Danish Oil vs Polyurethane (What’s The Difference?)

Danish oil and polyurethane are two great wood finishes. But, what’s the difference between both?

Danish oil is a penetrating finish that needs to penetrate a surface to stick. On the other hand, polyurethane is a tropical finish that can stay over the top layer and stick there. 

They also have different formulas. For example, polyurethane is made from urethane compounds and resins, while Danish oil is a blend of different oils and solvents.

Danish Oil

What is Danish Oil?

Danish oil is a blend of solvent, wood oils, varnish, and polyurethane. There’s no specific formula for making this wood oil, as different products and brands include special additives and drying oils to improve the finish. You can apply it with a lint-free cloth or paintbrush.

Due to the additives and polymer in its formula, this wood oil dries fast and forms a moisture-resistant layer that darkens or alters the wood color. Danish oil is a penetrating finish, meaning it needs to penetrate a surface to stick. Also, this wood oil is flexible, meaning it expands and contracts based on temperature changes. 

You can use Danish oil:

  1. To protect the wood from water damage and leaks.
  2. To darken and alter the wood color.
  3. Over wood stains to make the color appear deeper. 
  4. To tread wooden railings and handles of household equipment. 
  5. To seal porous wood. 


What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a synthetic sealant that protects surfaces from moisture, scratches, and other damage. This sealant is gotten from the chemical reaction between polyols and isocyanate compounds.

The term “polyurethane” is gotten from urethane which is a key ingredient in making the finish. Urethane is a plastic-like that hardens to form a moisture-resistant and strong layer.

There are two types of polyurethane; oil-based and water-based. Both have similar features, but the difference in the solvent (water and oil) makes them have different drying times and durability levels.

Polyurethane is a tropical sealant, meaning it doesn’t soak or penetrate the surface but stays over the top layer and forms an ultra-thick protective coating. 

You can use polyurethane:

  1. Over paints and wood stains to protect them. 
  2. To make wood moisture-resistant. 
  3. Exterior polyurethane offers UV Resistance. 
  4. Over high-traffic and busy surfaces.

Polyurethane vs Danish Oil

To compare both wood finishes, let’s check their main features and see which one is better.

Danish OilPolyurethane
ColorA dark appearance that darkens the wood.Has a clear and transparent finish with no color.
FormulaGotten by mixing oils and solvents.Gotten through a chemical reaction.
ApplicationYou can apply it using a lint-free cloth.
Danish oil is usually wiped on using a lint-free cloth.
You can apply it using a paintbrush or sprayer.
Moisture ResistanceGood.Better.
VersatilityIsn't versatile.It can be applied over every type of surface.

The Color

Danish oil is known to make wood darker because of its high oil content in the finish. On the other hand, polyurethane doesn’t give wood any color because it doesn’t have paint pigments and has a transparent and clear coat.

However, oil-based polyurethane tends to yellow after a while. 

Wood Protection

Polyurethane protects wood better than Danish oil. That’s because polyurethane is formulated with protective and plastic-like additives that make the finish moisture-resistant. 

On the other hand, Danish oil also protects the wood but not for too long. That’s because this wood oil penetrates the wood pores, so there isn’t much Danish oil on the surface to protect it. 


Polyurethane lasts longer than Danish oil. On average, polyurethane will last up to 10 years, while Danish oil will last 4 years if properly applied and maintained. Polyurethane lasts longer because it is stronger and more resistant to factors that can damage the finish.

The Application

Both finishes are applied differently. Danish oil is applied by using a cloth to wipe the oil on the wood. On the other hand, polyurethane is applied using a paintbrush, spray gun, or rag. 


Polyurethane is more versatile than Danish oil because it can be used on different surfaces. For example, you can use it on indoor and outdoor wood, furniture, and floors. On the other hand, Danish oil isn’t versatile and can only be applied over low-traffic porous surfaces such as desks and room decor.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Polyurethane is easier to clean and maintain than Danish oil. That’s because it repels stains and dust better and has a slick surface that repels stains and grease. So, you can wipe off grease from the slick surface with a rag. 

On the other hand, Danish oil has a softer surface that attracts dust and filth while curing. So, you must clean and wipe the wood oil coating more often. You also need to use a cleaning solvent to remove dust and stains from it.

The Finish

Polyurethane offers a transparent and clear finish on the wood that reveals the wood grain. It also offers a variety of sheens.

On the other hand, Danish oil gives a satin finish with a low-glossy appearance. But, you can get different colors of Danish oil or tint with acrylic paint to get a unique color.

Do You Need Polyurethane or Danish Oil?

Before deciding which wood finish you want, consider these:

  1. Wood protection – If you need superior wood protection, use polyurethane. That’s because it’s formulated with plastic-like additives that protect the wood from water, moisture, or scratches.
  2. Color – If you want to alter or deepen the wood color, choose Danish oil. That’s because this wood oil can be tinted with different colors, giving wood a darker appearance. You can also tint polyurethane
  3. Moisture Resistance – For surfaces exposed to constant moisture, use polyurethane.
  4. Finished Wood – If the wood is already painted or finished, use polyurethane because it will stick. Danish oil only sticks to bare or unfinished wooden surfaces. 

Final Words

Polyurethane and Danish oil are great wood finishes, but they offer different qualities. For instance, polyurethane can be used over finished wood and offer moisture-resistant features, while Danish oil can only be applied over bare wood and offers minimal moisture resistance. 

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about,

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