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MFA# 1989.818
Polyurethane chair
MFA# 1996.111


A family of polymers made by a condensation reaction of an organic isocyanate with a compound containing a hydroxyl group, such as glycol. Polymers of this type (ester type) were first made in 1937 by Otto Bayer at I.G.Farben. During W.W.II, Germany made brush bristles and filtration fabrics from Perlon U, an early polyurethane. In the 1950's another type of polyurethane using an ether starting compound (ether type) was used to produce elastomeric polyurethane fiber called spandex. Spandex has elastic characteristics similar to Natural rubber. In addition to fibers, elastomeric polyurethanes are used for sealants, adhesives, films, and automobile bumpers. Polyurethanes can be rigid or soft, thermosetting or Thermoplastic. Additionally, they react with isocyanates to produce a foamed resin. Polyurethane resins are also used as coatings where they provide excellent hardness, Gloss, and resistance to Weathering, Abrasion, acids, and alkalis. Flexible and rigid polyurethane foams are used for insulation, furniture, mattresses, laminates, carpet cushions, upholstery, soundproofing, flotation devices, packaging, and filtration.

Synonyms and Related Terms

PUR; poliuretano (Esp.); polyuréthane (Fr.); poliuretano (It.); poliuretano (Port.); spandex; elastane

Examples: Perlon® U [Ger.]; Lycra® [DuPont];


Personal Risks

Urethane burns with a bright flame producing a sharp odor and toxic fumes.

Fischer Fixing Systems: [Safety Data Sheet]

Collection Risks





Potential degradation products are hydrogen cyanide and ammonia.

Polyether type urethanes are very susceptible to light degradation.

Polyester type urethanes are very susceptible to degradation at high humidities.

Polyurethane foams can yellow, become brittle and crumble.

Chlorine bleach may cause degradation.

Physical and Chemical Properties

Coatings are resistant to weathering, abrasion, acids and alkalis.

Attacked by aromatic solvents, chlorinated solvents, ozone, and nitrogen oxides.

Spot test for detection: dimethyl amino benzaldehyde in glacial acetic acid - positive reaction gives bright yellow color (Roff et al 1971)

CAS 9009-54-5

Working Properties

Additional Information

W.J.Roff, J.R.Scott, J.Pacitti (compilers) Handbook of Common Polymers:Fibres, Gilms, Plastics and Rubber Cleveland: CRC Press, Butterworth & Co., 1971.

Links to Oddy Test results posted on AIC Wiki Materials Database Pages for individual materials below

water-based Polyurethane tested in 2003


Properties of Synthetic Fibers

Physical Properties for Selected Thermoplastic Resins

General Characteristics of Polymers

Sources Checked for Data in Record

  • C&ENews Aug 2004 - first developed by Otto Bayer in 1937.
  • Marjorie Shelley, The Care and Handling of Art Objects, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1987
  • Thomas C. Jester (ed.), Twentieth-Century Building Materials, McGraw-Hill Companies, Washington DC, 1995
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Sharon Blank, An introduction to plastics and rubbers in collections, Studies in Conservation, 35, 53-63, 1990
  • M. Baker, E. McManus, 'History, Care and Handling of America's Spacesuits', JAIC, 31, 77-85, 1992
  • Theodore J. Reinhart, 'Glossary of Terms', Engineered Plastics, ASM International, 1988
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • Website address: www.me.umist.ac.uk.historyp/

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