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Urethane vs. Polyurethane: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 28, 2024
Urethane is a chemical compound. Polyurethane is a polymer made from urethane units.

Key Differences

Urethane refers to a specific chemical compound, ethyl carbamate, known for its role in various industrial applications. Polyurethane is a versatile polymer derived from the reaction of urethane units, widely used in foams, coatings, and elastomers.
In the context of materials, urethane is often a misnomer for products or substances that are actually based on polyurethane. Polyurethane, by contrast, encompasses a broad range of materials and products, from rigid foams to flexible fibers.
Urethane as a singular compound, has limited applications and is not extensively used in its pure form. Polyurethane is a key material in numerous industries, valued for its adaptability, durability, and range of physical properties.
When discussing coatings or adhesives, urethane is often used colloquially, but it technically refers to a single chemical entity. Polyurethane, in these contexts, accurately describes the polymers providing the desired properties like elasticity, resistance, and longevity.
In chemical terms, urethane is a smaller, simpler molecule. Polyurethane represents a large, complex class of polymers that are synthesized by combining urethane groups in various configurations and quantities.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Structure

Simple compound
Complex polymer

Usage in Industry

Limited, often a misnomer
Extensive in various forms

Material Properties

Specific, less versatile
Highly adaptable and diverse

Common Applications

Rarely used in pure form
Foams, coatings, elastomers

Colloquial Usage

Often used interchangeably
Technically more accurate term

Urethane and Polyurethane Definitions


A lesser-known industrial chemical.
Urethane is not as commonly used as its polymer counterparts.


A versatile synthetic polymer used widely.
Polyurethane foam is used for cushioning in furniture.


A chemical compound used in manufacturing.
The factory uses urethane in its production process.


A material known for its durability and flexibility.
The polyurethane coating protects the wood from damage.


A term often misused for polyurethane products.
This urethane sealant is actually made of polyurethane.


A polymer formed by linking urethane units.
This polyurethane has been customized for high resilience.


A basic building block for certain plastics.
Urethane is integral to the plastic synthesis procedure.


A key ingredient in many modern materials.
Polyurethane is often used in performance footwear.


An organic compound with specific uses.
Urethane is used in specialized industrial applications.


Used in various industries for its adaptable properties.
Polyurethane elastomers are essential in automotive parts.


A colorless or white crystalline compound, CO(NH2)OC2H5, used in organic synthesis and formerly as a palliative treatment for leukemia. Also called ethyl carbamate.


Any of various thermoplastic isocyanate polymers, widely varying in flexibility, used in tough chemical-resistant coatings, adhesives, and foams.


Any of several esters, other than the ethyl ester, of carbamic acid.


(organic chemistry) Any of various polymeric resins containing urethane links; used in very many industrial and domestic applications.


A white crystalline organic compound, ethyl-carbamate, NH2COOC2H5, used in the synthesis of other organic compounds.


Any polymer containing [-NH.CO.O-] linkages; such polymers are much used as the basis of light but rigid foams for packaging (polyurethane foam) and for hard coatings, as on floors.


Any compound of having this general structure.


Any of various polymers containing the urethane radical; a wide variety of synthetic forms are made and used as adhesives or plastics or paints or rubber


(informal) Polyurethane.


A white crystalline substance, NH2.CO.OC2H5, produced by the action of ammonia on ethyl carbonate or by heating urea nitrate and ethyl alcohol. It is used as a hypnotic, antipyretic, and antispasmodic. Hence, any ester of carbamic acid.


Same as polyurethane.


An ester of carbamic acid


What are the uses of urethane?

Urethane is used in some industrial applications but is not widely used in its pure form.

How is polyurethane made?

Polyurethane is made by reacting urethane units with other chemicals, forming a polymer.

Is urethane the same as polyurethane?

No, urethane is a simple chemical compound, while polyurethane is a complex polymer made from urethane units.

What is polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a versatile polymer used in various products like foams, coatings, and elastomers.

Are urethane and polyurethane interchangeable terms?

Colloquially, they are often used interchangeably, but technically, they refer to different substances.

Can urethane be used alone in products?

Urethane is rarely used in its pure form in products; it is more commonly part of polyurethane.

Is urethane toxic?

Pure urethane can be toxic and requires careful handling, but polyurethane products are generally safe once cured.

What is urethane?

Urethane is a chemical compound, specifically ethyl carbamate.

Is polyurethane environmentally friendly?

The environmental impact of polyurethane depends on its formulation and use; some forms can be more eco-friendly than others.

Can polyurethane be recycled?

Yes, certain types of polyurethane can be recycled, though the process can be complex.

How is polyurethane used in textiles?

Polyurethane is used in textiles for elasticity, water resistance, and durability, as in spandex and waterproof fabrics.

What are the properties of polyurethane?

Polyurethane is known for its durability, flexibility, and adaptability in various forms.

What are the health concerns with polyurethane?

Some polyurethanes can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs); proper ventilation and handling are important.

How long does polyurethane last?

The lifespan of polyurethane products varies based on type and use but generally offers long-term durability.

Is polyurethane safe for medical use?

Certain medical-grade polyurethanes are safe and used in medical devices for their biocompatibility.

What is the difference in cost between urethane and polyurethane?

Polyurethane, being more common and versatile, varies in cost, while pure urethane is less commonly used and priced differently.

How is polyurethane applied in automotive industries?

Polyurethane is used in car interiors, exteriors, and parts for cushioning, durability, and design flexibility.

What are the benefits of polyurethane in construction?

Polyurethane offers insulation, structural support, and durability, making it valuable in construction.

Can urethane be used in paints and coatings?

Urethane is a term sometimes used for paints and coatings, but these are typically polyurethane-based.

Can urethane be found in consumer products?

Urethane as a term is often used for consumer products, but these are usually made of polyurethane.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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