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What You Should Know About Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde and Furniture?

Stuart David operates in accordance with the CARB rules for formaldehyde emissions for furniture products and exceeds the state of California’s most stringent environmental regulations.

 We use water-based adhesives and finishes that emit the lowest levels of VOC’s (Volatile organic compounds). And the hardwood plywood used in our furniture meets the CARB phase 1 & 2 regulations for formaldehyde emissions.

This makes our furniture non-toxic to our customers, safe for your home, and better for the environment.

  1.  What is formaldehyde?
  2.    Where can it be found?
  3.   Health Concerns
  4.   Regulations
  5.   How to lower formaldehyde levels.


Formaldehyde & Health Concerns

What is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a rather common chemical, with a strong odor reminiscent of pickles. It may cause burning or irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and/or lungs in high concentrations. Inhaling high concentrations of formaldehyde can cause health problems.

It is classified as a volatile organic compound (VOC). A VOC is a chemical that becomes a gas at room temperature. Products made with VOC’s will release the gas into the air over time, which is known as off-gassing. Older products have already off-gassed much of their formaldehyde.

Where can it be found?

Formaldehyde sounds pretty scary huh? In truth it can be, but not always. For instance, did you know that the human body naturally produces formaldehyde in small amounts? It’s produced by our bodies every day in the metabolic process and causes us no harm.

Most of the formaldehyde you are exposed to is in the air. One of the largest sources of formaldehyde we breathe comes from smog. Formaldehyde is also used in many every day products that you may not even be aware of.

Take a look at this list:

  1.    Antiseptics, medicines, cosmetics, nail polish, nail hardeners, shampoos, sugar, dish washing liquid, fabric softener, carpeting, household cleaning products, paper towels, grocery bags, glues, and adhesives.
  2.    It’s used as a preservative for grains and seed dressings as well as for the production of latex, leather tanning, wood preservation, and photographic film production. Hospitals, laboratories, and mortuaries also use it as a preservative. 
  3.   Burning materials like natural gas, wood, gasoline, and tobacco also release high amounts of formaldehyde.
  4.   Particle board, medium density fiberboard, plywood, paneling, pressed wood products, some synthetic fabrics, fertilizer, paper, lacquers, plastics, foam insulation, and urea-formaldehyde resins.

To be clear, just because formaldehyde is in some products you use and the air you breathe, doesn’t mean you will get sick. And if a newly made finished good smells unpleasant, it doesn’t mean it is off-gassing formaldehyde. There are other chemicals that may contribute to the odor. See our tips below to help reduce unpleasant odors. Rest assured, there are regulations and recommendations for safe levels of formaldehyde in products and our air.

Types of Contact

Formaldehyde enters your body when you breathe, drink, eat, or make skin contact with it. When eaten or drunk, your body quickly absorbs it. Once absorbed, it is broken down and released by the body through urine and/or exhaled as carbon dioxide. There is no evidence to suggest that your body stores formaldehyde.

Health Concerns

While some people may be more sensitive to formaldehyde, the most common symptoms of exposure include eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Those with asthma or lung disease may be affected worse. Symptoms and effects will vary from person to person. The effects of long term exposure are not well known.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) classify formaldehyde as B1, a probable human carcinogen.

The World Health Organizations International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO) (IARC) has also reported “strong but not sufficient evidence for a casual association between leukemia and occupational exposure to formaldehyde.”

This information is based on limited evidence in humans and sufficient evidence in lab animals. Basically they think it causes cancer but there hasn’t been enough proven human evidence to state it as 100% fact.


You may be asking yourself, what laws or regulations are in place to protect me and my family from harmful exposure to formaldehyde? Well, that all depends on where you live. On the federal level, the EPA has several laws in place meant to safeguard our citizens.

  1.  There is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). This gives the EPA the “authority to require reporting, recordkeeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures.”
  2.  The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act was signed into law in 2010 and it adds a Title 4 to the TSCA. It establishes limits for formaldehyde emissions from hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard.
  3.  The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) gives the EPA authority to control hazardous waste from “cradle-to-grave.” So the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste is also under the EPA’s jurisdiction.
  4.  The Clean Air Act of 1963 (CAA) was actually the first piece of federal legislation regarding air pollution control. It sets limits on how much of a certain pollutant can be in the air anywhere in the United States.
  5.  The Clean Water Act of 1977 (CWA) regulates the discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States.


That’s just on the federal level. Each state and county will have their own laws and regulations in addition to the federal laws. For instance here in California, our formaldehyde emissions were often ten to twenty times higher than the current allowable levels.

  • So in 2009, phase one of the California Composite Wood Products Regulation (CWP Regulation) went into effect. This requires finished goods made with hardwood plywood, medium density fiberboard, and particleboard to comply with the emission standards set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and be labeled stating the product is in compliance.


It has been so effective in California that the U.S. EPA is developing a national regulation based on the CWP Regulation.


How to Lower Formaldehyde Levels

Whether you’ve just purchased a new piece of wood furniture or are planning on it, here are a few tips to help reduce formaldehyde levels in your home.

  1. Purchase a floor model. Strong smelling odors caused by chemicals like formaldehyde will have already off-gassed from an older piece. As an added bonus, you can get a floor model discount most times.
  2. Ventilate. Once in your home you can open windows and make use of fans. Circulate the fresh air inside somehow and allow the gasses to escape through the open window.
  3. Climate Control. Remember, formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature. So it will react to temperature and humidity changes. Avoid heat as it not only can damage your new furniture, it increases the amount of formaldehyde being off-gassed into the air. Keeping the temperature and humidity low will decrease the amount of off-gassing.  

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