February 22, 2023

Comparing Hardwood Flooring Finishes: Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane

workers are coating Polyurethane for engineer woods floor in house at thailand.

Hardwood flooring finishes are one of the things that keep your floors beautiful and long-lasting. Like hardwood planks, homeowners can choose from varied finishes and wood sealers. While there are numerous options available, polycrylic and polyurethane are the two most sought-after hardwood coatings professional woodworkers use. But they often confuse many newbie remodelers and DIY homeowners. Find out the differences and similarities between polycrylic and polyurethane finishes with this quick guide. 

A Quick Run-Through on Polycrylic and Polyurethane Finishes

Novice remodelers and inexperienced DIYers confuse polycrylic with polyurethane finishes due to their name and use similarities. Despite that, there are notable differences between the two that can help homeowners identify which fits their floors best.

Polycrylic hardwood finishes are light-duty sealants that dry fast and have a clear or slight milky hue. Unlike other industrial wood coats, polycrylic has low flammability levels and volatile organic compound (VOC) count.

Polyurethane finishes are best for high-traffic areas and take longer to dry. They also come in both oil-based and water-based solutions. Oil-based polyurethane coats are highly flammable and have high levels of VOCs. But water-based polyurethane has much lower VOC emission and is less combustible, although they still contain higher amounts than polycrylic.

Polycrylic finishes can last for three years before it needs refinishing and dry up a few hours after application. Polyurethane can take long hours or even days before it dries and the fumes are removed from the room. While homeowners can’t enjoy their polyurethane-coated hardwood floors immediately, their floorings can serve them for at least four years before recoating them. In addition, the finish provides the planks with higher water and heat resistance, including physical damage.


Polycrylic and polyurethane finishes have satin, gloss, high gloss, and matte options. Unlike other finishing products, these two solutions provide homeowners with different coating appearances while still being able to enjoy their benefits.

The polycrylic wood finish has a milky-white hue upon application but turns clear as it dries. Remember to coat your hardwood floorings even with enough layers to protect the planks. When you apply it thickly, its slight milky hue stays and destroys the appearance of your wooden floors.

With polyurethane finishes, the appearance of your hardwood flooring can depend on which solution you use. Water-based polyurethane provides a clear look once it dries, but oil-based solutions can give your floor a yellowish hue over time.

Heat and Water Resistance

The main purpose of floor finishes is to protect your hardwood floors from damage while keeping their sophisticated look. While many wood sealers do this, not many options offer the safety and longevity that polycrylic and polyurethane coats provide. Between the two, polyurethane coats have higher levels of resistance, but how long they can protect your floors will depend on the conditions.

A polycrylic finish safeguards your flooring from spills and handles sun exposure well. But it’s not enough when exposed to long periods of rain, snow, sleet, hail, and direct sunlight. This makes them a bad option for outdoor hardwood flooring.

Polyurethane finishes are more water and heat-resistant than most options available. Oil-based polyurethane offers high resistance levels from hardwood floors’ weaknesses like moisture, UV radiation, and heat. They can handle longer exposures to the elements, but it’s best to remember that applying them won’t make your hardwood flooring water or heat-proof. Water-based polyurethane solutions are more resistant than polycrylic but not as strong as their oil-based counterpart.

Installation and Cost

Costs and installation are some factors that make or break beautiful and long-lasting hardwood flooring. Homeowners on a budget would consider a finish within their funds, but only a handful of coats provide affordable yet quality floor protection.

In addition, installing, sanding, and finishing hardwood floors is time-consuming, exhausting, and costly. Using the appropriate materials and methods is crucial to ensure your floorings are well-protected. Not all hardwood flooring finishes have similar textures and components, and the wrong approach can cause damage.

Polycrylic finish has a loose, runny consistency that can be disadvantageous when applying vertical surfaces. Its most notable feature is how they dry quickly after application. In addition, they emit lesser levels of VOCs and disperse fast. While its drying speed is impressive, remodelers can find it difficult to achieve a smooth, even coat of polycrylic finish. Applying the product is best with a brush or sprayer in about three thin coats.

Polyurethane finishes are best for large hardwood flooring projects. The solutions have a nice, thick consistency, but any shaking, swishing or churning motions can create bubbles. When this happens, the bubbles will stick to the wood’s surface and need sanding or additional coats. The more layers of polyurethane you apply, the more visible the yellowish hue the solution gives.

When it comes to cost, polycrylic finishes are more affordable than polyurethane. Polycrylic finishes cost around $20 to $30 per quart. Water-based polyurethane costs the same as polycrylic, but its oil-based counterpart can range from over $50 per quart.

Finding the Best Hardwood Floor Recoating Services in Austin, TX

Finishes are essential to any hardwood flooring’s safety and longevity. While there are numerous options available, polycrylic and polyurethane coats are the top choices of experienced remodelers. Although many new hardwood floor owners confuse the two, they have their strengths and disadvantages. Nonetheless, they add layers of protection to ensure you enjoy a beautiful set of wooden flooring for a long time.

Find which finishing coat suits your hardwood floors with Kelly Hardwood Floors today!