Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Wood preservation




Publication type:

General Technical Report (GTR)

Primary Station(s):

Forest Products Laboratory


Wood handbook : wood as an engineering material. Madison, WI : USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, 1999. General technical report FPL ; GTR-113: Pages 14.1-14.27


When left untreated in many outdoor applications, wood becomes subject to degradation by a variety of natural causes. Although some trees possess naturally occurring resistance to decay (Ch. 3, Decay Resistance), many are in short supply or are not grown in ready proximity to markets. Because most commonly used wood species, such as Southern Pine, ponderosa pine, and Douglas-fir, possess little decay resistance, extra protection is needed when they are exposed to adverse environments. Wood can be protected from the attack of decay fungi, harmful insects, or marine borers by applying chemical preservatives. The degree of protection achieved depends on the preservative used and the proper penetration and retention of the chemicals. Some preservatives are more effective than others, and some are more adaptable to certain use requirements. Not only are different methods of treating wood available, but treatability varies among wood species—particularly their heartwood, which generally resists preservative treatment more than does sapwood. To obtain long-term effectiveness, adequate penetration and retention are needed for each wood species, chemical preservative, and treatment method. Wood preservatives that are applied at recommended retention levels and achieve satisfactory penetration can greatly increase the life of wood structures. Thus, the annual replacement cost of treated wood in service is much less than that of wood without treatment. In considering preservative treatment processes and wood species, the combination must provide the required protection for the conditions of exposure and life of the structure. All these factors are considered by the consensus technical committees in setting reference levels required by the American Wood-Preservers’ Association (AWPA), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the Federal Specification Standards. Details are discussed later in this chapter. Note that mention of a chemical in this chapter does not constitute a recommendation; only those chemicals registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be recommended. Registration of preservatives is under constant review by EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Use only preservatives that bear an EPA registration number and carry directions for home and farm use. Preservatives, such as creosote and pentachlorophenol, should not be applied to the interior of dwellings that are occupied by humans. Because all preservatives are under constant review by EPA, a responsible State or Federal agency should be consulted as to the current status of any preservative.


Ibach, Rebecca E. 1999. Wood preservation. Wood handbook : wood as an engineering material. Madison, WI : USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, 1999. General technical report FPL ; GTR-113: Pages 14.1-14.27

Publication Notes

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.