Railway sleepers are not only a great choice for garden borders, but they are also perfect for creating raised beds in the garden. They are strong and durable, and they look great too, however, before you can start using them in your garden, you will need to ensure that they are protected. Although most sleepers will come pre-treated, they are made of wood and can still become susceptible to the elements with age. If you have new sleepers that are untreated or you have some old sleepers that may be looking a little worn, you may want to know how to protect them. You’re in luck, below we have 3 ways to protect railway sleepers in your garden.

Railway Sleepers
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What are Railway Sleepers?

Railway sleepers are pressure-treated wooden boards that are used to create a foundation for railway tracks. They are made from hardwood trees such as oak, maple, or birch. The wood is treated with creosote or other preservatives to protect it from rot and decay. They are available in a variety of sizes, but the most common size is 2.4m long by 0.24m wide and they also have a variety of uses away from the railways.

What are Railway Sleepers Used for?

Aside from their primary purpose on railways, in the United Kingdom, railway sleepers are used in a number of different ways in gardens. For one, they are an inexpensive way to create raised beds and other garden features. They are also easy to work with and can be cut to any size or shape. In addition, railway sleepers are durable and will last for many years. They can also be used to create retaining walls, and edgings for paths, and steps. They can also be used to create informal seating, or even tables and benches.

Note: Modern railway sleepers are eco-friendly and are treated with non-hazardous materials making them safe for your garden.

Railway Sleeper Used for a Raised Bed
Railway Sleeper Used for a Raised Bed

How to Protect Railway Sleepers?

Most railway sleepers will come pre-treated with industrial creosote, but your sleepers may not have been treated or they may be old and in need of another treatment to protect them from the elements. Below, we have 3 different ways you can protect your garden railway sleepers.

Creocote Wood Preservative

Creocote (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) is a modern wood preservative that is now used domestically as a substitute for creosote after it was banned in the UK in 2003.

It is a dark brown liquid that is applied to the sleeper with a brush or sprayer, and it soaks into the wood to provide long-lasting protection. Creocote will prevent rot and decay, and it will also help to repel insects and other pests. Allow the creocote to soak in for a few hours, then apply a second coat if necessary and once it has dried, it will form a hard, protective barrier that will last for many years.

If you are looking for a way to protect your garden railway sleepers from the elements, then creocote is an ideal solution.

Wood Stain

Wood stains (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) are a great way to protect garden railway sleepers from the elements. They help to keep the sleeper looking new by providing a barrier against water, dirt, and other nasties.

Woodstain for Protecting Garden Sleepers
Woodstain for Protecting Garden Sleepers

Wood stains can be applied using a brush or sprayer and come in a variety of colours to suit your needs. When choosing a stain, be sure to check the labels for compatibility with your garden railway sleeper material.

Note: Stains come in a variety of colours, so you can choose the perfect shade to match your fencing or other outdoor furniture.


Exterior wood paints are a great way to protect garden railway sleepers from the elements whilst providing a little colour. By providing a barrier between the sleeper and the environment, this treatment helps to prevent rot, mould, and mildew from taking hold.

Paint for Protecting Garden Sleepers
Paint for Protecting Garden Sleepers

When applying paint to garden railway sleepers, it is important to follow the instructions carefully. In most cases, you will need to apply the product with a brush or roller, and then leave it to soak into the wood for the recommended time. Once the treatment has been applied, it is important to allow it to dry thoroughly before using the railway sleeper. This will help to ensure that the treatment has had time to fully penetrate the wood and provide maximum protection. There are also other paints available that can help make the railway sleepers non-slip (Amazon link – opens in a new tab). This is particularly helpful if you are expecting to walk on them – particularly in the wintertime.

Note: There are a number of different treatments available on the market, so it is important to choose one that is suitable for your particular type of sleeper.


Railway sleepers can be a great addition to your garden. They are easy to install and add character to any space and protecting them from decay is actually a fairly easy process. With the right preparation; painting, staining or preserving your railway sleepers will be a breeze.

How to Treat Railway Sleepers Infographic

Garden Doctor Tips

“Oil-based paints can help to prolong the life of your railway sleepers by many years!”

“Before treating, you may want to give them a light sanding to remove any rough or damaged edges!”

“Whatever you use, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying times!”

“If you have an old tin of creosote laying around, dispose of it responsibly by going to the local tip and taking it to the hazardous waste bin!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Are garden sleepers slippery when wet?

Yes, garden sleepers can be slippery when wet. This is because they are made of wood, and like most wooden surfaces, when they become wet, they are slippery. This can create a dangerous situation if you are walking or driving on them when it is raining or if there is snow or ice on the ground.

So, if you are using garden sleepers in your yard, be sure to take precautions when it rains or snows. For example, you could put down some sand or salt to help make them less slippery.

Are railway sleepers safe for vegetable gardens?

As long as railway sleepers are treated with eco-friendly, non-toxic preservatives, they can be safe for use in vegetable gardens. Creosote, a common chemical used to treat railway sleepers, is not environmentally friendly and can be toxic to plants and animals.

Should you treat railway sleepers?

Railway sleepers are made from hardwood, and if they are in good condition and have been treated with preservatives, they can last for decades without further treatment. However, if the wood has been damaged by fungi or insects, it will need to be treated with a suitable fungicidal or insecticidal product.

Should you paint railway sleepers?

Sleepers can be painted depending on your preference. Some people may like the natural look of the wood, while others may prefer to paint them a different colour. If you do decide to paint them, we recommend using an outdoor paint that is made especially for wood.


Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.

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