Is Pressure Treated Wood Safe for Picnic Tables?

Is Pressure Treated Wood Safe for Picnic Tables such as this?

Pressure treated wood has become a common material in the construction industry recently but is pressure treated wood safe for picnic tables? YES, it is safe. The most commonly used chemicals in the pressure treatment of wood today contain non-toxic substances making it safe for use on picnic tables.

However, you must not use treated wood for chopping boards or preparing any foodstuff. If you are going to use a plank of treated wood for picnic tables, ensure that it is treated using Alkaline Copper Quatemary(ACQ) and not the older Chromated Copper Arsenate(CCA).

Almost all wood treatment companies are now using Alkaline Copper Quatemary(ACQ).  ACQ is a chemical that help preserve lumber against damage by insects and other microbes yet it is safe for human interaction.

What is a Pressure Treated Lumber?

It’s a wood subjected to a chemical and pressurized process to infuse wood preservatives deep inside the wood.

This wood preservative helps in the repulsion of insects and decay for an extended period though not forever. Treated wood has existed for more than half a century.

A softwood (southern yellow pine) is excellent for pressure treatment. Of course, pressure treated wood is best for use outdoor. Every time that you’ll come across a PT wood. You will see ratings such as “Above Ground Use” as well as “Ground Contact.”

Their different ratings determine the level of chemical concentration with the ones with “Ground Contact” labels having a higher concentration of chemicals. 

NOTE: Treated wood is not any stronger than its non-treated counterpart. It can only resist rotting longer.

How long will Picnic Tables Made of Treated Wood Last?

Treated pine, for example, usually lasts up to 20 years. However, don’t be surprised if they exceed this period. Environmental factors play an essential role in determining the durability of treated wood. Areas that experience severely extreme conditions will likely have a reduced lifespan compared to regions with moderate climatic conditions.

Wood Preservatives With Low Toxicity

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S EPA) approved some newer lumber preservatives that are best for human interaction use due to their low levels of toxicity. They are:

  • Copper naphthenate.
  • Copper-HDO (Bis-(Ncyclohexyldiazeniumdioxy-copper)).
  • Polymeric betaine. 
  • ACQ.
  • Borates.
  • Copper azole.

ACQ or alkaline copper quaternary is the most preferred and vastly used chemical in the pressure treatment of wood.

Similar to the older preservatives, the EPA has the intention of conducting continued testing and reviewing the new chemicals to certify that they are safe for usage in the human and animal environment.

Why Is The Use of CCA a Big Deal in Picnic Table Wood Treatment?

According to several studies over the years, the arsenic in CCA causes certain types of cancers. The human body readily absorbs this component of CCA. During contacts with a wood treated with CCA, these harmful components can leach out of the wood, though in small amounts, and possibly causes health damages to the users.

What are Some Alternatives to Treated Lumber for Picnic Tables?

Wood types such as redwood, western cedar, cypress as well as the white oak can serve as great alternatives to pressure treated wood. In their natural states, these woods have distinct properties that make them resistant to decay and attack by insects. The inner parts(heartwood) of these woods are more resistant to rot compared to the sapwood (the outer portion of the tree). Due to their natural ability to resist rotting, these woods command very high prices.

If you’re building a picnic table, you can choose to use woods such as pine, stain them and add some crisp finish to them so that you preserve them for as long as possible.

I have pine wood for outdoor benches and tables, guess how I preserve them? Well, all I do is applying coats of stain followed by 2 or 3 layers of Spar Urethane. My approach has proven over the years that it can be an excellent protective measure. However, I don’t expect my approach to preserve the wood indefinitely. This approach is not a suitable one for decks.

Another useful approach that I have used for my untreated wood is the application of wood glue in the sealing of some parts of the wood that go directly into the ground. 


Finally, is pressure treated wood safe for picnic tables? Yes, you have your answer now-you can use pressure treated wood for picnic tables; what’s key is identifying and ensuring that the chemical used in the treatment process is safe for humans as well as animal interactions.

In the past, wood treatment companies have used chemicals deemed harmful for humans in their treatment procedure; it’s hard to rule out this not happening again, which is why you must stay keen to ensure safety.


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Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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