Last updated on January 27th, 2022
There are many conflicting opinions on whether using pressure treated wood to build outdoor furniture is safe. Some people claim that chemicals from the pressure treated wood could land on the skin and cause damage. Others say these fears are unfounded myths propagated by those who want to sell expensive woods like teak or cedar. So, is pressure treated wood safe for outdoor furniture?
The truth is it depends on how you cut and treat the wood, as some of the treatment chemicals are usually safer than others. Also, no scientific studies have shown any significant risk of using pressure treated wood for furniture or construction projects. However, it’s worth noting that CCA-treated lumber was banned for residential use by the EPA in 2003 due to its toxicity. Though, it’s still commonly used in large construction projects such as decks and docks. So, is pressure treated wood safe? Let’s find out below.
What Is Pressure treated Wood?
Pressure treated wood is created by soaking planks in a chemical solution containing salts and copper-based chemicals (commonly known as CCA or Creosote).
This treatment helps protect the wood from termites, rot, and other types of degradation. It is mostly used in construction projects such as building decks and outdoor furniture to ensure the wood won’t fall apart after a while.
You might see ratings such as “Ground Contact” and “Above Ground Use” when buying pressure treated wood. These woods also have a number indicating the level of concentration of the chemicals used. The higher the number, the stronger the concentration. Those rated as “Ground Contact” usually have a higher concentration of preservative chemicals.
It is crucial to understand such details before buying any pressure treated Lumber to ensure you pick the best fit for your specific project. If you are unsure which wood type to pick, research first before buying or ask for advice from your nearest hardware or other professionals.
What Type of Wood is Ideal for Pressure Treatment?
Softwoods such as southern pine are ideal for pressure treatment. Ideally, the inner structure of softwoods is not too dense therefore chemicals can penetrate deep into the wood fibers strengthening it. The end product is pressure treated wood that is resistant to rot, insects, and other weather elements.
How Long Will Outdoor Furniture Made of Pressure Treated Wood Last?
Outdoor furniture made of pressure treated wood can easily last for 20 years. However, this depends on how well the wood is prepped for outdoor use and the specific chemicals used during treatment. Wood that’s pre-treated with a waterproofing finish like oil or pressure treated with non – CCA chemicals will last longer.
The durability of pressure treated wood furniture is also determined by various environmental factors. If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, then the lifespan of your pressure treated lumber might be significantly shorter. For instance, you are likely to stay with outdoor furniture for longer in places like Arizona and Phoenix which are usually hot and dry, than with places like Seattle which experiences rain most times of the year.
Should You Look for Wood Preservatives with Low Toxicity?
Yes. Pressure-treating manufacturers and retailers are now required by law to include safety information with their products. However, more regulations are needed to help minimize the amount of harmful chemicals escaping into the environment.
The chemicals used in pressure treated wood are toxic to plants, fish, and other aquatic life forms. So, don’t use the wood near a garden or water source.
You should also limit your exposure to this material when sanding or cutting. Look for products that contain copper naphthenate, ammoniacal copper quat, or other non-CCA chemicals. Some manufacturers also provide information about how close to the surface the CCA chemicals were applied to help you avoid those areas when sanding or cutting the wood.
What Is CCA? Why Is It a Problem for Use in Outdoor Furniture?
CCA is a large class of wood preservatives that use Chromium, Copper, and Arsenic as active ingredients. Many people avoid using CCA in outdoor furniture because it contains Chromium, which is linked to lung cancer. Arsenic is banned for residential use but is allowed by the U.S. government in commercial products like pressure treated woods, which are used outdoors and near water sources.
Many European countries have completely banned Arsenic compounds from being used in any treatments for wood intended for residential use.
When the Arsenic and Chromium compounds in CCA are exposed to water, air, or soil, they release metal ions (such as Chromium III, Arsenic III, and Copper II). These metal ions can easily enter the human body through skin contact, ingestion of contaminated food and water, or inhalation of contaminated air, causing damage.
The Chromium (III) and Copper ions in CCA are less toxic than Arsenic on their own. Plus, the levels of Chromium III can be twice as high after a CCA treatment compared to natural wood.
Chromium causes skin rashes, nasal and throat cancers, liver damage (including cirrhosis), stomach cancer, ulcers, and pneumonia. Also, ingesting Arsenic can cause vomiting of blood or a painful death from organ failure after several days.
These metals’ neurotoxicity (damage to the nervous system) suggests that they may also cause neurological damage.
The parent Chromium and Copper compounds are not very water-soluble but become more so once breakdown occurs. That breakdown happens due to direct sunlight or bacterial action.
Sadly, the chemicals in CCA-treated wood can easily leach into groundwater, streams, and rivers when it is improperly disposed of or burned.
What to Do If Your Outdoor Furniture Is Treated With CCA
When buying new outdoor furniture, always check the label to help avoid products pressure treated with CCA. If your existing furniture is treated with CCA, ensure you seal or cover it to prevent people from easily coming into contact with it or getting exposed to rising chemical levels due to leaching.
You can buy products like “CCA-X” or “Arsenic X” that are designed to seal off CCA from the elements, ensuring it doesn’t leach Arsenic or Chromium into the environment. You could also cover your outdoor furniture with a synthetic plastic or acrylic coating to block chemicals from passing through.
Outdoor furniture can also be covered with a non-slip coating such as epoxy paint to prevent children from touching the Arsenic or Chromium.
If you usually work on pressure treated wood projects, always mask off the working area and wear gloves to ensure maximum safety. You should also avoid sawing treated wood when it’s wet, as this increases the release of Arsenic and Chromium.
If you’re wondering whether a deck, fence, or other outdoor structure is made with CCA-treated wood, ask your local hardware store to check the chemical content for you. Also, ask them to recommend someone who can sandblast your furniture to ensure toxic chemicals aren’t released into the air when using it.
You should never treat the wood on your decks, gazebos, or other structures built near wells or waterways with CCA-based chemicals. However, if the wood is already treated, replace it to avoid any potential issues.
There are also cleaner, more eco-friendly alternatives to CCA for treating wood. One is Calcium borate (the main ingredient in “Timbor”). Borates have been used as anti-fungal agents and insecticides since the 1800s. Timbor has been used as an insecticide for wood since 1934.
Another excellent option is Copper, which is normally used with Chromium and Acetate to make a non-toxic formula commonly known as “Korean Timber” or “Chromotim.”
What Are the Alternatives to Pressure Treated Wood for Outdoor Furniture?
Pressure treated wood is just one of the different options you can pick from when building outdoor furniture. There are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives that give you the look of pressure treated lumber without causing any harmful side effects or environmental concerns.
The major ones include:
It’s among the most popular types of outdoor furniture that offers different grades and prices to choose from. This allows you to pick the most affordable option and best fit for your project. Cedar is also naturally resistant to rotting, insects, and other elements. This means reduced maintenance costs over time compared to pressure treated wood.
Recycled plastic lumber
A new alternative to wood that is 100% recycled and contains no toxic chemicals. This makes it a great environmentally friendly and safer option than treated wood.
This is another excellent wood for outdoor furniture, but it can be expensive and a bit high-maintenance, just like cedar. So, if you are looking for low-budget options, teak is not it.
When buying new outdoor furniture for your deck or yard, always ask many relevant questions about the wood to ensure you know exactly what it’s made from and what types of treatment chemicals were used. Also, look for eco-friendly alternatives that don’t require any special maintenance and ensure you get naturally rot resistant wood. This will help you avoid the hassle of constantly painting or sanding your outdoor furniture to keep it looking presentable.
Besides asking questions, also be aware of crucial things to look for in outdoor furniture to ensure you pick the best. Although, you might spot fantastic outdoor furniture made from the above woods, that doesn’t mean it is worth buying. Below are major factors that can help determine whether outdoor furniture (both pressure treated and non-treated) is of high-quality:
High-quality outdoor furniture should withstand regular use and remain sturdy even when not secured to a deck or porch. Therefore:
- Legs should be sturdy enough to hold a table or bench without bowing.
- Chair backs should be strong enough to support the weight of people sitting without slouching even when it’s windy.
When purchasing furniture for your outdoor space, comfortability is one of the main factors you should consider. This means that the backs of the chairs should be high enough. And chairs should be roomy enough to accommodate anyone’s height without slouching
Benches should be wide enough for two people to sit comfortably without their legs dangling off the edge or bumping into one another.
When purchasing new furniture, don’t just choose a shape and style because it’s trendy or modern. Function is equally as important as form when looking at what type of furniture to bring into your outdoor space.
For furniture to be truly functional, it needs the ability to serve a purpose despite the season or weather (meaning that if you live in a snowy area, you should choose furniture that can function properly in those conditions.)
For example, if your family likes to sit down together in the evenings, you should look for furniture with the design and fabric to comfortably accommodate such activity.
Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood for Outdoor Furniture?
Many people wonder if they can paint pressure treated wood for outdoor furniture. This is a question that’s mostly posed by those looking to buy less expensive patio furniture or perhaps aren’t ready to spend plenty of money on more expensive types of wood. However, the lumber should be pressure treated when used for outdoor projects.
There are different options that you can choose from when it comes to painting pressure treated wood. One of the most common options is a type of paint made specifically for these types of woods.
This kind of paint has come a long way since its invention over 30 years ago and can be applied in different ways. That includes spray-on and brush-on options that will allow you to finish your project in just a few hours without much hassle.
Originally, pressure treated wood was only available in one color, which was light green, and over time, it has graduated to an off-white color similar to aged pine. To combat this natural discoloration, many manufacturers added pigments to the treatment process for more vibrant colors.
Due to the chemical process used to treat the wood, it’s not good to use a stain on it. However, if you choose to paint pressure treated wood, there are many different colors you can use that will help add personality or contrast to your outdoor space.
Benefits of Painted Wood
There are several benefits of painted pressure treated wood. Firstly, you can choose from a wide range of colors that allow you to brighten up your outdoor space with Italian or French country hues, traditional reds and greens, or contemporary pinks and lavenders.
Other benefits include:
- It is easy to paint. Pressure treated wood does not require any special sanding, stripping, or priming for the paint to attach itself. So, after a light cleaning with a mild detergent, you can get right down to painting.
- Painted pressure treated wood is very low maintenance. While this type of wood will eventually need to be repainted to maintain its vibrant color, it doesn’t require the same treatments as some other types of outdoor structures.
- It is easy to clean and maintain. With a bit of soap and water, you can easily wipe your deck or fence down without worrying about causing any damage.
While there are many benefits to painted pressure treated wood, it’s important to note that the paint is not intended for long-term use and shouldn’t be used in areas that will come into consistent contact with the ground. If this is your desired type of finish, you’ll need to watch how well the paint adheres to the wood and make sure you’re repainting on time.
Painting your pressure treated wood with high-quality paint guarantees you about three years without having to do any touch-ups. Also, if your staircase or the rails on your deck are made from pressure-painted wood, then you can easily paint these areas white to provide contrast and make it easy to see when it’s time for another coat.
So, if you’re looking for an inexpensive option for outdoor woodworking projects or you’d like to freshen up your outdoor space, painted pressure treated wood is a fantastic option for giving your exterior decor an updated look.
What Are the Precautions When Using Pressure Treated Wood?
When it comes to using pressure treated wood, some special precautions must be taken into consideration. Since this type of wood has been chemically treated for both protection and stability, it should never be used where food comes into contact. It’s best to use this type of wood on a fence or deck where children and pets won’t be in close contact with it.
For the same reason, you should never store food products or other items that will come into direct contact with the surface of your wood structure in storage containers made from pressure treated wood. If you have no choice but to place your food on painted pressure treated wood, then make sure to line the containers with a plastic bag first.
When using this type of paint, always wear gloves and ensure that your working area is properly ventilated. This type of paint emits vapors that can be harmful to both humans and animals. So, it’s essential to ensure there isn’t a strong breeze or any open flames nearby when working with pressure treated wood.
While it may seem like common sense, you should never use painted pressure treated wood for cooking or eating. If external exposure to the chemicals in this type of wood is usually harmful, then ingesting even a small part of it may cause serious health issues. It’s also important to note that these chemicals are flammable. Therefore, never work near open flames or extreme heat when handling pressure treated wood.
What Are the Available Low-Cost Alternatives When Making Outdoor Furniture?
When it comes to making outdoor furniture, you have two choices. You can either repurpose it or make a new one. Whichever option you pick, you must be aware of the overall costs and required time. Most people prefer making new furniture from scratch instead of repurposing, but it depends on personal preference.
If you’re looking for budget-friendly wood options for building your outdoor furniture, several easily accessible types can help you accomplish this goal.
For building outdoor tables, cedar lumber would be an excellent option. While it isn’t the least expensive wood on the market, cedar is the best pick if you’re looking for a sturdy option. Also, cedar holds up well to different weather conditions and is low maintenance.
Another option for affordable outdoor woodworking is recycled plastic lumber (RPL). This type of lumber is produced from post-consumer and post-industrial plastics that are processed to make products that resemble real wood in both texture and appearance. Using recycled plastic lumber is also an environmentally friendly way to complete your projects. And you can purchase it in various colors that mimic your favorite types of wood.
Other wood types such as cypress, redwood, western cedar, and white oak are also great alternatives, especially in their natural state. These woods have unique properties that make them resistant to decay, attack by insects, and other destructive factors. Their inner parts are also more resistant to rot compared to the outer parts. However, these are not as cheap as other types of wood, such as cedar lumber.
Using pressure treated wood is one of the most common ways to have the best wood for outdoor furniture. While this type of wood has been proven to work well for new structures and outdoor furniture, it must be handled carefully. Therefore, you should never use it when building furniture for your indoor areas to prevent healthy or physical issues.
In today’s article, we have discussed what you need to know about using pressure treated wood for outdoor furniture, including its safety and best alternatives. Therefore, we hope you can now easily determine whether pressure treated wood is a good and safe fit for your specific project. If you decide to use pressure treated wood, remember to take the necessary safety measures to ensure you effectively complete projects without causing damage or experiencing injuries.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Is pressure treated wood toxic?
Yes. Materials from pressure treated woods, such as sawdust can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and skin. The use PPEs such as dust masks and goggles is recommended. Also, minimize contact with the skin as much as possible.
Can you use pressure treated wood outside?
Pressure treated wood stays for long without rotting and is resistant to insect damage. Therefore, it is perfect for use outdoors and in other areas prone to waterlogging such as subflooring in the bathroom and kitchen.
Cedar vs pressure treated wood, which one is best for outdoor furniture?
Cedar is stronger and lasts longer than pressure treated lumber. It can keep its shape naturally compared to pressure-treated wood which can warp or weather after some years if left without treatment. So, if you want a longer-lasting and naturally rot resistant wood, then cedar is the best bet.
Is pressure-treated outdoor lumber safe near gardens?
Due to the toxicity of the chemicals used for lumber treatment, pressure-treated woods should not be used to fence gardens or farms having food for human consumption. Use heavy plastic to line the raised garden bed to prevent the chemicals from leaching into the soil.
Can you use pressure treated wood furniture indoors?
yes. Pressure treated wood can be used indoors for wood furniture. Generally, it is good for most interior uses except on countertops and cutting boards.