Is Reclaimed Wood Safe? 6 Basic Things You Need To Know

A photograph of a reclaimed wood wall with dark brown planks that have plenty of character, including deep grain pattern, scratches, and a mottled patina. Across the top are the words, "Is Reclaimed Wood Safe? 6 Basic Things You Need To Know." In the bottom left is a green shield icon with a green tick. In the bottom right is a cartoon man holding a reclaimed wood plank with blue question marks above his head.

Reclaimed wood is considered advantageous for several reasons, including that it’s less prone to warping than fresh wood and is also more environmentally friendly.

However, you don’t know exactly where it’s been or what it’s been treated with beforehand, making some people more hesitant to use it.

This uncertainty over the wood’s provenance invites the question, “Is reclaimed wood safe?”

Reclaimed wood is not always safe because it may contain chemicals, lead, pests, or mold if sourced from an old building and an irresponsible company sells it. Therefore, you should always conduct tests to ensure you don’t use contaminated wood and only buy from ethical companies.

If you want to know more, read the rest of this article. I’ll explain everything you need to know about reclaimed wood’s nature and safety.

I’ll include potential problems that may make reclaimed wood dangerous, including toxins and pests.

6 Things To Know About Reclaimed Wood and Its Safety

A yellow road sign saying "Safety First" alongside a photograph of reclaimed wood planks installed on a wall.
There are a few things that you should remember when buying reclaimed wood. The most important thing is to know where the wood came from and under what conditions it has been kept.

Reclaimed wood is considered an excellent material for floors, stairs, or any other parts of your house because it looks good and it is quite resistant to wear and tear. Moreover, it ensures that you don’t contribute to deforestation, a major problem nowadays.

However, many people have doubts about this type of wood, and understandably so.

Let’s see some facts to bear in mind about reclaimed wood and some precautions you may need to take to ensure that you don’t install something potentially dangerous to your health.

1. It Might Be Hard To Determine Where the Wood Comes From

The main problem with reclaimed wood is that it’s hard, and sometimes impossible, to know where the wood came from. However, knowing the exact origin of the wood can help you understand what it’s treated with and if it’s safe for you to use in your own home.

Reclaimed wood typically comes from old homes that were built decades or even a century ago. While this sounds very interesting, it’s also a potential cause for concern.

The building standards have evolved a lot, even compared to 20 years ago, so getting reclaimed wood from a house built half a century ago may mean you’re getting material treated according to past standards.

Decades ago, harmful toxins were commonly used to treat wood, as people were unaware of their detrimental effects on human health. As a result, the wood used years ago may contain traces of substances that can be very dangerous for you.

Understandably, ethical companies that provide reclaimed wood can help, giving you an idea of when the wood was treated initially and if you should have any concerns.

However, other companies may not have any information about reclaimed wood, which means that you will have to risk it if you buy from them.

2. Reclaimed Wood May Contain Hazardous Chemicals

A reclaimed wood wall with a triangular yellow warning sign with a black skull and crossbones on it.
Reclaimed wood could contain hazardous chemicals, notably if it predates modern health and safety and environmental legislation.

As mentioned above, wood was treated with all kinds of dangerous toxins in the past. Using these chemicals may have been abolished long ago, but if you get reclaimed wood, you may be subjected to the effects of several different substances that could cause health issues.

The reclaimed wood you buy may contain one or several of the following substances:

  • Paint
  • Preservatives like pentachlorophenol
  • Insecticides
  • Adhesives
  • Organic materials
  • Metals
  • Lead

The above materials can be hazardous to your health in several different ways.

Preservatives, paint, adhesives, and insecticides may still be able to give off fumes and contribute to health problems, including respiratory issues, allergies, or even cancer.

Organic matter and lead may also be hazardous since they can cause several different illnesses, infections, allergies, or respiratory issues, as I will explain below.

You need to test the reclaimed wood for all the above substances, so you can remove these harmful substances if possible or decide not to use the reclaimed wood.

3. Reclaimed Wood May Contain Insects

A wooden beam peppered with tiny holes made by the woodworm larva. In the bottom left of the photograph is an inset showing a closeup of a larva burrowing into a hole.
Woodworm larvae are one of many pests you want to avoid inviting into your home.

Several different pests may find a home in the wood inside a house. If you’re getting the reclaimed wood from an infested house, you’ll be inviting the insects to your home as well. The problem is that you may not even notice these issues if you’re not careful.

Even if the home itself is not infected, the reclaimed wood may become a home for insects as it sits in a warehouse before you use it. So, you may find insects and pests inside the wood, even if you know the wood originally came from a pest-free building.

You may have difficulty getting rid of these pests because even if you eliminate the visible bugs, they might already have laid their invisible eggs in the wood.

The solution, in this case, is to choose a company that puts reclaimed wood in a heated kiln before they sell it. The heat inside the kiln is pretty intense, which ensures that all the different pests and their eggs cannot survive.

Just ensure the company you’re buying the reclaimed wood from uses a kiln; it should be standard practice, but some companies might skip this step to save time and money.

4. Reclaimed Wood May Contain Lead

Lead is one of the most significant environmental issues that the world had faced because it was used in all sorts of materials before scientists discovered its horrible effects on the human body.

As a result, anything that dates back over forty years is potentially toxic because of lead.

Lead can severely affect your nervous system and cause heavy metal poisoning, which can be life-threatening.

Nowadays, using lead in any material used in your home is strictly forbidden, but it can still be present in reclaimed materials from older houses.

A photograph of reclaimed wood with flaky paint peeling off it. Overlain is a "Pb" symbol from the periodic table, the symbol for lead, and a yellow hazard triangle.
Reclaimed wood could have lead-based paint on it, which you wouldn’t want to bring into your home because it’s toxic.

Reclaimed wood can contain significant amounts of lead, which can affect your health even in low doses. Companies should test the reclaimed wood to ensure it does not contain lead, but if you’re buying from a local company that is lax with regulations, the wood might not be properly screened.

Before using the reclaimed wood, you should test it yourself to ensure you’re not installing anything that contains traces of lead in your house.

You can use plenty of different home test kits to give you pretty accurate readings of the lead levels.

If you find out the reclaimed wood contains lead, you should not use it, at least not as it is.

Depending on what is causing the presence of lead inside the wood, you may be able to remove part of it. For instance, lead paint can be scraped off, which would remove most of the hazard.

5. Reclaimed Wood May Be Moldy

The most common organic matter that you may find in reclaimed wood is mold.

The material used for the floors or furniture of homes is treated to ensure it does not sustain any water damage, but excess humidity can still cause mold to develop in all types of wood. As a result, you may buy reclaimed wood with mold in it.

If you use reclaimed wood from houses with a lot of humidity or from trees found in rivers and ponds, you will likely deal with mold spores that weaken the wood and can have significant consequences on your health.

The best way to avoid moldy wood is to buy reclaimed wood from ethical and serious companies that do their due diligence and check every piece of wood for any issues.

Moreover, these companies only source reclaimed wood from legitimate places and don’t go after fallen trees following high winds.

A piece of reclaimed wood covered in spots of white mold.
Reclaimed wood could have mold on it if exposed to moisture.

6. There Is No Way To Know if You Can Remove the Chemicals

As mentioned above, it’s challenging to identify where your reclaimed wood has come from, and it is just as difficult to ensure there are no chemicals in it.

In the past, people used many different paints, adhesives, and other wood treatments, some of which were particularly toxic.

You may be able to test the wood you use for some of these toxins, but others may be impossible to test for and identify. As a result, you may be building floors or other furniture inside your house using contaminated wood, which can affect your health.

Once again, the only safe solution would be to contact a firm dedicated to providing ethically sourced reclaimed wood from verified locations.

Moreover, you should ensure you get your material from companies that use various processes to eliminate potential toxins or pests before selling the wood.

The issue is that many companies are not as transparent right now because they don’t verify where the wood comes from or conduct any tests or processes to eliminate chemicals.

This typically happens because some companies want to cut costs and save time, but they fail to understand or do not care that they are endangering their customers.

Advantages of Reclaimed Wood

Everything I have just mentioned about the safety of reclaimed wood may be causing you to reconsider, but you need to remember that there are several advantages to reclaimed wood.

First, using repurposed wood is a sustainable and wise choice as long as you find the right company to buy from.

You should also keep in mind that reclaimed wood may cost a bit more, especially if it’s undergone treatments to make it safe.

So if you find cheap reclaimed wood, you should be skeptical because it may signal that the company has not tested or treated the wood to eliminate dangerous substances.

Let’s see some advantages of reclaimed wood below:

Reclaimed Wood Is Sustainable

A wall made from reclaimed wood planks. Overlain are three leaves arranged in a circular patter to indicate sustainability.
Reclaimed wood is more sustainable than virgin wood because it avoids cutting down trees and typically requires less energy-intensive processing.

The main advantage of reclaimed wood is that it is one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly building materials.

Repurposing wood from old houses or other buildings ensures that fewer trees are cut down. But unfortunately, deforestation is a global problem nowadays, as thousands of acres of woodlands are destroyed each year to make room for industrial plants, resorts, and pulp plantations.

Reclaimed wood has skyrocketed lately as a sustainable way of using perfectly good (and, as I just explained, relatively safe) materials for your floors, staircases, sheds, or even furniture.

As long as companies follow certain safety standards, reclaimed wood provides a great solution.

Reclaimed Wood Is Harder and More Resistant Than New Wood

Reclaimed wood is not only environmentally friendly but also harder and more durable than freshly cut wood.

This material often comes from old-growth trees, which are harder than first-generation forests, and has had a long time to mature and cure slowly. Hence, its fibers are much more resistant to potential issues like physical pressure or chemicals.

As a result, floors or stairs made of reclaimed wood can last much longer since they are better cured and treated than those made of fresh wood. You may pay more to buy reclaimed wood, but the durability makes this material worth every penny.

Reclaimed Wood Can Look Very Stylish

You can achieve so many different looks using reclaimed wood. Depending on what you choose, you can create a warm and cozy look or a modern and sleek one. You can use reclaimed wood in so many ways to give your home the style you prefer.

A stylish room with tall windows, a white corner sofa, and reclaimed wood coffee table, and a matching reclaimed wood accent wall behind.
A stylish accent wall made from reclaimed wood can add a contemporary flourish to any room.

Reclaimed wood is especially good for homes with a rustic style, offering the perfect tones and textures to create the atmosphere you want.

Moreover, this material brings a unique element to your house, as it’s got its own history and character. So, it’s much more interesting than furniture or floors made of plain new wood.

Conclusion – Is Reclaimed Wood Safe?

Reclaimed wood is sustainable, very durable, and looks good.

Moreover, it can be used in various styles and adds more character to your house than plain new wood.

However, the main problem with reclaimed wood is that you can’t be sure where it comes from, which means that it can contain toxins or other substances that may be harmful.

Reclaimed wood can contain chemicals like adhesives, insecticides, or lead. It can also be moldy or contain bugs.

You need to test for these issues to satisfy yourself that they are not a concern, but you should also make sure to source reclaimed wood from a reputable company. That will ensure the wood you buy is as safe as possible.

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