Creosote has been a popular wood preservative and sealant for many years, but with increasing environmental concerns and regulatory changes, many are left wondering if it is still possible to purchase this product in the UK. In this article, we dive into the current status of creosote, its alternatives, and how to properly care for your wooden structures.

A Brief History of Creosote

Creosote is a dark, oily substance derived from the distillation of coal tar. It has been used for over a century as a wood preservative, waterproofing agent, and insect repellent, making it a staple in the maintenance of outdoor wooden structures such as fence panels, sheds, and railway sleepers. Creosote works by penetrating the wood and making it resistant to rot, decay, and insect infestations.

However, in recent years, there have been growing concerns about the potential health risks and environmental impact caused by creosote, leading to tighter regulations around its use and sale.

Creosote Regulations in the UK

In 2003, the European Union classified creosote as a carcinogen and restricted its use for both professional and amateur use. As a result, the sale of creosote to the general public in the UK is now prohibited under the Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR) 1986 (ref. HSE - UK Government).

There are exceptions, however. Professional users who hold a valid certificate of competence in the safe use of timber treatments can still purchase and use creosote for specific applications. These applications include use on:

  • Railway sleepers
  • Telegraph poles
  • Fencing for agricultural and industrial use
  • On-site treatment of timber in industrial applications

Essentially, creosote can still be bought and used in the UK, but only by certified professionals for specific purposes.

Alternatives to Creosote

With creosote no longer available for general use, many alternative wood preservatives and treatments have emerged on the market. Some popular alternatives include:

  1. Water-Based Preservatives: These treatments are less toxic than creosote and contain active ingredients such as borates, copper-azole, or micronised copper quaternary (MCQ). Examples include Ronseal Total Wood Preservative and Cuprinol Garden Shades.
  1. Oil-Based Preservatives: Like creosote, oil-based preservatives provide deep penetration and protection for wood against rot, decay, and insect attack. Examples include Osmo UV Protection Oil and Barrettine Wood Protective Treatment.