Formaldehyde and Your Health

Formaldehyde is a common chemical in our environment. Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that has a distinct, strong smell.

Everyone is exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde in the air and in some foods and manufactured products. Small amounts of formaldehyde are naturally produced by plants, animals, and humans.

Sources of formaldehyde in the environment include

  • Certain manufactured wood products such as cabinets, furniture, plywood, particleboard, and laminate flooring
  • Permanent press fabrics (like those used for curtains and drapes or on furniture)
  • Household products such as glues, paints, caulks, pesticides, cosmetics, and detergents.
  • Smoke from cigarettes and other tobacco products, gas stoves, and open fireplaces.
  • Smog

Most people don’t have any health problems from small amounts of formaldehyde in their homes. Exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may irritate your eyes, nose, throat, airways, or skin. Some people are more sensitive than others, so an exposure that causes no problems for some may make other people sick or uncomfortable. People who may be more sensitive to the effects of formaldehyde are the very young, the very old, and people with asthma and other breathing problems.

Exposure to very high levels of formaldehyde over many years has been linked to rare nose and throat cancers in workers. Formaldehyde exposure from new products or new construction in the home would generally be much lower and would last for less time than the exposures linked to cancer.

laminate floor

Laminate Flooring

cigarette smoke

Cigarette Smoke

Nearly all homes contain small amounts of formaldehyde. If someone in your home smokes tobacco products, the smoke may be the greatest source of formaldehyde in your home. Formaldehyde levels are also higher in homes with new construction and new manufactured wood products like flooring and furniture and in permanent press fabrics.

Health Effects

At low levels, breathing in formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. At higher levels, formaldehyde exposure can cause skin rashes, shortness of breath, wheezing and changes in lung function. Children, the elderly and people with asthma or other breathing problems may be more sensitive to the effects of formaldehyde.

Exposure Incidents

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tested formaldehyde levels released from specific types of laminate flooring made in China between 2012 and 2014 and sold at Lumber Liquidators® stores in the United States. CDC/ATSDR found that exposure to formaldehyde in the CPSC-tested laminate flooring could cause irritation and breathing problems. However, you can take steps to reduce formaldehyde levels in your home.

Laminate Flooring Test Results – Health Issues and Solutions

Page last reviewed: February 10, 2016