Aldehydes & Formaldehyde

Aldehydes are a large group of chemicals that occur both naturally and synthetically. Formaldehyde is an Aldehyde.

Aldehydes are a large group of chemicals that occur both naturally and synthetically - Formaldehyde is an Aldehyde.

Aldehydes are found naturally in essential oils, contributing to their favourable odour and in all living things from bacteria, plants to humans.

Synthetically - Aldehydes are widely used by multiple industries in the manufacture of building materials, textiles, household products, fragrance and perfume and are an important precursor for plasticisers and detergents as well as a preservative in foods and embalming dead things! To name but a few!

Aldehydes are also a by-product of combustion and present both indoors and outdoors but there are generally higher concentrations indoors eg Gas stove top, gas & oil filled heaters. 

Aldehyde/Formaldehyde causes allergic contact dermatitis, usually on parts of the body that experience a lot of friction. For example, underwear or tight clothing which is in constant close contact with the skin - together with the friction, the body’s heat and accumulation of sweat more, formaldehyde is leached out affecting the skin.   If airborne it can affect breathing, eye swelling, headaches & migraine, etc

There are too many to list but here are some more common sources:

Fabrics treated with formaldehyde resin – perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). These chemicals are increasingly being added to all newly manufactured clothing for ‘hanger quality’ giving them a wrinkle free, crease-resistant appearance in the shops.

NEW clothing – ‘non-iron’, anti-cling, anti-static, anti-shrink finishes, perspiration proof, stain repellent and flame retardant

chlorine resistant finishes – branded swimwear

waterproof finishes – outdoor clothing and tents

stain guard/repellent – sofas and new upholstered furniture

moth and mildew proof finishes – carpets and underlay

stiffening on lightweight nylon knits, suede and chamois

fabric dyes

see Toxic Textiles 

Glues & Solvents - Glue sticks, Wood Glue, Eyelash Glue.  Products that contain formaldehyde based solvents include paint, ink, coatings, household cleaners, dry cleaning fluid, spot removers, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, nail polish remover, microelectronics, automotive products, metal and vapor degreasers, paint strippers and thinners, refrigerants, foam-blowing agents, and coolants. 

Industries that use solvents include dry cleaning, painting, printing, soap manufacturing, paint removing, textile manufacturing, asphalt paving, pesticide application, hospitals, oil painting, and art restoration.

MDF Particle board and Plywood – Urea-formaldehyde (UF) based glues and adhesives are used in pressed wood products such as MDF particle board and plywood. Particle board can emit formaldehyde for a long time, months or sometimes years. Pressed wood products /plywood using phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resin generally emit formaldehyde at considerably lower rates than those containing UF resin.  Also in Sealers and rubber cements.

Paper and Sanitary Products - UF (Urea-Formaldehydes) are used in the paper making industry to improve the wet strength of various different kinds of paper. Paper products typically treated are – toilet paper and kitchen towel, facial tissues, napkins and sanitary products. See Toilet Paper & Sanitary Products 

Car Exhausts, Combustion Appliances, Smoke and Smog – formaldehyde is released from car exhaust as well as the burning of wood, coal, charcoal, cigarette & tobacco smoke, natural gas and kerosene as well as forest fires and waste incinerators.

Household sources –  household cleaners, disinfectant and furniture polish. Scented candles, room or car air freshener and fragrance. Foam in cushions, upholstery and BEDS. Carpet and carpet underlay. Stain repellent furnishings. Paints, primers, paint stripping agents. *Ironing board covers and internal garages! 

Cosmetics & Toiletries – All PERFUME & fragrance - anything that smells both natural and synthetic -  hair straightening/anti frizz products, nail polish and hardeners, deodorants and antiperspirants, makeup, bubble bath, bath oils, shampoos, soaps, creams, toothpaste, mouthwashes, baby products and disposable nappy bags and EYELASH Glue.

Dietary Formaldehyde Foods & Sources

Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in small amounts in meats, fish, fruits and vegetables and is sometimes used as a bleaching agent or preservative in foods.

Fruit Vegetables Dairy Meat Miscellaneous













Albumin from Cow’s milk

Milk (cow & goat)








Yeast mix

METHANOL which again appears naturally in fruits and veggies and their juice – once preserved (bottled or tinned) metabolizes to form Formaldehyde in the body. (for eg, tinned tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, fruit juice etc ) See Directory for Dietary Methanol & Formaldehyde for further info.

Medications  - topical wart medications, toxoid vaccines (vaccines that use an inactive bacterial toxin to produce immunity) Some topical creams, and personal hygiene products contain derivatives of formaldehyde as the active ingredients that prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

Sulfonamide medications and Methenamine – esp for treating urinary tract infections where it metabolizes into formaldehyde to kill bacteria in the urine.

Antihydrotics for excessive sweating, orthopedic casts and root canal preparations.

Plastics, Melamine & Resins –buttons, jewelry beads, plastic coatings, footware, melamine dinnerware, phenol resins eg Bakelite (not just old fashioned phones – think fashion jewelry)

OTHER – embalming fluid and preservative for laboratory specimens. Fertilizer. Photographic chemicals. Printing/Etching materials, Leather Tanning agents, Fibreglass and insulation foam. 

See link for Formaldehyde in car leather

Avoid (if you can!) not only formaldehyde but also its many synonyms and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Some of these are known by the following names:




Phenol Formaldehyde


imidazolidinyl urea


Methylene Oxide

diazolidinyl urea Formalin


Oxomethane Formalin

Morbicid acid



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