Polycrylic vs Polyurethane – Choose The Right Type For Your Next Project


Polyurethane is an oil based or water based protective finish. The finish comes in satin or glossy finish.

Water Based Polyurethane

The biggest advantage of water based polyurethane is low toxic and low odor and is transparent when compared to oil based polyurethane which has a slight yellowish tinge.

The water based polyurethane dries much faster than oil based and is best used for things that don’t usually experience extreme temperatures. Water polyurethane can be used for picture frames, book cases, desks, etc.

Oil Based Polyurethane

Oil based polyurethane is much more durable and can handle extreme heat such as wood flooring, kitchen tables, surfaces that have a tendency to get wet, etc. Polyurethane whether oil based or water based is available as spray or wipe on.

Pros of Polyurethane

  • It is more or less like a melted plastic that once applied and dried forms a very strong protective layer over your wooden surfaces.
  • Surfaces coated with polyurethane are extremely durable and scratch proof.
  • Polyurethane also gives a shiny coat to all wooden surfaces that adds to the richness of furniture or flooring.

Cons of Polyurethane

  • The drying of polyurethane is very long. It takes at least twelve hours to dry.
  • Another thing is that polyurethane is extremely flammable and toxic, therefore any work with polyurethane needs to be done in well ventilated areas.

Application Tips

  • The first thing to do is to sand your piece with sandpaper and remove any dust once you’ve ensured that the wood is free of any blemishes.
  • For the first coat, get hold of some mineral spirit and dilute the oil based polyurethane with it. For the second and third coat, use undiluted varnish. Let it dry for 24 hours.
  • Within 48 hours brush the final coat and remove any drips with a razor to ensure evenness.


Polycrylic is also a protective coat. A water based coat, it comes with either a satin or a high gloss finish. Polycrylic is available in either a spray can or roller. Along with protection to the wood, it also dries a lot faster. It is ideally used on ash, birch, maple etc. since it has no tint and works on water based wood stains too.

Pros of Polycrylic

  • Polycrylic is very easily available and can be found in most hardware stores.
  • It is also reasonably priced and affordable for almost anybody. Since polycrylic is durable it is often perfect for frequently used surfaces such as desks, tables, kid’s furniture, etc.
  • As mentioned previously, oil based polyurethane gives a yellowish tinge to the wood. Polycrylic on the other hand is completely clear and gives no tinge whatsoever to the surface being applied on.
  • It is a very good option if the wood being applied on is light color or the paint being protected is light.
  • The biggest advantage of polycrylic is perhaps the easy cleaning process since all you need to do it clean up with water and soap since polycrylic is water based.

Cons of Polycrylic

  • Using polycrylic over standard latex paint is easy but can get difficult over matte latex since it becomes difficult to dry and remains runny, sometimes leaving cracks when it dries.
  • Since it is water based it is runny and so you have to be careful while applying it. Polycrylic is opaque rather than clear, therefore if you apply too thickly, it leaves a milky finish.

Application Tips

  • As is the case with any protective coating, make sure that the surface is clean and dust free to avoid an uneven finish.
  • Very lightly sans with a grit paper.
  • Apply the polycrylic with a soft bristled brush or foam in a thin layer and allow it to dry. Once dried sand it again with a grit paper.
  • Finish off by applying two more layers of polycrylic.

Are you a DIY Enthusiast? Have you ever done small projects at your home, kitchen, bathroom, garage, bedroom?

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