Does Reclaimed Wood Need to Be Treated Before Use?

Photographs of reclaimed wood arranged in a collage. Top left is a photograph of weathered planks with prominent grain and a washed-out color. Bottom left are stacks of reclaimed wood planks, and on the right, taking up the full height of the image is a photograph of reclaimed wood with a light brown color. In the bottom right is a cartoon tin containing varnish with an orange brush dipped into it. Across the top of the image are the words, "Does Reclaimed Wood Need to Be Treated Before Use?"

Untreated wood can lead to a nasty case of mold, termites, and sometimes even mildew. But does reclaimed wood need to be treated before use in all cases?

Not all types of wood need this treatment, though, and considering how expensive reclaimed wood can get, knowing whether or not to treat it is a valid concern.

Reclaimed wood does not always need to be treated before use as it is quite durable, especially when used indoors. If you plan to use it outdoors, pressure treatment or a simple sealant can be crucial to protect it from termites and changing weather.

In this article, I’ll detail all the available treatment options and give you some pointers on how and when it’s best to use each. Let’s get started!

How Do You Treat Reclaimed Wood?

A photograph of a sheet of reclaimed wood with a cartoon overlay of a carpenter varnishing wood.
There are many wood treatments available, but which, if any, are best for reclaimed wood?

There are many ways to treat wood, and it’s important to understand which approach fits your use case best, remembering that you do not always have to treat wood, reclaimed or otherwise, before using it.

You’ll need to prep wood for outdoor installations with more resilient treatments than indoors, as it’s much more exposed to the elements and pests.

So, what are the options for treating wood? The most common ones are covered below.

Pressure Treatment

Wood is loaded into a pressure vessel for pressure treatment in a factory.
Pressure treatment of wood requires specialist equipment and knowledge, so it’s best left to the professionals. Image courtesy of WeatherWise.

Pressure-treating wood is one of the more popular methods of preserving wood. With this method, wood is preserved using chemicals injected into its body in a sealed vacuum chamber at low pressure.

These highly controlled conditions allow the preservatives to bind to the cellular structure of the wood. This is much different from simply applying topical treatments like oil or varnish. Pressure treatment affects lumber on a cellular level and is one of the best ways to protect it.

Despite these advantages, there are some trade-offs.

First, there’s the cost involved. While most other treatment methods can be done with a few products available from your local building supplies store and some elbow grease, the pressure treatment process is a specialized job best done by professionals, increasing the overall cost.

Another problem with pressure treatment is that the chemicals used to preserve the lumber are toxic and hazardous to human health.

The worst example of this is a preservative called CCA which contains arsenic. Arsenic, in large enough quantities, is fatal. Even in small amounts, it can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

Pressure-treated wood is ideal for outdoor uses, including sheds and fences where protection against prolonged exposure to the elements is needed.

Finally, pressure treatment can discolor reclaimed wood. This could make it a poor choice if you’d like to preserve that rustic look reclaimed wood gives you.

Insecticide Treatment

Evidence of woodworm in a wooden beam. There are holes in the affected piece and there is sawdust beneath it. A cartoon overlay shows a yellow can of pesticide spraying chemicals onto the insects.
Insecticide treatments are available for wood that is affected by woodworm or other unwanted guests. Image courtesy of Bunnings Workshop.

Properly cleaning your wood is a vital step when treating it. Insects, especially termites, can burrow quite deep into lumber.

Initially, they cause no major problems and are hard to see. However, the cellulose in wood is a vital nutrient for them, and in time they will eat the wood from the inside out.

This causes two major problems. First, the wood loses its structural strength, causing it to break. Second, the insects can spread to other furniture or wooden structures you have nearby, creating further problems.

So, a deep insecticide clean can save you a lot of future headaches. Even if you think the wood doesn’t have termites, a good insecticide treatment can be a sensible precautionary step.

You can go with many options here, but if you want a good, affordable choice, there are many options to choose from, including solutions and powders.


Wooden planks stacked indoors to dry with an overlay of water droplets evaporating.
Wood can be left to dry naturally, but this takes time.

While you might not think of drying your wood as technically a “treatment,” it has to be considered along with the other steps.

Although the other treatments discussed above can be included in your preparatory work depending on the circumstances, all wood must be dried. Not only is moisture a breeding ground for mold, but it can also affect the structural integrity of the wood.

Air drying is the easiest drying method since you simply leave the wood exposed and wait. When air drying, though, the drying time can vary significantly depending on things like climate, wood thickness, type, and how the wood has been treated.

As a result, it can take anywhere from a few days to several months to dry your wood. If your cut is particularly thick, it might be better to dry it professionally.

The DIY route is the cheaper option, so simply waiting it out might be your best bet if you’re not in a hurry or don’t have the budget.

If you go this route, consider using a moisture meter to measure progress.

A faster alternative to air drying is kiln drying. This is not only quicker but also kills insects, their larvae, and mold, which can cause problems later on.

Wood Finishes

A sealant is sprayed onto a sheet of reclaimed wood.
Sealant can be applied to reclaimed wood as a spray. This type of finish will keep moisture out of the wood and preserve it for longer.

Wood finishes are a wide variety of topical applications that promote the longevity and durability of your wood.

Finishes come in many forms and will be the last thing you put on your finished work.

A few common examples are:

  • Varnish
  • Sealant
  • Wood Oil
  • Wood Stain
  • Paint

This list is not exhaustive but covers some of the most popular finishes people use. Sealant is important for wood that will be outside as it can add an extra layer of protection and can be applied over other finishes like stains.

The Verdict – Does Reclaimed Wood Need to Be Treated?

Reclaimed wood does not always need to be treated before use.

However, proper treatment will increase its longevity, protecting it from weather and insects.

The right wood finish can also enhance the look of your final product while adding some extra protection.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our article on creating a stylish reclaimed wood accent wall, where we share some beautiful ideas that will inspire you.

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