Is Your Home Toxic?

Date: 29.10.2014

Ever noticed a 'sweet' smell when you open your empty kitchen or bathroom cupboard? That's formaldehyde you're smelling. What's that? Read on to find out how this sweet smell is poison to your family.

Many building products, particularly wood products, may contain a toxic, cancer producing chemical called formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable gas that has a very distinct smell. It is commonly used in the manufacturing of resins during the production of pressed wood products. Exposure to formaldehyde may occur through either inhalation or skin contact, but most commonly through inhalation.

Formaldehyde affects people differently, as some are more sensitive to it than others, but the most common health implications include eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, as well as asthma and allergies. In severe cases, resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of formaldehyde a person may experience decreased body weight, gastrointestinal ulcers, liver and kidney damage and dermatitis. Prolonged exposure to high levels of formaldehyde have been shown in Europe to increase an individual's chance of developing cancer.

Formaldehyde may be present within a range of composite and liquid products including:

Manufacturing materials:


  • plastics
  • foam insulation
  • fungicides
  • mirrors
  • insecticides
  • resins

Building materials:


  • sheet vinyl flooring
  • doors
  • decking
  • panelling
  • particleboard
  • fibreboard
  • carpets
  • carpet backings
  • some insulation products
  • paints

Timber materials:


  • plywood
  • laminated timber
  • wall lining
  • coverings and wall paper


Whilst low levels of formaldehyde may not result in any health impacts for some individuals, others may find that they are highly sensitive to the chemical. For those wishing to minimise the presence of formaldehyde in the building products used within the family home it is recommended that they:

  • choose products from the wide range of verified and certified products on the Ecospecifier website ( that have all passed a detailed human and eco-toxicity analysis.
  • choose products that contain phenolic-based formaldehyde resins, compared to urea formaldehyde resins, as they emit much less formaldehyde, typically rated at E0 (on a E00, E0, E1, E2 scale where E2 is the highest and should, along with unrated composite wood products, be avoided at all costs). These include plywood, panelling, particleboard and fibreboard.
  • choosing higher quality exterior-grade pressed-wood building products even for internal use, as they are likely to be E0 rated (very low emission);
  • ensure that rooms have efficient ventilation and low humidity levels, can be achieved through the use of air conditioning and dehumidifiers, particularly after installing a new carpet;
  • minimise using products that contain formaldehyde and if possible eliminate any presence of formaldehyde.
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