Although formaldehyde is a gas it in its purest form, it is seldom processed in that state. One exception is the vapor phase reaction process of formaldehyde with cellulose-containing textiles. Formaldehyde is usually handled as an aqueous solution, as paraformaldehyde (a homopolymer of formaldehyde) or as a reaction product in a resin. Aqueous formaldehyde is most frequently 37% active and contains 0.05% to 15% methanol, to prevent polymerization to paraformaldehyde.

In water, an equilibrium exists between formaldehyde and dihydroxymethane. Aqueous formaldehyde and most reaction products tend to emit some free formaldehyde. A number of unique properties are offered by formaldehyde. Foremost, it is cheap, readily available, reactive, easily handled, and efficient. The end products made with formaldehyde are durable and non-yellowing as compared to those made with other aldehydes.

Without formaldehyde as the building block, the performance and value of a broad array of products that benefit from its chemistry would suffer. Home buyers would likely face increased Formaldehyde is normally present in costs or reduced performance from human blood at a low steady-state construction materials such as plywood, particleboard and fiberboard used in housing and furniture. In a like manner, many textile products would also suffer in performance .Other affected sectors would include automotive materials and personal care products

World consumption of 37% formaldehyde solution was about 28 million metric tons in 2006, up from 24 million metric tons in 2003. Between 2003 and 2006, world capacity grew at an average annual rate of 3.9% while world consumption grew at an average rate of 5.4%. Most of the production went into resins for building materials. These resins included urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, polyacetal, and melamine-formaldehyde. Textile chemicals amounted only to a few percent of the world consumption. In the early years of the twentieth century, French chemists studied the reaction of formaldehyde with cotton to improve wrinkle resistance-and to control shrinkage. Derivatives of formaldehyde are now preferred in order to obtain a better balance of physical properties and to reduce environmental impacts. Today, a large percentage of cellulose-containing textiles are processed with such products.

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Originally published in New Cloth Market: February 2010