How To Clean Pallet Wood For Indoor Use

In this article, we will show how to clean pallet wood for indoor use. Also, we will see how to pick out pallets that are easier to clean and are safer for projects. In addition, we will discuss some of the steps for cleaning a pallet. Finally, we will discuss safety considerations for indoor use.

Pallets are popular with DIYers as they build projects. They can often obtain pallet wood for free or at little cost. Because of weathering and exposure to the elements, pallet wood often has a rustic appearance.

Many items can be made with pallet wood. These can range from indoor pieces such as tables, chairs and wall decor to outdoor pieces such as garden boxes, flower boxes, fences, and signs. There are too many to list! We can’t put all the project types into this article.

However, pallets can be really dirty. How do you deal with this? What can you do? To find out, we need to start at the beginning:

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Some pallets are easier to clean than others

All wood pallets are not the same. Some are easier to clean than others. Others have spent a long time outside and show signs of wear and stains. Still others show signs of exposure to moisture and have mold and mildew. Also, rusty nails protrude from others.

This picture shows a rusty nail
Rusty Nail

So, pick a pallet that’s easy to clean. Here are some factors you should check on:

  • Make sure the pallet does not have mold or stains some on it. Stains are difficult to remove and mold can actually be hazardous to health.
  • Inspect the pallet and make sure that the nails are not too hard to remove. You need to do this for several reasons: First, you don’t want to spend too much time removing the nails. Next, you don’t want to break the wooden planks of the pallet. This would decrease the size of the “boards” and be a real waste of the wood.
  • You may want to cut the planks out of the pallet to avoid pulling out nails. This might result in shorter pieces. However, you can cut down on broken wood and actually save more usable pieces.
  • Old, rusty nails can be a health hazard. You can get tetanus by cutting your skin on one.
  • You might think that the old nails contribute to a “rustic”, “weathered” appearance. However, the hard nails might interfere with further cleaning steps such as planing or sanding.

Power washing of pallet

OK, now that you’ve picked the right pallet, how do you remove surface grime, dirt, and so on?

You can easily remove it with a Power Washer. This tool shoots a stream of pressurized water to clean objects.

The power washer can use heated water. If this does not remove the surface contamination adequately, you might choose to use soapy water to help with the cleaning process.

One approach is to fill a pail with soapy water and rub off the stains by hand. Then you can wash off the soap with a power stream.

Many people use bleach to help with cleaning. Mixing bleach with other chemicals is dangerous. For example, ammonia and bleach will produce a poisonous byproduct.

How can you dry wet wood?  The easiest thing to do is just to leave the wood out in the hot sun. If you happen to live in Arizona, this is easy. However, if your climate is not as warm and dry, you might need to dry the wood in other ways. You could use heat lamps or fans to help with this.

How To Clean Pallet Wood For Indoor Use: Wood surfacing and planing

The pallet wood will have a “rough”, “weathered” look, even after cleaning. If this is what you want for your project, you may not have to go through this step. However, if you’re looking for wood that looks like it came from the lumber yard, you might need to use a Wood Surfacer, Thickness Planer, or similar tool.

This step is not essential. However, it does remove some of the surface wood and helps to clean the pallet.

However, there are several considerations with respect to planing:

Milling marks brought out by wood stain.
Milling marks
  • You don’t want to plane off too much wood and make the piece “too thin”. This can be easy to do if you run the wood through the planer several times.
  • Make sure that all nails and other rough objects have been removed from the wood. These objects can harm the cutterhead planing knives of the wood surfacer!
  • The wood surfacer can leave “milling marks” and other planing defects on the wood. If these are present, you can sand the wood to remove them.
  • You might be able to use a hand plane and/or hand wood scraper rather than the power wood surfacer. However, make sure that you do not gouge out the wood with these tools!

You might want to sand the wood

The wood might not be smooth enough for your project after you have planed the surface. In addition, there might be imperfections and marks you need to remove. Use sandpaper for this.

Hand sanding is fine. Start with rougher grits and then use progressively finer grits. It often helps to wrap the sandpaper around a block of wood or similar object. Make sure it can fit in between the pallet slats. Also, sand with the grain of the wood. Otherwise, you will leave marks on it. You may not see them at first, however, wood stain or other finishing material will bring them out and make the marks visible.

You can also try power sanding. A Belt Sander removes surface material quickly. However, you need to avoid gouging the surface. This can happen if you don’t keep the sander moving, push down too hard, or use coarse grit sandpaper.

You need to remove the sawdust after sanding. Use a damp cloth for this. Once again, you may need to dry off the wood. Alternatively, you can remove the sawdust with a tack cloth.

Is pallet wood safe for indoor use?

This picture shows a man in a hazmat suit cleaning pallets
Are Pallets Safe For Indoor Use?

This article is about “how to clean pallet wood for indoor use” rather than pallet safety in general. So, I won’t cover that subject in too much detail here. However, you need to consider it if you plan to clean pallet wood so that you can bring it inside your home.

Insects, larvae, mice, termites, or other parasites might infest pallet wood. In addition, pallets might contain hazardous chemicals. Also, they can be a source of mold contamination.

So, how does the DIYer deal with this situation? When are pallets safe to use?

To prevent shipping parasites from one area to another, pallets have an IPPC code or similar marking. IPPC stands for International Plant Protection Convention.

If a pallet does not have a code, it should NOT BE USED. Here are some codes:

HT – This stands for Heat Treated (Heated to 133 degrees for at least 30 minutes). The wood has not been exposed to chemicals and is safe to use.

KD – This stands for Kiln Dried. It is similar to HT and is also safe to use.

EPAL – This also refers to a wood heated to IPPC standards, has not been exposed to chemicals, and is safe.

MB – This stands for the Methyl Bromide pesticide. Methyl Bromide is an extremely toxic substance. DO NOT USE pallets with this code.

Source: IPPC IPSM 15 Standard

Still, there are those that only use pallet wood for outdoor projects (such as garden planter boxes). They avoid indoor tables or surfaces used for eating.

How to clean pallet wood for indoor use conclusion:

In this article, we showed that you need to keep cleaning in mind when you pick out a pallet to use. That is because some pallets are far easier to clean than others.

Power washers can remove surface grime from pallets.

You might want to use a wood thickness planer after that time to remove the rough surface of the wood and flatten the planks. You can then sand it to remove any surface imperfections.

Finally, we discussed safety for pallet wood that you plan to bring indoors. There are many reasons to exercise caution when doing this.

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Worn and dirty pallet on a gray background

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7 thoughts on “How To Clean Pallet Wood For Indoor Use

  1. GREAT information !! Thanks For Sharing!! I DIDNT realize that they Treated Wood With THAT Stuff😡👎🏼 G-d♥️Bless 😊

  2. I would like to use pallets for my existing wall in my dining room instead of painting it. Would that be safe? Would I have to treat them in any way since I plan to have them in my house?

    Thank you for your help in this mattering

  3. Thank you very very much great information that I was not aware of. Love it. Thank you again.

  4. For many years I thought of using pallets for an outdoor furnishings. This of course will be under a protective shade. From the sun, rain and other matters that will ruin the invested hours of hard. Now those ideas are back after 33 years keeping it in my head. Thank for sharing your ideas with the public. I am forever greatful. You will always be talked about where the ideas came from. Stay safe and always be protective of your health and your families.

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