What Are Airbags Filled With? (+ Other Common FAQs)

Airbags are a common part of our daily life. While the hope is that you’ll never use them, airbags can easily save your life in the chance of a serious accident.

However, most people don’t know a lot about airbags, including what they’re filled with. So, for information on how these airbags fill up, keep reading below to see what I learned!

What Are Airbags Filled With?

Most airbags are filled up with nitrogen, which is often produced by sodium azide. When enough electricity is sent through this powder, it ignites and turns into nitrogen. Therefore, it allows the airbag to fill up very quickly, which is necessary in the case of an accident.

If you want to learn more about how airbags work and how this chemical is created, keep reading below for more useful facts and tips!

What’s Inside an Airbag?

The airbag itself is made with nylon, which is durable enough to withstand the sudden expansion and common enough to be widely available.

There are different gases that inflate airbags depending on how they’re made. Either nitrogen or argon gas is typically used, as both of these gases are non-toxic.

After deployment, you may notice a bit of dust floating around the cabin, which is a type of lubricant that helps the airbag deploy easily. Otherwise, the airbag would get hung up after being inflated and may rip. Much of this powder is talcum, which is completely non-toxic.

However, some airbags also use sodium hydroxide, which can be irritating to some people. Therefore, you may want to shower and wash after coming into contact with this sort of powder, and do so as quickly as possible.

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Is the Powder in Airbags Dangerous?

Is the Powder in Airbags Dangerous? 

Anything can be potentially dangerous if you’re exposed to enough of it. Besides the powder lubricants found around the outside of the airbag, sodium azide is often found inside the airbag before it’s inflated.

This powder is shocked when the car detects an impact. Then, it quickly turns into nitrogen gas, which is what causes the airbag to quickly expand. After being converted into nitrogen, this substance isn’t terribly dangerous.

However, before it’s made into nitrogen, sodium azide can be a bit dangerous. Swallowing it can cause side effects, but the odds of someone getting into the powder and consuming it is quite low.

This chemical prevents the cells in the body from using oxygen, which will cause them to die, which makes it dangerous to the heart, brain, and other organs.

There are many potential symptoms this chemical can cause. Weakness, restlessness, headache, dizziness, cough, and clear drainage are all common.

If exposed in larger amounts, low blood pressure, convulsions, loss of consciousness, lung injury, and other serious side effects can occur. After being treated, survivors may still experience heart and brain damage.

If you’re exposed to this chemical, you should get out of the area as quickly as possible. If it’s safe, get out of the car to allow the gas and powder to dissipate into the outside air. You should wash and remove your clothes as quickly as possible, and remove contacts if you wear them.

Do Airbags Have Gunpowder in Them?

There is no gunpowder in airbags, but contains either regular cornstarch or talcum powder, which is not harmful in the least and is absolutely necessary to prevent the airbag from malfunctioning.

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These powders are designed to help the airbag stay lubricated and pliable. Otherwise, it might not completely inflate or may rip with the sudden expansion.

How Does an Airbag Explode? 

How Does an Airbag Explode? 

An airbag expands through a chemical reaction by the heating element igniting a chemical inside an airbag that then quickly turns into a gas. This gas then fills up the bag very quickly, allowing the airbag to protect the passengers inside.

The exact chemical used varies; in older airbags, it was sodium azide, which is somewhat unsafe if ingested. It also produces some harmful gases, though usually not enough for serious symptoms.

However, new airbags use different chemicals that are less toxic. With that said, this isn’t always true, as some still use sodium oxide.

Why Do Airbags Smell Bad?

When an airbag deploys, it typically doesn’t smell very good. In many cases, it may smell like burnt rubber or fabric. Often, this is because the airbag rubs up against things when deployed, which can cause surface burns on the rubber.

However, you may also smell the powders that were used as lubricants. While these are completely safe, they can have a distinctive smell.

Of course, the airbag will begin to deflate rather quickly. Then, you’ll be able to smell the gas that was inside the airbag. What this gas is varies from airbag to airbag, though some of them are quite pungent.

Does Smoke Come Out When Airbags Deploy? 

Does Smoke Come Out When Airbags Deploy? 

The smoke is what fills up the airbag and is caused by an electrical charge and compressed gas (usually in the form of a powder). When an impact is detected, the electrical charge runs through the compressed gas. Afterward, the compressed gas turns into smoke.

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About as soon as it deploys, the airbag will start leaking out this gas as it vents. Therefore, you may see smoke come out of the airbag for some time, which is completely normal and not a cause for concern.

To learn more, you can also read our related posts on how much does it cost to replace airbags, how fast do airbags deploy, and airbags statistics & facts.


In most cases, airbags are filled up with nitrogen, though how this nitrogen gets into the bag varies. In many cases, sodium azide is utilized for this purpose.

When the impact detector notices an impact, it sends an electrical spark through this powder. This electricity makes the powder spark, which causes it to turn into nitrogen.

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