Can You Apply Polyurethane With a Roller? (Explained!)

Polyurethane is usually applied with a paintbrush. But, using a paintbrush over a large surface is tedious and time-consuming. So, people wonder if polyurethane can be applied with a roller?

You can apply polyurethane using a roller but you have to use the right type of roller per type of polyurethane. Lambswool roller is generally advised to be the best type of roller for polyurethane application.

The wool roller can absorb and apply oil-based finishes smoothly. You can also use a foam roller to apply oil-based polyurethane but never use it with water-based polyurethane.

Also, you should dip the roller in mineral spirits before putting it in polyurethane. The mineral spirit coating will prevent the roller from sucking the polyurethane and causing bubbles.

This post explains more about using rollers for polyurethane application including the steps to carry out the task. Let’s dive in.

Can You Use a Roller For Applying Oil-Based Polyurethane?

You can use rollers to apply oil-based polyurethane. Foam, microfiber, and lambswool rollers can all be used to apply oil-based polyurethane. This is because oil-based polyurethane has a thick oil-based flow that makes it absorbed well by rollers.

The thick nature of oil-based polyurethane allows the paint to be absorbed easily by rollers. It also allows the polyurethane paint to be spread smoothly and without brush marks. You should always leave extra time for oil-based polyurethane to dry especially when applied with a roller.

Can You Use a Roller For Applying Water-Based Polyurethane?

You can use a roller to apply water-based polyurethane. But, you should know that water-based polyurethane gets very picky when it comes to paint rollers. Fiber and lambswool rollers can be used to apply water-based polyurethane but never use a foam roller.

Water-based polyurethane like oil-based polyurethane can also be applied using a roller but the lighter nature of water-based polyurethane means that it’s picky when it comes to compatible rollers.

Foam rollers for instance are so porous that they easily suck the water-based polyurethane resulting in uneven coats. You should always ensure to choose the best roller for water-based polyurethane and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Does Polyurethane Spread Equally Using a Roller?

Polyurethane does spread equally using a roller because the roller applies the polyurethane evenly across the surface regardless of which direction you roll. The use of the roller also prevents you from overapplying polyurethane in some areas.

When you roll the polyurethane on a surface, the wide nature of the roller allows you to cover more areas of the surface in one roll while applying the polyurethane equally.

This is different from when you use a paintbrush and sometimes overapply the polyurethane. So, what type of roller should you use for polyurethane? Let’s find out.

What Kind of Roller Should You Use For Polyurethane?

What Kind of Roller Should You Use For Polyurethane?

You should use a roller that is lint-free and able to absorb oil-based finishes adequately. You should also choose a roller that rolls-on paint evenly and without streaks.

Here are rollers that have the above-mentioned features:

Foam Rollers

Foam rollers are designed from a commercial foam material. Foam rollers have impressive absorption which makes this roller ideal for absorbing and applying oil-based finishes like oil-based polyurethane.

However, you should know that foam rollers are not ideal for water-based polyurethane. Foam rollers will cause streaks and paint drops when used with water-based polyurethane. Also, foam rollers aren’t very durable.

Microfiber Rollers

Microfiber rollers are woven paint rollers that are wrapped with a layer of microfiber cloth. The cloth has short and small fibers causing the roller to apply multiple layers of polyurethane without streaks or marks.

Microfiber cloths are known to apply glossy paints like oil and water-based polyurethane smoothly. The roller is also very durable and can be used for multiple polyurethane applications as long as the roller is well-maintained.

Lambswool Rollers

Lambswool roller is gotten from lamb wool. The wool is knitted together to prevent the layers from separating or pulling apart.

The wool also features a synthetic backing that makes paint application faster and easier than other rollers. The soft nature of the roller also makes it able to fit in bumps and release polyurethane evenly. However, you should know that lamb wool rollers don’t come cheap.

As an expert tip, you should always ensure to buy top-quality rollers that are compatible with the type of polyurethane that you want to use.

Should You Use a Roller To Apply Polyurethane? (Pros/Cons)


Here are the advantages of applying polyurethane with a roller:

  1. The task saves time as you get to cover spaces and large areas quicker
  2. The chances of having brush marks on the polyurethane coating are eliminated
  3. Using rollers correctly will give you smooth results
  4. You can use the same roller to apply different types of polyurethane
  5. Rollers are ideal for large walls and floors due to their quick application
  6. You get to re-coat polyurethane quicker


Here are a few shortcomings of using a roller for polyurethane application:

  1. Rollers can’t apply polyurethane on corners and curves so you’ll still need a paintbrush for touch-ups
  2. Using rollers for polyurethane application can be an expensive practice as you’ll need expensive and top-quality rollers that don’t come cheap
  3. Using rollers to apply polyurethane increase the chances of bubbles
  4. You’ll need to dip the roller in a solvent like mineral spirits or turpentine before dipping it in polyurethane. These solvents produce an odor that shouldn’t be inhaled.

Now that you know the pros and cons of applying polyurethane with a roller, let’s find out how to carry out the task easily.

How To Apply Polyurethane With a Roller?

Applying polyurethane with a roller is a DIY task. As long as you know the right steps, you don’t need to pay anybody. Luckily, this guide will reveal the 6 steps to roll-on polyurethane but we’ll need a few tools and supplies:

  • Mineral spirits
  • A clean paint bucket or plastic container
  • Painters tape
  • Rags
  • Sandpaper
  • Polyurethane paint
  • Polyurethane paint roller (lambswool or fiber roller)
  • Lacquer thinner

1. Prep Work

Prep Work

The first step is to complete the prep work. If you want to paint a wall, you should remove all objects on the wall including wall sockets, photo frames, and the like. If it’s a floor, you should move out all furniture and electronics. If it’s a wood surface, clean the surface.

After, you need to wipe the surface and apply polyurethane paint primer if required. A part of prep work also includes taping the base and corners you don’t want polyurethane paint to get on. You can use painter’s tape for this.

2. Sand the Surface

Sand the Surface

The next step is to sand the surface. Polyurethane goes on well when the surface is sanded and smooth. If you applied primer paint, you don’t need to sand since polyurethane will stick well to a primed surface.

However, if you are applying the polyurethane on a bare surface like wood, you need to sand the wood to get rid of loose dirt and bumps. You should sand the wood with 180-grit sandpaper. After sanding, ensure to wipe off the dust.

3. Pour Out the Polyurethane

Pour Out the Polyurethane

The next step is to pour out the polyurethane into a large container. With a paintbrush, you’ll be able to dip the paintbrush into the polyurethane container directly but a roller wouldn’t fit in the container so you’ll need to pour it out. If stated in the manufacturer’s instructions to thin the polyurethane, you should do so.

You should also pour out a few cups of mineral spirits into a flat container or tray. The mineral spirits will be needed when rolling the polyurethane.

4. Apply the Polyurethane

Apply the Polyurethane

The next step is to apply the polyurethane. To do this, dip the roller in mineral spirits for a few seconds. Then take out the roller and shake off the excess mineral spirits solution.

You want the roller to be damp with mineral spirits and not soaked. After, put the roller in the polyurethane paint and allow it to absorb the paint. Then you can use the roller to apply the polyurethane to the surface.

You shouldn’t press the roller on the surface as that will cause bubbles and streaks. You should just move the roller back and forth on the surface till there is no more polyurethane on it. When this happens, you should dip the roller in mineral spirits before applying more polyurethane.

5. Apply a Second Coat

Apply a Second Coat

When you have applied the first coat, leave the polyurethane to dry for at least 3 hours before applying a recoat. While you wait for the polyurethane to dry, you need to prevent the roller and paint from drying up.

So, cover the polyurethane paint tightly and put the roller in a plastic bag before putting it in the fridge. This will prevent the roller from drying out and turning spiky. When you need it for the second coat, you can take it out from the fridge and it will be ready for use.

Remember to use mineral spirits on the roller before applying the second coat of polyurethane. You’ll need two or three coats of polyurethane for proper coverage. For a third coat, you should follow the steps above and let the second coat dry first.

After rolling the polyurethane, you should clean the rollers and other painting equipment. Let’s go into detail about how to clean polyurethane rollers.

How To Clean Polyurethane Roller?

Here is a guide to cleaning your polyurethane roller including the supplies that you’ll need:

  • Paint roller squeezer
  • Mineral spirits
  • Dish soap
  • A bucket of warm water
  • A metal comb

Here is how to clean your polyurethane roller:

  1. After applying the last lap of polyurethane, shake off the excess polyurethane left on the roller. You can also use a paint roller squeezer for this.
  2. Mix some dish soap in warm water and soak the roller in the soap mixture
  3. After a few minutes, take out the roller and wash off polyurethane residue
  4. Dip the polyurethane roller in mineral spirits and use a metal comb to clean and untangle the roller. This will also remove stuck polyurethane paint in the roller.
  5. When the polyurethane roller is clean, rinse it in cold water and store it properly.
  6. If the roller isn’t completely clean, you can repeat the steps.

Final Words

In summary, you can apply polyurethane with a roller. You just need to ensure that you use the right type of roller per the type of polyurethane.

Remember that water-based polyurethane isn’t compatible with foam rollers. You can use foam, microfiber, and lambswool roller for oil-based polyurethane. Finally, ensure to allow each coat of polyurethane to dry fully before a recoat. This prevents streaky paint and uneven application.

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