How to Treat Reclaimed Wood for Bugs

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If you’re beginning a project using reclaimed wood, there are some things you need to know about how to treat reclaimed wood for bugs.

Though reclaiming wood is a wonderful way to repurpose old materials, it can also be a breeding ground for bugs. Bugs love the moist environments of reclaimed wood and can create an unhealthy and dangerous situation for anyone using the wood in their home or remodeling project. 

This article will help you identify the most common types of bugs that are found in reclaimed wood, numerous different ways to clean and exterminate them and also answer some frequently asked questions about bugs and reclaimed wood.

Reasons Why You Should Reclaim Wood 

The “worn wood” look has grown in popularity over the years because it creates a certain aesthetic to a home or building. Whether reclaimed wood is used as a modern art display, a feature wall, an interior or exterior design, wood reclaim is becoming more and more popular. It often has distinctive markings, nail holes, or etchings that tell the story of its history. Other reasons why reclaiming wood is a great idea are:

  • You would be repurposing wood that would otherwise go to waste
  • It is an eco-friendly and safer choice compared to plastic or other synthetic materials that produce noxious off-gassing and take hundreds of years to decompose after disposal
  • Reclaiming wood can be a cheaper option than buying new wood
  • Reclaimed wood is also less prone to bow or twist than first-use timber
  • Reclaimed wood is surprisingly adaptable. It provides an appealing texture to a space without stealing the show.

Different Types Of Bugs That Your Reclaim Wood May Have

Termites, beetles and carpenter ants are just some of the many different types of bugs that reclaimed timber could have. Knowing the most common ones and knowing their unique signs of infestation can help you to prevent a full-blown disaster and avoid costly repairs.


The most dreaded amongst the bugs that infest wood is termites. They are quite popular pests and can be very destructive. There are many different species of termites, over 2,000 to be exact. While each species has its own preference for what it likes to consume. However, generally speaking, they mostly enjoy warm and humid climates the most. 

Indication signs of their presence include:

  • Visible trails of shredded wings throughout the wood, similar looking to tiny fish scales
  • Termites consume from the interior out, leaving a thin veneer of wood or paint in their wake. As a result, when you knock or tap on the wood it will sound hollow.
  • Mud tubes often made of tiny pieces of soil, wood and debris are used by termites as bridges between their colony and the wood they eat. The appearance of these tubes will be a clear sign that termites are present.
  • Termites that appear to be white ants are active termites. 
  • Brownish, gritty faecal mounds left behind are characteristic of drywood termites. These may be found beneath infested wood so keep an eye out for them

Carpenter Ants

These bugs gain no nutritional value from wood; instead, carpenter ants damage lumber to make nests. Carpenter ants are rarely found nesting in dry wood. They prefer wood that has been softened by moisture, decay, or other insects. Although the damage caused by them is typically not as grave as the damage caused by termites; as they expand and grow they can cause significant damage over a period of years. 

Signs of an infestation include:

  • Despite the fact that the surface of wood may appear to be undamaged, carpenter ants may be identified by the following telltale window holes such as outside nest openings that may have a large amount of wood shavings, debris, dead insects, and other waste. The shavings are similar looking to the pencil shavings produced when sharpening a pencil but vary in shape and sizes 


Adult wood-boring beetles may or may not indicate an infestation, as their purpose to chew wood is to mate and lay eggs. Once their purpose is fulfilled they will leave the wood alone and crawl out. Later upon the hatching of the eggs, the dormant beetles will crawl out of these holes.

Several signs can indicate an infestation:

  • The holes made by beetles as they emerge from the wood.
  • The presence of frass, a powdery material that is a mix of wood fragments and feces. It can accumulate in structural cracks or pile below the holes.
  • Wood that has been infested with larvae tunneling just beneath the surface will look discolored or split.
  • The larvae will make audible rasping or ticking noises as they gnaw on wood.

Different Ways to Clean Reclaim Wood 

1. Kiln Drying

Timber that has been stored outside for a long time and as such may become damp. When that wood is then dried in a kiln it kills any bugs that are present or have been infested with the timber, thus making it safe to use again. Many companies offer this service and people highly prefer this method as it is one of the most effective ways to ensure your timber is pest-free.

Also Read: Lumber Storage Ideas

2. Milling

Just cut off the problem! Once reclaimed wood is milled, the bugs are left behind in the original infestation site. In case you’re wondering, the reclaimed timber can be used again but will need to be inspected once more to make sure bugs are not present. Milling reclaimed wood is something that can be done easily at home or with a contractor.

3. DIY Cleaning and Washing

If you do not wish to trust some wood supplier to clean your reclaimed wood, you can simply do it yourself. Following are some options that can help you to clean reclaimed wood:

First, we’ll provide you with 3 ideas on how to wash and clean your wood properly then give you 3 more options on how to get rid of those bugs that may be crawling on reclaimed wood. See, full guidance!

Cleaning Dirt and Other Unwanted Substances Ideas

1. Pressure Washing

Reclaimed wood may be pressure washed to ensure that it is clean of most dirt and grime. Just make sure you place the wood up, off the ground and avoid spraying the wood too closely with your pressure washer.

2. Garden Hose, Soap, and Bristle Brush

Using a hose, spray off the wood with water, then take some soap and scrub the wood using a brush before washing it off with the spray again. You should be able to remove the majority of the dirt on your first try, but if not, simply repeat the procedure.

3. Wire Brush and Hand Sanding

This approach is excellent for removing major flaws. First brush out any substantial blemishes using a wire brush, follow up by hand sanding it. You may sand the wood smooth or leave it slightly rough, it depends on your own personal preference.

Exterminate Bugs from Reclaim Wood 

1. Use a Steamer

A steamer is an excellent method to get rid of any insects or vermin from the wood. When the steamer is used on wood, it heats it up and kills any organisms present. While this is a simple technique, keep in mind that it isn’t as thorough as kiln drying and may miss some bugs.

2. Apply Borax and Water Spray

Borax is an effective compound for killing insects. Mix the borax powder with water and spray it over your reclaimed wood thoroughly using a spray bottle. This will ensure that you have covered all the wood with the solution and will not only kill the present bugs but also help to prevent any future infestations.

3. Using Oven or Freezer

One simple way to kill bugs on smaller pieces of reclaimed wood is to place them in your oven or freezer. Set your oven with the wood in it at the lowest possible setting, to turn it into an ‘at home mini kiln dryer’. You may also place it in your freezer but keep in mind it may not be as effective and may take a longer time to kill the bugs.


Will reclaimed wood rot?

Whichever kind of wood it is, whether old or new, you will still need to take the same precautions to protect the piece. Wood is wood and will absorb moisture, rot, or crack if not taken well care of. 

Though generally speaking old reclaimed wood is typically drier than new wood and of less concern, you’ll need to make sure that it came off a building recently. If placed in a stack with no airflow preventing it from drying out, the wood will rot. 

A wood stack with wood spacers between each layer and allowing air circulation will endure much longer than a plastic-covered stack.

So, just be aware of the condition reclaimed wood comes in.

Also Read: How to Keep Untreated Wood From Rotting

How do you tell if reclaimed wood is treated? 

One way to know is to be aware of what kind of wood it is. Softwoods are more likely to be pressure treated as they’re naturally much more moist than compared to hardwoods. However, there are more signs you may look for to figure out if your reclaimed wood has been treated, such as:

Check if it has a tag, label or stamp that designates it as pressure-treated wood, it should contain the name of the preservative, the rating, preservation company, or other related information.

Look for a faint olive-green tinge to the wood. If the wood is too aged to detect any color except gray, carefully cut into a portion of the lumber at an angle. You can also inspect the grooves or joints for any green hue, which would imply CCA pressure treatment.

Also Read: Can You Burn Treated Wood?

Is it safe to use reclaimed wood? 

It is fairly safe to use reclaimed wood as long as you take precautions. You’ll need to make sure that it wasn’t painted with toxic paint, is free of bug infestation and hasn’t been treated using harmful chemicals. Furthermore, also check that the wood does not contain any metal parts, such as nails before using a power saw on it.


Bugs can lead to some serious problems if not dealt with quickly and efficiently. You need to learn how to get rid of them before you start working on the reclaimed wood for your next construction project. Hopefully, this article has now taught you how to properly deal with bugs and reclaimed wood. So what are you waiting for, go out there and reclaimed some wood.

Just remember, to keep your reclaimed wood dry and free from parasites!

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1 thought on “How to Treat Reclaimed Wood for Bugs”

  1. I decided to do an additional study on reclaimed beams because my sister has been considering using them for her home. It’s fortunate that I stumbled on your blog because you mentioned that treated reclaimed wood will always include a tag, label, or stamp. I’ll absolutely let her know about this so she may keep it in mind when she buys one. I appreciate you sharing!


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