Minerals, Metals, and Other Materials

Man-Made Products

What is creosote?

Creosote is a yellowish, poisonous, oily liquid obtained from the distillation of coal or wood tar (coal tar constitutes the major part of the liquid condensate obtained from the “dry” distillation or carbonization of coal to coke). Crude creosote oil, also called dead oil or pitchoil, is obtained by distilling coal tar and is used as a wood preservative. Railroad ties, poles, fence posts, marine pilings, and lumber for outdoor use are impregnated with creosote in large cylindrical vessels. This treatment can greatly extend the useful life of wood that is exposed to the weather. Creosote that is distilled from wood tar is used in pharmaceuticals. Other uses of creosote include disinfectants and solvents. In 1986, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began restricting the use of creosote as a wood preservative because of its poisonous and carcinogenic nature.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Science Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App