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Formaldehyde - Now What?

Formaldehyde; what is it?

Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. Thus, it may be present in varying concentrations both indoors and outdoors.

Sources of Formaldehyde

Sources of formaldehyde in the home include some building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of some un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.  Formaldehyde is used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing, draperies and other textiles, as a component of glues and adhesives, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products.

In homes, the most common sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins: particleboard (used as subflooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering, cabinets, furniture); and fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture).

The rate at which products like pressed wood or textiles release formaldehyde can change. Formaldehyde emissions will generally decrease as products age. When the products are new, high indoor temperatures or humidity can cause increased release of formaldehyde from these products.

Health Effects

Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels. High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions.

Levels in Homes

Average concentrations in older homes are generally well below 0.1 ppm (parts per million). In homes with significant amounts of new pressed wood products, levels can be greater than 0.3 ppm.

Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Homes

If you experience adverse reactions to formaldehyde, you may want to ask about the formaldehyde content of products before you purchase them, or avoid the use of them. For further information on formaldehyde and consumer products, call the EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) assistance line (202-554-1404).

Steps to Reduce Exposure        

  • Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
  • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
  • Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.


Steps to Reduce Exposure from New Flooring or Furniture        

  • Check manufacturer’s packaging to ensure that the contents are certified to meet California’s current CARB Phase 2 levels.
  • By far, the best way to reduce even normal levels of formaldehyde is to use ventilation.
  • Cut and process all pieces OUTSIDE of dwelling areas.
  • Expect some odors to last a week or more, but to reduce over time. Remember: the more ventilation, the faster the dissipation of even normal odors from formaldehyde or other materials. 

Maintain moderate temperature and humidity levels and provide adequate ventilation. The rate at which formaldehyde is released is accelerated by heat and may also depend somewhat on the humidity level. Therefore, the use of dehumidifiers and air conditioning to control humidity and to maintain a moderate temperature can help reduce formaldehyde emissions. (Drain and clean dehumidifier collection trays frequently so that they do not become a breeding ground for microorganisms.) Increasing the rate of ventilation in your home will also help in reducing formaldehyde levels.


What is Cal-Flor doing to minimize Formaldehyde exposure in its products?

A lot of companies talk about being green. At Cal-Flor, we're making the effort to do what's best for our customers, our business, our industry, and our planet.  We have re-formulated our D3 glue to ensure that it is free or harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde.   Our Eco Clean floor cleaner is fully biodegradable with no VOC’s or toxic residues.  And we are currently reformulating our popular Click-Seal joint sealer to be even more environmentally sustainable.