Back in the olden times, before we grew up and learned more about the world, the word formaldehyde was often associated with the idea of a preservative, whether in a funeral home or for the specimens in high school biology lab. Nowadays, we've learned much more about the world around us—case in point, the presence of formaldehyde in our surroundings.
We've discovered it's a pretty common chemical in our environment and even occurs naturally in our bodies as a normal part of the metabolic process. But just because it’s produced by our bodies doesn’t mean we want to be surrounded by large amounts of it. On the contrary, excessive exposure to formaldehyde has negative consequences, according to the American Cancer Society.
During this time of so much uncertainty, why play with fire. There are several things you can do to reduce your exposure to a chemical we previously knew only by its association with death.
Get Some Fresh Air
Getting some fresh air can help us improve our overall mental and physical health. It may be a good idea to look for some ways to improve the air quality in your home through duct cleaning or adding houseplants, especially since formaldehyde is likely already present in your home. Recently added new furniture or flooring, or newly constructed homes may have a higher presence of the chemical.
Formaldehyde will eventually dissipate in the air, but depending on the materials containing it, and the amount already present, this process could take a couple of years. Leaving windows and doors open a few hours every couple days, can help lessen the concentration of the chemical in the air. While you’ll never be completely rid of it, this can help reduce your exposure it.
Limit the Smoke Inside
Formaldehyde is a by-product of combustion, so smoking indoors can lead to an increased amount. Maybe a nicer outdoor space like a lovely redwood deck, a soothing gardenscape, or the tinkling sounds of wind chimes, will help coax you outside if you need to take a smoke break.
Of course, combustion also occurs during the cooking process or if you create a fire in your fireplace or wood stove. Unless you plan on ordering takeout from now on and never making a fire during the colder months, you’ll need a way to help clear the air. Ceiling fans create air circulation to help dissipate the chemical, and having a hood vented to the outside will help keep buildup at bay.
Use Low/No VOC Products
You’ve likely seen the term before, especially if you’ve done any home renovations. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are present in many consumer products such as building materials, air fresheners, adhesives and glues, new furnishings, cleaners, and wood preservatives. VOC’s easily dissipate in the air, which sounds like it could be a good thing, but this quality makes it a component of smog which detrimental to air quality and contributes to our current climate crisis.
When you have the choice, opt for low or no VOC products that will release less contaminants in the air. You’ll be protecting you and your family at home, and also helping keep those contaminants from contributing to pollution in the environment.
Check Your Personal Products
Some cosmetics and personal hygiene products may contain small amounts of formaldehyde, but usually not in significant amounts to pose a hazard, unlike professional keratin hair treatments. Reactions have been reported to OSHA involving complaints of nosebleeds, eye irritation, and breathing problems by stylists using these products.
We aren’t advocating forgoing your monthly hair appointment, but go in with your eyes wide open. Look for other options to keep you stylish, or rather, go for naturally made products.
Air or Wash it Out
If you’ve got the space and can keep it protected, leave your new furniture outside where those strong vapors can air out. Items like curtains should be washed before being hung. And make it a practice to let anything with a strong chemical smell space and time to air out before bringing it into the house.
Carpet fumes can be tricky, especially if you're filling an entire room with a brand new carpet. Fumes can be overpowering, so if you can, leave the area open to the outside and closed to the rest of the house, allowing the smell to dissipate.
Choose Building Materials Wisely
New builds have a tendency to have high concentrations of formaldehyde. If you’re able to work with your builder, choose materials to keep that low. For example, find wood products that abide by the formaldehyde emissions standards. It’s just another thing to worry about, but if you’re seeking to reduce your exposure, it’s worth it.
We may not be able to completely eliminate our exposure to formaldehyde, but careful planning and proper techniques can help us manage the amount we’re exposed to.