Formaldehyde can also be known as methanal, which is the substance's systematic name, or by alternate names like methyl aldehyde, methylene glycol or methylene oxide. This chemical compound is the simplest member of the aldehyde functional group and has a chemical formula of CH2O or HCHO. Though it is a gas at room temperature, formaldehyde solutions are used in the preservation of biological specimens and as a disinfectant.
Formalin is frequently mentioned along with formaldehyde, but they are two different versions of the same thing; formalin is a solution that contains about 37 percent formaldehyde. Some formalin solutions contain ingredients like methanol, which can be harmful to biological samples and therefore may not be suitable for preservation purposes.
Another word that is often associated with formaldehyde is paraformaldehyde, or PFA. This is a polymerized version of pure formaldehyde, meaning it is a solidified form of formaldehyde. In all of its forms, formaldehyde can be dangerous to humans thanks to its toxicity and volatility. The FDA has declared that formaldehyde is carcinogenic to humans, meaning that it should be handled with care and should not be ingested or inhaled. Formaldehyde enjoys widespread commercial use as a resin that is used to prevent wrinkles in fabric and as an ingredient in plastic.