Formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring organic compound that can be in gas or liquid form. In widespread use, formaldehyde's toxicity, and volatility make exposure a significant consideration for human health.
As such, AIHA provides the following resources for informational purposes. Determination of whether and/or how to use any or all of the following information is made at your sole and absolute discretion. This material is voluntarily provided and neither AIHA nor its affiliates shall have any liability based on use of any of the information herein.
Frequently Asked Questions - Formaldehyde
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring colorless, flammable,
strong-smelling chemical that is used in the manufacturing of many
building materials and household products. At low airborne
concentrations, typically encountered in homes and other non-industrial settings, formaldehyde has little or no odor.
is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and
fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product
coatings; and certain insulation materials. It is also used in the
manufacture of many other common products such as household cleaners,
paints, textiles, landscape and yard products, personal care products,
Formaldehyde can be released into the air by automobiles,
cigarettes, burning wood, kerosene, or natural gas. It is present at low
levels in ambient outdoor air (higher in cities, lower in rural areas).
Formaldehyde also occurs naturally. It is produced in small amounts by
most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.
How does formaldehyde get into my home?
Very low “trace” quantities of airborne formaldehyde are present in
almost every home due to the products, materials, and other sources
mentioned above. After building materials containing formaldehyde are
installed, formaldehyde may be released over time as the products age
resulting in some concentration of formaldehyde in the air. This release
depends on many factors, including: the formaldehyde content of the
product(s), the amount of the product installed, and the type and amount
of ventilation in the home. This release is typically greatest when the
product is new and the airborne concentrations of formaldehyde subside
Why does it matter if I am exposed to airborne concentrations of formaldehyde?
Exposure to elevated airborne concentrations of formaldehyde may
result in headaches or irritation of the throat and eyes. In certain
instances, exposure to elevated airborne concentrations of formaldehyde
may also cause respiratory issues, including asthma. Exposure over a
long period of time has been associated with cancer in humans. People
are affected differently by exposure to elevated airborne concentrations
of formaldehyde. Typically the greatest concern is for children and the
elderly. At low concentrations, some individuals may experience adverse
health symptoms while others may not.
How can I reduce airborne formaldehyde concentrations in my home?
The best way to reduce airborne concentrations of formaldehyde in
your home is to limit the products that contain formaldehyde. Extremely
low “background” concentrations of airborne formaldehyde are found in
almost every home as a result of the many building materials in homes
and by the products used on a daily basis. As temperature and humidity
go up in the home, the amount of formaldehyde released from a product or
building material may also increase. Providing adequate ventilation by
opening doors and windows and by using fans to circulate fresh air can
help to lower concentrations of formaldehyde in the air. Air
conditioners and dehumidifiers can help to lower the temperature and
humidity levels, thereby mitigating the effects of formaldehyde.
How do I test for the presence of formaldehyde in the air?
If you have concerns about formaldehyde concentrations, AIHA
recommends that you hire an industrial hygienist or trained professional
to conduct air sampling. After samples are collected, the industrial
hygienist will ensure that they are sent to a qualified, accredited lab
to test for the presence of formaldehyde. The industrial hygienist will
provide an explanation of the lab results so that you understand what
they mean for your home.
If you decide to use a home screening test kit to collect a sample,
make sure that the samples collected are sent to a qualified,
accredited laboratory to test for the presence of formaldehyde. These
kits typically contain a small formaldehyde sampler, known as a
dosimeter. Be sure to follow all instructions provided with the sampler,
and send the device promptly to the laboratory when sampling is
How do I find a consultant or expert to help me?
AIHA recommends that you rely on industrial hygienists and trained
professionals to conduct sampling, arrange for proper testing, and
develop approaches to reduce risks from formaldehyde exposure. These
qualified professionals can also be consulted to help you identify a
qualified, accredited laboratory, and more importantly, they can
properly interpret the results you will receive from the testing
laboratory. The AIHA Consultants Listing
is a resource that can be used to identify industrial hygienists and other trained practitioners in your area.
Questions to ask the consultant you may consider hiring include:
- Are you a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or a trained professional with a background in indoor air quality?
- Do you use only labs accredited for the analysis of formaldehyde?
- Do you have specific experience in addressing formaldehyde issues in homes?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” AIHA recommends that you find another consultant.
Why an industrial hygienist?
An industrial hygienist anticipates health and safety concerns in
workplaces and homes, and they design solutions to prevent hazards. They
are the guardians of your workplace and your home. Industrial
hygienists apply science to identify and solve health and safety
problems, and have extensive experience in assessing, interpreting, and
reducing exposures in a wide range of settings.
How do I find a qualified laboratory to test formaldehyde?
AIHA recommends that after collection, all types of formaldehyde
air samples be sent to a qualified, accredited laboratory. To determine
if you are sending sample to the right laboratory, ask the following
- Is the laboratory accredited for testing to the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005?
- Do the laboratory’s accredited test methods cover the analysis of
formaldehyde air samples, including the analysis of passive dosimeter
- a. If yes, is the passive dosimeter validated for performance?
- If the laboratory provides formaldehyde samplers, does the
laboratory also provide complete written instructions on how to use the
formaldehyde sampler, including how to return the device for analysis?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” AIHA recommends that you find another lab.
What is an accredited laboratory?
An accredited laboratory is one that has demonstrated its quality
assurance and technical competence according to ISO/IEC 17025:2005.
AIHA’s affiliate, AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs, LLC
(“AIHA-LAP”), accredits laboratories under its Industrial Hygiene
Laboratory Accreditation Program (IHLAP), many of which have testing
scopes that include formaldehyde. A list of IHLAP accredited
laboratories with each laboratory’s testing scope and certificate can be found at the AIHA-LAP website
. Staff at AIHA-LAP can also help locate IHLAP labs with scopes that cover formaldehyde.
Who does AIHA represent?
AIHA is a non-profit, individual membership-based professional society
founded in 1939. AIHA provides programs, products, and services to its
nearly 10,000 members. Nearly one-half of AIHA members hold a
professional certification, most notably the Certified Industrial
Hygiene (CIH) certification. AIHA members focus on protection of the
health and safety of employees, as well as the broader community and