pallets on a forklift

How to Select the Right Pallet for Your Business: Wood vs. Plastic

If your business involves shipping products from place to place, chances are they’re moving around on pallets.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, a pallet is a small rectangular platform that’s used as a base for shipping and handling various kinds of products. Shippers stack piles of product on pallets, wrap them and send them off to different destinations. Openings below the base make the pallet easy to pick up and move around with a forklift truck or hand-pulled pallet jack.

Pallets are often confused with skids. While similar, they’re not entirely identical. Unlike a skid, a pallet has a bottom deck on at least two edges, and sometimes all four. This makes pallets more stable and able to handle heavier loads than skids.

Most pallets are made of wood, but plastic pallets are increasingly common. Each has its own pros and cons, which are worth considering alongside the individual needs of your business and the nature of the specific products you’re shipping.

Strength and stiffness are two of the leading considerations when picking pallets—whatever material you choose must be strong enough to withstand the weight of its load not just during shipping, but also however long it sits in storage before and after it reaches its destination.

The other things to consider when buying pallets are price and durability. Business owners tend to look for a balance between not paying for more strength and quality than they need, but investing in pallets that can be used and reused in multiple shipping cycles.

Here’s what else to know when choosing between wood and plastic pallets for your business shipping needs:

Pallet cost vs pallet durability

Wood beats plastic in up-front cost but can’t compete in durability. Wood pallets tend to last between three and five years, although their lifespan can change depending on how often they’re used, what they’re carrying, and the conditions they’re kept in (i.e.. wet vs dry). In most cases, broken wood pallets can be repaired, and you don’t need to be a master carpenter to bang a couple of new boards into place.

While plastic pallets are expensive to buy, they tend to last at least 10 years and sometimes several decades, making them more of a long-term investment. Once a plastic pallet has made a certain number of trips, it becomes more cost effective than wood. 

What makes plastic pallets so durable? Unlike wood, plastic isn’t susceptible to damage from humidity or pests. Still, cracks and breaks do happen. While minor damage can often be fixed with the right kind of strong adhesive, not all broken plastic pallets can be repaired.

Pallet Weight and load limits

Wood pallets are heavier than plastic pallets, which can be an important factor if you’re shipping by weight. However, wood pallets are stronger than plastic, and can carry bigger loads. While the load limit for a plastic pallet is about 1,500 pounds, a decent wood pallet can carry up to 3,000 pounds worth of product.

Pallet Hygiene and international regulations

Plastic pallets can be washed and cleaned, making them suitable for shipping products that require hygienic conditions during transit and storage. Special food-grade pallets are required for shipping edible products and ingredients, including pharmaceuticals.

Wood pallets, on the other hand, can’t be cleaned. Some pallet makers use heat-treated wood, which is resistant to pest and water damage, but even heat-treated wood is porous and may absorb spills and ambient moisture.

If you’re exporting products to international destinations, be aware that some countries have rules and restrictions around the wood used on arriving pallets. It’s vital to make sure your shipment doesn’t get held up in customs because your wood pallets are causing a problem. No such issues exist with plastic pallets, which can easily be treated upon arrival in a foreign destination.

SUPPLY POINTe, a leading supplier of quality shipping supplies including pallets, is here to help. Our experienced pallet consultants can work with you to determine the best type and size of pallets for your specific needs.

Scroll to Top