Dangers in Using Polyurethane

Updated April 17, 2017

The liquid plastic resin polyurethane is commonly used in the form of a foam on home furnishings such as furniture, bedding and carpets. According the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, more than 1.1 billion lbs. of flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) is annually produced and used in the United States. This product's ubiquitousness means it's all the more important to make people aware of the potential dangers associated with it, so they can take the appropriate measures for using polyurethane safely.


Although FPF typically is resistant to smouldering ignition, it can start a fire if it comes into contact with a flame. Like other carbon-based materials, FPF burns vigorously and therefore a FPF fire can spread rapidly. Although fire-retardant additives are routinely applied to FPF to prevent the spread of any such fire, it is still wise to educate yourself on fire prevention if you intend to use the material in your home.


If you are exposed to polyurethane through contact or inhalation, you put yourself at risk of developing respiratory problems and chemically induced asthma. The chemicals within the material could also damage your nervous system. Avoid contact with the substance at home by keeping your house ventilated as much as possible and airing new bedding and furniture in an unused room for as long as you can. If you're having a new carpet installed, consider staying elsewhere until the process is finished.


Both the oil-based and waterborne forms of FPF can contribute to pollution. Polyurethane contains volatile organic compounds that can cause air pollution, therefore compromising the air quality of your home. As for water pollution, PAN Pesticides Database concludes that there is insufficient data to determine to what extent polyurethane can contaminate water.


The fluid nature of FPF means it's easy to spill. Oil-based FPF can leave an unsightly yellow-brown stain wherever it's spilt. The colour of the stain even deepens as it ages. Prevent stains on your floor and surfaces by spreading newspaper or old rags on any nearby surfaces before using FPF.

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About the Author

Based in London, Autumn St. John has been writing career- and business-related articles since 2007. Her work has appeared in the "Guardian" and "Changing Careers" magazine. St. John holds a Master of Arts in Russian and East European literature and culture from University College London, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in modern history from the University of Oxford.