Polyurethane vs. Polycrylic: Which Is The Best For Your Project?

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You'll often hear a debate about which chemical finishing product is superior: polyurethane vs. polycrylic. Each finish has its own pros and cons, which are discussed in the upcoming sections below to help you make an informed decision when you have a task to choose between them.

There are some major differences in polycrylic and polyurethane. Having knowledge about these differences gives you an insight into each of their practical applications.


Polyurethane Overview

Polyurethane is essentially considered as plastic in the form of liquid until it dries. It is found in both oil and water based options. And its varieties range from satin to glossy finish.

Water based polyurethane is known for its characteristic low odor and low toxicity. It is crystal clear and doesn’t add color when dried up whereas oil-based variant gives up a slight color that has amber tone. It dries up faster as well. Water based polyurethane is not highly resistant to heat and chemicals and does not hold up well in extreme conditions.

It is good for things such as desks, bookcases, picture frames, side tables or anything that is not exposed to extreme temperatures or harsh chemicals.

water based polyurethane

Using water based polyurethane for protecting counter top table - Photo by Josh and Melanie Rosenthal

Oil-based polyurethane is more durable than water-based counterpart specifically in terms of dealing with heat. It effectively exposes the natural richness of wood but can add a slight amber or yellowish color tint.

Wood floor and Kitchen table and Coffee table are amongst the few of good applications for oil based polyurethane. It takes quite longer to dry and cure than water based and has a strong smell. That is why it is recommended to use a respirator and work in well-ventilated areas while you are applying oil based polyurethane. Both water and oil based polyurethane can be applied to acrylic or latex paints.

Polyurethane vs. Polycrylic: Which Is The Best For Your Project?

(Coffee table) Via www.littlethings.com

You have the option to buy polyurethane in a spray can which makes it a bit easier to apply, typically on large projects. Wipe-on polyurethane version is used mainly by woodworkers who want to get a “hand-rubbed” finish on special projects. These two run the extremes of ease of use but produce excellent results.

Pros Of Polyurethane

Polyurethane is essentially a plastic in liquid form. It does add a protective coating that is durable and sturdy once it dries up. In addition, the shiny look that polyurethane layer gives to wood has no match. The coating is hard and virtually scratch proof.

Cons Of Polyurethane

Polyurethane is flammable when it is in liquid form. It is considered as toxic and should be avoided to breathe in. Hence, it must be used in the well-ventilated area. Plus you have to wait comparatively longer between coats of polyurethane finish. This is because of its plastic nature that needs time to harden up and accept another coat.

Polyurethane Application Tips

Here is some main point ( You can see detailing how way to spray polyurethane)

  • Sanding the surface with fine grits of sandpaper is the essential first advice in an application of polyurethane. Once the surface is blemish free, remove any dust.
  • Mix the oil based polyurethane with mineral spirit and applies long strokes on the whole surface.
  • Use undiluted varnish for subsequent coats and let it dry for at least 24 hours.
  • For final coat, do it within 48 hours of previous coats. Put extreme care for the final one.

Polycrylic Overview

Polycrylic is a strong water-based acrylic with a little polyurethane. It is available in satin, semi-gloss and glossy finish. The protection of polycrylic can offers withstands rough conditions. It can go over oil based finishes and can be applied using the same applicators as polyurethane.

Polycrylic is a relatively new candidate or can be called as new polyurethane. It holds up well, offers enough protection of wood along with faster drying times. It combines the durability of oil-based with the cleanup of water-based. It can be used over water based wood stains or bare wood.

Pros Of Polycrylic

Finish that comes up with polycrylic is durable and long lasting. It is great for surfaces that have frequent usage such as desks, tables, and kid’s furniture. This water-based oil-modified polyurethane dries clear and doesn’t give that yellow or amber tint which is characteristic of oil based polyurethane. It is of an ideal use when you’re looking for a clear finish and don’t want the colored hue on your project. When sprayed, it lays down a nice even coat those levels well.

Polyurethane vs. Polycrylic: Which Is The Best For Your Project?

Before - (Via www.allthingsheartandhome.com)

Cons Of Polycrylic

It has a runny consistency which makes it quite challenging to apply. While working on vertical surfaces, you will have to apply very thin coats and watch closely for any drips. As it has faster drying times, it makes hard to work on large surface projects.

Another downside to polycrylic is that you need to wait until it cures before doing anything else to the surface. Although it dries quickly, you definitely have to wait until it cures. While it works well over standard latex paint, it’s not a good choice for matte latex paint which keeps it from drying up. It appears runny leaving behind cracks when dried. Polycrylic is actually not transparent; it may give a milky finish if applied thickly on dark colored surfaces.

Polycrylic Application Tips

  • Make sure the surface is free of dust and other debris.
  • Sand with a fine grit sandpaper and remove dust afterward.
  • Once the surface is clean, apply a thin layer of polycrylic with a bristled brush or foam or spray.
  • Let it dry and wait until it cures.
  • Sand and then apply two more coats.


There is no direct answer to the debate of polyurethane vs. polycrylic. The answer is directly related to the needs of the piece or surface and the conditions that it has to face and of course your own requirements. For example, if the piece will be exposed to water, then use polyurethane. Or if it needs to be dried up quickly, then give polycrylic a thought. Usually, more used pieces are better finished off with polyurethane such as kitchen table while painted stand in the room would go well with polycrylic.

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Jose A. Brown

Jose A. Brown is a mechanic engineer and an enthusiastic blogger whose mission is to provide the readers with the best tips, guides in the Home Improvement, DIY Project, and Industry.

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