What You Need to Know About Formaldehyde in Furniture
Woah, woah, woah…formaldehyde in furniture?
Yes, you read that right. The image that usually comes to mind when you first hear “formaldehyde” is frogs in jars in high school biology, not your brand new furniture set. Unfortunately, formaldehyde is something that you may encounter way more often than you think. It may even be your invisible roommate.
What is formaldehyde, and why is it in my furniture?
Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC), meaning that it will become a gas at room temperature. It is one of the top twenty-five most produced chemicals in the world, and is used to make building materials and other household products.
Formaldehyde is found in plastics, particle board, plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and more, that is popularly used in modern-day cabinetry and furniture-making. It is used as an adhesive.
Why is formaldehyde dangerous?
Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can cause issues such as a sore throat, coughing, scratchy eyes, nosebleeds, and other feelings of general discomfort. Exposure to formaldehyde has even been proven to cause someone to become allergic to other chemicals they were not previously allergic to.
The young and the elderly are especially susceptible to formaldehyde in the air.
How is formaldehyde getting into the air from furniture?
Since formaldehyde is a VOC, it becomes a gas at room temperature. If formaldehyde is present in your furniture that is sitting in a room at room temperature, the piece of furniture or cabinet will begin to emit formaldehyde gas. This process is known as “off-gassing.”
The scariest part about off-gassing is that when the temperature or humidity goes up, so does the amount of formaldehyde being released into the air. If you place a particle board or pressed wood piece of furniture in a spot where it will receive a lot of sunlight, a lot of formaldehyde will be released. This is especially troubling if you live in the humid climates of the south, such as Florida. If you have new cabinetry in your kitchen, the heat from the stove is enough to release extra formaldehyde into the air.
The Healthy House Institute estimates that it takes about six to ten years to completely out-gas formaldehyde. That is very significant, especially if you have a child that is spending ten years in a bed that is off-gassing formaldehyde!
Well there are regulations…right?
There were no federal regulations on formaldehyde emissions until July 7th, 2010, when President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act. Furniture makers are now still implementing procedures that will get their furniture up to code, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working tirelessly to formalize the regulations by the end of 2015.
How can I avoid formaldehyde?
There are a few different ways that you can either reduce or completely eliminate formaldehyde in your home.
- If you buy some sort of pressed wood piece, let it air out outside or in an open garage before you bring it indoors.
- Purchase furniture made of solid wood, or furniture that is classified as U.L.E.F. (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde) or N.A.F (no added formaldehyde.) A simple Google search will bring up some viable options for modern made furniture, or visit your local antique store for solid wood furniture.
- Buy furniture that is older than 10+ years.
- Frequently air out your home with fresh air.
Gone are the days where you can be a passive consumer. It is important to be active and informed about anything you purchase, even something that may seem as harmless as furniture!