Danish Oil vs Polyurethane (Which One is More Durable?)

Danish oil and polyurethane are commonly used over wood. But what is the difference between both finishes?

The difference between Danish oil and polyurethane is that Danish oil is a penetrating oil finish meaning that Danish oil soaks in the wood to stick and dry properly. Polyurethane on the other hand is a top coat that stays on the top layer of the wood meaning that it doesn’t penetrate as Danish oil does.

The formula of both finishes is also different as polyurethane is made from urethane compounds and resins while Danish oil is a blend of different oils of solvents.  Also, Danish oil alters or darkens the appearance of the wood while polyurethane changes the wood color.

This post reveals more about polyurethane and Danish oil including tips to help you decide which of the two you need for your wood. So, let’s dive in.

What is Danish Oil?

What is Danish Oil?

Danish oil is a blend of solvents, wood oils, varnish, and polymers. There is no particular formula for making Danish oil as different products and brands include special additives and drying oils to improve the features of the finish. You can even mix your own Danish oil. The main purpose of the finish is to alter or darken the appearance of wood.

Danish oil due to the additives and polymer in its formula dries quickly to form a hard and moisture-resistant layer on the wood. Like all other types of wood oil, Danish oil is also a penetrating finish as the wood oil soaks into the wood grain to stick and dry properly on the wood.

One major feature of Danish oil is its flexibility. Danish oil allows newly-installed wood to stretch and contract based on temperature changes. The wood oil dries fast but has a slow cure time. You can also apply Danish oil using a lint-free cloth or paintbrush. So what is Danish oil used for? Let’s find out.

What is Danish Oil Used For?

  1. Danish oil is used to protect the wood from water damage and leaks
  2. Danish oil helps to darken or alter the wood color
  3. Danish oil can be used over the wood stain to make the color appear deeper
  4. Danish oil is commonly used to treat wooden railings and handles of household equipment
  5. Danish oil is used to seal porous wood.

What is Polyurethane?

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a synthetic sealant or top coat commonly used on wood, plaster, drywall, and concrete. Polyurethane is gotten from the chemical reaction between polyols and isocyanate compounds. The term “polyurethane” is gotten from “urethane” which is a key ingredient of the finish. Urethane is a plastic-like compound that hardens to form a moisture-resistant and strong layer.

There are two types of polyurethane; oil-based and water-based polyurethane. Polyurethane is commonly referred to as liquid plastic. This is because the finish comes in liquid form but as it dries, it gradually forms a tough plastic-like film on the wood that repels moisture.

After polyurethane is applied, it doesn’t soak or penetrate the wood. Instead, the polyurethane coat stays on the top layer of the wood where it forms an ultra-thick protective barrier on the wood.

So what is polyurethane used for? Let’s find out.

What is Polyurethane Used For?

  1. Polyurethane is used over paints and wood stains to protect the finish
  2. Polyurethane is used to make wood moisture resistant
  3. Exterior polyurethane offers UV resistance
  4. Polyurethane is used in high traffic and busy areas to protect the wood from dents
  5. Polyurethane prevents mildew growth on wood.

So is polyurethane better than Danish oil? Let’s find out.

Polyurethane vs Danish Oil

To compare both wood finishes, we’ll use the feature of each finish and see which comes out on top. Here is a table that identifies the major differences between polyurethane and Danish oil:

 Danish OilPolyurethane
ColorDanish oil has a dark appearance that darkens the woodPolyurethane is a clear and transparent coat with no color
FormulaGotten by mixing oils and solventsGotten through a chemical reaction
The colorDanish oil makes wood darkerPolyurethane has no color
ApplicationDanish oil is usually wiped on using a lint-free clothPolyurethane is applied using a paintbrush or paint sprayer
Moisture ResistanceGoodPolyurethane is almost waterproof
VersatilityDanish oil is not very versatilePolyurethane can be used on virtually every type of surface

Next, let’s check out these differences in detail.

The Color

Danish oil is known to make wood darker. This is because of the high oil content in the finish. Polyurethane on the other hand doesn’t give wood any color because it’s a transparent and clear coat.

Though some homeowners claim that their polyurethane coating is turning yellow, this usually happens when oil-based polyurethane was applied in multiple coats. Water-based polyurethane doesn’t offer any color even if you apply multiple coats.

Wood Protection

Polyurethane protects wood better than Danish oil. This is because the polyurethane coating doesn’t penetrate the wood. Instead, it stays on the top layer of the wood where it forms a protective barrier on the wood to protect it from water damage and dents.

Danish oil also protects wood but not as well as polyurethane. One reason for this is that the Danish oil cost penetrates the wood so there isn’t much Danish oil left on the surface to protect the wood. Also, polyurethane is usually harder than Danish oil and as such will protect wood better.


Polyurethane tends to last longer than Danish oil. On average, polyurethane lasts about 10 years if properly applied and maintained. Danish oil doesn’t last that long. On average, Danish oil will last about 4 years on wood before you need to reapply the Danish oil.

The reason for the superior durability of polyurethane is that polyurethane is stronger and more resistant to factors that can damage the finish.

The Application

In terms of the application, both finishes are applied differently. Danish oil on one hand is applied by using a cloth to wipe the oil on the wood. This allows the wood oil to be massaged properly into the wood where it will stick, set, and darken the wood.

Polyurethane on the other hand is applied using a paintbrush or a spray gun since the finish sits on the top layer of the wood.


Polyurethane is more versatile than Danish oil. This is because polyurethane can be used on different types of surfaces since the finish is strong and durable. Polyurethane can go on indoor and outdoor wood, furniture, countertops, and tabletops.

Danish oil is not as versatile because the wood oil is not as strong or as durable as polyurethane. You can only use Danish oil on low-traffic or medium-traffic areas like desks, picture frames, and room decor. If you use Danish oil on high-traffic wood, it won’t last long.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Polyurethane is easier to clean and maintain than Danish oil. The main reason for this is that polyurethane repels stains and dust. Since the polyurethane finish is hard and slick, it becomes very difficult for stains and grease to stick to the polyurethane finish. So you won’t be doing much cleaning.

Danish oil on the other hand has a softer surface that also takes a while to cure. This means that stains, dust, and grease will easily stick to the Danish oil finish. So you’ll need to wipe and clean the Danish oil often. Sometimes, you’ll even need to use a cleaning solvent on the Danish oil to remove stains.

The Finish

Polyurethane offers a transparent and clear finish on the wood. The finish of polyurethane usually reveals the wood grain underneath the polyurethane coating. Polyurethane also offers a variety of sheens.

You can go for a glossy finish, semi-gloss, or satin finish while Danish oil gives a satin finish that is somewhat glossy in appearance. However, you can get different colors of Danish oil or even tint the finish with a colorant or acrylic paint to give it a unique color.

Do You Need Polyurethane or Danish Oil?

Deciding between polyurethane and Danish oil can be a daunting task as both finishes have great features. But here is a guide to make your decision easier:

Choose Polyurethane for Wood Protection

Since polyurethane offers superior wood protection, you should use it over wooden surfaces that will be used heavily. This includes countertops, walkways, and floors. The hard polyurethane finish will protect the wood from damage.

Choose Danish Oil for Color

Since Danish oil can be easily tinted with a wide range of colors, you can choose it if the color is what you want on your wooden surface. Danish oil also helps to darken wood appearance so if that’s what you want, it’s a good choice. Polyurethane will not give you any color since it’s a transparent finish. However, you can tint polyurethane.

Choose Polyurethane for Moisture Resistance

If you want to finish wooden surfaces that will see constant moisture, you should go for polyurethane as the finish offers superior moisture resistance to Danish oil.

Choose Polyurethane for Finished Wood

If you want to put a top coat over finished wood, polyurethane will suffice since it’s naturally a sealant. You can put polyurethane over stained wood or painted wood.

You shouldn’t put Danish oil over finished wood because the wood oil needs to penetrate. If you use it over finished wood, the finish in the wood will prevent the wood oil from penetrating the wood as it should.

Choose Danish Oil for Bare Wood

If you want to finish bare wood, you should use Danish oil. This is because Danish oil will penetrate the wood and fill the wood pores. Polyurethane will not work best on bare wood since it will just stay on the top layer of the wood.

Final Words

In summary, polyurethane and Danish oil are both great finishes to use on wood. The one you pick will depend on your taste, needs, and the surface you want to finish.

Remember that polyurethane is stronger than Danish oil so you should use it to protect the wood from dents and moisture. Danish oil on the other hand should be used to enhance wood color and appearance.

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