Untreated Home Depot wood - safe for sleeping next to?
March 22, 2022 12:09 AM   Subscribe

I bought untreated wood planks and cut them at Home Depot and put them under one end of my mattress, creating an incline, to help alleviate my GERD symptoms. It's been 2 days of sleeping with a strong wood smell, which got me thinking - is sleeping inches away from a pile of untreated wood irritating/damaging to my health? I really know nothing about home construction...

Some other considerations -

* At the Home Depot I went to, the untreated wood was stocked in an outside lumber yard. It was underneath some parking structure, so it wasn't rained on or anything, but it's probably got dirt and dust. Do I clean the wood planks? How do I clean the wood planks without getting it too wet?

* I don't know what type of wood it is, I just got what fit my size requirements. If I called the store again, I could find out what type of wood it is.

* I got my wood cut in the store. That got me thinking, would the wood planks have some toxic detritus from the other materials that were cut with the same sawmill that day?

* Presumably these planks will be just indoors in my bedroom, which is pretty dry, so I don't think it will be in danger of mold/mildew.

* I currently have 3 planks, 2x10s, stacked up to create a 6 in. incline, and I also got 2 extra planks next to it to support my mattress. So it's a small little pile of 5 planks.

posted by facehugger to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You’re smelling the oils and resins that are evaporating from the wood. It’ll be gone in a few days. Unless you have a specific allergy - which I think you’d know about by now if you did - then it won’t harm you.
posted by rd45 at 12:53 AM on March 22, 2022 [10 favorites]

Wipe them with a damp cloth if you wish. The smell of cut timber is my favourite smell and is harmless. It will fade over time.
posted by night_train at 12:55 AM on March 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

Untreated wood is fine. If you didn't pay an extraordinary amount of money for it, it would most likely be spruce or possibly pine.

The only thing I'd triple-check is that it's not pressure-treated: if it's... uh... wood-coloured (super light beige) all good, but if it's greenish, you might want to check with the store.

I'm just bringing this up because where I live (Ontario, Canada) most lumber yards store untreated wood indoors, even if just in large barn-type structures, and only pressure-treated wood is kept outdoors. This might be different where you're at. Apologies if I'm woodsplaining here.
posted by Shepherd at 2:55 AM on March 22, 2022 [12 favorites]

Find out what type of wood it is. There are some aromatic woods like Luan which some people are allergic to. Luan is a popular wood to use for some projects because it is easy to cut, as is Pine, which has aromatic resins that are distilled into products like turpentine solvent. You may be sensitive to those odors.
posted by effluvia at 6:17 AM on March 22, 2022

Just a side note on the pressure treated wood, in WA and CA (i'm not familiar with other parts of the country) pressure treated wood is a deep reddish color.
posted by ljesse at 7:48 AM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd be inclined to separate the planks and let them dry indoors for a week. Even if they feel dry to the touch, wood stored outside will have a significantly higher moisture content than anything in your house, and I wouldn't want that trapped under my mattress. Let an oscillating fan blow over them if you've got one, and put something at either end in between them to keep them separated by an inch or so.
posted by kate4914 at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Pressure treated lumber will also usually have a mechanical impression in the surface of the wood, and possibly staples in it (from removed strapping).
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:06 AM on March 22, 2022

Best answer: The fresh cut wood smell will dissipate in a few days and is generally harmless. The saw and planer systems will not impart any thing harmful into your wood. If I was with you I would demonstrate this by eating a bit of the sawdust- I have ingested lots.

I used to do quality control in a sawmill. You can check what you have by looking for the stamp that every piece of wood must have. Based on your description it is likely a SPF stud, grade #2. This will also be listed on your receipt. That grade is the most common, and as noted above its likely a few sticks of either Spruce, Pine or Fur, while grade #2 is the widely used in construction. Grade 3 or stud just has more knots in it- and would be perfectly serviceable for you. There will be other markings, so the wood will also have a KD for kiln dried and it's plant number.

Wash it as aggressively as you like - but as you have surmised wet wood will have an odor. I use an old tee shirt to wipe wood projects down, and avoid splinters by using a glove. If you want to get ambitious you can wick some water solubly smelly stuff into the cut end of the board, which will act like the biggest diffuser. The wood you have is not yet fully dry - so it can twist or bend, but that will unlikely ruin it for your purposes.

As folks have pointed out - HD storing the wood in a garage could indicate that you have treated wood, but I doubt it. All treated lumber is currently very costly, it's generally heavier and remains in short supply. Plus many supply yards in cities and in the south just strive to keep the lumber dry, so I wouldn't be surprised to see lower grades with just it's tarp wrap. As noted above treated lumber is generally green/yellow, but is also available dyed. My fence for example is treated and colored like cedar. It's nice. These treated bits of wood will also generally have an end stamped to make them easy to id in a pile, these might also be stamped SPIB, or feature a big stamp on them spelling out that what its treatment was and phrases like "ground contact". Can't miss it. The only downside to treated lumber in this use is that it would take longer for the smell to go away. They used to contain arsenic, but that has been phased totally out in the west. I am fine with eating food grown in treated containers, sleeping on them would also be fine. You aren't a bug eating the wood, so as far as we know it's fine.

In terms of exposure risk you should avoid breathing in lots of dust from cutting wood, just like you should avoid breathing in any solid dust particles. When I worked on the floor of a high production mill for several years it was all without a dust mask. But I am smarter now and I would mask up now if I was working back in a mill, because that level exposure is too much for me. The mill would turn out enough wood to build 4 of my fences in a minute, and all of that was happening inside.
posted by zenon at 11:30 AM on March 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

If it's not treated, it's perfectly fine. it it's treated (as others have mentioned) it will almost certainly be coloured (here, either green, blue or red, depending on treatment type) and treated timber almost always has either a rough-sawn finish or is grooved.

Wash it if you like, but that will likely increase the smell until the wood dries out again. If you're still worried, give it a coat of paint all over. But then you'll have to deal with the paint smell ...
posted by dg at 3:07 PM on March 22, 2022

Just one quick note on mildew/mold for wood under a mattress -- keep an eye out for a change in odor and make sure there's still room for airflow with your new setup to avoid future problems. I thought I was a genius putting some wood panels under a foam mattress that had gotten a little too soft. Fast forward 6 months and there was a persistent unusual and unidentifiable new smell in the bedroom. I searched everywhere for old socks, but I finally lifted up the mattress to discover a nightmare of mold. It makes sense because the panels didn't leave room for air movement and those foam mattresses don't breathe, but wowowow it was horrifying.
posted by luzdeluna at 6:31 PM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

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