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What Is Formaldehyde and Why Is It In Your Home?

What Is Formaldehyde and Why Is It In Your Home?

Do you have asthma? Living with this respiratory disorder makes life challenging. When air quality levels get low, you start to experience the onset of asthma symptoms that can lead to a severe attack. Exposure to any one irritant, pollutant, particle, or pathogen can cause extreme respiratory distress in affected individuals.

The chest tightens, breathing becomes harder, you start to cough and choke, and congestion starts in your sinus. Without immediate access to your medication, you're in for some trouble. Some asthma attacks can land the patient in a hospital in need of critical medical care.

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) are a class of liquids that shift from a liquid to a gaseous state very quickly when exposed to the air. The most famous example of VOCs is the "new car smell" you get when leaving the dealership with your new ride.

The smell occurs from the adhesives and resins used in the manufacturing of the interior. As the glues dry, they "gas-off" and produce that well-associate smell well all love in our new car.

Generally, overexposure to any VOC is a bad idea, but some are more harmful than others. Formaldehyde is one of the three problematic compounds producing VOCs that can damage your health. Along with benzene and toluene, it's a dangerous compound that can cause anything from respiratory distress to cancer.

Whether you have allergies, asthma, or have no breathing problems at all – exposure to formaldehyde is a bad idea and a health risk.

However, it might surprise you to learn that this VOC is more common in our environment than you would expect. This post unpacks everything you need to know about formaldehyde, your health, and your home.

What Is Formaldehyde and Why Is It In Your Home?

As mentioned, formaldehyde is a liquid VOC that changes readily from liquid to gas when exposed to air and room temperatures. It has effective use in manufacturing processes used to produce building materials like pressed wood boards and adhesives, insulation, and even fabrics used in clothing manufacturing.

As formaldehyde changes from liquid to gas, it releases an odor into the air that some describe as smelling like pickles. This artificial substance is also present in a wide range of fungicides, herbicides, and industrial disinfectant products.

While the formaldehyde used n the manufacturing process is synthetically made, it also occurs in nature. Most living organisms produce formaldehyde as part of the metabolic process but in very small quantities.

Formaldehyde gas occurs as a byproduct of burning gas stoves and as part of automotive emissions. Since the VOC is present in a wide range of consumer products, it's present at some level in almost every home across the globe.

If you walk into a home that's new construction, that new-home-smell is the byproduct of formaldehyde and other VOCs gassing off into the air. If you're moving into a new home, it's critical that you air it out and get an air quality test from MI&T before taking occupation.

Higher concentrations of formaldehyde are also found in the homes of people that smoke tobacco products indoors. If you smoke, the chemicals in cigarettes infuse with the fibers in your clothing, and some of these chemicals include formaldehyde.

Is Exposure to Formaldehyde Harmful to My Health?

Since formaldehyde is present at some level in every home, we can deduce that low-level exposure to the VOC is not a life-threatening problem, or we would see global issues with the chemical in public health every day.

However, a 1997 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows average formaldehyde concentrations in outdoor air at around 0.03 parts per million (ppm)." As a result, even if you're outdoors in the fresh air, you run a risk of coming in contact with formaldehyde in the air you breathe.

Most people don't experience any immediate response to this interaction. However, people with conditions like allergies and asthma may have heightened sensitivity to exposure to the particulate matter in the air.

If these sensitive individuals breathe in formaldehyde, even in a diluted format with air molecules, they may experience symptoms of respiratory distress. If you belong to the following risk profile, you're more likely to experience respiratory distress, allergy, or asthma attacks outdoors on low-quality air days in your city.

  • Young kids
  • Seniors
  • Pregnant women
  • People with respiratory illness, asthma, and allergies.

Even short-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause symptoms of distress in sensitive individuals. Some of the common signs of VOC and formaldehyde exposure include the following.

  • Coughing and a scratchy throat.
  • Scratchy and watering eyes.
  • Headache and dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Nosebleeds and disorientation.
  • Confusion.

Those individuals with asthma, allergies, and chronic respiratory illness, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), may experience shortness of breath and labored breathing, even with short-term exposure to formaldehyde VOCs.

According to the National Cancer Institute, studies show healthy individuals with no history of respiratory problems have a higher risk of developing cancer with long-term exposure to formaldehyde VOCs.  

Where is Formaldehyde In Your Home?

As mentioned, formaldehyde is present in a wide range of consumer products and building materials. It's also present in the air outdoors that wanders into your home through the doors and windows.

As a result, you can find formaldehyde at some concentration in every area of your home. Let's say you got a new mattress last week. After unboxing it, the memory foam starts to expand, and you begin to notice that same "new car smell" in the room.

That smell is a sign of the remaining VOCs in the adhesives used in the manufacturing process gassing off into the air in the room. Formaldehyde will be a part of those VOCs as it's present in many of the adhesives used in the manufacturing process.

Formaldehyde is even present in the chemical detergents and fabric softeners we use to wash our clothes. You can also find it on new clothing fresh off the manufacturing line.

Let's unpack where you can find formaldehyde in each room in your home.

Is There Formaldehyde in Your Bedroom?

We're sure that the bedroom is the first area of concern for formaldehyde in your home, so we'll start there.

The Floor and Walls

You'll find formaldehyde on paint on walls and in the adhesives used in the manufacturing process of carpets and rugs. Formaldehyde is also present in stains and sealants used in wooden flooring. Many paint manufacturers now advertise products with low-VOCs or No-VOCs.

The Nightstand, Bed frame, and Dresser

If your furniture consists of pressed wood products like the boards used to manufacture your nightstand or table-side dresser, there is formaldehyde there. Fire retardants also contain formaldehyde.

The Dresser and Closet

Clothing and fabrics made with dyes or synthetic materials may also contain formaldehyde. Wrinkle-resistant sprays and fire retardants used in the manufacturing process can also contain formaldehyde.

Is There Formaldehyde in Your Bathroom?

Formaldehyde is also present in the bathroom, where you clean yourself each day. Some of the hygiene and personal care items containing formaldehyde include the following.

Toilet Paper

The manufacturing process of TP involves the use of formaldehyde. However, many manufacturers now offer "green" brands that contain no VOCs.

Body Wash and Shampoo

Many shampoo products contain formaldehyde as an anti-bacterial agent used in its formulation. We recommend that you look for organic products with labels stating they have no harmful chemicals.

Your body wash is also another culprit containing formaldehyde; make sure you look for healthy alternatives if you find formaldehyde in any of these items around your bathroom.

Personal Care Products and Cosmetics

Hairspray, nail polish, and makeup remover are all sources of VOCs and formaldehyde. Anyone using nail polish indoors knows how the pungent smell of the chemicals gassing off fills the room. Products like styling gel may also come from factories manufacturing other personal care products containing VOCs.

Is There Formaldehyde in Your Kitchen?

When most of us this k about problems in the kitchen, we're thinking about issues with bacteria and mold that may cause gastrointestinal infection and a sore tummy. However, formaldehyde concentrations around the kitchen are also a concern. Here are the top areas where you'll find concentrations of VOCs.

Cabinets and Islands

The pressed board cabinets and counters used in kitchen design all release formaldehyde since its part of the manufacturing process. According to information for the CDC, formaldehyde takes around two tears to fully gas off from furniture and other related items in the kitchen, like your cabinets.

Paper Towels and Grocery Bags

Like toilet paper, paper towels also require the use of formaldehyde in the manufacturing process. It's the same for paper grocery bags – so they might not be the healthy alternative to plastic shopping bags at all; it's probably better to go with fabric bags, right – but they may also contain formaldehyde.

The Floors, Cabinets, and Walls

Paints used in painting the cabinets, ceiling, and walls in the kitchen may also gas off VOCs. The adhesive used in laying the tiles may also contain formaldehyde.

Gas Stoves

Finally, homeowners with gas stoves in the kitchen also expose themselves to higher levels of VOCs and formaldehyde in the home. If you have a gas stove, make sure you cook in a well-ventilated kitchen and preferably use a cooker hood to extract the air. The burning of natural gas emits concentrations of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere as well.

Is There Formaldehyde in Your Living Room?

The living room is the focal point of family interactions, and it's one of the highest foot traffic areas of the home, apart from the kitchen. As a result, there is plenty of activity going on in the room that has the potential to release VOCs into the air.

For instance, sitting on the couch while you do your nails can release formaldehyde and other chemicals into the air from the nail polish remover. Fortunately, since there's more traffic in the room, it experiences more airing out than other rooms in the home.

Allowing fresh air to circulate in the room enables the VOCs and formaldehyde to exit the windows and doors and escape into the atmosphere.

Side Tables, Couches, and Coffee Tables

As mentioned, pressed-wood furniture requires the use of formaldehyde in the production process. Any furniture in the room, especially new furniture, maybe emitting formaldehyde VOCs into the air.

Fire retardants, paint, and air fresheners are also a source of formaldehyde in the living room. The couch also releases formaldehyde from the adhesives, wood, materials, and fillings used in the manufacturing process.

The Floors and Walls

If you have carpets and rugs in the room, they typically release more formaldehyde than the adhesive in tile glues. However, wood flooring and the varnishes, stains, or sealants used in the process may release formaldehyde into the air.

Air Fresheners and Candles

Many people like to burn scented candles in the living room to help them relax in the evening. Air fresheners are also common to remove bad odors that wander into the room. Stop burning candles and other flammable items in your home and look for other eco-friendly products and resources to remove odors and stress.

Wood Burning Stoves and Fireplaces

If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, it's a source of smoke and emissions. The emissions created by smoke also include significant concentrations of formaldehyde. However, gas heaters aren't much better, and they also release VOCs into the air in the lounge.

If you're operating a gas heater or fireplace in the lounge, make sure you have a well-ventilated chimney and clean up the ash after each fire.

Where Else Can You Find Formaldehyde in Your Home?

As mentioned, formaldehyde is everywhere. However, you'll also find it in the following places outdoors and lesser-visited areas inside the home.

  • In outdoor areas like the patio where people smoke tobacco products.
  • The driveway or garage where you park your car.
  • Any outdoor space where people use kerosene or burn natural gas.
  • The laundry area inside the home.

Tips for Removing Formaldehyde from Your Home

Finding out that you have formaldehyde everywhere in your home can be a somewhat scary and disturbing experience. However, when you know where it is in your home, you can adjust your behavior to bring less of it indoors with you.

Here are a few strategies and tips you can use to improve the air quality in your home and reduce the presence of formaldehyde VOCs.

Prohibit the Use of Tobacco in and Around Your Home

Don't let people smoke in or around your home. It's a dirty habit, and cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals, with formaldehyde being one of them. Research shows that people that allow smoking inside the home have higher concentrations of formaldehyde in the air.

Open the Windows and Doors for Ventilation

If you don't have an air-conditioner or HVAC system in your home, increase the ventilation by opening the doors and windows. However, the only issue with this strategy is that you invite mold spores and pollen into your home. These allergens can also increase allergic responses in sensitive individuals and those living with asthma.

Allow Mattresses to Gas-Off

If you purchase a new mattress, let it gas off in an open room or the garage for at least a week. The glues used in mattress manufacturing may release formaldehyde, and better in the garage than in your bedroom.

Wash New Clothing Before First Wear

If you order new clothing online, put it through the washing machine before first wear. Formaldehyde and other chemicals may be present on the clothing, leading to the development of skin and respiratory issues in the wearer if they don't wash the garment first. You'll also find VOCs present on towels, blankets, and any other textile household goods.

Look for Formaldehyde-Free Products

Since the public is becoming more aware of VOCs and their effects on our health, more manufacturers are starting to move away from VOCs in the manufacturing process. The next time you're looking for household cleaning products or cosmetics, check the labels to see if the manufacturer has a "low-VOC" formulation.

Use a Cooker Hood Above the Stove

If you're cooking on a gas stove, the combustion of liquid natural gas causes various byproducts to gas off into the air. One of them is formaldehyde. Installing an exhaust fan cooker hood over the stove prevents the gasses from escaping into the rest of the home.

In Closing – Get an Air Quality Test for Your Home

To ensure that the air quality in your home is safe, hire MI&T. We'll visit your property and take an air quality test in every room, using the latest technology. We'll issue you with a report on our findings and recommend remediating the air or removing mold if we find any problems.

We're an independent, unbiased, and qualified mold inspection service you can trust. We'll give you an honest review of the air quality in your home. Contact our service center right now for a fast and friendly no-obligation quote.