Treated vs Untreated Wood: What’s Best for Your Project?

The debate between treated and untreated wood is crucial regarding woodworking and furniture projects.

Understanding the differences between these types of wood can make a world of difference in the outcome of your project.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the pros and cons of treated and untreated wood and their various applications and help you decide on your woodworking needs.

Advantages of Pressure Treated Wood

Durability and lifespan

One of the main advantages of pressure-treated wood is its increased durability and lifespan. Pressure treated wood undergoes a process where chemicals are forced deep into the wood fibers, protecting against decay, rot, and insect infestation. This results in a longer-lasting material that can withstand harsh weather conditions, making it an ideal choice for outdoor projects such as decks, fences, and gazebos.

Resistance to insects and rot

As mentioned earlier, the chemical treatment process makes pressure treated wood more resistant to insect infestation and rot. This is particularly useful in regions with prevalent termites and other wood-destroying insects. With proper maintenance, pressure treated wood can last for decades without succumbing to these natural enemies.

Cost comparison with untreated wood

Although pressure treated wood may initially be more expensive than untreated wood, the long-term cost savings can be significant. The extended lifespan and lower maintenance requirements of treated wood often outweigh the initial investment, especially when you factor in the costs of replacing damaged or rotted untreated wood.

Strength comparison with pine

Pressure treated wood is often made from pine, a softwood known for its strength and workability. The pressure treating process enhances the natural strength of pine, making it even more robust and suitable for load-bearing structures like decks and support beams.

Disadvantages of Pressure Treated Wood

Chemical treatment concerns

The chemicals used in the pressure treating process can raise safety concerns, particularly those sensitive to chemical exposure. In recent years, the industry has shifted towards using less toxic chemicals, but taking precautions when working with treated wood is still essential. Always wear protective gear, and avoid burning treated wood, as it can release harmful fumes.

Environmental impact

The production of pressure treated wood can have a negative environmental impact, especially when considering the chemicals used in the treatment process. Some of these chemicals have been linked to soil and water contamination, posing potential risks to ecosystems and human health.

Limited use in certain applications

Due to its chemical treatment, pressure treated wood is unsuitable for all applications. It is not recommended for indoor projects, particularly those involving direct contact with food or water, such as cutting boards or kitchen countertops.

Advantages of Untreated Wood

Natural appearance and aesthetics

Untreated wood boasts a natural and authentic appearance that many find appealing. The unique grain patterns, knots, and color variations in untreated wood add warmth and character to a project. This is especially true for furniture pieces and indoor projects where aesthetics play a significant role.

Environmentally friendly

Untreated wood is eco-friendly, as it does not involve harmful chemicals. When responsibly harvested and sourced, untreated wood is a renewable and sustainable building material, reducing the overall environmental impact of your project.

Suitability for furniture and indoor projects

As mentioned, untreated wood is preferred for indoor projects and furniture pieces. Its natural aesthetics and chemical-free composition make it ideal for cabinetry, furniture, and interior trim applications.

Disadvantages of Untreated Wood

Susceptibility to insects and rot

One of the primary disadvantages of untreated wood is its vulnerability to insect infestation and rot. Since it lacks chemical protection in treated wood, untreated wood can be more susceptible to damage from termites, wood-boring insects, and fungal decay. This makes it less suitable for outdoor projects or areas with high humidity.

Shorter lifespan outdoors

Untreated wood tends to have a shorter lifespan when used outdoors, as it is more prone to damage from weathering, moisture, and UV exposure. If you opt for untreated wood for outdoor applications, be prepared to invest in regular maintenance, such as sealing or staining, to prolong its life and protect it from the elements.

Additional maintenance requirements

As mentioned, untreated wood often requires more maintenance than treated wood, particularly outdoors. Regular sealing, staining, or painting is necessary to protect the wood from moisture, insect damage, and UV exposure. This added maintenance can result in increased long-term costs and labor.

Treated vs Untreated Wood: Comparisons

Cost comparison

When comparing the costs of treated and untreated wood, there are a few factors to consider. While pressure treated wood may initially be more expensive, its increased durability and longer lifespan make it a cost-effective option in the long run. Conversely, untreated wood may be more affordable upfront, but its vulnerability to damage and shorter lifespan can lead to additional expenses in terms of maintenance and replacement.

Strength and durability

Pressure treated wood is generally stronger and more durable than untreated wood due to the chemical treatment process it undergoes. This process makes the wood resistant to insects and rot and enhances its natural strength, especially in softwoods like pine. Untreated wood, on the other hand, does not have the same level of protection and may be more susceptible to damage from environmental factors.

Applications and uses

Treated or untreated wood for framing

When it comes to framing, untreated wood is typically the preferred choice. Since framing is primarily an indoor application, the risk of rot and insect infestation is minimal, and the additional cost and potential health concerns of treated wood are unnecessary.

Treated or untreated wood for stud walls

Similar to framing, untreated wood is the go-to option for stud walls. The indoor environment offers protection from moisture and insects, making the additional protection offered by treated wood unnecessary.

Outdoor furniture

Pressure-treated wood is usually recommended for outdoor furniture due to its increased durability, resistance to insects, and longer lifespan. However, some may opt for untreated wood for aesthetic reasons, in which case regular maintenance and sealing are crucial to protect the furniture from the elements.

Raised beds

While pressure-treated lumber is durable and long-lasting, it may not be the best choice for raised beds, especially if you’re growing vegetables or edible plants. Instead, consider using naturally rot-resistant woods like cedar, redwood, or cypress, which offer durability without chemical treatment.

What wood should not be used in a raised garden bed?

Avoid using woods treated with harmful chemicals, such as older pressure-treated lumber that contains chromated copper arsenate (CCA), in raised garden beds. Additionally, avoid woods like pine or spruce that have a short lifespan when exposed to moisture and decay.

What wood is better than pressure treated?

Cedar, redwood, and cypress are better alternatives to pressure-treated wood for raised garden beds. These woods are naturally rot-resistant and do not require chemical treatment, making them safe for gardening.

Treating Untreated Wood for Outdoor Use

To protect untreated wood for outdoor use, consider applying sealants or stains. Sealants offer a clear protective layer that helps prevent moisture from penetrating the wood, while stains provide color and additional protection against UV damage. Both options can help prolong the life of untreated wood in outdoor applications.

Proper application methods

For the best results, follow these steps when applying sealants or stains to untreated wood:

  1. Clean the wood surface thoroughly to remove dirt, debris, and any existing finish.
  2. Sand the wood to ensure a smooth surface that allows for even application.
  3. Use a brush, roller, or sprayer to apply the sealant or stain according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying additional coats, if necessary.
  5. Regularly inspect and maintain the finish, reapplying as needed to ensure continued protection.

Choosing Between Treated and Untreated Wood

When deciding between treated and untreated wood, consider the following factors:

  1. Project location: Is it an indoor or outdoor project? Outdoor projects may require treated wood for added durability and resistance to insects and rot.
  2. Exposure to moisture: Will the wood be exposed to moisture, rain, or high humidity? Treated wood is better suited for wet environments.
  3. Aesthetic preferences: Untreated wood offers a more natural and authentic appearance, which may be preferable for certain projects like furniture.
  4. Environmental impact: Untreated wood is a more environmentally friendly option, as it does not involve harmful chemicals.
  5. Budget: While treated wood may initially be more expensive, its longevity and durability could make it a more cost-effective choice in the long run.

When to use treated wood

Treated wood is ideal for projects requiring increased durability and decay resistance, such as outdoor structures, decking, and fencing. Additionally, treated wood may be necessary in indoor applications where moisture is a concern, like basements or bathrooms.

Should I use treated or untreated wood?

Use treated wood for outdoor projects, particularly those exposed to moisture and harsh weather conditions. Treated wood is also suitable for applications where insect and rot resistance are critical. Examples include decks, fences, pergolas, and playground structures.

When to use untreated wood

Untreated wood is suitable for projects prioritising aesthetics, such as indoor furniture or cabinetry. It is also appropriate for applications where chemical treatments are a concern, such as raised garden beds or children’s play equipment.

Is heat treated wood safe for gardening?

Heat treated wood is considered safe for gardening, as the process does not involve harmful chemicals. It can be a good alternative for raised garden beds, as it offers some protection against insects and rot without the risks associated with chemically treated wood.

Is heat treated wood waterproof?

Heat treated wood is not inherently waterproof, but it does have improved dimensional stability and resistance to moisture compared to untreated wood. For outdoor use, it’s still essential to apply a sealant or stain to provide additional protection.

Can you weatherproof untreated wood?

Untreated wood can be weatherproofed using sealants, stains, or paint. These products help protect the wood from moisture, UV damage, and other environmental factors, prolonging its life and reducing maintenance needs.

Comparison Between Pressure Treated Pine and Regular Pine

Is pressure treated pine better than regular pine?

In terms of durability and resistance to insects and rot, pressure treated pine is better than regular pine. The chemical treatment process enhances the wood’s natural properties, making it more suitable for outdoor applications where exposure to moisture and pests is a concern.

Is pressure treated wood cheaper than pine?

Pressure treated wood is generally more expensive than untreated pine, due to the additional costs associated with the treatment process. However, treated wood’s increased durability and longer lifespan can make it a more cost-effective choice.

Is pressure treated wood waterproof?

While pressure treated wood is more moisture-resistant than untreated wood, it is not entirely waterproof. Applying a sealant or stain designed for outdoor use is recommended to protect treated wood from water damage.


both treated and untreated wood have advantages and disadvantages, making each suitable for specific applications.

Treated wood offers increased durability, resistance to insects and rot, and a longer lifespan, making it ideal for outdoor projects. However, its chemical treatment raises concerns about safety and environmental impact, and it is not recommended for indoor projects or those involving direct contact with food or water.

Untreated wood offers a natural and authentic appearance, making it a preferred choice for furniture and indoor projects. However, it is more susceptible to insect infestation, rot, and weather-related damage, requiring additional maintenance to prolong its life.

Choosing treated and untreated wood will ultimately depend on your specific project requirements, budget, and personal preferences.