With an estimated 2 billion pallets being used every day, and many more sitting around, no wonder so many projects have been done using pallets. At 1001Pallets, we present you 1001 ways to recycle, upcycle, reuse or repurpose wooden pallets! But many of you have questions about pallet's safety and if the pallets they found are safe to use or not.
We tried to summarize the information we found. The first issue is to be careful of what has spilled on the pallet! If there are any spills on it, either oil, food or unknown substances, you should not use this pallet, it's well known that pallets are used to transport all sorts of nasty products and liquids. It is much safer to use only clean ones and not try to identify what might be on your pallet.
Once you've found a clean pallet, the next step is to check for a stamp or marking on the sides of the pallet. Here is what we can tell you about those stamps:
WHEN THERE IS NO STAMP OR MARK ON THE PALLET?
It means that it's a "national pallet" that is used for domestic transport (wherever you are located)! Most of them are not treated with chemicals, so can be entirely safe. But you may still be careful. I know people who use these pallets safely, but it's better if you can trace where they come from.
FOR INTERNATIONAL PALLETS
There are two main things to watch for on the stamp:
- The IPPC Logo: if you don't see it, don't use it! Even if a pallet may be perfectly safe without this logo, it could also mean that it was treated with chemicals!
- The treatment code : [HT] = Heat treatment / [MB] = Methyl Bromide / [DB] = Debarked / [KD] = Kiln Dried.
The IPPC logo is for the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) pallets that are used and shipped internationally. These pallets are required to be made of a material that will not carry invasive insect species or plant disease through different countries. To meet the IPPC standards, a pallet can not be made of raw wood that has not been treated, in other terms, all pallets are treated. These pallets must be treated by one of the following methods, and the treatment will be under the supervision of an official agency approved to do this. Without this stamp, the pallet may be safe or not, so you should only use pallets whose source can be traced for a safe use.
[HT]: Wooden pallets manufactured in Canada or the US undergo a pest control treatment called heat treating (HT) which involves heating the pallet to a minimum core temperature of 56°C for softwoods and 60°C for hardwoods for a minimum of 30 minutes in a kiln. HT pallets are not harmful to your health.
[KD]: The purpose of kiln-dried lumber is to reduce the moisture content of the wood (19% or less). This is a means to control warping, fungal growth, and other quality features. The kilns or "ovens" the lumber is put into, doesn't necessarily reach the sustained temperature of 133 degrees Fahrenheit (56 Celsius) that would qualify as heat treated. Many lumber mills are processing their lumber to meet the heat treatment requirements thus you will see "KD-HT" incorporated in the lumber grade stamp. With cherry and oak wood, it’s important to note that at this temperature sap will be released from within the wood. The soap will coat the wood with a dark stain, making the pallets or crates appear old and worn. In fact, the pallets and crates may be quite new, and their strength or durability has not been compromised in any way by the HT process. KD pallets are not harmful to your health.
Note: 2013-13 CPM-8 adopted revised Annex 1 to ISPM 15 to include heat treatment using dielectric heating. When lumber or used, previously assembled, repaired or remanufactured wood packaging material is heat treated using dielectric heating the treatment code mark shall be DH.
[MB]: Methyl bromide fumigation, this is a powerful pesticide (that has been linked to human health problems and ozone layer depletion) used to treat the wood to kill off invasive species like pine beetles. This type of treatment is banned in Canada and a lot of countries because it poses a health risk to workers handling the pallets. But, you can still find it in some places. If you find an MB pallet, please do not use it for your craft projects or as firewood, find a waste-removal company who can dispose of it properly.
[DB]: These two letters mean the pallet was debarked, and many pallets have this stamp. Concretely, this means that the wood was debarked under IPPC regulations, but it does not matter if your pallet does not have this stamp as many of them do not have it. This procedure removes the bark using a cutting tool, and the pallet wood remains untreated. Pallets marked with the letters DB only are chemical-free and safe to use.
[Other Stamps]: Sometimes, you can find other acronyms stamped on the pallets you found. This stamp, in general, will indicate the name of the pallet inspection firm, a manufacturing company, or an uncommon type of wood. If you encounter a stamp, you are unsure of or for which you cannot find any official information, you should avoid this pallet to be safe, or check on The Internet to see if others may have come across it before.
Sometimes you could see also the letters [PRL]; it means that the pallet was verified by the Package Research Laboratory (PRL).
Here is an example:
This pallet was made in Slovenia (SI) by the supplier 341220, the pallet was Heat Treated (HT) and debarked (DB). The Pallet was made in July 2011. This pallet is safe to use. For international country code, visit ISO website.
A supplier number is a unique number (000) assigned by the National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO).
This pallet was made in China (CN) by the supplier 003, the pallet was treated by fumigation with Methyl bromide (MB) and debarked (DB). The pallet was made in 2012. Don't use this one, this pallet is not safe!
It's the same thing, but sometimes there is no other stamp than EPAL or EUR. You should choose the one with EPAL. The one marked with EUR comes from an old system managed by railways companies. If they are EPAL approved too, then it's OK! They are just heat treated (HT) the same way as described above. Europe does not allow chemical treatments. They can carry 1500kg.
You may also find pallets without any sign. They are made to be used a single time. The most robust are the one used for building materials (bricks, cement, etc...). They are not treated with chemicals and can be easily reused. Many people ask where to find pallets! You may go to your nearest DIY store (or materials store).
WHAT ABOUT COLORED PALLETS?
Pallets usually last 4 to 5 years. 8 to 10 when they are the property of a renting company. Colored pallets are usually from one of these firms.
There are four main pallet pool companies in the world that you could differentiate with the color:
- Red pallets: pool LPR (La Palette Rouge from Europe)
- Red pallets: pool PECO (The Pallet Exchange Company from the USA)
- Blue pallets: pool CHEP (Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool from Australia)
- Brown pallets: pool IPP (IPP Logipal from Europe)
I do not advise to use them, especially for indoor use. You may find traces of formaldehyde and other resins used in the composite blocks. Also, there a lot of chances they have been used to transport chemicals.
Also, you have to keep in mind that pallets are often used for international shipping, and while most countries use an NPPO/IPPC code, not all countries are doing it, and such countries may not comply with the international standards.
If you follow this advice and don't use unknown pallets as a food cutting board or a headboard or anything used in your house and near you, you should be safe to use pallets for your projects.
Take into consideration that like for any works involving cutting or sanding wood, you should always use a mask to keep you from breathing in particles and pollutants.
To be safe, one of the most important thing to remember is that when you cannot establish if the pallet you have is safe or not, DO NOT USE IT for indoor projects such as a headboard, coffee table or another kind of furniture unless they came from a trusted source. In this case, only use it for outdoor projects where you will not be in contact with the pallet too often and avoid growing food on or near used pallet wood. For the health of you, your family and the planet, never burn pallet wood or treated lumber in your fireplace (or even in outdoor).
That's it; now you have all the necessary information to start you pallet quest! If you have more information's, please contact us and we will update this page.
To easily remember all those information's and codes, we have prepared a visual infographic, hope it will be useful.
For Australian readers, please read this message sent by one of our reader from Australia:
I thought I would let you know for your Australian readers that some heat treated packaging entering Australia is also fumigated with methyl bromide. I recently got some large shipping crates from work that had heat stamps on all timber, so I assumed it was safe. After using the timber to build a few things I found out from one of work's project team it had been Mb treated on arrival to Australia. Turns out Aussie Customs still use it quite a bit. Wish they would restamp it as such. So I would not trust any imported pallet in Australia thanks to Customs.
One of our reader from New-Zealand told us that they have the same problem with pallets that could be treated with Methyl Bromide, so if you are from New Zealand, take care also.
Pallets arriving in New-Zealand will be treated with methyl bromide too, so your warning for Australia should be expanded to New-Zealand.
And, if you want to learn more about pallets, do not hesitate to read our article on the history of pallets and how they play an important role in the history of our economy.
Need information on pallet sizes around the world? We've made an article on this also!
And if you need some tips and places where to find pallets, visit our page that will give you some advice and some areas shared by our readers.
So, you have found your wooden pallets, and you have checked that your pallets are safe for re-use? The first step will be to dismantle them, and you can check our seven methods to dismantle your pallets quickly with or without tools. Then, you will need to prepare your pallet for painting, here is an article on 17 things you need to know before painting a wooden pallet.