Creosote has long been a popular choice for preserving wood, particularly among homeowners, fencing contractors, DIY enthusiasts, and gardeners. Its effectiveness in protecting wood against rot, decay, and insect infestation is well-known. However, the question arises—can you still buy creosote in the UK today? This blog post explores the intricacies of creosote availability, regulations, alternatives, and its impact on various industries and individuals.

The History of Creosote

Creosote has a storied history dating back to the 19th century when it was first used as a wood preservative. Originally derived from coal tar, creosote quickly gained popularity for its ability to protect timber from decay. Its dark, oily consistency made it particularly effective for outdoor applications like railway sleepers, fencing, and telegraph poles. Despite its proven efficacy, concerns about its potential health and environmental risks have led to evolving regulations over time.

Regulatory Changes in the UK

In recent years, the UK has seen significant changes in the regulation of creosote. Following studies that highlighted its carcinogenic properties and potential harm to human health, the European Union introduced stringent restrictions on its use. These regulations were subsequently adopted by the UK. As of 2003, the sale of creosote to the general public was banned, limiting its use to professional and industrial applications only. This move aimed to minimise exposure to harmful chemicals and promote safer alternatives.

Impact on Homeowners and DIY Enthusiasts

For homeowners and DIY enthusiasts who relied on creosote for various outdoor projects, the ban on its sale was a significant setback. Many had come to trust its effectiveness in preserving wooden structures and protecting them from the elements. The shift to alternative wood preservatives required adjustments in both mindset and approach. Fortunately, the market responded with a range of eco-friendly options that offered comparable protection without the associated health risks.

Alternatives to Creosote

In light of the restrictions, several alternatives to creosote have emerged. Water-based preservatives, for instance, have gained popularity due to their reduced environmental impact and ease of use. Products containing copper, boron, and other biocides offer effective protection against wood decay and insect damage. These alternatives are available in various formulations, allowing users to select the best-suited option for their specific needs. While some may argue that these substitutes lack the long-lasting durability of creosote, advancements in technology continue to improve their efficacy.

Professional Use and Availability

While the general public can no longer purchase creosote, it remains accessible to professionals in specific industries. Fencing contractors, for example, can still obtain creosote for treating large-scale projects. Its industrial applications, such as treating utility poles and railway sleepers, are also permitted under strict regulations. Professionals using creosote must adhere to stringent safety guidelines to minimise exposure and ensure proper handling and disposal.

Environmental Considerations

Environmental concerns have played a significant role in the shift away from creosote. The chemicals in creosote can leach into soil and water, posing risks to ecosystems and human health. The move towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly wood preservatives reflects a broader trend in the industry. Manufacturers are increasingly developing products that prioritise both performance and ecological responsibility, aligning with the growing awareness of sustainability issues.

Health and Safety Precautions

For those still working with creosote in professional settings, health and safety precautions are paramount. Protective clothing, gloves, and masks are essential to minimise direct contact with the substance. Proper ventilation and disposal methods are also crucial to prevent environmental contamination. The transition to safer alternatives has been driven by a commitment to reducing health risks and promoting a safer working environment for all involved.

Cost Implications

The ban on creosote has also had cost implications for various stakeholders. While alternative wood preservatives can sometimes be more expensive, the long-term benefits in terms of health and environmental impact often outweigh the initial costs. Additionally, advancements in manufacturing processes have led to more competitive pricing for eco-friendly options. Homeowners and professionals alike must weigh the costs and benefits when selecting wood preservation products, considering both immediate needs and long-term sustainability.

Consumer Awareness and Education

Educating consumers about the risks associated with creosote and the availability of safer alternatives is crucial. Many individuals may not be aware of the regulatory changes or the potential health hazards posed by creosote. Public awareness campaigns, informative resources, and clear labelling on products can help bridge this knowledge gap. By empowering consumers with information, we can promote safer practices and encourage the adoption of eco-friendly wood preservatives.

The Role of Government and Industry

Government regulations and industry standards have been instrumental in driving the transition away from creosote. Striking a balance between effective wood preservation and minimising health and environmental risks requires collaboration between policymakers, manufacturers, and consumers. Ongoing research and development efforts are essential to innovate new solutions that meet both performance and safety criteria. By working together, we can create a future where wood preservation is achieved without compromising human health or the environment.

Future Trends in Wood Preservation

Looking ahead, the future of wood preservation is likely to be shaped by continued advancements in technology and sustainability. Researchers are exploring novel materials and formulations that offer enhanced protection while being environmentally benign. Innovations such as nanotechnology and bio-based preservatives hold promise for revolutionising the industry. The shift towards circular economy principles, where materials are reused and recycled, further underscores the importance of sustainable practices in wood preservation.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Examining case studies and success stories can provide valuable insights into the practical application of alternative wood preservatives. For instance, several fencing contractors have successfully transitioned to using water-based treatments, achieving comparable results to creosote without the associated risks. These real-world examples demonstrate that effective wood preservation can be achieved with safer, more sustainable products. Sharing such success stories can inspire others to make the switch and contribute to a greener future.

Challenges and Opportunities

While the move away from creosote presents challenges, it also opens up new opportunities for innovation and growth. Manufacturers have an opportunity to develop cutting-edge products that meet evolving regulatory standards and consumer demands. Professionals in the industry can enhance their expertise by staying informed about the latest advancements and best practices. Homeowners and DIY enthusiasts can take pride in using products that contribute to a healthier environment. By viewing these challenges as opportunities, we can collectively drive positive change.


The question of whether you can still buy creosote in the UK highlights the broader shift towards safer, more sustainable wood preservation practices. While creosote remains accessible to professionals under strict regulations, the general public must turn to alternative options. This transition, driven by health and environmental considerations, reflects a commitment to protecting both people and the planet. By exploring the history, regulations, alternatives, and future trends in wood preservation, we gain a comprehensive understanding of this evolving landscape.

In conclusion, the move away from creosote is a testament to our collective dedication to safer, more sustainable practices. Whether you're a homeowner, fencing contractor, DIY enthusiast, or gardener, understanding the available options and their implications empowers you to make informed decisions. The future of wood preservation lies in innovative, eco-friendly solutions that ensure both the longevity of wooden structures and the well-being of individuals and the environment.