Polyurethane vs Polycrylic (Which One is More Durable?)

Homeowners that want a clear protective finish on their furniture are often advised to go for a Polyurethane or Polycrylic finish. But, what’s the difference between both sealants?

The main difference between these two finishes is that Polycrylic is water-based while Polyurethane can either be water-based or oil-based. Since polycrylic is water-based, it will dry faster and is more suited for indoor surfaces, but it has a weaker finish. 

On the other hand, polyurethane is tougher and more durable. This makes it ideal for outdoor furniture, exterior walls, countertops, and other surfaces that get a lot of use. 

Polyurethane

Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a synthetic plastic sealer popular for its wood protection and water resistance. It is made through a reaction between a base (polyols) and a hardener (isocyanate compounds). There are two types of polyurethane; oil-based and water-based.

Water-based polyurethane is a popular choice for homeowners because it remains clear for a long time. It also dries faster and is easier to work with. It can be used on finished wood because it won’t change the look of the finish.

Oil-based polyurethane is common in building exterior walls, outdoor furniture, hardwood floors, and decks. This is because the sealer is very tough and can withstand high traffic. It is also water-resistant and heat-resistant, so it is perfect for outdoor furniture.

Usage

Polyurethane is used for protecting bare and finished wood indoors or outdoors. You can also use it on moisture-prone areas like countertops and tabletops because it is water-resistant. Oil-based poly can be used in high-traffic areas in the home for adequate protection.

Pros:

  1. Water-resistant.
  2. Durable. It can be used on high-traffic surfaces such as floors and countertops.
  3. Perfect for exterior surfaces and outdoor furniture.
  4. You can use it indoors too.
  5. Easy to apply — You can use different applicator methods.

Cons:

  1. Long dry time, especially the oil-based type.
  2. Oil-based poly tends to yellow after a while.

Pro Tip: You should know that the features, pros, and cons of polyurethane depend on the type that you go for.

Polycrylic

Polycrylic

Polycrylic, also known as Miniwax Polycrylic is a quick-drying water-based sealant common for its clear finish. Although it dries quickly, it takes longer to cure (or dry enough for normal use).

Most people use it on indoor wood because it is easy to apply and it cleans up easily. A high-gloss polycrylic finish can be cleaned with a rag and soap mixture.

Since polycrylic is water-based it can be used on bedroom and kitchen furniture. Its downside is that it’s not heat-resistant and not as durable as polyurethane so it’s not ideal for exterior walls and outdoor furniture.

Usage

Polycrylic sealer is used indoors and on low-traffic areas. The finish can also be used in the living room, bedroom, and dining area since it’s easy to clean.

You can also use it on decorative furniture, wall frames, and art pieces. The transparent finish will pop out on decorative furniture and wall art.

Pros:

  1. Water-based.
  2. It doesn’t yellow.
  3. Perfect for decorative furniture and wall art thanks to its reflective finish.
  4. Easy to wipe and clean.
  5. It can be used on stained or finished wood without affecting the look of the finish.

Cons:

  1. Hard to apply because it has a runny consistency.
  2. Low levels of water-resistance.
  3. Not durable enough — you shouldn’t use it outdoors.

Polyurethane vs Polycrylic 

Let’s take a closer look at these differences.

 PolycrylicPolyurethane
Wood Protection/DurabilityAverageGreat
Moisture resistanceAverageGood
AppearanceCrystal clear for yearsIt can turn yellow or cloudy after some time
Indoor or outdoor use?To be used indoorsBoth
Dry TimeIt dries faster but takes several hours to cureIt takes some time to dry but cures faster than polycrylic
ApplicationEasy to apply on small surfaces.Easy to apply on large surfaces.

Appearance

Polyurethane dries to a clear finish. You can also pick different sheens ranging from flat/matte to high-gloss sheen.

However, oil-based polyurethane turns yellow after some time due to the presence of oils in its formula. Water-based polyurethane can also turn cloudy or blurry, especially if the finish is exposed to heat or hot items that can cause rings.

On the other hand, polycrylic retains its crystal clear and transparent finish for years. It doesn’t yellow or turn blurry because there are no oil-based additives in its formula.

Verdict: Polycrylic stays clear and transparent while polyurethane changes appearance after some time.

Durability/Wood Protection

Polycrylic isn’t durable. It can protect your cabinets, drawers, and shelves from scratch marks and dents because these are low-traffic surfaces that don’t get a lot of use.

On high-traffic surfaces, such as tabletops and floors, polycrylic will give way because these surfaces get a lot of use. This is why this sealant is commonly used on indoor surfaces, decorative furniture, and wall art.

On the other hand, polyurethane offers the best wood protection thanks to its amazing durability. It can resist wear and tear and is commonly used on floors, countertops, tabletops, and outdoor furniture.

Its hard-plastic finish will protect the wood from scratch marks and dents. Exterior-grade polyurethane is weather-resistant and will protect your outdoor furniture, fence, and exterior walls from weathering and UV deterioration.

Verdict: Polyurethane protects wood better than polycrylic because it is more resistant to wear and tear.

Moisture Resistance

Polyurethane is almost waterproof. It is used on moisture-prone areas like your kitchen and bathroom furniture because it repels moisture brilliantly. Oil-based polyurethane finish is the most resistant to moisture.

On the other hand, polycrylic doesn’t have enough water resistance to make it ideal on moisture-prone surfaces. If the wood would be exposed to moisture, steam, or spills, you shouldn’t use polycrylic on it. You should only use the finish on surfaces where moisture isn’t a concern.

Polycrylic will gradually deteriorate when used in high-moisture areas because the finish is water-soluble. Manufacturers advise homeowners to use very little water when cleaning stains off its finish because constant exposure to cleaning liquids can affect the finish.

Verdict: Polyurethane repels moisture better than polycrylic thanks to its plastic-like finish.

Dry Time

Polycrylic dries fast because it is water-based. On average, it takes a coat of polycrylic less than 30 minutes to dry to touch, and 2 hours to dry between coats.

However, you should know that its finish takes several hours to cure (or dry enough for normal use). It’s only when it has cured that it can be subjected to normal use. If you use the finish before it cures, it will scratch easily.

When it dries to touch, you can apply another coat, but don’t use the finish yet or place items on it because it is not strong enough. You need to leave it for up to 24 hours to cure and reach peak strength.

On the other hand, polyurethane dries slowly, especially the oil-based type. It can take oil-based polyurethane over 24 hours to dry enough for a recoat, but the water-based type dries for recoat in less than 8 hours.

However, polyurethane generally cures fast. This is because the finish cures as it dries, so when it gets dry, you just need to leave it for a few more hours to fully cure. On average, it will cure in 12 hours and can be subjected to normal use in less than 24 hours after application.

Verdict: Polycrylic dries faster, but polyurethane cures faster. This means you can recoat polycrylic sooner but you have to wait longer to use the finish.

Application

Polycrylic is a bit tricky to apply because it has a “runny” consistency. This means you are likely to experience runs and drips when applying it, especially on large and vertical surfaces like walls.

The worst part is that polycrylic dries fast, so the runs and drips that occur during application need to be repaired immediately or they will dry and become harder to fix. It’s advised to use a spray gun or paintbrush to apply it. A roller will cause the sealer to drip and run on the surface.

On the other hand, polyurethane is easier to apply because you have several options. You can spray, brush, or roll on polyurethane. However, it can be tricky to apply it on small surfaces because it will take a while to dry. 

Verdict: This is a tie. Polyurethane and Polycrylic can be easy or tricky to apply depending on the size of your project.

Pro tip: Use polyurethane for large surfaces since it’s less likely to drip and run off the surface. You should use polycrylic on small surfaces, so you can control its runny consistency better.

Final Words

In summary, polycrylic and polyurethane are both great sealers. The right option depends on where you want to seal and what properties you’ll need from the finish when it dries. Polyurethane is ideal for exterior surfaces and high-traffic spots while polycrylic is better suited to low-traffic areas and indoor surfaces.

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,

Eral Kadrija

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIYGeeks.

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