|Molecular formula||OH(CH2O)nH (n = 8 - 100)|
|Appearance||white crystalline solid|
|Density||1.42 g·cm−3 (25 °C)|
|Melting point||120 °C|
|Solubility in water||low|
|EU classification||Toxic (T); Corrosive (C)|
| (what is: / ?)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
Paraformaldehyde (PFA) is the smallest polyoxymethylene, the polymerization product of formaldehyde with a typical degree of polymerization of 8–100 units. Paraformaldehyde commonly has a slight odor of formaldehyde due to decomposition. Paraformaldehyde is a poly-acetal.
Paraformaldehyde forms slowly in aqueous formaldehyde solutions as a white precipitate, especially if stored in the cold. Formalin actually contains very little monomeric formaldehyde; most of it forms short chains of polyformaldehyde. A small amount of methanol is often added as a stabilizer to limit the extent of polymerization.
Paraformaldehyde can be depolymerized to formaldehyde gas by dry heating and to formaldehyde solution by water in the presence of a base or heat. The very pure formaldehyde solutions obtained in this way are used as a fixative for microscopy and histology.
The resulting formaldehyde gas from dry heating paraformaldehyde is flammable.
Once paraformaldehyde is depolymerized, the resulting formaldehyde may be used as a fumigant, disinfectant, fungicide, and fixative. Longer chain-length (high molecular weight) polyoxymethylenes are used as a thermoplastic and are known as polyoxymethylene plastic (POM, Delrin). It was used in the past in the discredited Sargenti method of root canal treatment.
Paraformaldehyde is not a fixative--it must be depolymerized to formaldehyde in solution. In cell culture, a typical formaldehyde fixing procedure would involve using a 4% formaldehyde solution in phosphate buffered saline (PBS) on ice for 10 minutes.
- Yates, J (1973). "Adsorption and decomposition of formaldehyde on tungsten (100) and (111) crystal planes". Journal of Catalysis 30 (2): 260. doi:10.1016/0021-9517(73)90073-0.