Formaldehyde is released by numerous agents, such as paraformaldehyde, dichlorophene, Dowicil 75 and Dowicil 200 (cis-1-(3-chloroalkyl)-3,5,7-triaza-l-azonia-adamantane chloride), bronopol, Biocide DS 52-49 (1,2-benzoisothiazoline-3-one plus a formaldehyde releaser), and Bakzid (cyclic aminoacetal). Formalin is an alternative name for an aqueous solution of formaldehyde, but the latter name is preferred, since formalin is also used as a brand name in some countries.

Free formaldehyde is used in cosmetics, especially in hair shampoos, and in many disinfectants and antiseptics. The solid paraformaldehyde is used as a source of formaldehyde vapor for the disinfection of rooms. Noxythiolin, polynoxylin, hexamidine, and taurolidine act by slow release of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde solution contains 34-38% of formaldehyde methanol as a stabilizing agent to delay polymerization of the formaldehyde. Formaldehyde gel contains 0.75% of formaldehyde and is used to treat warts.

Formaldehyde cannot be applied safely to the skin or the mucous membranes in the concentration necessary to rapidly kill microbes, and formaldehyde solutions have to be diluted before use to a 2-8% solution to disinfect inanimate objects and to a 1-2% solution for disinfection by scrubbing. For fumigation of air a concentration of 1-2% is used.

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