What Wood Is Toxic to Burn: [6 Of The Worst]

What Wood Is Toxic to Burn

Be it a calming fireplace in your home or a rugged campfire by the woods, natural fires are a pleasure to be around. A sense of serenity is associated with these fires that come from controlled burning of wood.

People all over the world enjoy sitting by their fireplaces in the evenings and unwinding after a long, tiring day at work. 

These fires are fueled by the burning of wood. If you are in the middle of the forest on a camping trip, you will need to venture out before sundown to find timber. This is the timber you will use to build a fire at your campsite.

However, you must know which type of wood is okay to burn. Many trees have dangerous toxins in their barks, which can cause serious harm to you. 

Here is all you need to know about toxic wood that is unsafe to burn at campfires or fireplaces indoors. 

Six types of toxic woods you need to avoid 

These are different types of timber that you must avoid burning to prevent inhaling toxic fumes.


Oleander is a common shrub found in Asia, Europe, and the plains of Africa. They are usually found in regions that do not experience snow. This shrub has thin elongated leaves and pink or white flowers growing in the flowering season. It is very easy to spot because of its peculiar appearance. However, as beautiful as it looks, this shrub is full of toxins.

The Nerium leaf contains concentrated amounts of toxins. This plant can have very severe effects on people and could also lead to death in some cases. You must avoid burning oleander wood in your fireplaces or campsites at all costs. Some of the serious health adversities caused by this shrub are diarrhea, drowsiness, vomiting, heart palpitations, and death.

Mexican elder

The Mexican elder is a common specie found in the southern states of North America. This tree grows up to 30ft in height and is a considerably short, semi-evergreen tree. It is easy to spot in America and most South American countries.

This tree, however, is very poisonous and must not be burnt as fuel in any type of fire. 

It is very easy to find as it grows very quickly in these regions. The tree is a natural source of cyanide. The leaves, stem, roots, and the seeds of this tree are extremely poisonous, and it is advised to stay away from the tree.

If you do end up cutting it down for timber, this plant will give you cyanide poisoning, which can further lead to death. Breathing in the smoke released from its wood can be very harmful to your respiratory tracts too.

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak

Essentially any plant with the word poison in its name is a great indication that you need to avoid it! These plants are generally found in the continental United States.

They are very common, and you will find them in all forests. However, they are concentrated in the Rocky Mountain Range regions. You must avoid poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac when you are collecting wood in the forest.

It is common knowledge that these plants have the potential to adversely affect you. Poison ivy is known for causing rashes and irritating the skin on contact.

However, if you burn these plants, their toxin urushiol can affect your respiratory tracts severely. This smoke is fatal to some people and can cause very serious harm to others.


Driftwood is any type of wood that washes up on the shore of a beach or a waterbody. This wood could be of any type or specie. If you live near the ocean, then you have probably seen large chunks of wood and trees washing up on the shore frequently. This wood is known as driftwood. 

It may seem like a safe bet to burn it as fuel, but it is certainly not. This type of wood is saturated with salt that it picked up from the ocean.

This salt contains high amounts of chlorine, which is very harmful to human beings. Burning driftwood creates a chemical reaction with chlorine that releases carcinogenic fumes. 


Greenwood is any wood that is immature and has not developed yet. This type of wood is usually seen in young trees and is found everywhere. If you are on the lookout for timber, then you must avoid green wood or young wood. This type of wood contains a lot of water and gum.

It may seem harmless to use this type of wood for a fireplace, but this water and gum can be very toxic to your health. 

When you burn this wood in a fireplace or a campfire, it releases fumes that can be very harmful to you. These fumes are caused by the copious amounts of gum in the wood.

Moreover, this wood releases a lot of smoke that can be very dangerous to your respiratory tract too.

[Related Article: How To Dry Green Firewood]

Plywood, stained wood

Any type of wood altered by man is unsafe to burn. You may use high-quality wood to create plywood and chipboards. However, this type of wood has a lot of glue, resin, paints, and even plastic in it.

Adulterated wood is harmful to burn because of these chemical components in them. 

When you burn this type of wood, the chemicals in the glue react with the heat and release fumes that are unsafe for you to breathe. This smoke can accumulate in your home if there is not enough ventilation and have adverse effects on your breathing.

Moreover, you should not burn this wood outside because it can potentially damage the environment too.


Burning wood is a practice followed by humans for eons. However, it is important to have the right knowledge about timber before we light it up on fire. Toxic wood is very common in natural forests, and if you burn them, you can land up in the emergency room in minutes.

Apart from toxic wood, it is also important to remember that you must avoid burning rare species of wood too. So, do your research responsibly and burn wood that is safe and morally correct to burn!

Brian Koller

Growing up on a farm in eastern PA, I’ve grown fond of wildlife and the woods and learning about the critters and firewood and everything else in-between. I made this site to share my experiences and knowledge.

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