Urea formaldehyde is a polymer used in the production of many hardwood floors, plywood, and even adhesive products. Bamboo flooring is often found to emit trace amounts of formaldehyde by virtue of its production. Formaldehyde, however, is only toxic in large quantities. Despite trace amounts, all bamboo products should be compliant with low-emission standards for health and safety.
It is important to understand the difference between “trace amounts” and “low volume of emissions:” there are rigorous standards enforced on the emission levels of products using formaldehyde. Environmental and health concerns have led to regulations such as CARB Phase II and Title VI of the TSCA. Bamboo is one of many products subject to such standards – but does it meet the mark?
It is not a new or unknown product – it’s been around for more than 20 years now. It’s been specified by major architects and designers worldwide on significant residential and commercial projects. There is a long and established track record testament to this incredible product’s safety and durability. However, search for the terms “bamboo flooring” and “formaldehyde,” and you’ll likely find all sorts of misleading (and patently untrue) information being spread around the web. Here we set the record straight by providing concrete facts and figures to make sure the truth is known.
What is Formaldehyde?
According to the EPA:
Formaldehyde occurs naturally in the environment. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes. Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.
Where is Formaldehyde Found?
- Common household items such as paints, adhesives, coatings, lacquers and finishes, paper products, and permanent-press fabrics
- Building materials and insulation products
- Adhesives used in composite wood products such as hardwood plywood, particleboard, and MDF (medium-density fiberboard) (engineered hardwood and bamboo floors fall into this category)
- Preservative chemicals used in some cosmetics and medicines, and other consumer products like dishwashing soap and laundry softeners
- Fertilizers and pesticides
It is a byproduct of combustion and so is also found in:
- Cigarette smoke.
- Emissions from gas stoves and kerosene space heaters.
How Much Is Formaldehyde In Bamboo Flooring?
Despite formaldehyde being classed as a V.O.C (Volatile Organic Compound), it is only dangerous when found at high levels. Most high-quality bamboo flooring brands contain little or no formaldehyde on their floors. These floors meet the most strict indoor off-gassing standard globally, called CARB Phase II, which requires formaldehyde levels no higher than .05ppm. High-quality bamboo floors contain as little as .02ppm within their products, which is far below that limit. Voluntarily provide independent test results on their websites as a sign of good faith. Most strand woven bamboo uses only phenolic formaldehyde, which doesn’t have the bad reputation of urea-formaldehyde. Urea-formaldehyde is used in most engineered and hardwood bamboo flooring, but only in trace amounts.
Bamboo Flooring Is One Of The Safest Floors You Can Install In Your Home
There are many floors on the market, but hardwood and bamboo flooring are at the top of the list for safety and indoor air quality.
As an example, check out our graphic below from our article.
Who Defines What Levels of Formaldehyde are ‘Safe’?
Formaldehyde in bamboo flooring depends on where in the world the products are produced and sold. The most rigorous indoor air standard in the world is CARB Phase II (set by California). Both CARB and European standards recommend that formaldehyde content in products should be 0.1ppm or below. You’ll also want to stick with products with Floorscore certification, which also guarantees indoor air quality.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Web.
While formaldehyde can indeed be harmful when emitted in large quantities, in everyday life, formaldehyde is used in everything from the dining room table to kitchen cabinets (even humans themselves produce formaldehyde in small quantities). Formaldehyde is used in many industries, offering several helpful qualities. For example, it can be used as a disinfectant to produce polymers and create other chemicals.
Unfortunately, some interests are threatened by the triple threat that bamboo floors provide – affordability, durability, and eco-friendliness. Many of these folks have gone out of their way to that bamboo floors are full of dangerous chemicals. Given the facts, it’s surprising (and sad) that such misinformation and fear-mongering still thrives.
Which Brands Contain Zero or Effectively Zero Formaldehyde?
Most brands that annually test their products, meet the CARB Phase 2 standard, and have achieved Floorscore certification are usually safe ( is a great example). Ensure that the bamboo floor brand you’re considering uses an independent third party U.S. laboratory to carry out annual tests. This also extends to the materials you use when installing your flooring; for example, the glue and adhesives you use should be considered.
Image Credit: Klaus Beyer