Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane: Which One Should I Use?

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When it comes to sealing and protecting your wooden furniture or floors, you have a couple of different options in the form of Polycrylic and Polyurethane. But which one should you choose for your needs? In this article, we take a look at Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane so you can make an informed decision when it comes to your next DIY Project.

Both Polycrylic and Polyurethane are meant to protect wooden furniture from common damage. But which one is best for your project?

For cabinets, small furniture, and trim Polycrylic is less toxic, dries faster, and cleans up easier. For floors, tables, and exterior projects, polyurethane is the better more durable option.

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Advantages Of Polycrylic Over Polyurethane

When it comes to sealing small indoor projects such as cabinets, small furniture, or trim, Polycrylic is the better sealer. Here are some reasons why:

-It’s less toxic than oil-based polyurethane

-Polycrylic does not have as strong of an odor as polyurethane

-Water-based Polycrylic dries faster

-Polycrylic cleans up with water, so you won’t need to worry about chemical residue

Won’t yellow which makes it great for light woods like maple, ash, and birch

-Since Polycrylic is less toxic, it is a better option when used indoors

-Easier to work with on small projects such as flower pots

Advantages Of Polyurethane Over Polycrylic

Although Polycrylic is a good sealer for small indoor projects, it can be a little less durable than polyurethane. When it comes to exterior projects or larger projects such as floors and tables you may want to stick with polyurethane. Here are some of the advantages of using polyurethane:

-Polyurethane holds up much better to heat and moisture

-It has a longer dry time which means you can re-coat it multiple times for tougher protection

-Polyurethane is stronger, more durable over time

-Easier to use on vertical surfaces because of its thicker consistency (less dripping)

Choice of water-based or oil-based

-For large projects, polyurethane is easier to apply

-Practically Scratch-proof

What Is Polycrylic?

Polycrylic is a clear topcoat that is used to protect wood surfaces. It is a water-based protective finish that dries fast and adds beauty to interior wood surfaces such as doors, cabinets, and trim.

Is Polycrylic Waterproof?

Polycrylic resists damage from water and can be cleaned with soap and water. However, it is not as resistant to water and high temperature as polyurethane so it’s not recommended to use on outdoor projects.

What Is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a matte finish sealant that adds durability to wood. It comes in oil-based and water-based formulas, meaning it’s either water-soluble or solvent-based.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

The oil-based polyurethane is more toxic and should be used for exterior projects. It has a strong odor, lasts longer, and is stronger than water-based polyurethane. It also holds up the best to higher heat which makes it better for outdoor furniture.

Water-Based Polyurethane

The water-based polyurethane is less toxic. It will also dry quicker but is less durable than oil-based.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Tint

When you are sealing your wood project, keep in mind that the topcoat you use could affect the tint of your wood.

  • Polycrylic dries clear but be careful not to apply it too thick. This could cause a milky appearance on your wood.
  • Oil-based Polyurethane has a yellowish tint and is best used over dark stained wood. It’s best to stay away from with light colored stains.
  • Water-based Polyurethane dries clear and is a better option over lighter wood colors such as birch, maple or anything white.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Water or Oil based?

If you are looking for an oil-based topcoat you must go with polyurethane. It comes in both a water-based and oil-based form. However, Polycrylic is only available in water-based.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Sheen

Make sure to keep in mind the sheen you want on your topcoat.

  • Polycrylic: Ultra Flat, Matte, Satin, Semi-gloss & Gloss
  • Oil-based Polyurethane: Flat, Satin, Semi-gloss & Gloss
  • Water-based Polyurethane: Flat, Matte, Satin, Semi-gloss & Gloss

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Applying

Polyurethane is easier to apply because it has a thicker consistency. However, since is more toxic you will need to apply it in a well-ventilated area and use a respirator to protect yourself.

Polycrylic is thinner so you will need to spend more time applying it and pay close attention to drips. Also, Polycrylic dries quicker which makes it harder to get an even finish over a large surface area.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Durability

Any of these sealers will give you a nice durable finish that will protect your wood. However, if you need a super durable sealer for pieces that get a lot of use, oil-based polyurethane is the clear winner.

If durability is your main concern, then stick with an oil-based polyurethane. This is by far the most durable solution.

Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane: Recoat

When it comes to recoating, polyurethane has a clear advantage because it’s stronger and easier to apply if your project needs a second coat.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Cleanup

When it comes to cleanup, Polycrylic is not as toxic and easier to clean up.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Dry Time

When it comes to dry time, water-based Polycrylic is the quickest while oil-based Polyurethane takes the longest.

Polycrylic: Dries the quickest and can be recoated in 2 hours

Water-Based Polyurethane: Dries to the touch in 30 minutes, can be recoated in 2 hours, and is safe to use in 24 hours.

Oil-Based polyurethane: Can be recoated in 4 hours and be ready to use in 24 hours.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Which Is Safer?

Polycrylic is a more environmentally friendly option when it comes to sealing your wood. It dries faster, has less toxic fumes, and is easier to clean up.

Water-based polyurethanes are better suited when you need maximum durability and protection for projects that get heavy use.

However, oil-based polyurethane is the more toxic option so it’s not a good choice if you have little ventilation in your workspace.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: What Should I Buy?

Here are some of the best sealers depending on what you are looking for.

Polycrylic: Minwax Polycrylic

Water-Based Polyurethane: Minwax One Coat Polyurethane

Oil-Based Polyurethane: Rust-Oleum Varathane


Choose polyurethane if your project will be exposed to a lot of weather (like outdoor furniture) or if it might get a lot of abuse indoors (like hardwood flooring). It’s durable, long-lasting, and simple to apply.

If you have a project, such as light-colored furniture or interior trim, Polycrylic is the way to go. It doesn’t stink as much as polyurethane and, most importantly, cleans up with soap and water.

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