Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) used in many industrial and household products and clothing as an adhesive, bonding agent or preservative, including plywood paneling, kitchen cabinets and carpeting. Formaldehyde is a highly reactive, water soluble and rapidly metabolized chemical, which, at room temperature, becomes a gas and is released into the air. According to many scientific studies, inhalation of formaldehyde can cause cancer in humans.

Much of the public debate over formaldehyde was sparked in 2005, when families displaced by Hurricane Katrina were forced to move into temporary trailers. Many residents later reported respiratory problems, burning eyes, and other issues. Tests confirmed high levels of formaldehyde fumes inside the trailers. The Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to regulate the use of formaldehyde in consumer products, but industry opposition has blocked legislation.

Many manufacturers of furniture and kitchen cabinets offer low-formaldehyde products. Choose particle board products with laminated surfaces when possible, as they emit less formaldehyde than uncovered surfaces. Allow new furniture, pressed-wood products and carpeting to air out before installation. Avoid purchasing no-iron clothing when possible (formaldehyde keeps clothes wrinkle-free), and of course, don't smoke or permit smoking in your home, as cigarette smoke also contains formaldehyde (as do electronic cigarettes).