Is Polycrylic the Same as Polyurethane? Understanding the Differences

Polycrylic and Polyurethane are often used in woodworking, furniture, and crafts industries. But what exactly are they, and why are they so important? Let’s dive into the details.

Polycrylic: A water-based protective coat is known for its clarity and resistance to damage. It’s often used for light-colored woods and is favored for its quick drying time.

Polyurethane: Available in water- and oil-based forms, Polyurethane is a versatile finish offering more durable protection. It’s commonly used in various woodworking projects.

Both Polycrylic and Polyurethane are essential wood finishes that serve specific purposes:

Polycrylic: Ideal for interior projects like furniture, trim, cabinets, and crafts. It’s known for its low odor and easy cleanup with soap and water.

Polyurethane: Used for both indoor and outdoor projects, it provides a robust finish, especially the oil-based Polyurethane, which is known for its rich color.

Choosing Polycrylic vs. Polyurethane can make or break a project’s final appearance and durability in the woodworking and furniture industry. Brands like Minwax Polycrylic and Minwax Polyurethane have become household names, offering different finishes to suit various needs.

Comparison Between Polycrylic and Polyurethane

Understanding the differences between Polycrylic and Polyurethane is crucial for anyone involved in woodworking. Here’s a comprehensive comparison:

CompositionWater-based, clear finishAvailable in water and oil-based
DurabilityGood for light useHighly durable, suitable for heavy use
AppearanceClear, retains wood colorCan add a warm tone to the wood
Application MethodsBrush or sprayBrush, spray, or wipe
CostGenerally less expensiveIt can add a warm tone to the wood


  • Polycrylic: A water-based finish that’s known for its clear appearance.
  • Polyurethane: Offers more variety with water-based and oil-based options.


  • Polycrylic: Suitable for light use, such as decorative items.
  • Polyurethane: Known for its robust protection, especially when using oil-based finishes.


  • Polycrylic: Maintains the natural color of the wood.
  • Polyurethane: Oil-based Polyurethane can add a warm, amber tone to the wood.

Application Methods

  • Polycrylic: Can be applied with a brush or spray.
  • Polyurethane: Offers more flexibility with application methods, including brushing, spraying, or wiping.


  • Polycrylic: Often considered a more budget-friendly option.
  • Polyurethane: It can be more expensive depending on the type and brand.

The question of Polycrylic over Polyurethane or vice versa is not a simple one-size-fits-all answer. The choice between the two depends on the specific needs of your project, such as durability, appearance, and cost.

Can I Use Polycrylic Instead of Polyurethane?

Whether Polycrylic can be used instead of Polyurethane is a common question, especially among DIY enthusiasts and professionals in the woodworking and furniture industry. The answer, however, is not straightforward and depends on various factors.

Situations Where Substitution is Appropriate

  • Light Usage: If the project is intended for light use and doesn’t require heavy-duty protection, Polycrylic can be a suitable substitute.
  • Indoor Projects: Polycrylic is often preferred for indoor furniture and decorative items where waterproofing is not a primary concern.
  • Preference for Clear Finish: If retaining the natural color of the wood is essential, Polycrylic’s clear finish might be the preferred choice.

Pros and Cons of Substituting Polycrylic for Polyurethane

DurabilityLess durable, good for light useMore durable, suitable for heavy use
Water ResistanceNot as waterproofHighly waterproof, especially oil-based
AppearanceClear, no color changeCan alter wood color, especially oil-based
Ease of ApplicationEasier to apply, cleanRequires more care in application
CostGenerally less expensiveIt can be more costly

Practical Examples

  • Picture Frames and Decorative Items: Polycrylic can be an excellent choice for projects that don’t require heavy protection, such as picture frames or decorative crafts.
  • Dining Tables and Coffee Tables: If the project requires more durability and water resistance, such as a dining table, Polyurethane might be the better option, especially oil-based Polyurethane.
  • Children’s Furniture: For children’s furniture where a non-toxic, easy-to-apply finish is preferred, Polycrylic might be the suitable choice.

Is Polycrylic More Durable Than Polyurethane? Is Polycrylic Waterproof?

The decision to use Polycrylic instead of Polyurethane depends on the project’s specific requirements. While Polycrylic offers easy application and a clear finish, but it may not be as durable or waterproof as Polyurethane.

Understanding the differences and assessing the needs of your particular project will guide you in making the right choice. Whether it’s the durability of Polyurethane or the clear finish of Polycrylic, knowing when to use one over the other will ensure that your woodworking project turns out just how you want it.

Minwax Polycrylic: A Detailed Review

Regarding wood finishes, Minwax Polycrylic stands out as a tried-and-true option that has garnered the attention of woodworking enthusiasts and professionals alike. Consider its composition, uses, pros and cons, and customers’ opinions.


Minwax Polycrylic is a water-based finish known for its clear appearance. It’s available in various sheens, including Clear Satin Minwax Polycrylic, which provides a soft, smooth finish.


  • Furniture: Ideal for light-colored woods and indoor furniture.
  • Crafts: Suitable for decorative items and crafts that require a clear finish.
  • Cabinets and Trim: Often used on cabinets and trim for a durable yet clear finish.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
  • Easy to apply and clean up
  • Quick drying time
  • Low odor
  • Non-yellowing
  • Cons:
  • Not suitable for heavy-duty use
  • Less waterproof compared to oil-based finishes

Customer Reviews

Most customers appreciate the ease of use and the clear finish Minwax Polycrylic provides. Some have noted that it may not be the best choice for projects requiring extreme durability.

Minwax Polyurethane: A Detailed Review

In the realm of wood finishes, Minwax Polyurethane has established itself as a formidable contender, known for its durability and versatile application. Here’s a detailed review of its composition, uses, pros and cons, and customer feedback.


Minwax Polyurethane is available in both oil-based and water-based variants. The oil-based version, in particular, is renowned for its robust protection, thanks to its ability to form a hard, protective layer on the wood surface. This layer shields the wood from moisture, scratches, and the elements, ensuring longevity.


  • Indoor and Outdoor Furniture: Suitable for indoor and outdoor projects requiring strong protection.
  • Floors: Often used on wooden floors for their durability.
  • Cabinetry: Preferred for kitchen cabinets and other areas that may come into contact with water.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
  • Highly durable
  • Excellent water resistance, especially the oil-based variant
  • Adds a rich tone to the wood
  • Cons:
  • Longer drying time
  • Strong odor, particularly with oil-based Polyurethane
  • The application can be more challenging

Customer Reviews

Customers often praise Minwax Polyurethane for its durability and the beautiful finish it provides. Some users might find the application process more complex, especially with the oil-based version.

Polycrylic for Specific Uses

Polycrylic is a versatile finish that has specific applications where it shines. Let’s explore what Polycrylic is best for and where it can be most effectively used.

Indoor Use

  • Furniture: Polycrylic is often chosen for indoor furniture, especially when a clear finish is desired.
  • Crafts: Polycrylic provides a protective layer for crafts and artistic projects without altering the color of the underlying material.

Dining Tables

  • Casual Dining Tables: Polycrylic can be a good choice for casual dining tables where heavy wear and tear are not expected.

Safety Considerations

  • Non-Toxic: Polycrylic is known for its low odor and non-toxic nature, making it suitable for children’s furniture and toys.

Polyurethane for Specific Uses

Polyurethane is another widely-used finish with specific applications where it excels. Let’s delve into the best uses for Polyurethane, including outdoor use, kitchen cabinets, wood finishes, and safety considerations.

Outdoor Use

  • Outdoor Furniture: Polyurethane, especially the oil-based variant, offers robust protection against weather elements, making it suitable for outdoor furniture.
  • Decks and Porches: Polyurethane provides a durable finish that can withstand the elements for areas exposed to rain and sun.

Kitchen Cabinets

  • Water Resistance: Polyurethane’s water resistance makes it an excellent choice for kitchen cabinets with common moisture exposure.

Wood Finishes

  • Rich Appearance: Polyurethane can add a warm, rich tone to wood, enhancing its natural beauty.
  • Durability: Polyurethane is often the go-to for wood finishes requiring strong protection.

Safety Considerations

  • Ventilation Required: When using oil-based Polyurethane, proper ventilation is essential due to its strong odor and potential fumes.

Water-Based vs. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Choosing between water- and oil-based Polyurethane can significantly impact a woodworking project’s final appearance and durability. Let’s explore the differences between these two types of finishes.


  • Water-Based Polyurethane: Composed mainly of water, it dries clear and doesn’t alter the wood’s natural color.
  • Oil-Based Polyurethane: Contains oils that add a warm, amber tone to the wood.


  • Water-Based: Ideal for light-colored woods and projects where retaining the wood’s natural color is essential.
  • Oil-Based: Preferred for projects requiring robust protection, such as outdoor furniture and floors.

Environmental Impact

  • Water-Based: Generally considered more environmentally friendly due to lower VOC levels.
  • Oil-Based: May contain higher VOC levels, requiring proper ventilation during application.

Application Methods

  • Water-Based: Easier to apply and clean up, with quicker drying times.
  • Oil-Based: Requires more care in application and longer drying times but offers a richer finish.
AspectWater-Based PolyurethaneOil-Based Polyurethane
CompositionClear, doesn’t change wood colorAdds warm tone to wood
UsesLight-colored woods, indoor useRobust protection, outdoor use
Environmental ImpactLower VOCsEasier to apply, quickly dry
Application MethodsEasier to apply, quick dryRicher finish, longer dry time

Brands and Products

Regarding Polycrylic and Polyurethane, several brands and products stand out in the market. Here’s a look at some popular ones, including Minwax and Varathane.


  • Minwax Polycrylic: Known for its clear satin finish and ease of application.
  • Minwax Polyurethane: Available in both water-based and oil-based forms, offering versatility for various projects.


  • Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane: Favored for its clear finish and environmentally friendly composition.
  • Varathane Oil-Based Polyurethane: Known for its robust protection and rich appearance.

Product Reviews and Buying Guide

  • Minwax Polycrylic: Highly rated for indoor furniture and crafts.
  • Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane: Often praised for its clear finish and ease of use.

Application Tips and Techniques

Applying Polycrylic and Polyurethane requires careful attention to tools, preparation, safety measures, and technique. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you achieve a flawless finish with both Polycrylic and Polyurethane wood finishes.

Polycrylic Application


  • High-quality synthetic brush or foam brush
  • Sandpaper (220-grit)
  • Clean, lint-free cloth


  1. Sand the Surface: Ensure the wood surface is smooth by sanding with 220-grit sandpaper.
  2. Clean the Surface: Wipe away dust with a lint-free cloth.

Safety Measures

  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wear protective gloves if desired.

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Stirring: Before using the finish, give it a good stir to ensure an even distribution of solids and solvents.
  2. Testing: It’s wise to perform a test application on a small, inconspicuous area to gauge the finish’s compatibility with the wood and the desired outcome.
  3. Application: Dip your brush, roller, or sprayer into the finish and apply a thin, even coat. Work with the grain of the wood to ensure a smooth finish.
  4. Drying Time: The first coat will dry according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper before applying subsequent coats for improved adhesion.
  5. Repeat Coats: Depending on the desired level of protection and sheen, apply additional coats, allowing each one to dry and sanding between coats.
  6. Final Sanding: Once the final coat is applied and dried, gently sand with ultra-fine sandpaper to achieve a silky-smooth finish.
  7. Cleanup: Clean your brushes, rollers, and sprayers immediately after use using water for water-based finishes and appropriate solvents for oil-based finishes.

Polyurethane Application (Including Oil-Based Polyurethane Finishes)


  • Natural bristle brush (for oil-based) or synthetic brush (for water-based)
  • Sandpaper (220-grit)
  • Clean, lint-free cloth


  1. Sand the Surface: Same as Polycrylic preparation.
  2. Clean the Surface: Wipe away dust and ensure the surface is dry.

Safety Measures

  • Work in a well-ventilated area, especially for oil-based Polyurethane.
  • Wear protective gloves and a mask if needed.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Stir Polyurethane: Stir gently; avoid creating bubbles.
  2. Apply Thin Coats: Use the appropriate brush and apply thin coats, following the wood grain.
  3. Dry and Sand: Allow to dry as instructed, then lightly sand.
  4. Repeat: Apply additional coats, sanding between each.
  5. Final Touch: Wipe with a clean cloth to remove any dust.

Specific Use Cases: Kitchen Cabinets, Outdoor Use, Crafts, Dining Tables

Polycrylic and Polyurethane are versatile finishes that can be used in various applications. Here’s a guide to specific use cases, including kitchen cabinets, outdoor use, crafts, dining tables, and expert tips.

Kitchen Cabinets

  • Polycrylic: Suitable for cabinets that don’t require heavy-duty protection. Offers a clear finish.
  • Polyurethane: Preferred for kitchen cabinets due to its durability and water resistance, especially oil-based Polyurethane.
  • Expert Tip: Consider the overall look and functionality of the cabinets when choosing between Polycrylic and Polyurethane.

Outdoor Use

  • Polycrylic: Generally not recommended for outdoor use due to less waterproofing.
  • Polyurethane: Ideal for outdoor furniture, decks, and porches, especially oil-based Polyurethane.
  • Expert Tip: Apply multiple coats of Polyurethane for outdoor use to ensure robust protection.


  • Polycrylic: Excellent for crafts and decorative items that require a clear finish.
  • Polyurethane: For crafts that need a more durable finish.
  • Expert Tip: Test the finish on a small area to ensure it meets the desired appearance.

Dining Tables

  • Polycrylic: Suitable for casual dining tables where heavy wear and tear are not expected.
  • Polyurethane: Preferred for dining tables that require strong protection, especially from water and heat.
  • Expert Tip: Consider the daily usage and aesthetic preferences when choosing the finish for dining tables.


The journey through the world of Polycrylic and Polyurethane has revealed the unique characteristics, applications, and techniques associated with these popular wood finishes. Is There a Difference Between Polycrylic and Polyurethane? Yes, there is a significant difference between Polycrylic and Polyurethane. Polycrylic offers a clear finish and is best for light use, while Polyurethane provides robust protection suitable for various applications. Choosing between these finishes will depend on your specific project needs and desired outcomes.