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A flammable, colorless gas with a strong, suffocating odor. Formaldehyde was first synthesized in 1859. It occurs naturally in Coal and Wood smoke and as an outdoor Pollutant. Formaldehyde is also found in indoor environments evolved items such as new Particle board, freshly laid carpet, Foam, adhesives, Insulation, and new fabrics. Formaldehyde is a powerful reducing agent and is also a precursor of Formic acid. Both forms exist as aerosols and will react with many materials on contact.

Formaldehyde is used as a Disinfectant, Fumigant, embalming fluid, tanning agent, and in durable press textile finishes. It is also used as an ingredient in some polymers, such as urea, phenolic, melamine, and acetal resins. Aqueous solutions containing 37% formaldehyde by weight (40% by volume) are commercially sold as Formalin. Formaldehyde can self-polymerize to form trioxane and Paraformaldehyde.

  • See Pollutant record for a comparison table of aerosols and collection risks.
  • Formaldehyde is on the ILFI Red list of building materials.

Synonyms and Related Terms

methanal (IUPAC); oxymethylene; formic aldehyde; oxomethane; methylene oxide; methyl aldehyde; metanal (Ces., Esp.); Formaldehyd (Dan., Deut., Nor., Pol., Sven.); formaldehído (Esp.); méthanal (Fr.); formaldéhyde (Fr.); formaldeide (It.); formaldehyde (Ned.); aldehyd mrówkowy (Pol.); formaldeído (Port.);

Aqueous solutions: Aqueos; formalin; formol; morbicid acid; Formaol; Veracur

Personal Risks

  • Human carcinogen.
  • Skin contact will cause irritation and burns.
  • Toxic by inhalation at 5 ppm.
  • Flammable. Flash point=-53C.
  • ValTech: SDS

Collection Risks

  • Metal corrosion
  • Reaction with calcareous materials
  • Cellulose and protein embrittlement
  • Discoloration of dyes, pigments, and textiles

Physical and Chemical Properties

Soluble in water.

Composition HCHO
CAS 50-00-0
Melting Point -92 C
Density 1.067 g/ml
Molecular Weight mol. wt. = 30.03
Boiling Point -19 C

Resources and Citations

  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 342
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Pam Hatchfield, Pollutants in the Museum Environment, Archetype Press, London, 2002
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • S.R.Trotman, E.R. Trotman, Textile Analysis, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1932
  • Rosalie Rosso King, Textile Identification, Conservation, and Preservation, Noyes Publications, Park Ridge, NJ, 1985
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983
  • G.Caneva, M.P.Nugari, O.Salvadori, Biology in the Conservation of Works of Art, ICCROM, Rome, 1991
  • Book and Paper Group, Paper Conservation Catalog, AIC, 1984, 1989
  • Wikipedia: Formaldehyde (Accessed Feb. 10, 2006 and July 2023) melting point -117C
  • Art and Architecture Thesaurus Online,, J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, 2000

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