We report the development of transparent sol-gels with entrapped sensitive and selective reagents for the detection of formaldehyde. The sampling method is based on the adsorption of formaldehyde from the air and reaction with beta-diketones (for example acetylacetone) in a sol-gel matrix to produce a yellow product, lutidine, which was detected directly. The proposed method does not require preparation of samples prior to analysis and allows both screening by visual detection and quantitative measurement by simple spectrophotometry. The detection limit of 0.03 ppmv formaldehyde is reported which is lower than the maximum exposure concentrations recommended by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This sampling method was found to give good reproducibility, the relative standard deviation at 0.2 and 1 ppmv being 6.3% and 4.6%, respectively. Other carbonyl compounds i.e. acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, acetone and butanone do not interfere with this analytical approach. Results are provided for the determination of formaldehyde in indoor air.