Firefighter in full gear and oxygen mask in a smokey area

What is formaldehyde - and how are we exposed to it?

Formaldehyde is a chemical with no colour and an unpleasant smell. At room temperature, formaldehyde is a gas. It also comes in a liquid solution called formalin. Formaldehyde is widely used in various industries and as a preservative and disinfectant. Formaldehyde is also found in smoke and exhaust from sources like cigarettes, vehicles, gas or wood-burning stoves and forest fires.

Firefighter in full gear and oxygen mask in a smokey area

Formaldehyde and cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a known cause of cancer.

Studies have shown that formaldehyde increases the risk of developing nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. These studies have usually been done in workers exposed to formaldehyde. Often, people who are exposed at work have higher levels of exposure than people who may be exposed in their homes.

Learn about how you can protect yourself from formaldehyde at work.

7 ways to reduce your exposure to formaldehyde at home

Don't allow smoking indoors or in your vehicles.
Make sure your home is well ventilated.
Ventilation increases the amount of outdoor air that comes inside. It removes stale indoor air and reduces indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde.
Keep temperature moderate and control moisture levels in your home.

Heat and humidity tend to increase the release of formaldehyde from products into the air.

If you use wood-burning appliances, make sure they work properly.
The chimney should be clear so that smoke can get out. Make sure that smoke cannot seep into the home through any leaks.
If you're buying furniture or cabinets made from particleboard or medium-density fibreboard, check that items are properly coated or sealed.
Coating or sealing unfinished sides helps reduce the amount of formaldehyde released by these products. You can also look for products made with glues or exterior-grade pressed-wood products that do not contain, or contain less, formaldehyde.
Wash permanent press clothing and sheets before you use them.
Do not run engines, such as vehicles or lawnmowers, in a garage or workshop attached to your home or near windows or entrances of your home.
Engine exhaust contains formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.