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  5. How to identify unwanted Odors in Foam Samples

Do you know polyurethane foam outgasses organic vapors that lead to unwanted odors? Polyurethane foam is a synthetic foam produced by a wide assortment of volatile organic compounds (VOC). It is a combination of isocyanate and polyols, which are derived by distilling crude oil.

Polyurethane foam is widely used in most of the consumer goods. It is present in your furniture, cushions, pillows, mattresses, soles of your shoes and even in your helmet. It is also one of the chief components of baby mattresses and often contains harmful chemical compounds such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, etc. As small children spend over 50 percent of their early life on baby mattresses, the polyurethane foam filled in them may affect their health. It is cheap and affordable, but its organic odors could be hazardous.

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

Electronic Sensor Technology has invented an electronic nose called zNose® that identifies and quantifies the chemical components contained in polyurethane foam in a minute. An experiment was performed to check the efficiency of zNose®, using four different samples of foam piece, Sample 1 gave the lowest odor concentration of all. Sample 2 and 3 gave almost identical odors and sample 4 was identified with several lower molecular weight compounds with relatively high concentrations. The exact name of each compound and its individual odor remained unknown. But, individual compounds were clearly separated, and the relative intensity of the entire odor signature was readily apparent.
Therefore, zNose® is an efficient solution to analyze a broad range of VOCs in foam. The manufacturers of polyurethane foam can rely on zNose® to manage the composition of chemical compounds used in the manufacturing process and to regulate industrial and consumers’ hygiene.


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