Can You Burn Stained Wood?

By Woodworking Street •  Updated: 12/13/21 •  7 min read

Today we’re going to answer a question that comes up time and time again. Can you make a fire from wood that has been stained?

Staining wood is a way to enhance the grain and provide a more durable finish than paint alone.

Stained wood is a lot more common than you might think. Every year, thousands of homeowners choose to add color to the wood on their porch, deck, or even inside their home. And when they do, they usually want to know one thing: Is stained wood OK to burn in my fireplace?

The answer is no. Actually, it’s against the law in some States and Localities. Stained wood releases toxins when burned, and is a hazard to your health. Also, it pollutes the air and is not good for the environment.

This is a common question, especially since we all want to cut costs during these tough financial times. It’s a good question, as people want to save money on fuel at any cost.

The Dangers of Burning Stained Wood

Burning stained wood releases toxins that are bad for your health and the health of others. It’s even worse for younger people and people with lung issues.

Airborne emissions from burning wood containing stain are hazardous to your health. These emissions include some of the same chemical components found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes. These chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, lead to asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, as well as cause damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and liver.

Burning treated wood outdoors puts pollutants in the atmosphere that can travel long distances before settling back down onto plants and soil. This pollution is harmful to humans and animals that breathe it and can contaminate drinking water for humans, livestock animals, fish, and wildlife.

Is it Illegal to Open Burn Stained Wood?

Open burning image - Can you burn stained wood?

Open burning is the practice of burning trash, waste, or any other type of materials that aren’t environmentally friendly. This is done outside in an open area with no protection to the environment. While this seems harmless and may even be done in your backyard, it can have major effects on the environment, especially if it’s done on a large scale.

Different states and localities have different laws regarding open burning. Below I am listing some information regarding open burning in a few states:

Michigan

Michigan considers stained wood to be chemically treated wood and does not allow open burning of that material: 

“… Air quality and solid waste regulations prohibit open burning of construction and demolition waste. Chemically treated lumber [emphasis added], as well as synthetic and painted building materials, contain high concentrations of hazardous compounds that produce toxic emissions when burned …”

From Michigan Open Burning Regulation Brochure –
https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-aqd-open-burning-brochure_273553_7.pdf

Wisconsin

Once again, I will consider stained wood to be treated wood. So, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does not allow you to open burn it:

“… The DNR’s air quality and waste management rules prohibit burning of any of the following materials under any condition: … wood that has been painted, treated [emphasis added], laminated, or glued …”

From Official Wisconsin.gov website – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/OpenBurning/BeforeYouBurn.html#govt

Montana

Montana has similar regulations. They state the following:

“… The following material may not be disposed of by open burning … wood and wood byproducts that have been coated, painted, stained [emphasis added], treated, or contaminated by a foreign material …”

From Official Montana.gov website –
https://deq.mt.gov/air/Programs/burning

Disposal of Stained Wood

So, if you can’t burn stained wood, how do you get rid of it?

Give It Away

If you stained your own furniture or other pieces of wood, you may want to simply give the stained wood away. You could post an ad on Craigslist or at a local thrift store offering the piece for free. People looking for projects or for furniture may be happy to accept it if they know about its environmental impact.

You could also donate it to a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore or similar organization.

Sell It

If you have stained wood, you may be able to sell it as decorative woodwork. This can be a good way to recoup some of the money that you spent on the wood in the first place. Many people will buy your woodwork and incorporate it into their home décor. Before selling your wood, make sure that it is not too damaged. You do not want to sell something that is completely destroyed and has no value whatsoever.

The first step in finding someone willing to buy your wood is to contact a local lumber company or a furniture store. By contacting these establishments, you are opening yourself up to a market of people who would love to purchase something like this. Let them know what type of wood that you have and the way that it was stained. If they are interested in purchasing it, they will let you know and you can arrange for a meeting place and time where they can come and pick up the items that they want.

Take It To A Landfill

Stained wood products can be disposed of in a landfill if they are disposed of properly. If the landfill allows construction materials, you can dispose of your stained wood there. You should always check with your particular facility to make sure they accept your item before you take it there.

Questions

Some of the questions people search for in this topic include:

Can you burn stained wood in a fire pit?
You definitely should not burn your stained wood in a fire pit. This is because toxic fumes can be released into the air. This is hazardous to you and also to other bonfire participants. Also, this would be considered open burning of chemically treated wood. As such, it would be illegal in some states and localities. I wrote another article about burning plywood.

Can you burn stained oak?
Oak by itself is a hardwood and would make good firewood. However, when you stain it, the finish can’t be burned because the fumes are toxic and it is considered to be chemically treated wood. So, open burning of stained oak is illegal in many States and Localities.

Is it safe to burn old painted wood?
No, it is not safe to burn old painted wood – it can release toxins into the air and is hazardous. This is still considered to be chemically treated wood so that open burning would be illegal in many places. Also, OLD painted wood is very bad for you – if the paint was made before 1978, it can contain Lead. Also, paint made from the 1940s to the 1970s can contain hazardous PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls). For more information, see an article I wrote about burning painted wood.

Is it safe to burn wood with polyurethane?
No, since this can release toxic ingredients into the air and is ill-advised. Also, it can be illegal in some places because the wood is treated chemically.

All Things Considered

Stained wood image

Can you burn stained wood? Our answer is very simple. No, you absolutely cannot burn stained wood because it releases toxic fumes and chemicals into the air. It is bad for the environment, not to mention that the burning of this material is illegal in some states and local areas.

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Woodworking Street

I've had an interest in woodworking and building things since I was a child. With a good plan, the right tools, and a bit of know-how it's possible to build anything. That's what this website is all about. The internet can be an intimidating place for someone new to woodworking. My goal is to provide you with great resources and information to help you get started.

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