How to Tell if a Pallet Is Safe to Reuse

A pallet hung on a wall with flowers planted in it.

As the DIY world expands, people have grown creative in their use of materials. Pallets have become one of the most popular materials out there because they have that rustic, reclaimed wood appearance to them, making anything you create look one-of-a-kind. The possibilities of what you can make with them are endless, and if that’s not enough, the main reason they are so popular is because you can usually find pallets for free at your local grocery store, hardware store, or greenhouse. All you need to do is ask! Unfortunately, there is some bad news when it comes to pallets—they are often not safe to use. Not to worry, we will take you through a step-by-step guide on how to tell if your pallet is safe for use. With these points, you’ll never have to worry if your new pallet furniture is safe to lounge on again.

What Makes Pallets Dangerous?

Due to the fact that pallets are used to haul around a variety of items, they can be exposed to all sorts of harmful chemicals or toxins. Even if those pallets were used to carry food, there still can be bacteria remaining on or inside the wood. Often, fumigation will occur on or near these pallets to prevent insect infestation. That insecticide can be harmful to you and your family, which is why each pallet must be examined carefully.

Check for Stains, Leaks, or Spills

Stained wood.

The first thing to keep an eye out for is to see if there are any stains or spills on the pallet. This can indicate that whatever was on the pallet previously has now leaked all over your project materials. True, it could be as harmless as watermelon juice, but it’s not worth the risk. Your motto should always be that if it has a stain, you can't use it. It may require a little bit more effort on your end, but do yourself a favor by finding a clean pallet to keep you and your family safe.

What if it Doesn't Have a Stamp?

Most pallets will have a stamp on it, usually located on the side, that indicate where the pallet originated from or what that pallet has been exposed to. When there is no stamp, this usually means it has remained domestic and has not traveled internationally—which means it's likely safe to use. However, because there is no way to trace the pallet back to its origins, it's safer to avoid these pallets just in case. If you come across a pallet with no stamp, err on the side of caution and throw it out.

What Will I Find on the Stamp?

A stack of pallets in a warehouse.

Each stamp is different and some can be tricky to interpret, but generally speaking there will be similar markings on each one. Because these stamps can be complex, we are only going to discuss the symbols you need to look for:

  • IPPC Certification Symbol: This symbol is to identify that the International Plant Protection Convention has inspected the wood and has approved the material for international travel. If the pallet does not have IPPC on it, toss it.
  • Country Code: Usually in the form of two letters, but sometimes three, these letters indicate the country of origin for the pallet.
  • Method of Treatment: This code, usually displayed as two letters (XX), reveals the method that was used for treating the wood. There are four you should be aware of:
    • Heat Treatment (HT) – This treatment is exactly as it sounds; the pallet is heated to a certain temperature so that it’s hot enough to kill all pests and other harmful substances. This pallet is SAFE for use.
    • Kiln Dried (KD) – Kiln Dried are also, in a sense, heated, but do not reach the same high temperature that HT ones do. As a result of this treatment, the pallets may appear worn and faded, but nonetheless are SAFE for use.
    • Debarked (DB) – This treatment is extremely thorough because it debarks the pallet. No chemicals or substances are used, thus allowing us to say this pallet is SAFE for use.
    • Methyl Bromide (MB) – Even the name of this treatment doesn’t sound safe! That’s because it’s not. Methyl Bromide is an insecticide meant for pest control. This chemical is harmful to you, even if just inhaled. Just so we are clear, this pallet is NOT SAFE for use.

Will I See any Other Markings?

Believe me when I tell you, there will be many other symbols and codes on the pallet’s stamp. However, those codes will mostly be for other uses such as tracking the pallet for auditing purposes. They will not indicate to you whether the pallet is safe for your use or not. So unless you are curious to learn all these codes to impress your friends at your next party, there is no reason to discuss them all here.

What Kinds of Projects Can I Do With Pallets?

A bench made from a pallet with a purple cushion on top.

As mentioned in the beginning, there are endless possibilities in terms of what you can create with pallets. Ranging from book shelves to sofas, you can create almost anything under the sun. Just as a word of caution, make sure you follow each tutorial carefully. Do not skip any steps and double-check your work. Be sure you've found a pallet that is sturdy and not worn, so it won’t crumble as you build.

When going on your hunt for pallets, don’t forget this simple rule: if it doesn’t have the letters IPPC and a method of treatment code that is safe, then it is not safe to use. Look for those two approved codes, and you won’t go wrong. Now that you know how to find safe pallets, you’re officially ready to embark on your adventure of “pallet picking.”