Wood is considered the quintessential fuel. It fires up furnaces, campfires and can be used to cook food. But one question needs to be answered: can you burn painted wood?
To those who are not familiar with the hazards, painted wood will look harmless. It’s wood, after all, and it can surely produce flames. However, the problem starts when wood becomes coated with paint, stains, and other similar treatments.
In this post, I will discuss the potential hazards of burning painted wood and what you can do to reduce the risk.
Dangers of burning painted wood
Paint products are a concoction of various artificial chemicals. In itself, paint can already produce off-gassing that can cause health problems. When applied indoors with poor ventilation, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paint will accumulate. This can lead to respiratory problems and other serious health problems during prolonged exposure.
When burned, painted wood will emit toxic fumes. The wood itself isn’t responsible for such hazard, but the paint material coating it.
The paint will undergo rapid chemical change as it gets exposed to high temperatures. This is evident by the strong odor you’ll sniff while the painted wood is burning.
Such fumes are toxic and must not be inhaled. Those with asthma and similar respiratory problems should practice extra caution.
Aside from that, wood with paint dating back to the 1940s to 1970s contain polychlorinated biphenyls. Also known as PCBs, this substance is an aromatic yet toxic compound that contains benzene components.
When burned, polychlorinated biphenyls will produce polychlorinated dibenzofurans or PCDFs. These compounds are extremely toxic and are actually 100 times more poisonous than PCBs. This is why PCDFs are classified as probable human carcinogens.
Burning painted wood on a fire pit
If you’re burning painted wood in an open fire pit outdoors, the risk of fume poisoning is relatively low. However, make sure that the wind is blowing away from you. This will prevent accidental inhalation.
Still, I don’t recommend burning large amounts of painted wood at the same time. Even if it’s outdoors, the fumes can accumulate and cause irritations on the people around. Also, the fumes from burned paint can be harmful to plants, animals, and bodies of water nearby.
Burning chemically treated wood
Similar to painted wood, chemically treated logs shouldn’t be burned indoors. This is because the chemical used in treating the wood will undergo changes, releasing fumes when exposed to flames. This is the case even if the stain or color has faded. It’s the same reason why such wood will have a chemical-like smell while burning.
This effect becomes worse if the treated wood is already old. It can be decades-old wood from your pool deck or picket fence. Over the years, these wood materials have absorbed various substances. Burning it indoors and inhaling the smoke is like smoking cigarettes. And as you know, cigarette smoke damages the lungs.
Burning treated wood can damage your stove
If you have a wood stove, the main problem in using painted wood is food contamination. Just imagine all the fumes enveloping your food. It will taste bad, and you’ll surely suffer from stomach upset.
Aside from that, many treated wood like milled types is soaked in polyethylene glycol. This is done to dry the material fast so that it can be processed and made into furniture right away.
If you burn these materials, the polyethylene glycol will react with heat and produce acids. Such acids will corrode metal stovepipes and other metal components of the equipment.
What can I do with old painted wood?
If you have a pile of painted wood you want to get rid of, burning is not the only answer. Sure, you can strip the paint using a paint remover, but that chemical will also release fumes when exposed to heat.
Instead of exposing yourself to harmful gasses, you can do the following to repurpose your old painted logs:
1. Make a bench out of it
One of the easiest ways to upcycle your old painted wood is by making an outdoor bench out of it. This will be an excellent addition to your yard. You can also repaint it with the color that you like.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple bench or chair will do, which you can use for resting or gardening.
2. Construct a ladder
A wooden ladder comes in handy for various tasks. From cleaning your gutters, reaching tree branches, repairing elevated parts of your home – it’s an indispensable tool. If your painted wood is still in good condition, a ladder is the easiest way to repurpose it.
3. Create a corner shelf
If you have slabs of painted wood, a corner shelf would be a lovely creation. It can be a small table for flower vases or one with shelves to store books and other items. You can also add drawers if you have enough materials.
4. Transform it to a nightstand
Like corner shelves, nightstands are a great idea if you have wood to repurpose. You can always remove the old paint and place it with a stain that you like. On the hands of a handyman, old wood won’t look old at all. You’ll also get to save some bucks from buying a nightstand from a furniture store.
5. Give it out
If you’re not much of a handyman, you can give out the painted wood to your neighbors. You can also donate it to a local furniture shop where they can repurpose the material. They can even give you a good price, especially if the wood is rare and still of good quality.
Tips in repurposing painted wood
Before you repurpose painted wood, you should do the following first:
- Clean the wood. Before your start woodworking, make sure that your wood materials are clean. This includes removing dirt and the old paint. Reclaimed wood is often covered with years of dirt that require intensive cleaning.
- Sand it properly. Sanding is a good way to refine burrs and irregularities on old wood. You just have to be extra cautious because old painted wood can be prone to damages.
- Plan the pieces. It’s important to pick the right wood pieces before you start working on them. This will let you showcase unique grain patterns or natural stains. Also, this will ensure that you have wood for the thing you’re planning to create.
- Remove nails. Old painted wood often came from old structures. This means it has rusty nails that need to be removed first. Always wear gloves to prevent cuts.
Is painted wood considered treated wood?
Coatings like varnishes and paint aren’t considered chemical preservatives or treatments. This is because the coating is only applied on the surface of the wood. This is unlike acetylation, linseed oil, or copper azole that penetrates through the wood grain. With this, you can still bring your painted wood to recovery and recycling stations.
Is it safe to burn latex-painted wood?
You should never burn any type of paint, especially indoors. A large portion of latex is made of rubber, which will emit strong fumes when burned. If you wish to use the wood as a fireplace or stove fuel, you should remove the paint first. This may not be worth the hassle since latex can be pretty sticky.
What wood types should you not burn?
Basically, it’s safe to burn wood. But if you’re going to incinerate it on your fireplace or any indoor setting, you have to be very picky. Aside from painted lumber, the following are some of the wood types you should never put in your fireplace:
- Moldy wood. While it may seem like the fire will kill the molds, some of the spores can spread in your home and start an infestation.
- Driftwood. Driftwood from the ocean contains high levels of chlorine. When burned, chlorine can be transformed into hazardous chemicals.
- Softwood. Softwood lumber has high resin content that will emit dark and suffocating smoke. It will pollute your chimney fast, and the soot may spread inside your home.
- Pressure-treated wood. Milled and pressure-treated wood contains various chemicals that will become VOCs when burned. This is why you should never use it as fuel in any way.
Can you burn painted wood? As much as possible, you should never toss painted lumber into the fire. This is much so if you’re planning to use it in your fireplace. The paint material will emit toxic gasses as it burns, which can put your health at risk. Instead, you can repurpose the reclaimed wood to stretch its lifespan.