Learning Center

Find the answers to your home improvement questions.

Formaldehyde Emissions

Formaldehyde in Your Home

Scientist

Formaldehyde is a compound chemical made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that is found literally everywhere, since it occurs naturally and is synthesized for industrial use in everyday products. The list of household and personal care products that contain small amounts of formaldehyde is endless, and it can also be found in processed wood products, like furniture, siding, and flooring. While it is a very useful chemical used to make clothes permanent-pressed, as a preservative, and as part of the makeup of adhesive products, it is also dangerous and exposure can wreak havoc with your health in high concentration.

Reactions to formaldehyde vary. Some people have no reaction, while others have severe and potentially life-threatening response to exposure. Symptoms include eye, nose, and throat irritation, respiratory difficulties like wheezing and coughing, skin rash, headaches and fatigue, and in some cases, extreme allergic reactions. Allergies can develop at any time, even in a person who has never been prone to them. Formaldehyde is also a suspected carcinogen and is proven to trigger attacks in people with asthma.

The good news is that formaldehyde emissions decrease over time, so a house built in the 1970s before there were any emission standards in place is not likely to still leach formaldehyde gas into your home. The most exposure occurs when the wood product is newly installed. Formaldehyde, unlike some other chemicals found in the home, does not accumulate in the fat cells over time.

Source of Formaldehyde Emissions

A great deal of wood flooring is manufactured of layers of wood particles or veneers pressed together and sealed with adhesives containing urea formaldehyde resin. Low-end flooring, even made from materials that you expect to be “green” can be manufactured with this adhesive, and have formaldehyde emissions of 0.237ppm as a result. Because the real danger is in the manufacturing process, it’s a mistake to assume something is eco-friendly because it is made from an eco-friendly product. Before you make a decision to buy, make sure you get all the facts.

Formaldehyde Ratings

European standards recommended in 2000 by the European Panel Industry defined formaldehyde emissions ratings. Original ratings included E1, measuring 9mg/100g and below, E2, measuring greater than 9mg/100g to below 30mg/100g, and E3, measuring a greater than 30mg/100g ratio. Pressure for more stringent standards led to a new ratings classification, E0, based on emissions measuring 0.5mg per liter and below. Europeans test methodology is based on the Perforator Test Method, which measures the formaldehyde levels inside the wood specimen.

Japan has also defined formaldehyde emissions ratings. The Japanese JIS/JAS Formaldehyde Adhesive Emission Standards, defined by the set forth by the Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) and Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) departments, use a different testing methodology, the Desiccator Test Method which measures emissions released from the wood. Ratings are assigned in four categories, F*, F**, F***, and F****, with F**** having the lowest level of formaldehyde emissions below 0.005 mg/m2h. Comparing these two standards is difficult due to the different methods and to different units of measurement.

The United States has been slow to address this concern, but a rating system released in 2007 by the California Air Regulatory Board (CARB) aims to correct that. The Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) specifies staggered implementation dates ranging from 2009 to 2010 (depending on product) for a two-phase plan that calls for compliance on emissions levels in particleboard, MDF, thin MDF and hardwood plywood. CARB studies suggest that up to 5% of formaldehyde emissions are generated by composite wood products.

Phase 1 of the CARB plan already in effect requires that adhesive formaldehyde emissions measure equal to or less than 0.08 ppm (parts per million), a figure that exceeds OSHA standards already in play.

Phase 2, set for January 1, 2010, will force formaldehyde emissions in adhesives even lower, to 0.05 ppm, a higher standard than that of the European E0.

Logistical Reality

The cost of trying to regulate a global building industry is significant on every level. Enforcement of a U.S. standard presents a problem of staggering proportion in terms of manpower and logistics, considering how much processed wood is imported from overseas and the sheer volume of product that would have to be monitored. For U.S. manufacturers, the burden of retooling to meet new standards falls to them and ultimately to the consumer, because the cost is likely be passed on.

The Composite Panel Association (CPA) and other industry leaders have voiced some concerns about this ruling and asked for modifications. Citing costs and the difficulty of testing finished products, Bill Perdue, of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, says the impact could be tremendous, especially as it affects small manufacturers, like thousands of cabinet and furniture makers. Businesses located in California will face a distinct disadvantage in supply.

For the California Air Regulatory Board, the choice was clear and the vote unanimous, health concerns supersede cost. Expectations are that the rest of the country will follow suit, and U.S. manufacturers will be eager to get onboard and stay ahead of legislation sure to follow.

The Future is Here

There are already products on the market that have low VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions, some of them for years. In order to know exactly what you’re getting, find out what rating the flooring has. Look for E0, E1, F****, P1 or P2 CARB ratings for the most environmentally sound investment, and if the flooring is to be glued down, ask for VOC-free adhesives. It may cost a little more, but cleaner air will be worth it.

2015 Updates

Regulations regarding formaldehyde emission standards are continuing to evolve today. While not nationwide regulations yet, the emission standards initially established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) are set to be mirrored across the country by proposed rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More information on what EPA is doing to protect against formaldehyde exposure can be found here.

As mentioned above, the CARB Phase 2 (also known as California Phase 2 Compliant) standards are currently in effect in the state of California. For more information on what this regulation means for consumers, click here.

(81) Comments

  1. I know this is a really old thread but I want to see if I can get any response from Chad Hogan. Did you ever fix your problem? If so, how? I am having the same issue. What brand flooring was it?

  2. Hi,
    I just installed thermal treated wood on several walls of my house, the smell is quite pleasant at first but after a few days working on it I could not stand the smell anymore and developped terrible headache and felt like vomitting. Does heat treated wood release formaldehyde or anything else that could trigger such symptomes.

  3. Hi, Susan, I have the Home Air check tool. The formaldehyde level is also elevated. My dealter won’t return the floor. It’s US floor Eco Cork. They claim to be green air certified.

    Is anything I could do?

  4. Hi there
    I have a supplier of Finnish birch plywood that provides me with plywood with an M1 rating which stands for low emission. Does anyone know how to compare that to the E0 or E1 rating?

    Thanks

  5. Dont do any ENGINEERED WOOD FLOORING! I have had mine for 5 years and it has been making all of us sick and we thought we were just unlucky until we decided to move out for a while and get an indoor air quality test Results came in and the formaldehyde is at severe levels and the VOC’s is rated as extreme. My wife had a miscarriage due to this crap, my daughter developed severe asthma while in the house……………. i warn everyone.

  6. Hello,
    I’m not sure if I’m allowed to link to other sites here, but I will and it can be deleted if necessary.

    Anyway, in regards to Eurpoean v. CARB emissions equivalents, I found a very helpful chart on page 2 of this PDF:

    //columbiaforestproducts.com/Content/Documents/CARB_Customer_FAQ.pdf.

    I also have a question for Rodney:

    We are interested in buying strand bamboo for our home, but I am very sensitive to chemicals and allergens in general. Would buying a carton of the bamboo flooring and leaving it boxed in our home help to evaluate it for our purposes? Or does it need to be installed for best evaluation?

    Thank you for answering these questions. The information is very helpful!

  7. I live in China and just signed a lease for a newly decorated house. The floors were installed 2 months ago and are made of a lower-end laminate. There are zero standards here and after reading much literature I am now very concerned. We are supposed to move this Saturday, the 23rd. Should I even consider living there? Is there any way to test the emissons level before I make a decision?

    Thank you.

  8. I just installed Shaw laminate flooring that was suppoed to meet CARB P1 or even CARB P2. I was told they also were Greenguard certified. I now can not live in my condo because of respiratory issues and did an indoor quality air test by Home Air Check that says the formaldehyde levels in the condo are Elevated at 81 ng/L or 65 ppb. They say that NIOSH recommends 20 ng/L or 16 ppb. I am buying an air filtration system by Lennox, but am wondering is this going to be a long-term problem (i.e. life of the floor), or short-term? Looking online it says laminate should off-gas within a few weeks. This floor was installed at the end of December 2012, 1 month ago. I’ve tried room air purifiers and opening the windows and doors, however think the levels that were tested last week show that this is not helping at all.
    Thanks for ANY info, suggestions, etc., on steps to take to reduce, eliminate the formaldehyde

  9. re: John Smith — Conversion

    Dear Forum & John,

    Did you ever receive a response to this calculation — and if so did you find it to be accurate? I am interested as well as to how this converts.

    Sincerely,

    Eric Rupert

    ——————————————

    How do I convert European emission standards to the CARB standard?

    Online search says, 0.1mg/100mg = 1ppm

    Which would mean that the european E1 standard 9mg/100g = 90ppm !!!

    Now, the CARB Phase 1 standard is 0.08ppm. So the European standard is MUCH worse!

    Is this correct?

    Thanks,
    – John

  10. Hi Rodney:
    We just install laminate floor in our house and I am very worried about the emmison of formaldehyde. Is there any way I can hire a company or get a test kit to test the formaldehyde emmison level?
    We appreciate your help.

    Ma Lan

    • Hi Ma,

      You would need to contact the source of where you bought the flooring from. You would need to confirm with them if the floors are safe for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and what standards they comply with formaldehyde release emissions.

      [comment amended]

  11. We are considering putting wainscoting in our new baby’s room and bought it from Home Depot. The spec from Georgia Pacific doesn’t say if it is formaldehyde treated or not. The panels are in our garage and have a strong odor. Should we return them and get the formaldehyde free to be safe?

  12. Our house was recently contaminated with an odor neutralizing powder..The insurance co. decided to ozone our house for 3 days…I have been told the powder contains turpenes that do not mix with the ozone and cause formaldehyde…can this ever be removed? this is wide spread throughout the house on a large level. We had the burning eyes, mouth and throat. We inhaled this for over 20 days. How can we get rid of this?

  13. Just installed 1200+ square feet of engineered wood made by earth werks which I understand is made in China. Not until after installation was I aware of possible dangers of formaldehyde. I can not find anything that tells me what standard if any this wood meets. I have called the company itself, spoken to CARB, and researched online. Is there someway I can find out what level of formaldehyde this wood is emitting to make sure it is safe?

    Thank you,
    Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer,

      You would have to contact the retailer that you purchased it from to find the Formaldehyde Release Emission. With regards to formaldehyde release emissions, look for the E1 European Standard for safe levels of emission, which are stricter than those found in North America. To qualify for E1, product must be under 15 points per million (PPM).

      Rodney

  14. Dear Rodney,

    I am about to purchase a condo built about 11-20yrs ago. The cabinets have laminate drawers and shelves is this still a worry for me and will it be off gassing still?

    I do walk into the condo which they just put in a brand new PERGO floor and immediately my mouth drys, nose runs, and eyes tear within about 15 min. If I take the PERGO flooring out will the other laminates still be a problem for me? I am very senstive to formaldehyde and have asthma. Pls help asap. I am supposed to counter this weekend.

    I thought of taking off the PERGO and just putting the new soft ceramic in the kitchen and bathroom and carpet in the rest of the living room and bedrooms.

    The kitchen cupboards have been in for anywhere from 11-20 yrs depending on when each 4 plx was built , mine was one of the later ones so I suspect it was built in 1997.
    How long can they off gas??
    Pls help.

  15. How do I convert European emission standards to the CARB standard?

    Online search says, 0.1mg/100mg = 1ppm

    Which would mean that the european E1 standard 9mg/100g = 90ppm !!!

    Now, the CARB Phase 1 standard is 0.08ppm. So the European standard is MUCH worse!

    Is this correct?

    Thanks,
    – John

  16. What brands did you use? I’ve got to decide by tomorrow if I’m get engineered wood, wood, or laminate. We’ve got dogs. I wanted the lowest VOC… thanks for any info! Kim

  17. I just got laminate floors installed this is the 3rd room same flooring as the other rooms & no problems with the other 2 but this one the smell is so strong I get sick just going in there my eyes burned all night. What can be done to reduce the smell?

  18. Regarding laminate flooring made with formaldehyde:

    Wth the planks well flushed together and the laminate coating on top, how much formaldehyde can possibly be out-gassing?

    Concerned. Thank you.

  19. I have a real problem that I cant fix. I have a rental house that is only 2 years old that has a distinct smell in it. After the process of elimination we pulled up the laminate floor and had it tested for the formaldehyde content. The results were 430mg/kg of formaldehyde content. The manufacturer product data sheet indicates 0.021ppm of residual formaldehyde. We then pulled up all of the flooring and replaced it but the smell still lingers. Could the formaldehyde permeate into the sheet rock, cabinets etc??? If so how long does it take to get rid of the smell.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!!

  20. Yes, heat and moisture can “activate” the formaldehyde causing it to off-gas. Hope you’re not doing anything for the next couple of weeks.

  21. Do the Vanier or Jaspar lines have any engineered hardwood with a VOC free construction?
    Are either made in China?
    Thanks,
    Dave

    • Hey David,
      This learning centre tries to be as broad as possible when it comes to product information. The absolute best thing to do with questions about specific brands that BuildDirect carries would be to call in 1 877 631 2845 or email sales@builddirect.com. This sounds kind of like a sales pitch, I know. But, those contact details will allow you to talk with one of our wood flooring guys, who spend a lot of time with the specific products you’ve mentioned here.

      I hope that helps, even a little bit. Thanks for your question. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You can use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.