All about Air Purifiers and Formaldehyde

We spend majority of our times in-door

Since we spend so much time inside, it is important for us to learn how to reduce or eliminate this dangerous chemical from our homes.

Formaldehyde” is some terms where only scientists and high schoolers dissecting frogs tend to be familiar with the chemical.

What’s the big deal?

Formaldehyde is one of the most common toxic substances found in indoor air. Formaldehyde causes scary health problems like ulcers and cancer, yet it’s common in construction materials and new furniture. The people who should worry the most are people in new or recently renovated homes. Tests of new and renovated homes routinely find high levels of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde causes cancer and it is pertinent to know more about its removal. You can find this deadly chemical in glues, paints, lacquers and finishes. Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen that is also used in permanent press fabrics and in paper products.

Not every air purifier can remove formaldehyde. In fact, the models you can buy in most department stores won’t have the filters required to remove formaldehyde and other dangerous chemicals.

What exactly is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is listed as a probable human carcinogen (cancer causing agent) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is a very small molecule, about the size of a single molecule of water. However, even though it is extremely tiny, it packs a big punch. It’s probably best known to the public for its preservative properties – solutions containing formaldehyde have been used to preserve biological specimens and even in embalming.

The reason it is so effective at stopping bacterial growth is the same reason we don’t want it in our air; it is extremely poisonous. The cells in our bodies can be killed by formaldehyde as easily as bacterial or fungal cells are.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, non-smelling gas that belongs to a group of organic compounds called aldehydes, which are formed by the oxidation of alcohols. Another typical aldehyde is acetaldehyde, a common chemical in the environment that may also be formed in the body from the breakdown of ethanol. Suffering from a hangover? Now you know why.

The reason why people are starting to take notice is that formaldehyde has been linked to cancer over time and sometimes, exposure can lead to immediate health effects. The EPA lists symptoms such as watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. These effects can often be seen in people who were exposed to elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may also trigger attacks in people with asthma. Some individuals may develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde after being exposed to the TVOC over a long time or in high concentrations..

What are the major sources of formaldehyde at home?

As you can see from the graphic above, sources of Formaldehyde Gas are common throughout most homes and can be steadily off-gased from lit cigarettes, storage cabinets made of particle board, subflooring, carpeting, wallboard, electronics, furniture, ceiling and flooring materials, door casings, insulation, household chemical products, and open stoves or heaters – just to name a few man-made sources inside.

Some common products that may contain formaldehyde:

  • Pressed wood products such as furniture and building supplies like particle board, paneling, and fiberboard.
  • Hair care products, especially hair smoothing products     
  • Plastic grocery bags     
  • Cosmetics and skin creams that contain quarternarium-15 (a preservative)     
  • Nail polish     
  • Paint     
  • Permanent-press fabrics/clothing and curtains     
  • Foam insulation (especially urea-formaldehyde foam insulation)     
  • Unventilated Gas stoves and kerosene space heaters (it is a natural by-product of combustion)   
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cleaning products including deodorizers, furniture polish, and laundry stain removers     
  • Glue and adhesives

Formaldehyde is often found in nail salons. For example, nail hardeners contain formaldehyde among many other dangerous chemicals that are commonplace in nail salons.

Particle boards are one of the primary sources of indoor formaldehyde emissions.

How to measure formaldehyde?

You can measure the formaldehyde level using a portable Formaldehyde (HCHO) Indoor Air Quality sensor Tester meter that measure formaldehyde concentration in air.

It is widely used in interior decoration, decoration materials, chemicals, environmental monitoring and industries to detect the current gas concentration formaldehyde in the environment.

This item also measures TVOC in the air. Designed with electrochemical accurate HCHO sensor that measures up to 5ppm. It has wide LCD display with backlight function.

Display your readings in ppb or µg/m3 HCHO

Why formaldehyde is so hard to remove?

Formaldehyde is a tricky problem because it escapes from materials as a gas, and HEPA filters aren’t made to capture gases. We’ve heard companies claim that activated carbon can remove formaldehyde, but we’ve also seen companies selling sprays that claim to clear formaldehyde from your home. That sounds a lot like snake oil to us.

Different type of Filters

Due to the fact that most air purifiers rely simply on HEPA filters alone, these are great for filtering out fine particles, however, they are unable to remove VOCs (Volatile Organc Compunds)  such as formaldehyde.

The best option for chemical and odor filtration is granular activated carbon. Activated carbon is charcoal or another natural substance (such as coconut shell) that was treated with oxygen to make it very porous so that it can adsorb chemicals, gases and odors from gases or liquids. Adsorption (different from absorption) means that these volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde attach themselves by way of chemical reaction to the surface of the activated carbon, meaning they are trapped in there.

This means that air purifiers with activated carbon filters can eliminate formaldehyde and hundreds of other chemicals from the ambient air. Activated carbon has a high-efficiency rating when it comes to removing formaldehyde. In one independent test, an air purifier with an 18 lb. activated carbon filter was able to remove high levels of formaldehyde from a closed-off room in under six hours.  

So, if you combine an activated carbon filter with a HEPA filter, the air purifier will be able to remove chemicals such as formaldehyde as well as particles and provide better overall indoor air quality. The amount of activated carbon is important. The more activated carbon the more efficient and longer-lasting the filters.

Yes. Formaldehyde is very much a concern to you since it is used in so many household products and materials.

Formaldehyde exists in construction and building materials in most modern homes. It’s common in composite wood products such as plywood and particleboard. It may be in your home’s insulation. It is even used as a preservative in some medicines, cosmetics, fabric softeners as well as dish-washing liquids.

Formaldehyde is released in tobacco smoke, word-burning and gas stoves. So, chances are fairly high that you and your family (and pets, co-workers, etc.) are exposed to formaldehyde in your home or office.

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