What’s the Difference between Polyurethane and Polycrylic? What to Use?

If you are finally done with your wood project and are ready to seal it, you may face the dilemma of polyurethane versus polycrylic. Although wood is very hardy, it has a porous surface and must be safeguarded from the elements and everyday wear and tear.

Though natural wood has a stunning finish that is difficult to match, when unsealed, it will absorb moisture and begin to deteriorate. It will also be more vulnerable to scratches. If a sealer isn’t used, the paint may discolor, bubble up, dry up, crack, or shed.

You need to protect your project’s brand-new appearance and protect it from unnecessary damage by sealing it with the right protective coating. When it pertains to wood finishes, you might wonder which sealer to use. For woodworking tasks, two of the most widely used sealants are polyurethane and polycrylic.

Overview of Polyurethane and Polycrylic Sealers

Polyurethane and polycrylic are different sealers that are available in a variety of constitutions, each best suited for a particular purpose. Therefore, it’s crucial to comprehend how utilizing polyurethane vs. polycrylic can affect the durability and aesthetic of your product before you grab the can from the shelf.

This guide will explain the differences between polyurethane and polycrylic and help you decide which is best for your project.

Differences between Polyurethane and Polycrylic

1) Variety

Polyurethane offers you two alternatives, whereas polycrylic does not have any variety. The primary distinction seen between polyurethanes is in their composition and color. There are two popular types of polyurethane:

Oil-based, which is quite durable due to heat and moisture resistance. It is often used for wooden floors, furniture, and any wooden object that gets high traffic. The surface of oil-based polyurethane yellows over time, making it unsuitable for light-painted surfaces.

Water-based, which is less toxic than oil-based. Though it is safer for your nose and lungs, it is also less durable.

Polycrylic is a water-based chemical that offers the perks of being environmentally friendly. It is much less harmful to the nostrils and lungs because it does not contain the volatile organic compounds present in oil-based polyurethane.

It dries quickly, but water-based, it takes longer to cure. Give polycrylic ample time to air and cure before utilizing it if you’re working with it. The smallest scratch or ding could dent the transparent coat.

2) Durability

The two types of polyurethane have different levels of durability:

Oil-based polyurethane: This choice is excellent and highly long-lasting. Its resistance to scratches makes it a great option for furniture kept both indoors and outside, table tops, for refinishing hardwood floors, sink cabinets, and many other heavily used wooden structures. An oil-based sealer that has been applied to furniture makes it endure longer.

Additionally, it can withstand intense heat from the sun or hot items. This choice is much more moisture-tolerant because it is oil-based. Due to its increased water resistance, it is the ideal solution for sealing lawn furniture and other wooden pieces most likely to come into contact with moisture.

Water-based polyurethane: Because it has fewer pungent volatile organic compounds (VOCs), this alternative is safer because it produces fewer fumes. As a result, it is less harmful to your lungs and nose than polyurethane, which is based on oil.

You may add more coats in less time as opposed to the oil-based option because it dries considerably more quickly. It is more prone to scratches, though.

Compared to oil-based, water-based polyurethane is less resistant to intense heat and moisture than its oil-based predecessor. However, it’s perfect for products that won’t see a lot of abuse or encounter exposure to water or temperatures that are too high or low.

Polycrylic, on the other hand, is less resilient than polyurethane, so it should only be used on interior surfaces such as cabinets and furniture. It shouldn’t be utilized in external applications, on heavily trafficked surfaces like floors, or on surfaces near water.

It takes a while to cure properly, which is a drawback despite how rapidly it dries. Resting anything on a polycrylic-coated surface that has not fully dried can damage or dent the clear coat because polycrylic is not nearly scratch-resistant as oil-based polyurethane. Additionally, it cannot withstand extreme heat and is not moisture-resistant.

3) Tint

The tint or hue that remains is the primary distinction between polyurethanes made with oil and those made with water.

Avoid applying oil-based polyurethane over light-colored painted furniture since it leaves a yellowish tinge that can turn somewhat amber as the piece ages. For this choice, stay with a warm or dark enough wood type to cover the yellow cast.

As long as they are applied carefully, water-based polyurethanes dry transparent. While it doesn’t have the amber tint, some of them can nevertheless make white or light surfaces dry yellow or slightly hazy over darker finishes like milk paint. It can seem milky if it is extensively applied over dark wood.

Contrarily, polycrylic brings about a clear surface that doesn’t turn yellow so that it won’t alter the appearance of anything painted white or lighter-colored woods like maple or birch.

However, it is not advised to do so because its clear look may become rather opaque or milky when applied over dark-colored paintwork or red mahogany stain.

4) Sheen

Remember the finish you desire for your topcoat while applying it. You can select from a number of sheens for each option.

Polyurethane, which is based on oil, dries with a warm-toned shimmer. It comes in a variety of sheens, including Flat, Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss.

If you want to preserve the natural color of the wood, water-based polyurethane is a preferable choice because it dries clear. The sheens that are offered for it are Gloss, Flat, Semi-Gloss, Matte, and Satin.

The sheens of polycrylic are Ultra Flat, Matte, Satin, Semigloss, and Gloss, and it typically dries transparent.

5) Application Safety

When applying oil-based polyurethane sealants, hazardous vapors are released. Thus it’s best to have good ventilation and, if you’d rather, use a mask. They should never be used in extreme heat or near a fire since they are flammable. Fortunately, they become less so as they dry.

Water-based sealants can catch fire too, but not quite as easily. They are safe to operate without masks because they release fewer harmful gasses.

Since polycrylic sealant is less flammable than polyurethane and emits fewer harmful fumes, it is environmentally beneficial.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Polyurethane and Polycrylic

You may be guaranteed to achieve a long-lasting, strong finish that will shield your hardwood furniture or flooring from mild to moderate wear, whether you use polyurethane or polycrylic. So, the question remains; Polyurethane Or Polycrylic?

1) Location of project

Polyurethane is suitable if your project involves the outdoors or could see significant indoor traffic, such as flooring. It is robust, durable, and comparatively simple to use. All sealants are extremely robust, but polyurethane with an oil basis is the most resilient. Repeated exposure to wetness and extreme temperatures, as well as a lot of foot traffic, can be handled by it.

When sealing the interiors of furniture, e.g., cabinets and drawers, polycrylic is the safest choice. It can dry faster than polyurethane, which is important because interiors do the air supply necessary for prompt drying.

It is also not advisable to use polyurethane in poorly ventilated areas. It gives off noxious gases because of the high levels of volatile organic compounds. When working without much ventilation, consider polycrylic because it dries faster and does not emit harmful gases.

2) Coloring of the wood

Wood painted with light colors is best sealed with polycrylic because it does not affect the color. Oil-based and water-based polyurethane leave a yellow tint that affects the aesthetics of your project.

3) Degree of Use

If you need a sealer to accommodate heavy-duty work, polyurethane is the best choice because polycrylic provides a more “gentle” alternative. If your hardwood is subjected to heavy use, polycrylic is bound to disappoint you.

4) Environmental and health concerns

If you are an environmentalist, you may find it easier to accept the weaknesses of polycrylic. Similarly, DIYers who suffer from respiratory illnesses may find it safer to use polycrylic


The only way you can go wrong is by not sealing your wood. Whether you settle on polyurethane or polycrylic, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and gather all the necessary tools before popping the lid off the can.

No one wants to invest in quality wood and watch it deteriorate. We hope this article has provided everything you need to make an informed decision.