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Man-Made Wood Products

By HHI Staff

In an ideal healthy home interior, there would likely be no man-made wood products. This means no plywood, no particleboard and no sheets of wall paneling. Admittedly, these materials have real advantages associated with them — they’re relatively cheap, often made of wood that would otherwise be wasted (inferior logs, mill scraps, sawdust etc.), they resist warping, and in some cases they are stronger than solid wood.

The Trouble With Man-Made Wood Products

Typical man-made wood products have health-related drawbacks, especially for sensitive people. For example, they’re nearly always made of softwoods (primarily pine or fir) that can release strong-smelling natural terpenes when they’re freshly cut or sanded. These compounds can be irritating and bothersome to breathe for some people. More importantly, man-made wood products are generally held together with formaldehyde-based glues.


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Unfortunately, formaldehyde can cause a wide variety of health problems, from nasal irritation and respiratory problems to menstrual irregularities and cancer. Sadly, formaldehyde will likely be emitted from man-made wood products for many years. Therefore, many items made with man-made wood products can be ongoing, long-term problems.


Although typical plywood (of any type) is definitely a source of formaldehyde, typical particleboard is a far worse emitter. That’s because much more glue is required to make particleboard than to make other man-made wood products. Unfortunately, the glue that’s usually used in particle board is the UF type.

Getting to Less Formaldehyde

There are actually two basic types of formaldehyde-based glues that are used in the wood-products industry. Phenol-formaldehyde (PF) glues are generally used in products designed for use outdoors and in construction-grade plywood.


As it turns out, PF glues only emit about 10% as much formaldehyde as the other popular formaldehyde-based glue, urea-formaldehyde (UF) glue. UF glues are often used for indoor construction and are common in cabinet-grade plywood. Obviously, if you must use a man-made wood product containing a formaldehyde glue, you’ll want to choose one that’s held together with PF glue rather than UF glue.

Industry Improvements

Says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, "Manufacturers have reduced formaldehyde emissions from pressed wood products by 80-90% from the levels of the early 1980’s."


From An Update On Formaldehyde: 1997 Revision



(See sidebar, "Getting to Less Formaldehyde.") Because particle board is cheaper than plywood (after all, it’s only composed of tiny wood scraps and glue), builders often use it for subfloors, and it is widely used in cabinet construction as well. As a result, typical UF particleboard is often a major source of formaldehyde in new homes.

Alternative Materials

Some manufacturers are now producing formaldehyde-free particleboard. While these particular particleboard products are made with a non-formaldehyde glue, the softwood terpenes released from them could still make them intolerable for certain chemically sensitive individuals. If you are one of these, you’ll want to test these products for personal tolerance before you purchase a large quantity. In the end, you might find that a better choice would be to use a tolerable solid wood whenever you can.




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Man-Made Wood Products:  Created on February 7th, 2007.  Last Modified on February 28th, 2011


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