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Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane : What Is Basic Difference Between Them

Do not get confused with polycrylic and polyurethane. These two are not the same. In this article, you will get to know about the possible differences along with the pros and cons of both the above protective finishes. This will help you to make the right choice while buying one for your project.

So, let's begin!

Polycrylic VS Polyurethane


Q. What is the purpose of using protective surface coating on wood?

It is nearly impossible to beat the beauty of the wood that is naturally there in it; it has that depth and glow, which hardly any artificially made material can match. However, if left open, the wood is susceptible to damage from heat, moisture, and heavy application. In order to avoid that, most woodworking projects, starting from hand-crafted benches to freshly refinished flooring, end up the process by applying a protective top coat. It does not matter if the wood is pre-painted, stained, or raw.

Type of finish that you should use on wood project 

Now that you know that the use of protective finishes, there are mainly two such wood sealers that are widely known amongst the pro-grade woodworkers: polycrylic and polyurethane.

However, it becomes hard for the newbies or the DIY hobbyists as they get really confused whether to pick polycrylic or polyurethane, especially if both are manufactured by the same producer. Then the second thought that strikes in mind is which one would be better for furniture sealings and others. Which one is not going to affect the color quality of the wood? Which would be safer and easier to use? All these are some of the many questions that a novice goes through while deciding which one to buy.

We have chalked out the most significant differences between polycrylic and polyurethane finishes. Plus, we have made other relevant considerations, to guide you in making a prompt decision on selection between polycrylic and polyurethane, without delaying your project.

While polyurethane allows you to pick between water and oil, polycrylic does not.

Yes, it isn't quite as dry and cut as the water based vs oil based sealers. Moreover, the DIYers have many other options: Consumers will get both oil based and water based protective polyurethane varieties, on the market, for their home improvement purposes, along with the strictly water based polycrylic sealer.

Oil based polyurethane is long lasting which makes it a perfect choice for refinishing wooden floors or furniture that finds a lot of application, like a bench or a table. The oil based variety of polyurethane manages the high heat like an expert—some that the water-based variety of polycrylic and polyurethane struggle with. The oil based sealer is more water resistant which makes it the top choice for wooden objects and outdoor furniture that are more likely to experience atmospheric moisture. Water-based variety of polyurethane contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with less odour compared to its oil-based counterpart. The former one (water based) has the minimal impact on your nose and lungs. In addition to that, it dries quicker. But, it cannot withstand moisture or high temperatures.

The water based variety of polycrylic sealer is yet less toxic and smelly compared to either of its polyurethane counterparts/types. Consequently, polycrylic finish is easy to use. It dries swiftly, however, it's preparation takes time to make it fully ready to use. Note that polycrylic sealer cannot withstand oil based polyurethane as well as high heat.

Q. Which sealer is fit for what type of wood project ?


You will get options of picking the type of you are looking for; both in polycrylic and polyurethane sealers. Both of these sealers are available in gloss, satin, as well as high-gloss sheens, so you can go as shiny as you like, to enhance the nature of the wood along with the quality of your craftsmanship.

Here are some more differences based on which you can make the product selection for your project:

  • Oil-based polyurethane is more likely to dry, leaving a slight yellowish tint; meaning this sealer is fit for use on dark and warm natured wood so that the yellow cast can be easily hidden. On the other hand, the water based polyurethane tends to dry completely clear. So, it is fit for use on naturally light colored woods, such as maple, oak, etc., without worrying about getting a yellowish tint on the wood.

  • Polycrylic is basically known for its clear drying, but as long as it is carefully applied. Heavy application of this sealer might result in a milky appearance over dark paint or wood.

Although all the above mentioned varieties of polycrylic and polyurethane sealer are strong, oil-based polyurethane is the most long lasting one. However, you will certainly get a hard and long lasting protective finish on the wooden flooring or furniture, irrespective of any of these two sealers. Note that if you are looking for a sealer which can take care of the stronger stuff like daily and vigorous application or much foot traffic, then go for the oil based variety of polyurethane sealer as it would be the best bet. Furthermore, if the end product of your workpiece is destined to be exposed to an atmosphere of moisture (on a daily basis) or high temperatures, then oil based polyurethane is certainly the superior choice.

It is harder to apply polycrylic uniformly on the wood surface compared to polyurethane.

You can either choose to brush or spray both polycrylic and polyurethane. But, make sure to take care of the challenge that comes with drying consistency of polycrylic sealer. You will have to use thin coats of polycrylic finish and check out for drips, then hold on till the recommended time of drying. This will prevent you from getting a sticky finish on the wood surface. Additionally, since polycrylic dries real quick, it becomes a challenging task to maintain an evenly applied thin coating over a wider surface area.

  • Although both polycrylic and polyurethane sealers can be used over oil based and water based finishes and paints, you will notice that polycrylic dries relatively slowly when applied over matte latex paint. This late drying up process is due to the additives present in the latex paint.

  • Polycrylic is relatively safer than polyurethane as the latter has high contents of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) which can affect your lungs, meaning you will have to take precautions for your respiratory protection while using the sealer (though it is water based). Moreover, polyurethane can easily catch fire while wet, therefore, it must be stored carefully in order to prevent catching fire. Polycrylic sealer, being less toxic one, does not require you to wear protective gear while applying it on the wood.

Things to Consider While Choosing A Sealer That Suits Your Wood Project


Both polycrylic and polyurethane sealers are equally effective for many wood projects, such as side tables, desks, dressers, and picture frames. If you are looking for a tiebreaker, then you should better know your requirement and understand what would be suitable to get that task done.

Here are some of the scenarios that you must consider:

  • Will the finished piece be exposed to the moist environment or high temperatures?

    If so, then you should choose the oil-based variety of polyurethane for your project.

  • Is your workpiece made of light colored wood, white painted wood or light wood like oak or maple?

    If yes, then you must not go for the oil-based polyurethane as it will leave behind a yellowish tint. You should rather go for the polycrylic sealer in that case.

  • Do you want to apply the sealers on wooden floorings?

    Well, the oil-based polyurethane renders the longest lasting protective finish in heavy use situations, such as flooring.

  • Are you looking for a quick drying sealer?

    Polycrylic dries quicker than the polyurethane does.

  • Will you be working on indoor projects without proper ventilation?

    In this case, if you are using polyurethane, then make sure to work in a well ventilated area provided that you have taken the required respiratory precautions. On the contrary, if it is polycrylic, then it is yet better than the former in terms of the intensity of smell and toxicity.

  • Are you looking for a wider surface of the wood or furniture?

    Since polycrylic dries really quickly, it is a difficult task to maintain uniformity while applying it over a large surface area.

  • Are you using the sealer over vertical surfaces like the sides of a bookshelf?

    In this case, polyurethane is the best bet as it is thicker than polyurethane and so is less likely to drip.

  • Are you looking for the easiest cleanup?

    In this regard, polycrylic is better than polyurethane as here you will only need water and soap to wash it off from your hands, brushes, as well as the other surrounding areas where it spilt during the work.

  • Do you have a tight budget to manage the purchase?

    Polycrylic is usually less costlier than polyurethane sealer.

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