Why We SHOULD NOT Be Using Pallets in Our Interiors

By: Diy maven Sep 28, 2011

toddler bed, kids eco furniture, recycled materials, DIY, pallet bed, shipping pallets, lori danelle

Okay, here's the deal, a blogger by the name of Nick went on a rant a few months back about why we should absolutely NOT be using rescued pallets in our interiors. His argument is compelling indeed and has made me re-think all those 'pallet projects' I've promoted over the years. 

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First he points out the history of rescued pallets.

  • They are "exposed to water, all manner of vermin and insects" and bird droppings.

Then he brings up E. coli & Listeria.

Then he mentions fungus. 

And if all that isn't bad enough...

  • Think pallets made of engineered wood and cardboard might be a better option? Think again; they're oftentimes loaded with formaldehyde. 
  • Engineered wood and cardboard are also notable harbingers of 'creepy crawlies' like cockroaches. 
  • Also of concern is the stuff shipped on the pallets, which could include noxious items that off-gas themselves.

One of Nick's readers took this picture:

THEN Nick counters all those "but MY pallet is SAFE" arguments. 

  • You used only kiln dried pallets. Great, but left in any damp & warm situation (see rainy pic above) for any amount of time and they become a breeding ground for mold.
  • You sanded and washed your pallets. Great, but boring insects and chemicals might still be in there.
  • You know where your pallets came from. Great, but companies reuse pallets all the time. 

So, that's Nick's rant in a nutshell and it's a total buzz kill! BUT it's also a very compelling argument that is hard to dismiss. To read the entire article, follow this jump.

Now, tell me what you think. Has Nick's rant changed your opinion of pallets used in interior decor? Should I stop promoting rescued pallet projects?

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Comments

Formaldehyde is found in almost every vaccine that we are required to inject into our kids... 

If people are concerned about the chemicals that may be found in pallets, they should research how many household products have formaldehyde as an ingredient; the #1 active ingredient in Mr. Clean dry erase sponge is formaldehyde. Creepy critters are everywhere. Do I want a brown recluse spider living in my Maine home? No. To ensure this, I would make sure all pallets used are from the northeast. carry on with pallet furniture!
Ok you can still do your pallet projects you just can use premade pallets so go to the hardware store buy 4x4's and 2x4's it's a simple 4 ft by 4 ft construction or custom build them to fit your project

The Tylenol story would have more weight if the chemical they blamed it on is actually used in pallet manufacturing.  It's banned in the US.  Also, lets say that the chemical was used.  This chemical had to be able to permeate the initial plastic wrap, then the large box that multiple packages are placed in, then the smaller box that you see on the shelf, and then the plastic bottle.   They were never able to prove that it was the pallet, only blamed the pallets, with no proof.

Mold, formaldihyde, germs oh my!  We should look at banning dihydrogen monoxide.  Without DHMO these other things cease to be problems

I'm using pallets that were used to ship vegetables. Okay, maybe at one time they "may" have been subjected to chemicals, but ultimately I think these might be some of the safer ones to use. Also, if we are painting and sealing them, whatever horrible creatures that live in them, will most likely die and be enternally embalmed. I'm okay with that. I still think a lot of pallet furniture is better than some of Ikea's crap and a lot less expensive to make.

How many "Pallet Tragedies" have we seen or heard of?  I think I'll take my chances.

They are "exposed to water, all manner of vermin and insects" and bird droppings.

Just like play equipment people let their kids climb on in parks. Based on his logic, we should be afraid of anything that has ever been outside.

The National Consumers League did tests on shipping pallets and found that 10% tesed for E. coli and 3% for the VERY NASTY Listeria.

10% of homes tested positive for salmonella in the kitchen sink. Kitchen sinks also, on average, have more E. coli in them than a toilet that has just been flushed. Should we stop using kitchen sinks now? No, we should just clean them. Like you can do with a pallet. 

Think pallets made of engineered wood and cardboard might be a better option? Think again; they're oftentimes loaded with formaldehyde. 

So is nail polish. And many wood stains.

Also of concern is the stuff shipped on the pallets, which could include noxious items that off-gas themselves.

This is something fairly easily controlled. If you get the pallet from a grocery store then it's probably safe. And if it's not, it might be best to stop buying groceries at that store.

...left in any damp & warm situation (see rainy pic above) for any amount of time and they become a breeding ground for mold.

You mean like EVERYTHING ELSE?

Frankly, his arguments are ridiculous and just sound like a way to get people wound up.

I have to agree with many of the other commenters. A lot of the problems Nick listed seem to be problems you're likely to encounter when using any type of wood product. Every wood product that is exposed to rain will be at a higher risk of developing mold. This seems like common sense. Similarly, it seems like common sense that every wood product could potentially harbor bugs. If anything, reading Nick's list of reasons why a person should not reuse pallets in the home has made me wary of creating my own furniture made out of wood in general, and not just wooden pallets in particular.

If your really worried about chemical treatments on the wood, such as formaldehyde check your hair products! The highest amounts of formaldehyde are found in the most expensive and popular brands. So get over it!

I work for a pallet maufacturer.  Here is the typical cycle of the overwhelming majority of wood in the pallets - tree is cut down and goes to a scragg mill and usually cut into wood cants depending on the size of the deck boards/stringers needed.  Next, they are fed through a resaw where the boards are cut to fit the needed length and thickness. From there they go into a nailer which assembles them and then forklifted on a truck for delivery or may stay out in a holdind yard (usually covered). Some are heat treated to get rid of bugs that are still inside or at the surface of the wood.  Most don't have chemicals applied to them and those are usually for the food/pharma industries.  Those that are treated with methyl bromide (pretty rare these days) will have a stamp on them that will have 'MB'.  Yes, avoid these.  Otherwise, most pallets, if you give them a decent cleaning, would be fine.  Just be smart about where you get them from.  If they are stained and have mold on them,  common sense would tell you to avoid them.  I would use them any day over the processed stuff that makes up most of the interiors in homes - there is some nasty stuff in that. 

Also, a big misconception is that heat treated will avoid mold.  Not true at all.  The moisture in the center of the boards can still get to the surface and create mold.  All mold needs is moisture, a bit of the sugar in the wood, and the right temperature. So, it may leave the pallet factory heat treated, but the conditions and moisture it encounters on its path before it gets to your home is what matters.  The heat treatment is NOT used for water content - it is used to kill the bugs in and on the wood that could wreak havoc if a non-native bug travels internationally and are introduced to a susceptible new environment.

If use use paint or a wood sealer, anything in the wood will be sealed in from it. 

Virtually all the arguments used against pallets can be used against ANY wood. If one goes to buy timber that is stored inside or outside a timber yark it will be contaminated by fungi, mouse droppings, chemicals from its environment.

btw i have a BSc, i specialised in microorganisms.

Some great food for thought here. After reading around on the internet I was about to create some bookshelves out of some old pallets in the back garden.

Thanks again guys great food for thought

I dont care...my entire room is made of papllet furniture... Im going to die someday anyways... may as well like the bed I do it in hahaha

I read your article on uses of wood pallets. If everyone is so concerned about usuing them then spray with bleach or paint it. That will seal and disinfect them. Honestly if people would only know how these are made, where they have been, a simple washing and good to go. If everyone goes to histarics everytime someone says something then we are all in trouble. For some reason everyone in everyother country seems to live but here in America....we use more and more excuses, not to recycle. Please see Dave's comment.

I have just recently finished a project lining the walls going down to my basement with Pallets. I did not look for any lettering or anything when I started, I just put pallets up. I learned about the dangers more than halfways through. I have no idea what is on my walls now. Would I be able to seal the wood with polyurethane? Or anything else? I love the look and hate to tear it down (plus I can't afford to put something else up if I tear these boards down and it would look terrible!) but I am concerned about the chemicals. Is there a way to seal those chemicals in? I am very concerned now. Please advise! 

I used to work in the shipping/receiving warehouse at an art store in SF. Often we would have a surplus of pallets and would need to store them outside the rolling door due to lack of space in the warehouse. Those pallets rested among urine, human feces, used condoms and hypodermic needles for days on end. Those same pallets would then be picked up and reused by the shipping companies...

So after reading all these comments, I guess you can keep doing and posting your DIY pallet projects. Few complaints, so run with it! :) Ultimately, everyone is responsible for the materials they use for ANY DIY project, this is no different. And if you don't want to have to be picky about the pallets, then don't do the project. The end. 

There can be legitimate concerns for pallets fumigated with methyl bromide. All international pallets must either be heat treated or fumigated with this stuff. There will be a stamp on two sides of the pallet with either MB or HT and probably DB which is just de-barked. Just avoid pallets with the MB initials. Apparently a customs officer from Australia died while inspecting a container loaded with pallet that were fumigated with MB in the US, so it doesn't sound like good stuff. On the other hand it is still used in the US to on strawberry and almond crops and to fumigate ham....it is approved by the FDA as a food insecticide...kinda scary....heres a link if you dont believe it..   http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/asc/asc171/asc171.pdf

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