What is formaldehyde? 

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong odor. Formaldehyde is very reactive and reacts with proteins and other biochemicals.  

What is formaldehyde used for?  

Formaldehyde is used in industry for making other chemicals, for disinfection, and to preserve tissues and cadavers. It is a component of many embalming fluids. It is used in making polymers and plastics.  

How could I be exposed to formaldehyde?  

Very small amounts of formaldehyde are generated in plants and animals, including humans, as part of normal metabolism.  Formaldehyde from outside sources is mostly inhaled. Formaldehyde is found in some consumer products in low concentrations, such as in cosmetics, glues, paints, pesticides, and detergents, and can enter indoors air. Smoke, including cigarette smoke, and smog contain low concentrations of formaldehyde.  

Formaldehyde is also released into the air from manufactured wood products such as plywood and particleboard.  Because of this, it can be released from new furnishings in homes such as cabinetry and laminated wood flooring. These furnishings will release the highest amount of formaldehyde when new, and it will drop over time.   

People who work with formaldehyde are exposed to higher concentrations and more at risk for health effects.    

How can formaldehyde harm my health?  

Exposure to low levels of formaldehyde can cause skin, eye, nose, and throat irritation.  It may cause headaches and aggravate asthma. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the IARC classify formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen associated with sinus cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, and myeloid leukemia with sufficient exposure over a long period of time.  

Is there a test for formaldehyde exposure?   

There is no test for formaldehyde exposure. Formaldehyde is found at low concentrations in the body normally.   

Where can I go for more information about formaldehyde?


updated 2023