How To Tell If Railroad Ties Have Creosote? Is there a way?

We have covered a few topics regarding the use of railroad ties for landscaping purposes, today we will talk about how to tell if railroad ties have creosote on them.

Now before you go looking for railroad ties for sale, let’s learn a bit about good old cresote

Before we dig in I want to emphasize the fact that creosote is a toxic substance and if you are planning on using railroad ties treated with it, you should read more about it here and you are aware of the risks of using it.

As mentioned above, we talked in the past about railroad ties, how to get them for free, where to buy railroad ties from, what are railroad ties treated with, how much railroad ties weigh and a few more topics that I believe you’ll find as useful as this one.

Now, How To Tell if Railroad Ties Have Creosote & What Is It

how to tell if railroad ties have creosote
This is what creosote looks like, it forms in dirty chimneys
how to tell if railroad ties have creosote
You can see above what a tie looks like with an excess of creosote, mind you, it’s not always this obvious.

Creosote is made out of the distillation of tar from wood/coal and it has a dark color.

So, the simplest way to tell if the railroad tie has been previously treated with creosote is by the color of it.

Is the railroad tie blackish, does it look it’s clogged, with a nasty sticky oil like substance on it?

If so, it has been treated with creosote.

One thing you need to know is that, in time the creosote used for treating the wood will leach away into the soil.

So, if you got an old railroad tie, the blackness might be almost gone. But, that doesn’t mean that creosote is not present in the railroad tie. It just might not be in the same quantity as before.

Also, in time, wood will turn blackish, especially the usedrailroad ties which were exposed to rain, snow so it can be quite confusing.

Chances that a railroad tie used previously by the railroad was not treated with creosote are extremely slim.

There are used railroad ties for sale, where the seller can guarantee that the tie was never treated with creosote, railroad companies will not use those for their main purpose.

A railroad tie not treated with creosote will look like a piece of regular wood with a natural wood color, with pores open and veins visible, not clogged and/or covered with what looks like oil/paint.

Can You Smell Creosote? What Is That Smell?

On a hot summers day, a railroad tie treated with creosote, exposed to direct sunlight will smell like oil.

The smell is very obvious, unlike smelling a wood smell, the oily smell with come through.

CAUTION – How To Tell If Railroad Ties Have Creosote

You should always assume that any used railroad tie you put your hand on was previously treated with creosote. This means that you should wear adequate protection and never burn them. I

f you have to cut a railroad tie, always wear a mask, since the creosote might be present in the fine sawdust.

Note: Handling railroad ties treated with creosote or any other known toxic substance might irritate your skin or even worse, always wear protection.

Happy Landscaping & Enjoy.