Opening windows is the easiest way to reduce formaldehyde concentrations in homes. The best option is to use only building products that emit little or no formaldehyde. However, when conventional building materials are already in place and emitting formaldehyde, the problem will remedy itself with time. Materials that are several years old emit far less formaldehyde than new products.
Formaldehyde is a pungent-smelling gas that irritates eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can also trigger asthma attacks, and it is a carcinogen. Some individuals experience nausea and difficulty breathing at 0.1 ppm. New homes can have more than 0.3 ppm. Some individuals become sensitized to formaldehyde and have symptoms at very low concentrations.
Many building materials release formaldehyde. The worst culprits are:
- Pressed wood products like interior grade plywood, particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF)
- Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI)
- Paints, adhesive, wood finishes
- Durable press textiles such as draperies
Here are ways to reduce formaldehyde:
- Open windows to increase ventilation, especially after installing materials that emit formaldehyde. Ventilating a home for a few hours, several times a week should be adequate in most cases.
- Use air conditioners or dehumidifiers, or ventilate the home during the cooler parts of the day. Heat and humidity increase formaldehyde emission from building materials.
- Select building materials that emit little or no formaldehyde. “Exterior grade” pressed wood products typically emit less formaldehyde. Select materials made with phenol resins, rather than urea resins.
- Select paints and wood finishes that emit little or no formaldehyde. Some “green” products are formaldehyde-free.
- Use reclaimed building materials when possible. Older wood products emit far less formaldehyde.
Photo by Texas Finn, Flickr Common License.