What Wood Is Toxic To Burn? ( Top 13 )

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Most people think that what kind of food they burn doesn’t really matter as long as they burn for a long time and they make a lot of heat. The truth is that there are a couple of types of wood that you should never burn, some of them release dangerous chemicals while others contain dangerous spores. For the most part, people living off the grid will stick with a couple of types of wood for everyday use.

The wood that is toxic to burn is Oleander, followed by Mexican elder, poisonous wood, green wood, driftwood, furniture wood, softwood, non-local wood, large pieces of wood, Christmas trees, pressure-treated wood, and wood pallets. Wood that has been coated with chemicals and preservatives is extremely toxic once burned the chemicals will be released into the surrounding air and if you inhale them you can get some serious health complications.

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Some types of wood also have a fairly unpleasant smell if you are burning them, although most wood types do have a specific smell like Elm and Walnut. People with underlying health conditions can have a severe reaction if they are burning wood that is considered unsafe and toxic. No matter, if you are burning the wood in a fire pit or in a wood stove, the dangerous chemicals and spores, will still be released in the surrounding air.

Once you start burning a type of wood that is considered to be toxic it will slowly release the toxins while it is burning. If you have ever used firewood then you have probably already noticed that ash tends to rise and float around in small pieces, the hotter the fire is the more ash will rise. This is exactly the same with toxins, chemicals, and poisons as well, once they are airborne they can cause some serious problems if inhaled.

Wood is used for a lot of things, but that simply doesn’t mean that the wood is safe to burn. Some wood is treated with dangerous chemicals, which will be easily released once it starts burning. In addition to this, some wood also does have a coat of chemicals that are meant to make them fireproof, although these will expire after a while but they are still not safe to burn. If you are in the process of moving off the grid then check out my recent article How to prepare to live off the grid ( In 14 Easy Steps ).

What Wood Is Toxic To Burn?

When it comes to burning wood for warmth or cooking, it’s important to be aware of the types of wood that can release toxic substances when burned. Certain woods contain natural chemicals or resins that can release harmful fumes or pollutants when they combust. For instance, woods like poison oak, poison ivy, or oleander are highly toxic when burned and should never be used as firewood. Additionally, woods that have been treated with chemicals, such as pressure-treated lumber or painted wood, can emit toxic fumes when burned. It is crucial to prioritize safety and air quality by avoiding the use of toxic woods for burning.

1. Oleander Releases Oleandrin

Oleander is actually toxic, and even if you burn the wood the toxins will still get released in the air, once inhaled these toxins can do a lot of damage. Oleander wood contains several toxins like cardiac glycosides, nerioside, oleondroside, digitoxigenin, saponins, and oleandrin. These toxins can affect your lungs, heart, and even your nervous system, so do not ever use Oleander wood for making a fire.

The worst part about Oleander is that most of these toxins are present both in green and dry Oleander wood. In addition to this, the Oleander also tends to make a lot of smoke which only dissipates the toxins in the surrounding air. If you are looking for alternative ways of heating and cooking other than with firewood then check out my recent article Best butane stove for indoor use ( Top 10 ).

2. Mexican Contains Cyanide

The Mexican elder is usually found in the southern parts of the country, and this is one of the most dangerous trees which you should under no circumstances use for a fire. The Mexican elder is actually a type of softwood, which is also not good for burning. In addition to this, the Mexican elder contains cyanide, both in the wood and in the leaves as well. Even if the wood is dried up it still contains the cyanide and once you burn it the cyanide will be released into the air and if you inhale it you can get cyanide poisoning.

3. Poisonous Wood Is Toxic

Not only that some trees contain dangerous chemicals but there are also some poisonous plants that grow around them. Burning these will release the poisons in the surrounding air and once these are inhaled they can be detrimental to your health. The most common poisonous trees and plants to avoid burning are the water hemlock, manchineel, poison sumac, poison oak, and poison ivy. If you want to live off the grid without worrying about firewood then check out my recent article Off grid living in Arizona ( The Grand Canyon State ).

4. Green Wood Releases Potentially Toxic Spores

A lot of people who have little to no experience with making a fire with wood will try to burn anything they can and oftentimes this also means green wood. Wood that is meant to be burned has to be cured for a couple of months. This curing process takes around 6-12 months although it really depends on the type of wood. The main goal of the curing process is to let the wood dry out, this will make it easier to burn and it will not make a lot of smoke.

If you place green wood on the fire then the heat will slowly start making the water and the sap inside of the wood boil. This is why you will often see water coming out and boiling from fresh wood. When the sap also starts to come out of the wood due to high temperatures it will make a lot of some, which can easily lead to smoke inhalation if you do not have proper ventilation.

5. Driftwood Releases Chloride Which Is Toxic

Most people think that driftwood is safe to burn, especially if it has dried out. The truth is that neither driftwood from the ocean nor from a freshwater source are not good for burning. Driftwood which is coming from a freshwater source tends to have a lot of mold and fungus growing on it, although this mostly depends on the local climate. Once you start burning driftwood with mold and fungus on it then these will release their spores which once inhaled can cause a lot of health issues.

On the other hand, driftwood which is coming from the ocean is even more dangerous, mostly because the wood has been in the salty water for a long time and it has absorbed a lot of salt. Saltwater contains chloride which is actually chlorine and once it is burnt it will create dangerous fumes that are known to cause cancer. It is especially dangerous to burn driftwood from the ocean in a closed space like a cabin, and there are strict laws prohibiting doing it.

6. Furniture Wood Can Release Toxic Fumes

Although most types of wood used for manufacturing furniture are not toxic, but furniture is not meant to be burned. Oftentimes manufacturers will use different adhesives in order to bind the wood together, on top of that some manufacturers also spray the wood with pesticides in order to protect them from termites. Most types of furniture have a  couple of coats of varnish on them which is also not ideal for burning.

7. Burning Softwood Can Be Toxic

Not all wood is equal some are considered to be soft while others are considered hard. The main problem with softwood is that they tend to burn extremely fast, although in the first couple of minutes, they will dissipate a lot of heat but as they are burning so fast they also create a lot of smoke. Generally speaking the softer the wood is the more smoke it will create, especially if it is not cured properly.

Softwood is mostly used in construction and for some types of furniture. The most common types of softwood are Douglas fir, European spruce, Lodgepole pine, Scots pine, Southern yellow pine, Western red cedar, Eastern white pine, Parana pine, and the Western hemlock.

8. Burning Non-local Wood Can Be Toxic To The Local Environment Due To Pests

People who live off the grid will often buy wood in bulk, this way they do not have to gather firewood in the summer. The problem with purchasing wood is that you will never know where it is coming from and you don’t know where it has been stored and cured. Different types of wood will have different types of pests, and the last thing you would want is to get wood that contains pests.

If you want to protect the local area from pests and even your home if it is mostly made out of wood then it is extremely important to buy local wood. Local wood has lower chances of being contaminated by pests that are not native to the area. This is especially important if you tend to use a lot of firewood and your house is mostly made out of wood as well. The most common types of pests for wood are termites, bark beetles, and carpenter ants.

9. Large Pieces Of Wood Can Be Toxic

Although large pieces of firewood are not toxic but they can be even more dangerous especially if you use a wood stove. The main problem with large pieces of wood is that if they do not fit in the fireplace or in the wood stove they could fall out and be a fire hazard. Once the end of the wood is in the fire and gets smaller due to burning, the large piece of wood will change its center of gravity which means that on one end it will be heavier and thus more likely to change position.

10. Christmas Trees Can Be Toxic As They Release A Lot Of Smoke

Although Christmas trees are not considered toxic but they can be fairly dangerous if you burn them. Christmas trees tend to contain a lot of sap, in addition to this if the tree is dry then it will burn extremely fast releasing a lot of smoke due to the sap. Dry pine needles can also pose a serious risk as they will often float above the fire due to the heat. In closed spaces such as a home, it is especially dangerous as due to the airborne pine needles the chimney might actually catch on fire.

11. Pressure-treated Wood Can Be Toxic If It Has Been Sprayed With Chemicals

The main goal of pressure treating wood is to have it last for as long as possible, by protecting it from the elements, mold, and pests as well. Although pressure-treated wood tends to last several years, but it is not good for burning. Pressure-treated wood is often sprayed with dangerous chemicals which when burned will be released into the air, once inhaled these can do a lot of damage.

12. Wood Pallets Can Be Toxic

When most people see wood pallets they see cheap firewood, the problem is that these wood pallets are made to be used outdoors and they will be treated and manufactured in order for them to last as long as possible. This often means that they are sprayed with chemicals to prevent mold and water absorption, the bad news is that these chemicals are extremely dangerous if inhaled, which would happen if you burn the wood pallets.

13. Endangered Species Of Trees Is Illegal

There are a couple of endangered species of wood which you should never run, not because they’re toxic but because it is illegal. Some of these endangered species are having a very hard time surviving due to numerous pests and due to habitat loss. The endangered species of trees are Maple Leaf Oak, American chestnut, Florida Yew, Kentucky coffee, Blue ash, and Fraser Fir amongst others.

Key Takeaways

  • Certain types of wood can release toxic compounds and harmful gases when burned, posing health risks. Avoid burning wood from trees such as poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, or any wood that may have been treated with chemicals or pesticides. These woods can release irritants, allergens, or toxins into the air when burned, leading to respiratory problems or other health issues.
  • Softwoods like pine, fir, cedar, and spruce contain high levels of resin or sap. Burning these woods can release creosote, a flammable and corrosive substance that can accumulate in the chimney or flue. Creosote buildup increases the risk of chimney fires. If burning softwoods, ensure proper ventilation and regular cleaning of the chimney or flue to minimize creosote buildup.
  • Burning green or unseasoned wood, which has a high moisture content, can result in inefficient and smoky fires. The smoke produced by burning wet wood contains more pollutants, such as particulate matter and harmful gases. It is best to use well-seasoned firewood that has been dried for at least six months to a year. Properly seasoned firewood burns more efficiently and produces less smoke and pollutants, creating a safer and healthier environment.