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Are Fiberboard Pegboards Unsafe? Is Steel a Better Choice?

Are fiberboard pegboads unsafe? Is steel a better choice?

Is the formaldehyde in a garage storage pegboard dangerous to breathe? Yes, but only if you cut the board, or you allow it to deteriorate. The inner fibers carry the formaldehyde.

My father kept his tools on pegboards in the garage and in the basement. I treated the pegboard and its hooks like an inert version of a Lite Brite toy. There was usually fiber coming loose from some of the board holes.  The hooks would come loose with whatever was being removed from the board. I recently was reading about the formaldehyde in pegboard. I didn’t remember my father’s storage pegboards smelling like embalming fluid.  I wondered if my father’s pegboards were full of formaldehyde, and if they were dangerous.

Does pegboard actually contain formaldehyde? Are pegboards dangerous? Yes, pegboard can be dangerous. Fiberboard pegboard contains formaldehyde. Pegboard manufacturers use urea-formaldehyde spray adhesive.  Fiberboard can be dangerous if it is still out gassing. Fiberboard can be dangerous if inner fibers come in contact with your nose or lungs.

Years ago, all pegboard manufacturers used fiberboard. Almost no one makes fiberboard pegboard anymore. You are mostly offered steel pegboards. Sometimes you will see plastic pegboards.   If you buy a fiberboard pegboard, it will outgas urea-formaldehyde. Fiberboard pegboard fibers float because they are lightweight.  If you cut that fiberboard open, you will expose your nose and lungs to formaldehyde fibers. Outgassing reduces over time. Really old pegboard doesn’t outgas.

You might be nostalgic for the old fashioned fiberboard pegboard. Maybe you inherited a pile that you want to keep. You should understand when fiberboard pegboard is dangerous.

Is Fiberboard Pegboard Formaldehyde Dangerous?

The EPA’s fiberboard formaldehyde standards allow as much as 0.13 ppm. The thing is, there’s no such thing as a safe amount of formaldehyde. Manufacturers used to make fiberboard pegboards. Now they make steel and plastic pegboards. Some still do use fiberboard. Fiberboard is engineered wood. The manufacturer compressed wood fibers and seals them with a urea-formaldehyde adhesive. Yes, fiberboard pegboard can be dangerous. How dangerous depends on how you handle the board if it gets damaged, and its age.

Fiberboard comes in three densities:

  • particle board, which is lightweight
  • MDF, which is medium density fiberboard
  • HDF, which is high-density fiberboard

You should not use or cut decomposed fiberboard. You can safely use uncut, undamaged, old fiberboard.

HDF is the most compact. Particleboard is the least compact. The more compact a pegboard is, the more formaldehyde it contains. Fiberboard out gases most when it’s brand new. It out gasses less and less over time. If you cut a fiberboard, you expose yourself to the inner fibers. If you spill something on fiberboard, the board might deteriorate. You might also get exposed to the inner fibers. You should not use cut or decomposed fiberboard. You can safely use uncut, undamaged, old fiberboard. One usually cuts pegboard to size it around electrical outlets. Wear a respirator and safety gloves to cut fiberboard. Seal the exposed edges.

Is Fiberboard Pegboard Worth the Formaldehyde Risk?

Fiberboard can be very heavy. It’s a dense package of sawdust and binders with very little air inside. If you cut or damage fiberboard pegboard, you will expose yourself to these binders. Both steel and plastic pegboards are lighter and safer than fiberboard pegboards. So if all that didn’t dissuade you from buying fiberboard pegboard, You can still buy fiberboard pegboard. I wouldn’t bother with those. I’d rather look at the new material options.

Wall Control Steel Pegboard Tool Organization
The Wall Control steel peg board 32″ x 16″ comes in 10 colors

Is Steel a Better Material than Fiberboard for Pegboards?

Yes, steel pegboard is superior to fiberboard pegboard. Steel pegboard is strong, lightweight, and does not deteriorate. It does not contain formaldehyde and it is paintable.

“Cheap Pegboard” offers one of the best steel pegboards I’ve ever found.  Cheap Pegboard is the “scratch and dent” arm of the highly-rated Wall Control Company. Wall Control specializes in pegboards and pegboard hooks.  This steel pegboard is 20-gauge steel. It is magnetic, so some tools will stick to it. You can use this pegboard with magnets as well as hooks.

Wall Control galvanizes the Heavy Duty Pegboard steel to prevent it from rusting.  They claim that this steel pegboard won’t warp, fray, crack or fail. Fiberboard is pretty much guaranteed to fray, and can certainly warp, crack or fail. “Heavy Duty Steel Pegboard” beats fiberboard pegboard on every level, except nostalgia. You can get it here.

Wall Control steel pegboard shipping box contents
Wall Control steel pegboard shipping box contents

What are the Downsides of Using a Steel Pegboard in the Garage?

Painting Steel Pegboard

You can paint steel pegboard. But you have to avoid the holes.

Steel Pegboard Temperature

Steel can be painfully cold in the winter. Since you’re not grabbing the pegboard to use it, this is not going to affect you 99.9% of the time.

Scratched and Dented Steel Pegboard

Steel pegboard can scratch and dent. If it does get scratched, at least it won’t leak formaldehyde gas! Whether scratches and dents are an issue is kind of personal. I don’t care if my steel organizers get a little scratched. I don’t care if my steel pegboard has a few dents. Lower gauge (higher quality) steel, highly-rated steel pegboards resist scratches and dents. But it’s still possible for the steel to get a little messy.

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Do Steel Pegboards Have Sheet Metal Sharp Edges?

Steel pegboards have molded edges, but they’re still capable of being sharp. You should definitely wear gloves when handling steel sheets.

Install two Wall Control steel pegboards on one stud using angled screws
Install two Wall Control steel pegboards on one stud using angled screws

Can I Install Steel Pegboard on Studs, Drywall or Cement?

You can mount steel pegboards onto wooden studs, drywall, and cement walls. Pegboard manufacturers usually assume you will mount the board into wooden studs. Cement hardware will probably not come standard with your steel pegboard and hooks.

You will need the following tools and materials, based on the type of garage wall you have:

Bare Studs

Drywall Over Studs

Cement

Drill

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green check

Hammer Drill

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Screw Bit

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green check

Masonry Bit

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Level

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green check
green check

Screwdriver

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green check
green check

Stud Finder

green check

Drywall, Wood, or Lathe Screws

green check
green check

Tapcon Concrete Screws

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Furring Strips

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green check

Wall Control steel pegboard back is flanged to offset it from the wall
Wall Control steel pegboard back is flanged to offset it from the wall

Why Don’t Steel Pegboards Sit Flat Against the Wall?

You will notice that the steel pegboard does not sit flat against the wall. It has a frame around the perimeter. Pegboard installations have to allow for space in the back where the hooks will stick out. The side edges of a steel pegboard stick out like a frame around the board. This frame offsets the flat board from the wall behind it.

Cheap Pegboard is Wall Control's scratch-and-dent outlet
Cheap Pegboard is Wall Control’s scratch-and-dent outlet

Which Companies Sell the Highest Quality Steel Pegboards?

Based on Amazon ratings, Triton and Wall Control float pretty quickly to the top. Triton is mainly a pegboard hook manufacturer. This leaves Wall Control the steel pegboard winner. Wall Control’s Amazon ratings are through the roof with happy customers. The Steel Pegboard accepts both slotted and round hole hooks (1/4″ pegboard pegs). The Steel Pegboard comes in 10 colors, so no painting is necessary. While you can cut the Steel Pegboard, I wouldn’t recommend. Cutting the board would interfere with the flange that allows the hooks to lie behind the board. You can use the Steel Pegboard to hang bicycles, ladders, sledgehammers and garden tools.  The Wall Control Steel Pegboard offers 7 square feet of storage surface, comes with a lifetime warranty (but you must keep your receipt). Get the latest price on Amazon here.

wall control pegboard quarter inch pegs 1

What Kind of Hooks Can I Use in Steel Pegboard?

Pegboard hooks fit pegboard holes. The hooks don’t care if the pegboard is fiberboard or steel. The Wall Control Steel Pegboard, for example, accepts 1/4″ pegboard hooks. Hooks always lifted away from the old fiberboard pegboards. Wall Control hooks don’t come out when you remove items from the Steel Pegboards. The Steel Pegboard will also accept 1/8″ pegboard hooks. Just don’t expect the smaller hook to stay in the pegboard hole when you pull the tool off of the board. Wall Control Steel Pegboards have both holes and slots. Slotted hooks are more stable than round hooks. More surface area meets up with the board. Bikes are relatively large pegboard storage items. You need a deep hook to store a bike on a pegboard. The bike needs lots of room to rest. Store small items such as flat wrenches on shorter hooks.

Conclusion

Old fashioned fiberboard pegboard contains formaldehyde, which is a dangerous adhesive. Older fiberboard pegboard is safer because it’s had time to outgas. But it’s much less safe if you cut into the board. Cutting fiberboard releases wood fibers. The wood fibers contain formaldehyde. 20-gauge steel pegboards are superior to fiberboard in almost every category. Steel pegboards don’t fray or deteriorate like wood pulp. Steel pegboards are lightweight and paintable. But — I would never bother painting something with so many holes waiting to get covered in paint! Steel pegboards don’t outgas formaldehyde or any other dangerous material. They’re strong and easy to install. Galvanized steel pegboards are rust-resistant. Steel pegboards have relatively safe edges. Everything is relative. Wear gloves when handling steel pegboards. Otherwise, steel pegboard is superior to fiberboard of any density.

People Also Ask

What garage wall organization product options do I have? Rail storage systems such as the Rubbermaid FastTrack; Slatwall systems such as the Gladiator and Proslat slatwall garage organization systems; hooks installed in garage wall studs including bicycle hooks, ladder hooks; fixed wall shelves; adjustable wall shelves; garden tool organizers; sports equipment racks; and wall-hung hardware cabinets.

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