Formaldehyde

Why am I being warned about potential exposure to formaldehyde?

  • Formaldehyde (gas) is on the Proposition 65 list as a chemical that causes cancer.
  • Exposure to formaldehyde can cause leukemia and cancers of the nose, throat, and sinuses.
  • Proposition 65 requires businesses to determine if they must provide a warning about exposures to listed chemicals.

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas with a strong smell. It is released into the air from a variety of sources.

How does exposure to formaldehyde (gas) occur?

  • Exposure occurs by breathing air that contains formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde releases into the air from many sources.
    • Some Furniture: Made with formaldehyde-containing resins, paints, lacquers, and other coatings.
    • Composite Wood Products: Particle board, plywood, and fiberboard are often made with formaldehyde-containing resins and are used in furniture, cabinets, shelves, doors, wall and flooring materials.
    • Building Materials and Certain Insulation Materials: Foam and fiberglass insulation.
    • Consumer Products: Some hair smoothing and straightening products. 
    • Coatings for Some Furniture and Paper Products: Paints, lacquers, and finishes. 
    • Permanent Press Fabrics: Clothing, linens, upholstery, and draperies.  
    • Combustion Byproducts: Fuel burning appliances such as gas stoves and kerosene space heaters, wood burning stoves, and car exhaust.
    • Tobacco Smoke.
Formaldehyde releases from products, combustion sources and tobacco smoke to air
People breathe contaminated air

How can I reduce my exposure to formaldehyde (gas)?

Remove or reduce existing sources of formaldehyde and avoid adding new sources.

  • Choose products containing no formaldehyde; for example, those made with solid wood or stainless steel.
  • Choose products containing little formaldehyde; for example:
    • “Exterior grade” pressed wood products made with phenol formaldehyde (PF) resin, which emit less formaldehyde than urea formaldehyde (UF) pressed wood products.
    • UF pressed wood products sealed with formaldehyde-free water-resistant coatings and finishes.
    • Products with California Air Resources Board (CARB) Phase 2 criteria labels, or, ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) or no-added formaldehyde (NAF) labels.
  • Air out new furniture made from composite wood products containing formaldehyde, preferably away from the home and in a well-ventilated area.  The area must have fresh air passing through it, or formaldehyde will not be removed.
    • Consider asking the manufacturer or store to leave the furniture unsealed in the warehouse for a few days before delivery.
  • If items made from composite wood containing formaldehyde are the only available options, consider looking for used items, because release of formaldehyde gas from composite wood decreases over time.
  • Apply a surface barrier (for example, latex-based paints or formaldehyde-free varnishes) onto formaldehyde-containing furniture and other furnishings (shelves, countertops, cabinets, and laminate flooring).
  • Use formaldehyde-free insulation materials.
  • Wash clothes, sheets, and other fabrics before use to reduce formaldehyde emissions.
  • Assure adequate ventilation and open windows and doors regularly to bring in outdoor air.
  • Increase ventilation during painting.
  • Maintain low humidity and temperatures. More formaldehyde is released when it is hot and damp.
  • Keep your fireplace and wood stove in good condition to prevent smoke from getting into your living environment.
  • Do not smoke. Do not allow children to breathe tobacco smoke.
  • Do not idle gasoline engines such as cars and other gasoline-powered equipment.
  • Do not use hair smoothing and straightening products that contain or release formaldehyde.
  • Avoid wood products made with urea formaldehyde (UF) resins that do not carry a California Air Resources Board (CARB) Phase 2 compliant label.

For more information:

General Formaldehyde Fact Sheets and Resources:

Formaldehyde in Products:

Proposition 65:

  • California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA)
    Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)
Posted April 2016

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