Is polyurethane foam toxic? 6 frequently asked questions

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According to Google, people around the world want to know whether polyurethane foam is toxic? We’ll answer that for you from a consumer safety standpoint and a manufacturing safety standpoint.

By Marco Virtu

Is polyurethane foam toxic to consumers?

It can be possible. Polyurethane foam, once made, is a stable, non-irritating material (learn more about how PU foam is made here). The potential trouble it brings to consumer products is actually off-buckOr when products release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air.

VOCs are bad for the lungs, so the question becomes: How many VOCs are released from polyurethane foam products? It depends on the manufacturing. In general, foams made from organic materials (eg natural latex, cotton) will have fewer VOCs. companies like CertiPUR-USA Truly tested and certified foam for low VOC emissions. The type of foam also makes a difference. A memory foam mattress is usually more off-gas than a traditional inner-spring, simply because more foam material is present.

Off-gassing is often a noticeable but harmless phenomenon. However, adults with asthma, allergies or other respiratory sensitivities may need to take special care when purchasing a polyurethane foam product. you can also consult Technical Guidelines of Sertipur for Nontoxic Foams while making your purchase. Studies have also linked VOC exposure during infancy to higher rates of asthma and allergies.Therefore, caution cannot go wrong while buying a baby mattress.

For your average, healthy adult though? Taking out a new mattress for 1-3 days will usually do the trick.

The more pertinent question about polyurethane foam toxicity is actually…

Is polyurethane foam toxic to manufacturers?

Short answer: much more than consumers. Let’s rephrase this and make it clear though: Polyurethane foam, once formed, is a stable, non-irritant material, Let us clarify our list of questions:

Are there hazards present in the industrial manufacturing of polyurethane foam?

Answer: Yes, there are both mechanical hazards (present in all factory workplaces) and chemical hazards (particularly present in polyurethane foam manufacturing).

What are the chemical hazards involved in polyurethane foaming?

Answer: All chemicals used during the PU foaming process must be handled by personnel trained on general standards of industrial hygiene, namely gloves, protective eyewear and overalls. Isocyanate compounds pose a particular danger to humans in vapor form. Foam plants should be provided with proper ventilation and air filtration systems to reduce the presence of harmful TDI or MDI vapors.

Are Isocyanates (TDIs and MDIs) Carcinogenic?

Answer: There is currently no definitive evidence that isocyanate compounds are carcinogenic to humans. whereas studies show They can be carcinogenic to animals, with studies showing the level of risk to animals being high enough.

Do Isocyanates Cause Respiratory Irritants?

Answer: Yes. All isocyanate compounds will irritate the respiratory system. Exposure can make people develop allergies, so we generally recommend that people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, allergies, or bronchitis avoid working with isocyanates altogether.

Polyurethane foam isn’t toxic by itself, but is it dangerous for some other reason?

Answer: Yes. The main danger of polyurethane foam at the manufacturing stage is actually flammability. Low-density foam has a higher surface-to-volume ratio and higher air permeability, making it more susceptible to catching fire. Fresh foam can self-ignite before it cures (which is why ventilation is so important in slabstock storage racks), and the high amounts of foam present in a factory can also increase the risk of fire. Good work practices are essential in both foaming and conversion plants to prevent plant fires.

Where can I learn more about workplace safety?

Answer: Learn about proper handling precautions from your chemical provider. Here at Sunkist, we take worker safety very seriously, and always recommend built-in exhaust ventilation, TDI scrapers and vapor filtration systems for ideal industrial hygiene. Websites like OSHA provide many resources for danger identification and should be considered during the installation of any polyurethane foaming plant.


Polyurethane foam itself is not toxic. Off-gassing in polyurethane foam products can pose a health risk to consumers, but there are methods of prevention. Similarly, isocyanate compounds pose the most chemical hazards in the manufacture of polyurethane foam, but those hazards can be prevented through proper safety precautions and plant infrastructure.

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