Is Polyurethane Foam Toxic?
Is there anything that is considered safe nowadays? With an increasing concern around toxins in plastics, product designers often question if thermoset polyurethane foam is considered a safe material for consumer and environmental use. In this post, we will explore the toxicity of thermoset polyurethanes and the factors that may cause polyurethanes to be toxic or not.
What is Thermoset Polyurethane?
Polyurethanes organic compounds are produced by the reaction of two main chemicals; polyols and isocyanates. This versatile material can be transformed from a solid to a foam by introducing blowing agents that generate tiny air bubbles in the material matrix. Today, polyurethane foams can be found in cars, mattresses, baby products and just about everywhere. To learn more about the different types of foams and how they are produced, make sure to check out our "What is Polyurethane Foam" post.
Is Thermoset Polyurethane Foam Toxic?
Similar to the human body, a polyurethane molecule is made up of 4 organic elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. Polyurethanes in their natural state are usually considered to be biochemically inert and will not pose a threat to the environment or pose problems for consumer use. However, additives are often used in the manufacturing of polyurethanes, many of which can be harmful.
In the case of foams, the blowing agents used in manufacturing will have an impact on the material's toxicity. Some blowing agents, for example, may produce toxic gases or residues that stay within the material and may be released over time. Polyurethanes can be manufactured to be FDA compliant, ROHS and REACH compliant. Nowadays, the safest way to make polyurethane foam for the environment, machine operators, and users is using a natural blowing agent, water!
This is as Natural as It's Going to Get...
When introduced into the polyurethane chemistry, water will react chemically to form small bubbles of carbon dioxide. These bubbles are what create the cellular structure of the foam, which can be open cells or closed cells. Depending on the material, the carbon dioxide in the foam will deteriorate in place or be released out of the material. This flexible material not only offers a slew of benefits but can also be engineered into a variety of products and components. To learn more about our Durethane® F foam technologies, click here.
How is This Helpful in Your Design?
From a design point of view, your material selection should be determined by the environment in which your product will be used, how it will be used and whether toxicity plays an important role in your application. If you are seeking material assistance, complete our design tool, here, to safely launch your polyurethane design idea!