Identifying Unwanted Odors in Samples of Foam

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​Polyurethane foam outgasses organic vapors which results in undesirable odors. Polyurethane foam is an artificial foam created by an extensive assortment of volatile organic compounds (VOC). It is a combination of polyols and isocyanate, which are obtained by distilling crude oil.

The Problem

Polyurethane foam is extensively used in a majority of the consumer goods. It can be found in furniture, soles of shoes, pillows, cushions, mattresses and even in helmets. It is also one of the main components of baby mattresses and mostly contains unsafe chemical compounds such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, etc. As small children are on baby mattresses for more than 50% of their early life, the polyurethane foam filled in them may impact their health. It is low-cost and affordable, but its organic odors could be harmful.

These undesirable odors of foam are complex and often contain 10 to 20 chemical components. In extreme cases, amine emissions from polyurethane foam may even impact the immune and nervous system and cause illnesses including headache, blurred vision, asthma, cardiac arrhythmias, neurological disorders, nausea, chest discomfort and child behavior disorders. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers polyurethane foam as one of the key sources of several hazardous air pollutants.

The Solution

Electronic Sensor Technology has manufactured an electronic nose called zNose® that identifies and quantifies the chemical components found in polyurethane foam within a minute. An experiment was performed to confirm the efficiency of zNose®, using four different samples of foam piece. Sample 1 gave the least odor concentration of all. Sample 2 and 3 gave nearly identical odors and sample 4 was identified with a number of lower molecular weight compounds with comparatively high concentrations. The exact name of each compound and its individual odor remained unidentified. But, individual compounds were properly separated, and the relative intensity of the whole odor signature was readily apparent.


Thus, the zNose® is an efficient solution to examine a wide range of VOCs in foam. The manufacturers of polyurethane foam can depend upon the zNose® to handle the composition of chemical compounds used in the manufacturing process and to regulate industrial and consumers’ hygiene.


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Electronic Sensor Technology.

For more information on this source, please visit Electronic Sensor Technology.

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