What’s in Your Sofa?
Most of us spend around a third of our time in bed. Some of us spend more time on the sofa streaming entertainment than we care to admit.
In other words, we live a considerable chunk of our lives on our furniture. Is that safe? That depends on the furniture. Unless you’ve already opted for eco-friendly furniture that promotes good health, your sofa and mattress are most likely filled with polyurethane foam.
Polyurethanes were invented in 1937 to substitute for rubber, but they are versatile plastics with a wide range of uses. Since World War II, they’ve found their way into everything from adhesives and shoe soles to airplanes and wood floors, and even to padded bras. Furniture manufacturers are crazy about polyurethane foam. Even coil spring mattresses are typically padded with it.
Polyurethanes are elastic polymers that start their life as liquids. In their natural state, they are biochemically inert and don’t cause problems. Transforming them into foam, however, introduces blowing agents and other additives. The chemical reaction may produce toxic gases and residue. Are these emitted in homes over time?
No one argues that polyurethane foam is flexible, comfortable, and highly durable. Even so, with decades of use now behind us, health and environmental concerns have been raised.