• Dee Ann Wallace

    I think that worrying about what might be “growing” on the wooden pallet is a bit OCD. You probably already have lots of E. coli in all sorts of places in your yard, not to mention all around. We humans were created to live with and, oh my gosh, need bacteria to function properly. If you garden, you are doing one of the best things that you can for your health, exposing yourself to all sorts of bacteria and other microrganisms. Use your pallets and don’t worry!

    BTW – I am a medical microbiologist.

    • Becky Striepe

      That’s good to hear, especially from an expert! I might still shy away from using them in the garden, but it sounds like maybe they’re not so bad for other craft projects, even in the home. What do you think about bringing them inside, from a safety standpoint?

    • Nightrain70

      Thanks Dee. I have made a very nice pallet garden and read this and at first was like oh no. Your comments put me at ease :)

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  • Jason

    Wow! Another person who has seen and heeded the messages about the risks of using wood pallets for home projects. That’s two days in a row there have been posts from independent sources telling the story we have been telling here for some time: Wood pallets can be dangerous.

    Greenupgrader does a good job of characterizing the risks of contamination with an assist from Nick. Maybe we’re starting to turn the corner and more voices will join the chorus to warn the uninitiated that wood pallets carry toxic materials and are not appropriate for everyday use.

    • Caitlin

      You bring up an excellent point that wasn’t brought up in the article – most wood is treated with such chemicals as arsenic or creosote. You can’t use treated wood in gardens where you grow anything you’ll eat, for compost bins, or for burning. This is an entirely different issue than any contaminants that pallets pick up as they’re used.

      • Karen Belter

        depends on when the wood was treated. 25 years ago, osha regulations forbid lumber yards from using an indoor saw for cutting the wood. it was suggested you keep it outdoors. for many years now, treated wood can be cut on an indoor saw. the old style treated wood can be sealed.

  • http://www.dianevautier.com Diane Vautier (@dvautier)

    I’m actually bummed to read this. I like the idea of re-purposing wood pallets and hate to think that they’re all bad. I guess it’s something I’ll have to look into more before making a decision about using them or not. I’m optimistic about Dee Ann’s comments that it’s unlikely to be an issue. Thanks for bringing the issue up.


  • http://ecopolitology.org Timothy Hurst

    Pre-treated pallets notwithstanding (not all pallets are treated), I wonder if there are ways to clean or sterilize wood pallets? I.e. baking or dipping them?

    • Becky Striepe

      That’s a good question. I was looking into how you sterilize wood, and it sounds like you need some industrial kiln situation to really dry it out properly/sterilize it. You can also put it up to dry, but it sounds like it takes years! What I wonder if whether a few coats of paint would seal it and make it safer to use.

      • Linda Graham

        I wouldn’t use paint; it would only add further contaminants. I’d do the same thing I was told to do for toxic mold in my home: I’d spray or dip it using a mixture of 1:10 bleach and water, rinse with a dishwash and water solution and then let the sun dry it for a week or so to complete the process. It’s stuff like fence posts (4x4s) and decking that are usually treated; they don’t usually bother to waste the $$ to treat pallets.

  • Bill Macrides

    Hi Becky, I saw a clip of someone sanding wood pallet slats and all this talk about the chemicals used to treat pallet wood makes me wonder about the sawdust produced by the sanding process. As I sure you and your readers are aware of that sawdust gets everywhere even with a fairly good vacuum system attached to the sander. Planning, sawing or any modification to the surface of the wood might be releasing carcinogenic material into the air and eventually into the body. I agree with the Micro Bio contributor about all sorts of bacteria and other microorganisms necessary for normal health but would we be poisoning and throwing ourselves on the pyre in the name of frugality and recycling?
    Your thoughts.

  • Bill Macrides

    Hi Becky, I did a little research and came up with these two sites on Wiki. Check out the markings in the pallets to find the safer ones to use and not put yourself and your family in danger.

  • Bea Hall

    You have to remember that pallets are used to transport all sorts of chemical substances. I used to drive tractor trailer. I have had loads of motor oil, furniture polish, dish detergent base and a million other chemicals leak on the pallets. Aside from the fact that they are stacked in parking lots where oil, diesel fuel and tire dust are all over the place. Yes, it would be lovely to repurpose these, but at what risk?

  • Kara

    My husband is a repurposer with a mission – he just loves to use and re use and give stuff new life. We live in a house that began as a gas station once – he got the building for free. Our storage spaces outside are the nose cones of cargo military planes that he was able to get, move and use on our land. He routinely fixes “disposable” items. He won’t touch pallets. And it isn’t because of germs – it is because of the possibility of chemcals and substances that have likely leaked onto them. He just doesn’t want to risk it. I can think of a few scenarios in which I might possibly use them – know your source VERY well – but otherwise, we look to other materials to repurpose.

    • Angela

      Your husband’s logic sounds crazy to me. Never would I grow food on property that previously operated as a gas station. All gas stations have contamination. I can only hope you completed a Environmental Site Assessment before being handed the property. Free—is not always free. Your property definitely came with a price.

  • undrway

    Hmmm, well i suppose if paranoia hits your so what button then do not use them. I find it intriguing that with all the pollution, contaminates, and in general what is being put into mother nature that pallets would be the least of worries when it comes to, most likely, trace amounts of contaminates. Look for fresh wood, real old pallets, and ones that have been used to transport safer products (i.e. dog food, can goods). Don’t let the greener side of life take total control of your thoughts.

  • Celtichp

    umm i think you probably need to see a therapist and tell him/her that you think things that have come in contact with rain water and bird droppings  might be contaminated with ” nastiness ” …sounds a wee bit like some Victorian repression to me . Bottom line is your making an assumption and are reactionary about something you dont wanna use common sense to understand. The pallets i use were made to carry steel from america to america and most were made at amish sawmills . these pallets were made to carry steel and so are made out of american white oak . These pallets are untreated and most arent even recycled . tell me something , what kind of land do you live in that bird droppings and rain water doesnt fall in your garden ? cause to me that sounds very strange 

  • Celtichp

    also it is erroneous to trick people into thinking that plastic can be ” DE-contaminated ” ….!!! most of those plastic timbers ( some made from recycled planters and seeding trays are filled with more nooks and cranies than a thomas english muffin….as a brewer we are taught to get rid of plastic that has too much surface mars and scratches . bacteria can hide out in there and resist the most rigorous cleaning and as a result ,they can never be properly sanitized .  

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  • Misty

    hi, I have done a lot of research on this pallet garden idea.  Gardening outdoors is the way it should be bird poop and all!!  Don’t freak out about bugs and nature. 
    As for pallets, well the answer is simple….just use “untreated” wood pallets for gardening.  Health food stores often have products brought bundled on these.I wouldn’t use plastic pallets for the same reason I won’t use a plastic cutting board. Plastics are porous and cuts and nicks can seal in bacteria and such that is released if “reopened” by friction, more cuts and nicks.  As far as cutting boards go, I use bleach and water to sanitize them.So if you are really freaked out you could sanitize your “untreated” wood pallets, but I”m not worried about that.  It’s the nasty chemicals that they soak wood with that is more concerning!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sean-Green/1596743964 Sean Green

    I used some stockade fencing that was knocked down by hurricane Irene last year to build my compost bin. Anyone know if that is chemically treated? My guess is yes since it withstands years of weathering

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelona16 Ke’lona Hamilton

    I wonder, could you line the pallets with something that would prevent any chemicals from leeching into the soil/plants of your raised garden bed?

  • valeri blossom

    ack! i have always wanted to use pallets for indoor projects but been squicked out by the idea of the contaminants from all sources, whether treatments or the products shipped that may have spilled – and even as someone else mentioned, they sit around in parking lots and are just ick. every now and then i come across newer looking ones but after reading this, i’m not going to risk picking some up for indoor purposes because you’ve only helped reiterate what i was already thinking.

  • stupid to require a name

    If your garden and compost pile do NOT “find part of their life out of doors exposed to water, all manner of vermin and insects, not to mention bird droppings and other nastiness” then you might want to consider keeping pallet wood away from them.

  • DrPH

    Geez, people! She’s only being cautious. There’s no reason to be rude and insulting. While we may find sources of E. coli randomly in our yards, the reality is the the strains found in nature are those to which we have been exposed and developed an immunity or effective immune response. The strains of E. coli found in things like frozen meats transported to market can be some nasty bugs for sure. Some of them are resistant to antibiotics and if you’re using the pallets to grow food, this could present a problem. Furthermore, reclaimed pallets are those that the user has no further use for, presumably because they have been well-used, read: exposed to these sources repeatedly for a prolonged period of time. Depending on the exposure, e.g. Oils, chemicals, this could pose a real health risk.

    The best advice given here is “know your source.”

    And since we’re throwing out credentials, I hold a PhD in public health, with a specialization in food studies, which means I study where food comes from (including home gardens or subsistence gardening) and the various threats to our supply from terrorism to lead in soil.

  • Grokk Heinlein

    I will not touch on the germs and such. As for chemical treatments, most pallets are not treated at all. They are too cheap and get broken too often to be worth it. This is a fact of the industry, it is also why so many pallets are free. Often, it just is not worth it to the shipping people to haul it away.
    As for spills, I suppose that depends on many factors. I get my pallets from feed stores and lumber yards.They are often dirty, but Clean.
    ( I used to make pallets for a living, by the way)

  • mothering4Him

    How about spraying with vinegar? We do that to kill any germs from raw meat, so I’m sure it would work on pallets. Then wash with soap and water to get rid of any vinegar smell. I’m going to try and then jump into all my pallet projects I have pinned!

  • BrianW

    Hi there! A friend just dropped off some shipping crates I plan to use as garden bed liners. The main thing to watch out for are the letters MB (methyl bromide). Toxic and not good in your garden. Mine have only HT (heat treated) and are quite new looking. I’d be somewhat wary of pallets since throughout there lives they can come into contact with lots of toxins and oils that invariably get spilled on them. Here’s a link that describes certain designations to look for on shipping crates and possibly pallets as well. Sorry it’s such a long link.


  • RC

    Just gonna put this here for my fellow canadians:


    “There are many rumors circulating about dangers of using wooden pallets in the home because they are pressure treated. They are NOT pressure treated and most pallets in Canada are safe for use in and around the home.

    Wooden pallets in manufactured Canada or the States for international trade undergo a pest control treatment called heat treating which involves heating the pallet to minimum core temperature of 56°C for softwoods and 60°C for hardwoods for a minimum of 30 minutes in a kiln. This kills any pests that may have been living in the wood, reducing the risk of cross-border pest contamination. Heat-treated pallets are not harmful to your health.

    There is another form of wood treatment called methyl-bromide fumigation. This type of treatment is banned in Canada because it poses a health risk to workers handling the pallets. If you find a methyl bromide fumigated pallet, please do not use it around the home or as firewood, find a waste-removal company who can dispose of it properly.

    Some pallets in Canada are made of plywood (thin wooden sheets glued together). These pallets are not treated because the construction process is thought to kill the pests. Because of the gluing process, the pallets do not burn.

    The best way to find a safe pallet for your home project is to look for this stamp on your pallet. This is the accredited heat treatment stamp for regulated wood packaging in Canada regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.”

  • Dillon Allen

    I understand being concerned, but all of the things that expert Nick pointed out as a concern are also a concern for any outdoor garden in which wildlife is allowed to access the plants. Insects? AHHH!!!! Oh, wait, insects are good for your garden. Bird droppings? Check. The 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, or “TBA”, (chemical blamed for Tylenol recall) is a product of fungal and bacterial activity on tribromophenol (fungicide sometimes used in pallets or other outdoor wood). You want fungal/bacterial activity in your soil for good soil health. So just paint the inside of the pallet surface and you should be fine. If you live near a city, you’re breathing in more toxins every day on the road than you will ever get from a pallet. The higher nutrient load of fresh veggies and lack of chemicals (pesticides, etc) will greatly outweigh any detrimental effect from trace TBA.

  • Stephanie

    I could see not wanting to use pallets for an indoor project unless they’ve been washed first, but I see no problem with using them for outdoor food gardens and compost bins since these are already in contact with bird poop, insects, vermin, etc. due to them being OUTDOORS.

  • helen

    if a pallet has no markings is it safe for vegetable gardens