Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Polyurethane (Which One You Need?)

Polyurethane finish comes in satin, matte, semi-gloss, and high-gloss sheens. Of these four sheens, the most common are satin and semi-gloss polyurethane finish. Both finishes are easy to achieve, maintain, and seal if necessary. But what’s the difference between both finishes?

The difference between satin and semi-gloss polyurethane is the sheen. Satin polyurethane finish has a high level of flattening paste (or zinc oxide) in the paint coating which makes the satin finish has a low sheen. Semi-gloss polyurethane finish on the other hand has a low level of flattening paste (or zinc oxide) in the paint coating.

Satin finish due to its low sheen reflects less light, is dull, and is not shiny. Semi-gloss has a more lustrous appearance. Though not as shiny as high gloss polyurethane, semi-gloss is shinier than satin polyurethane.

So what other differences exist between both polyurethane finishes and which sheen do you need for your paint job? Let’s find out the answers to these questions.

What is Satin Polyurethane Finish?

What is Satin Polyurethane Finish

Satin polyurethane has the third-highest sheen in the polyurethane family. Generally, polyurethane is a high-gloss finish but different requirements have made manufacturers produce polyurethane paint in sheens that are not too glossy. To reduce the sheen of polyurethane, manufacturers have included a flattening agent known as zinc oxide in the paint.

Satin polyurethane has a high level of this flattening agent in its formula, meaning that satin polyurethane has a very low sheen.

Since satin polyurethane has a low sheen, the finish hides stains and imperfections on the surface. This makes the finish ideal for walkways and floors that frequently attract dirt. Satin polyurethane will last longer before you notice damages in the finish.

The finish is less lustrous, meaning it doesn’t reflect and has a dull appearance. The ability to hide stains and imperfections also means that satin polyurethane has a relatively low maintenance.

What Is Semi-Gloss Polyurethane Used For?

What Is Semi-Gloss Polyurethane Used For?

Semi-gloss polyurethane finish has the second-highest sheen in the polyurethane family. This is because the finish has a low level of flattening agent (zinc oxide) in its formula and more luster (or sheen). This makes semi-gloss polyurethane have a bright sheen and show imperfections and damages.

However, semi-gloss polyurethane has more protection. The high sheen on the finish makes it less likely to develop scratch marks and dents. The high sheen also means that semi-gloss polyurethane takes longer to properly dry and set.

But when the semi-gloss finish dries, it reflects light. This reflective feature of the finish allows it to reveal wood grain easily.

So is semi-gloss polyurethane better than satin polyurethane? Let’s find out.

Semi-Gloss vs Satin Polyurethane

Here is a table that shows the main differences between satin and semi-gloss polyurethane:

 Semi-gloss PolyurethaneSatin Polyurethane
Dry-TimeSlow (takes about 48 hours to cure)Good (cures in about 24 hours)
Scratch ResistanceVery goodPoor
Cleaning and MaintenanceModerateLow maintenance

To compare both polyurethane finishes, we’ll use the features of both sheens and see how they stand when compared. Let’s start with the

Paint Formula

Both finishes have a very similar paint formula because they are both polyurethane. However, satin polyurethane has a higher zinc oxide or flattening agent level in its formula.

Semi-gloss polyurethane has fewer flattening agents and more luster. This slight change in the formula of both sheens makes them different.

Most satin polyurethane finishes are water-based. However, semi-gloss polyurethane is usually oil-based.


Satin polyurethane dries faster than semi-gloss polyurethane. This is because satin polyurethane has fewer oils and less sheen which means the paint will evaporate and dry quickly.

Since semi-gloss polyurethane has more sheen, it will take longer for the finish to cure and set because the sheen has to completely harden. On average, satin polyurethane will dry in 2 hours and cure in 24 hours. On the other hand, semi-gloss polyurethane will take 4 hours to dry and 48 hours to fully cure.

The Sheen

Satin polyurethane has a low sheen when compared to semi-gloss polyurethane. The higher sheen of semi-gloss polyurethane means it is more glossy or reflective.

The lower sheen of satin polyurethane makes the finish not as reflective or glossy as semi-gloss polyurethane.

The Appearance

The higher sheen of semi-gloss polyurethane means that the appearance is more reflective and glossy. Semi-gloss polyurethane has a shiny appearance like the finish was polished with oils. Satin polyurethane has a duller appearance due to its low sheen.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Satin polyurethane is easier to clean and maintain than semi-gloss polyurethane. This is because satin polyurethane is not as glossy or reflective as semi-gloss polyurethane.

Given its dull appearance, satin polyurethane will hide stains and debris perfectly. So you won’t need to clean the polyurethane finish as much as you would with semi-gloss polyurethane.

Since semi-gloss polyurethane is more reflective, stains will be more evident, so you’ll need more cleaning.


There isn’t much difference in terms of the durability of both sheens. However, semi-gloss polyurethane tends to be more durable. The glossy finish makes semi-gloss polyurethane more water-resistant than satin polyurethane.

Also, the longer dry time of semi-gloss polyurethane means it takes enough time to dry and harden. This makes semi-gloss polyurethane more sturdy and likely to handle frequent use than satin polyurethane.

Scratch Resistance

Semi-gloss polyurethane is more scratch resistance than satin polyurethane. The glossy top coat of the finish is super flexible and resistant to scratch marks and dents.

Satin polyurethane reveals scratch marks and dents since it has no protective glass. As such, you shouldn’t use satin polyurethane on floors where you’ll have pets as the claw marks of your pet can scar the polyurethane finish.

Paint Cost

There isn’t much difference in the cost of both polyurethane finishes but semi-gloss polyurethane is often costlier than satin polyurethane. One reason for this higher price tag is the extra protection you get with the semi-gloss finish.


Can You Mix Satin and Semi-gloss Polyurethane?

You can mix both types of polyurethane but the base must be the same. This means you can only mix water-based satin polyurethane with water-based semi-gloss polyurethane. And, oil-based satin with only oil-based semi-gloss polyurethane.

If the polyurethane sheens have different bases, you’ll ruin the paint by mixing them.

Can You Use Satin Polyurethane On Semi-gloss Polyurethane?

You can use satin over semi-gloss polyurethane but the satin polyurethane will not stick unless you strip the glossy layer of the semi-gloss polyurethane.

Can You Use Semi-Gloss Polyurethane Over Satin Polyurethane?

You can use semi-gloss polyurethane over satin polyurethane. In this case, you don’t need to strip the satin polyurethane since it has no protective glossy layer. All you need to do is sand and clean the satin polyurethane before putting the semi-gloss finish over it.

Is Satin Polyurethane The Same As Water-based Polyurethane?

Satin polyurethane is not the same as water-based polyurethane. Water-based polyurethane is a type of polyurethane paint dissolved in water, while satin polyurethane is a type of polyurethane finish.

Final Words

Overall, satin and semi-gloss polyurethane are both great polyurethane sheens.

The major difference between both is that semi-gloss polyurethane has more luster, reflecting light more and is glossier. Satin polyurethane on the other hand has more flattening agent which makes the polyurethane finish duller and less reflective.

You should pick satin polyurethane if you want a dull appearance but pick semi-gloss if you want a shinier finish.

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