How Many Coats of Polyurethane on Stairs to Get a Better Durability

Since the stairs see much use, it is recommended that you use 3 coats of polyurethane to protect them.

If you used a sealer previously, you might need two layers of water-based polyurethane, but don’t stop until the surface is smooth.

The second coat of polyurethane is applied within two to six hours following the first. Wait at least 24 hours before applying oil-based polyurethane, despite the guidelines of certain manufacturers.

The second coat of fast-drying polyurethane can be applied in as little as 4 to 6 hours. You might expect a longer delay if you thinned the product.

To speed up the drying process, thin the paint, but don’t go overboard because it requires additional coats.

How to polyurethane stairs

To ensure a flat and smooth surface, sand each stair using 120-grit sandpaper. Vacuum debris and dust and use a tack cloth to clean each step.

You should gently invert the polyurethane container 10 times before using it, and you should keep doing this as you work. The can should not be shaken.

In the paint finish, this will result in the formation of bubbles.

Apply a thin, evenly distributed layer of polyurethane using a paintbrush to the top step.

Overlapping each stroke helps to keep the paint moist. This prevents lap marks from forming.

Apply polyurethane to each step if you don’t have to use the stairs. Allow the stairwells to air dry for a minimum of two hours and a maximum of twelve hours, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Sand the polyurethane with 220-grit sandpaper to remove the gloss. After the first coat has dried, repeat the process with the second coat. Allow each stage to dry for 24 hours before applying a final layer. Don’t sand the polyurethane finish coat.

Tips for applying a coat of polyurethane on the stairs

Brush into the pores of the wood with the grain. This will provide a smooth finish.

Keep the polyurethane brush submerged inside the solvent, such as mineral spirit or water, while applying it to the surface. The brush will be easier to wipe clean.

Keep the brush away from the can’s edge.

Tap a brush over the container to remove any excess polyurethane.

Fine-grit sandpaper should be used when sanding the coatings. Because of this method, there will not be any blemishes lurking beneath the final layer.

If the surface isn’t entirely dry, don’t add another layer of polyurethane. This will not only result in streaks but also creates drips.

Polyurethane coating: what is it?

Polyurethane is a chemical solvent used to coat the wood surface.

You apply it to make the furniture last longer and look appealing. Oil-based polyurethane is the longer of the two types. Water-based is a relatively new invention.

The varnish formula we are familiar with is made by mixing polyurethane resin. Alkyd is found in nearly every varnish on the market, particularly the oil-based variety.

The coating’s endurance can be increased further by mixing it with polyurethane resin. As a result, polyurethane coatings are resistant to heat, scratches, and water.

Polyurethane resin is also used in a water-based mixture, although acrylic resin is mixed with alkyd resin.

The formula of the coating varies; therefore, its resistance may vary, but it also offers a variety of comfort benefits. If used for the correct reason, both have the same quality.

How many coats of polyurethane for your project?

For a high gloss, use three to four coats of oil-based polyurethane.

However, you may require adding a fifth coat if you notice surface drips. At least two layers are typically required for optimum glossiness and color depth.

Water-based polyurethane requires five or even six coats to achieve its full potential.

Three coats of it will be enough for a wood surface with less durability, but you may sacrifice smoothness. It also dries faster than oil-based because the formula is less thick.

How many coats of Oil-Based Polyurethane

  • 2 or 3 coats of oil-based polyurethane are needed for the material.
  • 3 coats of paint are enough unless you’re painting over a surface that gets used a lot.
  • Patios, walkways, desks, chairs, and tables are finished with 3 coats of polyurethane.
  • When coating something that won’t be used much, you should only use 2 coats of oil-based polyurethane.
  • More than 4 coats of oil-based polyurethane shouldn’t be used because it is more likely that the finish will fade over time.

How many coats of water-based polyurethane

  • You need 2–5 coats of polyurethane that is water-based.
  • It is advised to apply 3 coats of water-based polyurethane on surfaces that won’t be used frequently, such as those used for room décor.
  • You can put up to 5 coats of water-based polyurethane on heavily used or walked-on surfaces.
  • Water-based polyurethane can be painted in more coats than oil-based polyurethane because it doesn’t leave an oily film behind when it dries. So there is less chance that the polyurethane will turn yellow over time.
  • The finish may become cloudy if you put on more than 5 coats of water-based polyurethane.

Oil-Based Vs. Water-Based Polyurethane

When deciding between oil-based and water-based polyurethane, there are a few things to consider. Your choice will depend on your situation and how you answer each question.


Water-based polyurethane dries clear and doesn’t change or enhance the color of the wood underneath. It also doesn’t change color over time.

Oil-based polyurethane has an amber tint, making the wood a little darker and look better.

Oil-based polyurethane can also get darker with age.


When applied correctly, oil-based polyurethane lasts for about 10 years.

When used with care, high-quality water-based polyurethanes can also last up to 10 years. Most water-based products of lower quality last for five years before they need to be reapplied.

Polyurethane made from oil is softer than polyurethane made from water, which makes it harder to scratch.

Time To Dry

Water-based polyurethane requires a 2- to 3-hour drying time. The oil-based polyurethane sealant requires an 8- to 12-hour drying time.

With water-based polyurethane, it’s much easier to recoat or use the finished product than with oil-based products.


Either type of polyurethane gives off strong smells until it is scorched.

Since water-based products dry quickly, the smell problem in indoor spaces is significantly reduced, and a room is ready to be used much faster than when oil-based products are used.

Clean Up

Water-based products win in this case because they are easy to clean up with water or soapy water. Oil-based polyurethane needs mineral spirits or paints thinner, and it is more likely to catch fire and be hard to get rid of.

Coats Required

Because water-based products are thinner and raise the wood grain when applied, achieving the same smoothness as you would with an oil-based product, you will need to apply four coats of the water-based product instead of only two.

Oil-based polyurethane is a thicker product that needs fewer coats for protection.


Water-based polyurethanes cost more than oil-based polyurethanes. Because of the greater number of coats required, oil-based will be less expensive if cost is considered in your selection.

Easy To Apply

It’s easy to use oil-based polyurethane. It dries slowly, so you can use it more slowly and have time to fix any drips or mistakes.

Water-based products dry quickly, so you need the experience to do a good job.

How Many Coats of Polyurethane for Various Surfaces?

Let’s look at some of the most typical applications for polyurethane finish and the number of coats necessary for each.

How many Polyurethane coats do you need for cabinets?

For a professional-looking finish, cabinets should have at least three coats. It might look good if you only paint something once, but it won’t last as long.

The stain and whether the coat was water or oil-based determine the number of coatings of polyurethane required. You also must consider how to use the furniture and where to put it.

 If you must dismantle the cabinet, the coating consumes more poly, but the result is better because you cover the entire furniture surface.

How many coats of polyurethane on Wood Flooring?

For the flooring, you will need three coats of oil-based polyurethane and five coats of water-based polyurethane.

However, you will only need to apply three coats of water-based polyurethane to achieve the desired results. However, you should not apply more than four coats of oil-based polyurethane to the surface.

You can use two coats of polyurethane on surfaces with little foot traffic, such as the floor in the bedroom.

This is since these floors do not often have high foot traffic.

In addition, high heels and other types of footwear are not worn in the bedroom, which decreases the likelihood that the polyurethane will become dented or develop a hole.

How many polyurethane coatings should furniture have?

If you are refurbishing a piece of wood, apply two coats of polyurethane. More than five coats may be necessary to achieve a satisfactory outcome when recovering wood with color contrast.

Three coats may be sufficient if the surface has flaws, which should be depleted manually before applying a new one. Always check for tackiness when applying another layer so that you don’t have to worry about harming the result with additional coats.

To get a perfect finish, use a minimum of three layers of polyurethane on the table. If you want it to look glossy, you can apply additional coats. Allow plenty of time for each coat to dry completely before moving on to the next one.

How many polyurethane coats are on the baseboard trim?

You can use 3 coats of polyurethane on the trim. Baseboard trims are usually put at the bottom of the walls, so this makes sense.

Since it’s closer to the floor, it can be affected by footprints, dust, and weight, so it needs enough protection.

How many polyurethane coatings on indoor and outdoor wood?

For wood that will be used indoors, you can use two coats of polyurethane because the wood won’t be exposed to the weather.

For wood that will be outside, you need 3–4 coats of polyurethane because the wood will be exposed to the weather.

The polyurethane used on outdoor wood will be affected by rain, UV rays, light, and dust, so you need enough weather resistance.

It would be best if you always used exterior or outdoor polyurethane to paint on wood outside.

How many coats of polyurethane on exterior walls?

Use as much polyurethane as possible on the outside walls without ruining the finish. Most of the time, you’ll need 4 coats of oil-based exterior polyurethane. Or five coats of water-based exterior polyurethane on wood.

Exterior polyurethane is a good choice for surfaces that will be outside.

UV blockers and other special ingredients are put into exterior polyurethane to help the finish withstand harsh conditions.

These things are not in the polyurethane that is used inside. So, even if you use 6 coats of interior polyurethane, the finish won’t last long outside.

How many coats of polyurethane have you used on your pine walls?

Pine walls should have two or three coats of polyurethane.

Before applying the subsequent coat, you must wait until the polyurethane has completely dried. If you do not wait, the polyurethane will peel off.

How many coats of polyurethane do you put on wooden countertops?

Countertops require at least two layers of polyurethane.

Apply a third coat if the surface is going to be heavily utilized. If the wood grain is raised, you may add more than three coatings for water-based polyurethane.

Polyurethane should be applied to a kitchen table at least three times.

In the same way, as flooring is subjected to a great deal of wear and tear, the table will experience extra use such as cutlery, banging, banging, liquid spillage, and scratching. Therefore, it is necessary for extra protection.

Different Methods to Coat a Table with Polyurethane

At least three coats of polyurethane are needed to give the table a good finish. You can add more layers to make the table look shiny.

Spray coat finish

The spray coating makes the table appear to be more finished and complete.

The spray helps achieve a uniform distribution of the polyurethane layer.

Be sure to spray the table in the same direction throughout the process.

Sand each layer thoroughly after allowing it to dry for approximately two to three hours each.

If you want a smooth texture, wait at least 24 hours after applying the last application for it to dry completely.

It is suggested that you do not use the spray approach to coat your tabletop since the spray can cause unease in breathing.

Avoid coating your tabletop using the spray technique if you have respiratory difficulty.

Brush coat finish

The brush coat finish of the polyurethane can be a little bit challenging since you have to produce the coating mixture and brush it uniformly over the table.

This may be a minor inconvenience. Please ensure the polyurethane coat mixture is ready, and then brush it on the table.

The drying period should be allowed at least two hours between coats. Sand the layers down when they have dried.

Apply the finishing coat, then set it aside for more than a day to allow it to dry completely.

Related: Wipe-On Polyurethane

What Happens If Too Many Polyurethane Coats?

The smoothness of polyurethane in your materials is determined by the number of coats applied. Learn these ways to get a wonderfully smooth, long-lasting polyurethane coating.

Finish in Yellow

Too many coats of polyurethane give the material a yellow appearance, which may worsen with time due to oxidation. Scrape away the old layer that has a yellowing finish.

Sandpaper can be used dry or wet. To get the required finish, reapply the polyurethane.


If you apply too many coats, the coatings will get thicker and softer, resulting in peeling.

If the layer contains peelings from overcoating, scratch the peel away with a razor blade, sand for a superior surface, and then reapply polyurethane.

Uneven layers

More layers of polyurethane coats can result in uneven layers. You can correct this by sanding the uneven finish with sandpaper before reapplying polyurethane.

Increased Waiting Time

It will take longer if additional coats are layered because each layer must be dried before reapplying polyurethane coats. To avoid product damage, apply the appropriate coats of polyurethane to the materials.

Damage surface

As a finishing touch, apply polyurethane on bare wood and furniture. It is also capable of removing stains from wooden surfaces.

Adding too many coats can damage your materials rather than preserve them.

Avoid damage to your materials by applying the required coats and repairing any damage to increase their durability.

Tips for applying polyurethane

  • You must exercise extreme caution when applying the polyurethane finish. Instead of shaking the mixture, stir it. There is a chance that bubbles will emerge when you shake the polyurethane mix.
  • Apply water-based coating with a synthetic brush.
  • If you don’t want it to drip, use a light coat. Apply a second layer when the first one has had a chance to dry.
  • If it is the first layer, you do not thin the formula.
  • Because the initial coat needs to adhere to the wood and create an even surface, it should be slightly thicker.

In summary

How many coats of polyurethane you need depends greatly on the surface or material you are painting.

Don’t use more than 4 coats of polyurethane with an oil base or 5 coats of polyurethane with a water base.

Whether you sand between coats or not, you should put on 3 coats of polyurethane.

One coat of polyurethane isn’t enough, but two coats of polyurethane are better, and most manufacturers recommend that as the minimum.

Ensure you prepare the wood properly and give each coat of polyurethane enough time to dry before you lightly sand.

Best Polyurethane for Stairs

  • Bona Mega Semi-Gloss
  • Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane
  • Minwax 40910000 Wipe-On Poly
  • Minwax 63010444 Fast Drying Polyurethane
  • Varathane 200041H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane
  • Rust-Oleum Varathane 6041H Interior Oil Polyurethane
  • Deft Defthane Interior Exterior Clear Polyurethane
  • Minwax 230004444 Fast-Drying Polyurethane
  • General Finishes High-Performance Topcoat

Frequently Asked Questions

Scroll to Top