Does reclaimed wood have formaldehyde?

Reclaimed wood is becoming increasingly popular these days, especially for furniture making and interior design. But, as a consumer, you may be wondering if reclaimed wood contains formaldehyde or other chemicals that may be hazardous to your health. In this blog post, we will discuss the formaldehyde levels in reclaimed wood and how to choose a safe and healthy option.

What is Reclaimed Wood?

Reclaimed wood is wood that has been salvaged from old buildings, barns, and other sources. It can be used to create furniture, flooring, and other decorative items. Reclaimed wood is often seen as a more eco-friendly option than new wood, as it reduces the need for newly harvested wood.

Does Reclaimed Wood Have Formaldehyde?

The answer to this question is both yes and no. a common concern with reclaimed wood is that it may contain formaldehyde, a potentially toxic chemical. While it is true that formaldehyde can be present in reclaimed wood, the levels can vary significantly depending on the source and age of the wood.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas found in many building materials, including wood products, adhesives, and fabric finishes. It is used in plywood, particleboard, and other composite wood products to bind the wood fibers together, making them stronger and more durable. Formaldehyde can also be found in some glues and finishes that are used on wood products.

When it comes to reclaimed wood, the formaldehyde levels can vary greatly depending on the source and age of the wood. Reclaimed wood may have been exposed to formaldehyde-based glues and finishes when it was used in its previous form, so the formaldehyde levels may be higher than those found in new wood. However, the formaldehyde levels can be greatly reduced by proper treatment and finishing.

For example, when reclaimed wood is kiln-dried, the heat of the kiln will reduce the formaldehyde levels in the wood. Also, when reclaimed wood is sealed properly with a sealant or finish, the formaldehyde levels are further reduced. The sealant or finish acts as a barrier, preventing the formaldehyde from being released into the air.

Types of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde can be found in three different forms: urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, and melamine-formaldehyde.

Urea-formaldehyde is the most widely used form of formaldehyde and is typically used in adhesives. It is a highly reactive molecule that can polymerize and form strong bonds, making it ideal for adhesives and resins. Urea-formaldehyde is formed by heating urea with formaldehyde under pressure and is often used in plywood and particleboard.

Phenol-formaldehyde is another type of formaldehyde that is used mainly in laminates and other finishes. This type of formaldehyde is formed when phenol is combined with formaldehyde and heated. Phenol-formaldehyde is commonly used in surfacing materials such as countertops, furniture, and cabinets.

Lastly, melamine-formaldehyde is a form of formaldehyde that is used in laminates and other finishes. This formaldehyde is formed when melamine and formaldehyde are combined and heated. It is a durable finish that is often used for kitchen countertops, furniture, and cabinets.

Formaldehyde has many uses, and the different types of formaldehyde can be used for different applications. Urea-formaldehyde is the most widely used form and is used mainly in adhesives, while phenol-formaldehyde and melamine-formaldehyde are used in laminates and other finishes.

Type of FormaldehydeProperties Applications
Urea-formaldehyde Highly reactive, polymerizes to form strong bonds Adhesives, resins
Phenol-formaldehydeDurable, heat resistantLaminates, finishes
Melamine-formaldehydeHeat resistant, durableLaminates, finishes

Testing for Formaldehyde

When it comes to determining whether or not a piece of reclaimed wood contains potentially hazardous formaldehyde, the only reliable way to know for sure is to have it tested by a professional. This type of testing is offered by a wide range of laboratories, allowing for quick and accurate results.

The process of testing for formaldehyde is relatively straightforward. To begin, a sample of the wood must be sent to the laboratory for analysis. The sample size and type can vary depending on the lab’s requirements, but typically only a small amount of material is needed.

Once the sample has been received and analyzed, the results will be returned to the customer. These results will indicate the levels of formaldehyde present in the wood, which can then be used to make an informed decision about whether or not the material is safe for use.

Formaldehyde levels can vary greatly depending on factors such as the type of wood and its age, so it’s important to ensure that the sample is representative of the material in question. In some cases, multiple samples may need to be tested in order to get an accurate assessment.

The following table provides an overview of the most common formaldehyde levels found in wood, along with the corresponding safety recommendations:

Formaldehyde Levels in WoodSafety
0-0.1 parts per million (ppm)Safe
0.1-0.5 ppmMay cause irritation
>0.5 ppmUnsafe

In general, any formaldehyde levels higher than 0.5 ppm are considered unsafe and should be avoided. Therefore, testing for formaldehyde is the only way to ensure that the wood being used is safe for use.

Aside from the potential health risks associated with formaldehyde, it’s important to note that the presence of this chemical can also affect the structural integrity of the wood. High levels of formaldehyde can cause the material to become brittle and can lead to premature deterioration.

Treating Reclaimed Wood

One of the most effective ways to reduce formaldehyde levels in reclaimed wood is to seal and finish it with a low-VOC or formaldehyde-free product. This process seals the wood surface, trapping in any existing formaldehyde and helping to reduce the levels in the air. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemical compounds that can evaporate and become airborne, leading to increased levels of formaldehyde in the air. Low-VOC and formaldehyde-free products are a safe and effective way to reduce formaldehyde in reclaimed wood.

There are a variety of sealing and finishing products available on the market, including polyurethane, shellac, wax, and water-based finishes. It is important to read the label and choose a product that is specifically designed for use on wood and is low in VOCs. Some products may contain VOCs but are still considered safe, as long as they are used as directed and the appropriate safety gear is worn.

Before applying a finish to the wood, it is important to clean the surface and remove any dirt or debris. This will help the finish adhere better and provide a more even application. Once the surface is clean, the finish can be applied according to the product instructions. After the finish has been applied, the wood should be allowed to dry thoroughly before use.

By taking the time to seal and finish reclaimed wood with a low-VOC or formaldehyde-free product, you can help to reduce the levels of formaldehyde in the air and make your home a safe and healthy environment. With the right product and careful application, you can enjoy the beauty of reclaimed wood without the worry of harmful chemicals.


Reclaimed wood can be a great option for furniture and other decorative items, but it is important to consider the formaldehyde levels. Make sure to do your research and get the wood tested if possible. Treat and finish the wood with a low-VOC or formaldehyde-free product, and store it in a dry, well-ventilated area. By following these steps, you can ensure that you are choosing a safe and healthy option.

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