What Is Formaldehyde?
People suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma are usually more aware of how harmful it is to breathe in chemicals. This is because even small amounts of particular chemicals in the air can lead to various breathing issues. One of those dangerous chemicals is formaldehyde, a carcinogenic substance.
Even those with healthy lungs should avoid exposure to formaldehyde in all cases, as inhaling it can induce serious health conditions. For instance, long-term exposure to high amounts (bigger than 0.03 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air) can pose the risk of developing rare nose and throat cancers.
We should note that formaldehyde is present in almost every home and a household item. Since formaldehyde exposure can’t be completely eliminated, we should instead focus on the ways that will allow us to minimize risk and keep ourselves and our surroundings as healthy as possible.
In the following sections, you’ll learn what formaldehyde is, where it can be found in your home, and how to reduce your exposure to it.
What Is Formaldehyde and How Does It Get Inside Your Home?
Formaldehyde is a colorless chemical. It has a strong odor, which some people say reminds them of how pickles smell. This chemical is used when producing a number of products such as pressed wood, fabrics, and insulation materials. A number of companies use it as a germicide, industrial disinfectant, and fungicide.
Formaldehyde can be both man-made and come from nature at the same time. Most living beings on Earth produce small amounts of formaldehyde during the metabolic process. When at room temperature, it becomes a gas and joins a bigger group of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We can also find formaldehyde in gas stoves, open fireplaces, and automobile emissions.
Lots of household items, including furniture and cosmetics, contain formaldehyde. It’s important to note that new products and newly built or renovated homes, as well as places filled with smoke, will have higher levels of formaldehyde.
How Formaldehyde Affects Health
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a report in 1997 that states that smaller concentrations of formaldehyde (typically less than 0.03 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air) can normally be found both indoors and outdoors.
As we can see from that, almost everyone is exposed to formaldehyde on a daily basis.
Those without sensitivity for formaldehyde might never experience any symptoms. There are some groups who are more likely to experience some level of symptoms from formaldehyde exposure, including children, the elderly, and people with respiratory or chronic problems such as asthma or bronchitis.
Short-term exposure to formaldehyde indoors might induce symptoms such as:
- Scratchy eyes
- Sore throat
- Watery eyes
People suffering from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), and other respiratory illnesses might struggle to breathe when exposed to formaldehyde even short-term.
The National Cancer Institute says that some studies have shown a connection between long-term exposure to formaldehyde and particular kinds of cancer.
Where Can Formaldehyde Be Found in the Home?
As said before, formaldehyde is pretty everywhere in the home – inside furniture, cosmetics, and other household products. We know that formaldehyde is a chemical needed in the production of various products, so we need to underline that the off-gassing of formaldehyde can happen anywhere in your home. In sections below, we’ll go through the house room-by-room, and highlight the household objects that might be emitting formaldehyde. That will give you some hints on how you can start decreasing the formaldehyde concentration.
We all perceive the bedroom as a safe, cozy place for rest. Anyways, keep in mind that your bedroom might be filled with products that can lead to formaldehyde off-gassing.
The Walls and the Floor
Wall paint can contain formaldehyde, and the same goes for the carpets. Some paint manufacturers label their product as “low-VOC” or “zero-VOC”. The products with such labels might come with smaller amounts of formaldehyde. Wood paneling for walls may contain formaldehyde as well.
Bed Frame and Nightstand
In case the furniture in your bedroom is made of plywood, particleboard, or fiberboard, any pressed-wood products in particular, you should know that it was produced using formaldehyde. Also, in case your furniture was made with a fire retardant, it might also include formaldehyde. As mentioned before, formaldehyde becomes gas when at room temperature, and so it gets released into the air.
Closet And Dresser
Another place in your bedroom where you can find formaldehyde in your closet. Permanent-press clothing, all clothing with a wrinkle-resistant spray or fire retardants in it, as well as the clothing made with synthetic fabrics or fabric dyes, may have been produced using formaldehyde. Therefore, any place where you keep your clothes might contain formaldehyde.
Contrary to what most people might expect, bathrooms can also contain formaldehyde, since it’s a compound of numerous products.
Shampoo, Soap, and Shower Gel
Most shampoos and soaps might be processed using formaldehyde as an antibacterial agent and a preservative. This process allows the product to remain shelf-stable for periods longer than one or two weeks, but at the same time, this implies that you might be maintaining your hygiene using a dangerous chemical. On the upside, there are safer, organic products available on the market too.
Most manufacturers use formaldehyde when making toilet paper. Clearly, you can’t give up on toilet paper and such products because of this, but you should consider finding out which manufacturers offer a “green” version and switch to it.
Cosmetics and Personal Care Products
Makeup, hairspray, nail polish, and such products may be made using formaldehyde. Although it seems to be innocently staying on your shelf or washing machine, it might release formaldehyde into the air.
Although kitchens are typically considered to be breeding zones for dangerous bacteria and mold, they might also have some concentrations of formaldehyde. Usually, older constructions no longer contain formaldehyde (it has likely worn off), and since getting new furniture inside the kitchen isn’t very common, kitchens might have lower concentrations of formaldehyde than other rooms.
Concentrations of formaldehyde lessen over time, so most of it is released during the first two years. We should underline that newer buildings and houses have better isolation, so the air is moving at a slower pace, which implies that formaldehyde might be present longer.
Paper Bags And Paper Towels
Keep in mind that the paper grocery bags and paper towels might help formaldehyde off-gassing. Reusable shopping bags and washable cloths are a great and clean alternative to paper bags and paper towels, so you should definitely consider switching to those.
When it comes to natural gas, the manufacturers aren’t guilty of formaldehyde emissions. Natural gas from a gas stove releases formaldehyde, as well as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Remember to always use an exhaust hood when making food on a gas stove, since it will prevent higher formaldehyde levels.
Walls, Floors, Cabinets
Same as any other room, your kitchen walls probably have paint or wallpapers over them. Although they both look nice, keep in mind that they could contain formaldehyde. Kitchens don’t typically have carpets, but the adhesives used for gluing might include formaldehyde. As said earlier, cabinets for food and dishes release most of the contained formaldehyde within two years, but note that there might be some traces of this carcinogenic chemical.
The living room is the area where we spend most of our time at home. Luckily, high traffic in this room also implies that it will probably be ventilated more often than the other rooms. The air circulation may enhance air quality, so it’s best to do this often.
Sofas and Tables
As mentioned before, pressed-wood furniture, varnishes on any wood furniture, and synthetic fabric on your sofas might imply that there’s some formaldehyde in the room. Fire retardant sofas and chairs can also contain a higher amount of formaldehyde.
Walls and Floors
In most cases, living rooms are carpeted, so formaldehyde from carpeting adhesive might still be present and pose a risk of exposure. If your house is older, this shouldn’t worry you much. As said before, the walls might also contain formaldehyde, regardless of whether they’re painted, paneled, or papered.
Candles and Air Fresheners
Similar to cosmetics and other personal care products, candles and air fresheners can also contain formaldehyde. This chemical may get released into the air simply by spraying fresheners or lighting a candle. A large number of these sorts of products might be made using formaldehyde, so we warmly suggest switching to more eco-friendly alternatives.
Fireplaces and Burning Stoves
In case your living room includes a fireplace or a burning stove, you know how cozy it can be to hang around during cold nights. Anyway, we need to underline that you should always keep it clean and well-vented. If not cleaned properly, fireplaces and burning stoves might release formaldehyde into the air and put you and your family at risk.
Other Places to Check for Formaldehyde
Now that we’ve listed the main rooms and all of the places that commonly release formaldehyde, we should focus on several other places, such as:
- Outdoors with tobacco smokers
- Garage, driveway, or parking lot
- Places where kerosene is used
- Laundry area
How to Get Rid of Formaldehyde
Learning how formaldehyde can affect your health and realizing it’s all over your home might feel a bit stressful. Anyway, when you are aware of where and what to look out for, you can make changes that will help you protect yourself and your family from this carcinogenic chemical. In the following sections, you will find some tips on how to get rid of formaldehyde in your home or reduce exposure to it:
- Don’t allow tobacco smoking around you – Especially in your home, since tobacco smoke can increase levels of formaldehyde
- Ventilate your home often – Increased fresh air circulation may lower the concentrations of formaldehyde. To make the air circulate, you simply open the windows in different rooms of your home and create a draft. Turning the fans on while windows are open will also boost air circulation. Keep in mind that if you have asthma triggered by pollen or air pollution, this might not be the best option for you.
- Let products off-gas – When buying a new piece of furniture for your home, you should unwrap it and let it sit outside your living space for a few days. Buying an already unwrapped floor model might also be an option, but if not, you can check with the store if they will allow your new purchase to sit unwrapped in their warehouse for a day or two.
- Keep an eye on humidity– Keeping the levels of humidity in your home optimal will let you cut down the risk of mold growth, but also help you prevent the things in your house from off-gassing. At higher temperatures, with more humidity in the air, the concentrations of formaldehyde can also grow.
- Keep your fireplace or wood-burning stove clean and well-vented – As mentioned before, clean and ventilate your fireplace or stove regularly, because if you don’t, it can also increase the levels of formaldehyde in the air.
- Wash all clothes before you wear them – Clothes manufacturers often use formaldehyde to prevent shrinking and wrinkling. Remember that even one wash can get rid of residual chemicals and prevent them from seeping into your skin. This also applies to blankets, towels, and bed sheets.
- In the future, look for products with low-to-zero formaldehyde – As always, the best protection is prevention. The less formaldehyde you bring into your living space, the lower the risk to your health. Products intentionally produced without formaldehyde are also available on the market, so you should opt for these kinds of low-VOC products when possible.
- Use an exhaust fan when cooking – This can be super helpful to disperse formaldehyde and lower its levels when cooking.
Formaldehyde is present in almost every home, and it’s nearly impossible to completely stop new amounts from entering your home. In case you or someone in your family has asthma or another respiratory issue, or you live with children or the elderly, you should focus on reducing the concentrations of formaldehyde in your home as much as possible.
As said before, it’s impossible to avoid any contact with formaldehyde at home, but if you follow the tips we listed above, you’ll be able to cut down the levels of formaldehyde significantly and lower the health risks for you and your family.
This concludes our post on what formaldehyde is. We hope you liked the article and found it helpful. If you still have questions that need to be cleared out, feel free to post a comment below, and we’ll be happy to answer.