Abstract Two types of biosensors selective to formaldehyde have been developed on the basis of pH-sensitive field effect transistor as a transducer. Highly or partially purified alcohol oxidase (AOX) and the permeabilised cells of methylotrophic yeast Hansenula polymorpha (as a source of AOX) have been used as sensitive elements. The response time in steady-state measurement mode is in the range of 10–60 s for the enzyme-based sensors and 60–120 s for the cell-based sensor. When measured in kinetic mode the response time of all biosensors developed was less than 5 s. The linear dynamic range of the sensor output signals corresponds to 5–200 mM formaldehyde for highly and partially purified alcohol oxidase, and 5–50 mM formaldehyde for the cells. The operational stability of the biosensors is not less than 7 h, and the relative standard deviation of intra-sensor response is approximately 2 and 5% for the enzyme- and cell-based sensors, respectively. When stored at 4°C, the enzyme and cell sensor responses have been found stable for more than 60 and 30 days, respectively. Both types of biosensors demonstrate a high selectivity to formaldehyde with no potentiometric response to primary alcohols, including methanol, or glycerol and glucose. The possible reasons of such unexpected high selectivity of AOX-based FET-sensors to formaldehyde are discussed. The influence of the biomembrane composition and the effect of different buffers on the sensor response to formaldehyde are also discussed.