Formaldehyde in the home

Formaldehyde is an organic compound that binds tightly with other molecules, making it an ideal bonding agent. Therefore, formaldehyde resins are often used as adhesives in wood products, from flooring to cabinets to pieces of furniture. You can also find it in some fabric and paper products, insulation, carpeting, coatings, finishes and other household products.

However, formaldehyde off-gassing can cause health problems. According to the American Cancer Society, breathing formaldehyde emissions can cause shortness of breath, chest pain and burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat. The National Toxicology Program classifies formaldehyde as a "known human carcinogen."

Mobile and manufactured homes (such as those provided after natural disasters) can contain particularly high levels of formaldehyde because they often contain a larger percentage of pressed wood materials, but many homes have some exposure to formaldehyde through their building materials and decorative items. Circulating air through your home through regular indoor ventilation helps, but opening windows can be even more effective, especially for the few days after an addition to your home, such as new furniture.

What can you do to avoid overexposure to formaldehyde in your home? You can take steps to reduce your exposure by avoiding pressed-wood products, unless you determine they have low formaldehyde content; safely sealing cabinets or furniture; washing new sheets and clothes before use; opening windows when painting or using certain kinds of cleaners or nail polish; and refraining from smoking.

Look for products labeled "ultra-low emitting formaldehyde" (ULEF) or "no added formaldehyde" (NAF). A more common label you will find while shopping is "no-VOC"/"low-VOC." Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present in several household substances, and formaldehyde is one of the most common.

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