one of theirs. They will send someone to retrieve it..