House Grail is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Which to Use for Your Project?



Polycrylic and Polyurethane are both popular wood sealants. These materials will serve simultaneously to bring out the natural beauty of a wood product, and to make sure that they don’t rot and deteriorate over time.

But while they ostensibly do the same thing, they are not the same material. Depending on the job you are doing, it will be to your benefit to choose discriminately between them.

But before you can do that, you are going to need some information. What is the difference between polycrylic and polyurethane? That is the question we answer today. Read on!

Invalid table id.

What is Polycrilic?

Polycrilic is a strictly water-based solution that produces a clear but glossy finish when applied. It’s valued by budget buyers because you can get it on the cheap at most hardware stores.

This material also has the benefit of drying very quickly, and it produces a durable finish when it settles.

People generally use it on furniture. The big issue is that it can be challenging to get high-quality results with polycrilic. For one thing, the fact that it dries quickly can work as a disadvantage. On larger workpieces, the rapid drying factor complicates your ability to maintain a consistent look.

There is also the issue of application. The material can be very runny, which makes it difficult to use skillfully. It also tends to produce a peculiar cloudy look when used to thickly.

It is a great material for buyers on a budget, but there are some quality concerns that might be an issue with workpieces that you want to give a professional final touch to.

All of those things said, it is still immensely possible to get high-quality results with polycrilic. There is just a bigger margin for error with this material.

What is Polyurethane?

Let’s start with polyurethane. This material is going to be available both in water and oil versions. Water-based polyurethane is a very mild solution. Odor-free, and generally completely invisible once dried, this is a no-frills coating that is used exclusively for the express purpose of putting a protective coating on your woodworking project.

Oil-based polyurethane is very similar to water, but it does leave behind a glossy look. How to choose between the two variants of this solution?

It depends on the project, really. You might use oil-based for tables or floorings. Because of the oil properties, the coating will be very protective against water, which is something to keep in mind.

Similarly, you might use water-based polyurethane for a work desk or a bookshelf.

Polyurethane is praised most highly for its durability. If you need to make sure that a workpiece won’t be susceptible to scratching, polyurethane should provide the protection that you require.

The only real setback with this product it will take a long time to dry, and the fumes can be toxic. Unsettled polyurethane is also highly flammable. Both of these factors mean that you will need to exercise a degree of caution with a workpiece that has been treated with polyurethane, especially for the twelve hours it will spend drying.

Varathane 200041H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Gloss Finish, 32 Fl Oz
  • Protects indoor wood surfaces such as furniture, windows, cabinets, trim and more
  • Water based formula dries fast and cleans up with soap and water
  • Dries to the touch in 30 minutes with coverage up to 125 sq. ft., recoat after 2 hours

Which one to choose?

The big difference between these two products really comes down to a matter of quality. Most people do consider polyurethane to be a higher quality product when you get right down to it.

However, it is also a very high-maintenance material. The twelve hours of drying that each coat requires just won’t be an option for some people.

As a result, you may pick and choose when you use polyurethane. For instance, if you are working on a central aspect of your home, such as the hardwood flooring, then polyurethane will probably be worth the time and money that you put into it.

If you are working on a smaller piece of furniture that people won’t necessarily pay close attention to, like an end table, then polycrylic may be more suitable.

At the end of the day, both materials are good at what they do. It’s all just a matter of knowing when to use them.

Also, here are some other materials we have compared:

Related posts

OUR categories

Project ideas

Hand & power tools