Polyurethane, it’s everywhere and maybe you didn’t even realise. Much of our everyday life is improved by the presence of polyurethane. Our houses are kept warmer, our furniture made comfier, and our appliances kept shinier. Since its development in 1937, polyurethane has become an integral part of all aspects of our lives, and with the ongoing scientific advances in the technology behind this polymer, it will undoubtedly only become more prevalent. Continue reading to learn about the different types of polyurethane that can be found throughout your home.
Memory foam mattress: Those who sleep well at night sleep on a memory foam mattress, which was initially developed by NASA for use in aircraft cushions. This polyurethane foam is viscous, highly dense, and has an open cell structure, all of which allow the mattress to react to the body’s weight and temperature to mould, via loss of air in the foam, to the now very relaxed, sleeper.
Spandex: As the superheroes amongst us will no doubt agree, the combination of fine threads of polyurethane and nylon, that is, spandex/Lycra, with its exceptional elasticity and strength was a wondrous development. This fabric is also used extensively by athletes in their sports and swim wear.
Footwear: One of the most important factors we look for in a new pair of shoes, other than cost, lifetime, and celebrity endorsement of course, is comfort. Polyurethane offers most (Kanye’s approval TBC) of these key factors in footwear selection – it is an abrasion-resistant and durable material, which is perfect for the soles of not only everyday shoes, but also more hard wearing and waterproof shoes used for sports or hiking.
Carpet underlays: Living in a house with many other people can cause you enough noise issues. The mystery of how one person getting out of bed can sound like a herd of elephants remains unsolved. The use of a flexible polyurethane foam underlay under carpet, however, can offer some respite from the stampedes with it’s ability to reduce ambient noise. These underlays can also significantly increase the lifetime of your carpet, whilst protecting it’s appearance and providing additional comfort and support to those in the zoo…oops, house.
Furniture: What better place is there to watch a film than curled up on a sofa? Provided it is soft and comfortable, of course. A flexible high density polyurethane foam with an open cell structure that is able to reversibly compress and expand, is ideal as the cushioning material in such sofas and seats, as it is durable, comfortable and supportive. Now surely all that’s needed is a polyurethane-based film to watch, Polyurethane-man? Polyurethanes of the Caribbean? Maybe not…
Electronics: We are all aware how fragile our phones, laptops, televisions and other electronic devices can be, and they would be even more so if not for non-foam polyurethanes, which have excellent dielectric and adhesive properties. In addition to its resistance to solvent, water and extreme temperatures, polyurethane is often used to encapsulate, seal, and insulate sensitive microelectronic components and circuit boards. Dropping your phone in the toilet is still not recommended, however.
Insulation: The importance of insulation can be seen throughout our houses, especially those of us living in colder climes, wherever a barrier to air, moisture, sound, and temperature (or all of the above) is required. The use of rigid polyurethane foams, that have closed cell structures and consequently air trapped inside the material, are therefore ideal for insulation in walls, ceilings, and window frames, and even in fridges and freezers, in order to reduce energy losses, and, perhaps more importantly, reduce household bills!
Metal coating: Contrary to popular belief, even the kitchen sink contains polyurethane. A slightly different application is used here, whereby a powder form of polyurethane is applied to metal surfaces by electrostatic spray, followed by curing at a high temperature to melt and flow the coating. This method creates a protective layer on the metal surface that has chemical and corrosive resistance, as well as colour and gloss retention. Perfect for keeping your kitchen spick and span.
Wood coating: For those of us who grew up with wooden floors (or still live with them!), we might remember the fun of sliding along the floor in socks…this is largely possible because of oil-based polyurethane coatings that provide a protective finish to surfaces, typically wooden, that are resistant to abrasion and solvents, wear better and for longer, and are easy to clean and maintain (which makes the grownups happy!).
Sports equipment: For the more adventurous amongst us, much sport equipment incorporates polyurethane, from the wheels of skateboards that require hardness and abrasion-resistance, to the protective resin used to coat surfboards, to the durable wheels used in roller coasters.