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Formaldehyde Faux Pas

February 27, 2011

Erik & I are DIYers, and we love to reuse and re-purpose stuff.  I’m happy to say that with him around, there isn’t much we can’t accomplish on our own; and I have to give him most of the credit, because even though I often come up with the ideas, he brings them to life beautifully!

A few weeks ago we decided that we wanted to “dress” up our bedroom a bit by building a large, upholstered, fabric headboard.  We headed to the fabric store to pick out our fabric (which took forever to agree upon) and other soft materials.  The next day, Erik headed over to Lowe’s to pick up the wood that would be the backbone of our project. He came home with a sturdy piece of plywood that would finish this project and then some. We already had the hardware we needed, as well as the boards that would anchor the headboard to the bed.

**As a side note, the boards actually came from a 60+ year old barn that collapsed last October. It was a pretty cool story because it had been leaning for a long time, and the whole community was waiting to see when it would finally topple!**

Erik got started on the headboard, and the end result was gorgeous! I loved it, and it looked great on our bed (now for the new comforter and decorative pillows I’ve been wanting)!

Our Headboard!!!

Fabric Close-up

Well…it didn’t take too long for us to notice a strong and unpleasant odor in our bedroom. It smelled like chemicals. Not cool! Not cool at all!

I immediately went to work researching the materials we had used to build the headboard, and found the culprit of our odor pretty quickly… formaldehyde glue in the plywood. I felt like a green fool! I knew all about formaldehyde use in household products, and even in particleboard furniture, but I didn’t think about the plywood. Why didn’t I think about the plywood?!?!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, formaldehyde is a gas that can cause serious health issues, and is categorized by the EPA as a carcinogen. Over time, products made with formaldehyde will “off gas” into the air, deteriorating the air quality within your home. As I researched further, I learned that there is a less toxic form of formaldehyde glue (PF) used in building materials that are designed for exterior use, but the type of glue (UF) used for most interior building materials is, ironically, the most dangerous. In fact, according to the EPA, medium density fiberboard – the plywood we chose – “contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.”  Certainly not the kind of thing we want to have right next to our heads while we sleep at night!

We also learned that the UF glue in medium density fiberboard off gases more quickly than the PF glue, and that higher temperatures and humidity can speed up the off gassing process as well. So, it was with heavy hearts that we removed the headboard from our bed, and put it in the garage. We decided that after a boiling summer spent out there it will surely be safe to try again this Fall. For now, our uninspired bedroom has fallen victim to my formaldehyde faux pas.

**For a more detailed list of formaldehyde-containing products, the health effects, and tips on how to avoid exposure, please visit this link:  EPA

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff permalink
    February 27, 2011 2:15 pm

    Bummer, but hopefully just a temporary setback. The headboard looks great, nicely done Erik!

    Have you ever used one of those formaldehyde test kits? I’ve seen them at the hardware store before, but never picked one up. I’d be curious, and probably disappointed, to see what kind of reading we get inside our house.

    • February 27, 2011 11:36 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Jeff!

      To answer your question – No, we have never purchased a formaldehyde test kit – but I think we would do okay if we did. All of our stuff is old! Our house was built in ’89 so hopefully it’s pretty much done off gassing. Our furniture is mostly hand-me-downs, and real wood products we’ve found random places around town – you might even recognize some of the stuff we have! For this reason, I’m actually glad we have so much old stuff!

      Even still, I’d be curious to know how we’d do…


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