What is Formaldehyde? (HCHO)

We often tend to think that we’re safe in our house, especially when it comes to air quality.

Unconsciously, we think that the indoor air will be cleaner than the outdoor air, because outdoors you come across industrial gases, exhaust gases, etc. Did you know that the indoor air of your house can be up to 10 times dirtier than the outdoor air?

Not only your house, of course, but any closed area. Working areas, offices, classrooms, toddler rooms, places of worship, etc. are all examples of closed areas.

Think about the fact that we usually spend more time indoors than outdoors. So if you think that you have little to do with Formaldehyde, then read this article to learn more about Formaldehyde.

What is Formaldehyde?

The indoor air of a closed area can be polluted by volatile organic compounds like Formaldehyde, or HCHO. Formaldehyde is one of the many substances that make up total volatile organic compounds (TVOC).

Formaldehyde is an organic compound formed by natural processes and released during metabolism. This volatile organic compound is part of the group of the most dangerous substances that can be found in the air.

Can you smell Formaldehyde?

Just like most gases, Formaldehyde is invisible. Luckily this substance has a smell. You can recognize Formaldehyde by its strong and pungent smell. Think of a glue stick or a marker.

If you’re in a closed area where the concentration of this substance is high, staying in this area will probably be experienced as very unpleasant. That’s why it’s good to trust your sense of smell.

Is Formaldehyde harmful to health?

As said before, Formaldehyde is a dangerous substance. The reason why it’s such a dangerous substance will be explained here.

Regular exposure or exposure for a longer period of time to Formaldehyde can lead to health issues. Health issues that can occur with exposure to Formaldehyde are:

  • Irritation of the nose
  • A headache
  • Irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract

In case of high concentrations, it can even lead to serious and permanent health issues. Besides that, it’s good to know that Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic substance that can cause cancer in the nose, trachea (respiratory tract) or leukemia.

For smokers, it’s crucial to know that Formaldehyde isn’t present in tobacco products, but that it’s in fact formed by the combustion of the additives in it. Therefore, someone who smokes gets a certain amount of Formaldehyde and passive smokers do too, but to a lesser extent.

Besides that, Formaldehyde can increase the dependence on smoking, so the smoker wants to smoke more often and more. We all know that smoking also can lead to health issues.

Where does Formaldehyde come from?

To make sure you have to deal with this harmful volatile organic compound (VOC) as little as possible, knowing what the sources of Formaldehyde are, can be a good thing.

You can make a distinction between sources that constantly emit this substance and other sources that have influence with peaks on the Formaldehyde of the indoor air.

The temperature of the area plays an important role as well. If the temperature of an area increases, the amount of Formaldehyde emissions from these sources increases as well.

Sources which emit Formaldehyde:

  • Construction materials
  • Carpet
  • Textiles such as curtains, sofa covers, etc.
  • Wood panels
  • Carpeting
  • Furniture made of fiber – or chipboard such as chairs, closets, tables, kitchens, nightstands, beds, etc.
  • Wallpaper
  • Paint

Sources with peaks in the Formaldehyde content of the indoor air:

  • Cleaning products
  • Cooking
  • Lighting candles or incense
  • Smoking
  • Air fresheners
  • Various cosmetics

Limit values for Formaldehyde

When the air quality gets measured, it’s expressed in mg/m3 or ppm (parts per million). The government sets limit values that shouldn’t be exceeded for your own good. The limit for Formaldehyde is:

At home:                                          0,08 mg/m3

Construction/industry:                  0,10 mg/m3

How can you measure Formaldehyde?

With a special device or measuring instrument, you can find out the air quality of the environment in which you spend a lot of time. This way, you can find out if you are in a healthy living environment or not.

You can buy or rent a Formaldehyde meter if you want to measure it yourself, or you can also let a professional company come over to do the measurement for you. Depending on the device, there may also be a possibility to measure other volatile organic substances. A measurement like that is called a multifunctional air quality measurement where a few substances such as fine dust and total VOC gets measured.

When is it necessary to perform such a measurement? You can get this done as many times as you want, but it’s definitely recommended to prevent health issues or in case of uncertainty of your ventilation, climate, or extraction system. For employees, this can also be done on a regular basis to create a healthier working environment.

With a healthier working environment, you can make a positive contribution to the health of your staff, which in return can lead to a reduction in absenteeism due to illness and you can get your employees more motivated (higher productivity). Here you can also think of an analysis of air pollution from machines and printers.

New buildings are known for their problems with Formaldehyde. Besides that, it’s highly recommended to get a measurement of the air quality done on a regular basis at locations where there’s a high hygiene standard such as care centers, schools, retirement homes, etc.

The measurement depends on factors such as location, population, how big the area is, the presence of a ventilation system or not, etc.

How can you prevent Formaldehyde in your house?

Formaldehyde is actually inevitable in your house. Nevertheless, you can still pay attention to a few points so you have as little as possible to do with this dangerous substance.

A few tips:

  • It’s important to handle cleaning products/chemical products or pesticides properly. Always read the instructions carefully first and don’t exceed the recommended amount. For example, you can also try to limit your use of these products or only use them when really necessary. Replace chemical cleaning products with organic products. A good example of this is the combination of lemon and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). If you do need other cleaning products, it’s recommended to use more environmentally friendly products.
  • Also, with building materials, you can make a more conscious choice. For example, there exists paint with less Formaldehyde than other competitors.
  • If you can afford it, buy a good air purifier to make sure you find yourself in better air quality and a healthy living environment. Depending on the device and thanks to modern filtering techniques, you can clean the air up to 99% from bacteria, allergens, fungi, but also from harmful substances like Formaldehyde and TVOC’s (only with an active carbon filter). That’s definitely worth the investment, especially for locations where you know you spend a lot of time, like your house. Make sure you get one with an activated carbon filter, this will absorb the harmful gasses.
  • A very easy way is by ventilating the room on a regular basis. This can be done by using a ventilation system. Luckily, there are a few ways that don’t cost any money. You can just open the windows on a regular basis (if there are any) and ventilate the room with fresh air.
  • Get the air quality of your house measured and checked regularly to make sure you are living in a healthy living environment.