What is the Difference Between Urethane and Polyurethane?

Urethane and Polyurethane are terms that often pop up in various industries, especially coatings and materials. But what exactly are they? Are they the same or different? Urethane and Polyurethane are terms that are used interchangeably. Confused? Don’t be! They refer to various compounds used to cast mold, injection mold, or 3D print custom parts.

The term Polyurethane means that it contains multiple urethane groups. It’s a polymer consisting of repeating units chemically linked in a specific pattern, and some of these repeating units are urethane groups. These materials are vital in various applications, including producing tough elastomers with outstanding abrasion resistance, excellent oil resistance, and resistance to aliphatic solvents. They are also used in producing FDA-approved wet and dry food-grade urethanes, known for their toughness and abrasion resistance.

Acrylic Urethane and Polyurethane: What Sets Them Apart?

Now, let’s delve into the comparison between Acrylic Urethane and Polyurethane, exploring their chemical structure, applications, and the pros and cons of each.

Chemical Structure

The urethane group is highlighted in the chemical structure of these materials. The most typical combinations include:

  • TDI Polyester: Hardness ranging from 70A to 70D
  • MDI Polyester: Hardness ranging from 85A to 95A
  • TDI PTMEG Polyether: Hardness ranging from 90A to 70D
  • MDI PTMEG Polyether: Hardness ranging from 60A to 95A
  • TDI Polycaprolactone: Hardness ranging from 60A to 55D
  • NDI Polyester (Vulkollan®): Hardness ranging from 65A to 60D


Different combinations of these materials are used in various applications:

  • TDI Polyester materials cured with MOCA produce tough elastomers with outstanding abrasion resistance.
  • MDI Polyester materials cured with 1,4-Butanediol produce FDA wet and dry food-grade urethanes.
  • TDI PTMEG Polyether materials cured with MOCA have excellent low-temperature flexibility and dynamic properties.
  • MDI PTMEG Polyether materials cured with 1,4-Butanediol have high resilience and great dynamic properties.
  • TDI Polycaprolactone materials cured with MOCA have better hydrolysis resistance and great resistance to abrasion.
  • NDI Polyester cured with 1,4-Butanediol is trademarked as Vulkollan®, an ultra-high-performance material with the highest mechanical load-bearing ability.

Pros and Cons

The various combinations of Urethane and Polyurethane offer many benefits, including abrasion resistance, tear strength, and hydrolysis resistance. Some combinations provide excellent low-temperature flexibility and resistance to microbial attack. However, the choice of material must be carefully considered based on the specific application, as each combination has unique properties and potential limitations.

Applications of Urethane and Polyurethane

Urethane and Polyurethane are not limited to the world of coatings and molds. Their applications are vast and diverse, spanning across various industries.

Industrial Use

Flexible Polyurethane Foam

  • Consumer and Commercial Products: Used as cushioning for bedding, furniture, automotive interiors, carpet underlay, and packaging.
  • Market Share: Accounts for about 30% of North American polyurethane market.

Rigid Polyurethane Foam

  • Energy Efficiency: Used in roof and wall insulation, insulated windows, doors, and air barrier sealants.
  • Energy Consumption: Helps reduce energy costs by maintaining uniform temperature and lowering noise levels.

Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants, and Elastomers (CASE)

  • Versatility: Enhances product appearance, lifespan, bonding advantages, tighter seals, and resistance to environmental factors.

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)

  • Elasticity and Durability: Used in construction, automotive, and footwear for its flexibility and resistance to abrasion, impact, and weather.

Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)

  • Automotive and Construction: Used in car bumpers, electrical housing panels, computer and telecommunication equipment enclosures.


  • Manufacturing: Used in wood panels, rubber or elastomeric flooring surfaces, and sand casting for the foundry industry.

Waterborne Polyurethane Dispersions (PUDs)

  • Coatings and Adhesives: Used in industrial and commercial applications to meet federal regulations on VOCs and HAPs emissions.


  • Comfort and Efficiency: Used in car seats, bumpers, interior ceiling sections, body, spoilers, doors, and windows.
  • Fuel Economy: Reduces weight and increases fuel economy, comfort, corrosion resistance, insulation, and sound absorption.


  • Strength and Versatility: Used in floors, roofs, walls, windows, and doors for its excellent strength-to-weight ratio, insulation properties, durability, and design flexibility.

Wood Finishes

  • Flooring: Used as foam underlay or top coating for wood, parquet, or cement floors.
  • Protection: Resistant to abrasion and solvents, easy to clean and maintain.


  • Refrigerators and Freezers: Used as rigid foams for thermal insulation systems.


  • Boating Technology: Used in boat hulls, engine tubing, drive belts, hydraulic hoses, and seals.


  • Short-term Implants: Used in catheter and general-purpose tubing, hospital bedding, surgical drapes, wound dressings, and injection-molded devices.


  • Protection and Transportation: Used to protect and transport electronic and medical diagnostic equipment, delicate glassware, and large industrial parts.


  • Lightweight and Stretchable Garments: Used in spandex fibers, polyurethane coatings, and thermoplastic elastomers.


  • Encapsulation and Insulation: Used to encapsulate, seal, and insulate microelectronic components, underwater cables, and printed circuit boards.


  • Furniture and Bedding: Used in home furnishings such as furniture, bedding, and carpet underlay.

Urethane vs. Polyurethane in Wood Flooring and Furniture

When it comes to wood flooring and furniture, particularly table tops, the choice of finish can significantly affect appearance, durability, and cost. Two popular choices in this domain are Urethane and Polyurethane.



  • Durability: Urethane is known for its robustness and ability to resist wear and tear. It’s a suitable choice for high-traffic areas.
  • Resistance: It offers good resistance to water, heat, and chemicals, making it a practical choice for kitchen tables or outdoor furniture.
  • Longevity: Urethane tends to last longer without the need for frequent reapplications.


  • Durability: Polyurethane is slightly less durable than urethane but still offers a strong finish.
  • Resistance: It provides excellent resistance to scratches and is often used for flooring in residential spaces.
  • Longevity: Polyurethane may require more frequent maintenance, especially in areas exposed to heavy use.



  • Finish: Urethane offers a glossy finish that can enhance the natural beauty of the wood.
  • Color: It may slightly darken the wood, giving it a rich and warm appearance.


  • Finish: Polyurethane comes in various finishes, including glossy, semi-gloss, and matte, providing more options for customization.
  • Color: It tends to be more transparent, preserving the natural color of the wood.



  • Price: Urethane is generally more expensive due to its superior durability and resistance properties.
  • Value: Its long-lasting nature may justify the higher cost, especially for commercial applications.


  • Price: Polyurethane is usually more affordable and widely available.
  • Value: It offers good value for money, especially for residential use where extreme durability may not be required.

Best Choice for Table Tops

When considering the best choice for table tops, urethane and Polyurethane have their merits.

  • Urethane: If you’re looking for a finish that can withstand heavy use, urethane, specifically Spar Urethane, might be the ideal choice. Its resistance to water and heat makes it suitable for kitchen tables.
  • Polyurethane: For a more aesthetic appeal with various finish options, Polyurethane might be the way to go. It’s a popular choice for dining tables and decorative furniture.

Exploring the Differences Between Cast Urethane and Polyurethane

In manufacturing and production, Cast Urethane and Polyurethane are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same.

Manufacturing Process

Cast Urethane

  • Casting Method: Cast Urethane is produced using a casting process where the material is poured into molds and allowed to cure.
  • Flexibility: This process allows for greater design flexibility and is suitable for producing complex shapes.
  • Prototyping: Often used for rapid prototyping, it allows for quick and cost-effective production of small quantities.


  • Casting Method: Polyurethane can be cast, sprayed, or injected, offering a broader range of production methods.
  • Versatility: It’s a versatile material tailored to specific needs, such as hardness or elasticity.
  • Mass Production: More suitable for mass production due to its adaptability to various manufacturing techniques.


Cast Urethane

  • Medical Devices: Used in medical equipment and device production due to its biocompatibility.
  • Automotive Parts: Ideal for producing specialized automotive components.
  • Custom Products: Suitable for creating custom products with intricate designs.


  • Construction: Widely used in construction for insulation and structural components.
  • Furniture: Common in furniture manufacturing, especially for cushioning.
  • Industrial Equipment: Used in various industrial applications due to its durability and resistance properties.


Cast Urethane

  • Durability: Offers excellent durability and wear resistance.
  • Customization: Can be customized to achieve specific mechanical properties.
  • Color Options: Available in a wide range of colors and finishes.


  • Strength: Known for its high tensile strength and impact resistance.
  • Variety: Comes in various forms, including foams, elastomers, and coatings.
  • Environmental Resistance: Resistant to weather, chemicals, and UV radiation.

Urethane vs. Polyurethane in Car Paint: A Detailed Comparison

The automotive industry is filled with choices, and when it comes to car paint, the decision between Urethane and Polyurethane can be a bit confusing. These terms are often used interchangeably, but subtle differences might influence your choice.



  • Chemical Structure: Urethane, or “urethane linkage,” is a key building block in some polymers, contributing to greater toughness and durability.
  • Resistance: Offers good resistance to environmental factors.
  • Application: Suitable for high-performance vehicles and commercial applications.


  • Chemical Structure: Polyurethane is formed by the reaction of “polyols” with “polyisocyanates,” It’s technically a polyurethane since it contains many urethane linkages.
  • Versatility: The type of polyol and polyisocyanate used can greatly vary the performance, making it adaptable to different needs.
  • Application: Commonly used in various automotive coatings, including clear or colored finishes.



  • Finish: Urethane typically offers a glossy finish that enhances the vehicle’s appearance.
  • Color Options: Available in a wide range of colors and finishes.


  • Finish: Comes in various finishes, including glossy, semi-gloss, and matte, providing more customization options.
  • Color Options: Tends to be more transparent, preserving the natural color of the underlying paint.



  • Durability: Known for its robust nature and ability to resist wear and tear.
  • Maintenance: Tends to last longer without the need for frequent reapplications.


  • Durability: Slightly less durable than urethane but still offers a strong finish.
  • Maintenance: May require more frequent maintenance, especially in areas exposed to heavy use.

Spar Urethane and Polyurethane: Unraveling the Differences

Regarding wood finishes, Spar Urethane and Polyurethane are two popular choices. But what sets them apart?

What is Spar Urethane?

Spar Urethane is a durable, self-leveling sealer used to protect wood. It’s available in oil-based and water-based versions, with the former being more common. Spar Urethane is transparent but has a slightly yellowish tint due to its high resin content. Originally designed to preserve the wooden parts of sailing vessels, it’s now used for doors, window sashes, and outdoor furniture.


  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor use
  • Resistant to extreme weather conditions
  • Contains UV blockers to reduce sun fading


  • Oil-based version has strong fumes
  • Long drying times

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a synthetic polymer used to protect interior wood projects. Available in oil-based or water-based formulas, it’s a tough finish that resists chips and scratches. Ideal for furniture, cabinets, and flooring, Polyurethane is resistant to moisture, fungus, mildew, heat, and chemicals.


  • Smooth, durable, abrasion-resistant coating
  • Resistant to water, fungus, and mildew
  • Can be brushed, wiped, or sprayed


  • Oil-based version has strong fumes
  • Can darken or yellow with time

Differences Between Spar Urethane and Polyurethane

  1. Amount of Oil: Spar Urethane contains more oil, making it more flexible and less likely to chip or crack. Polyurethane is harder and not as flexible.
  2. Indoor vs Outdoor: Spar Urethane is ideal for exterior projects, while Polyurethane is better suited for indoor applications.
  3. Drying Times: Both have similar drying times, with water-based versions drying more quickly.
  4. Application: Both can be brushed, wiped, or sprayed, but Spar Urethane can be thinned with a paint sprayer.
  5. Fumes: Both oil-based versions have strong odors, but water-based products have a milder smell.
  6. Price: The costs are usually comparable, depending on the brand.

Spar Urethane or Polyurethane: Which is Better for Your Project?

Spar Urethane is the better choice for outdoor projects exposed to harsh conditions. It’s flexible and contains additives to resist UV light. Polyurethane offers a durable and chip-resistant coating for indoor projects like furniture and cabinetry.

Safety Considerations

When using these products, proper safety gear is essential. Oil-based products release fumes that can cause health issues and are combustible. Always apply in a well-ventilated area and wear goggles, a respirator, and gloves.

Understanding Urethane

Urethane, a term often used interchangeably with Polyurethane, is a fascinating compound with many applications. But what exactly is urethane?

Chemical Properties of Urethane

Urethane, or ethyl carbamate, is an organic compound with the formula (NH2COOC2H5). It’s a colorless, crystalline substance soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. Urethane is used as a starting material for synthesizing polyurethanes, which are polymers formed by the reaction of a polyol with a diisocyanate or a polymeric isocyanate.

Key Properties:

  • Molecular Weight: 89.09 g/mol
  • Melting Point: 48-50°C
  • Boiling Point: 163-165°C
  • Density: 1.07 g/cm³

Uses of Urethane

  1. Polyurethane Production: Urethane is a building block for Polyurethane, used in foams, adhesives, coatings, and elastomers.
  2. Medical Applications: In pharmaceuticals, urethane has been used as a hypnotic agent, though its use has declined due to potential toxicity.
  3. Industrial Applications: Urethane produces wheels, rollers, and seals, offering excellent abrasion resistance.
  4. Agricultural Uses: Urethane compounds are used in pesticides and herbicides.
  5. Cosmetic Industry: Urethane derivatives are used in personal care products like shampoos and conditioners.

Benefits of Urethane

  • Durability: Urethane offers exceptional wear and abrasion resistance, making it suitable for industrial components.
  • Flexibility: It can be formulated to be very rigid or flexible, allowing for a wide range of applications.
  • Chemical Resistance: Urethane resists oils, solvents, and other chemicals, making it ideal for harsh environments.
  • Environmental Friendliness: Water-based urethane coatings are low in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), making them more environmentally friendly.

Are Urethane and Polyurethane Identical?

“urethane” and “polyurethane” are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion and misconceptions. Are they identical, or are there underlying differences? Let’s embark on an in-depth analysis to unravel the similarities and differences between these two entities.

Chemical Structure


  • Definition: Urethane, or ethyl carbamate, is a single compound with the formula (NH2COOC2H5).
  • Structure: It’s a simple organic compound that can be used as a building block for more complex polymers.


  • Definition: Polyurethane is a polymer made by reacting polyols with diisocyanates or polymeric isocyanates.
  • Structure: It contains multiple urethane linkages, hence the prefix “poly-,” indicating many.

Common Misconceptions

  1. Same Material: People often think urethane and Polyurethane are the same material. While urethane is a component of Polyurethane, they are not identical.
  2. Interchangeable Terms: In the commercial world, “urethane” is often used to describe polyurethane products, leading to confusion.

Practical Differences


  • Applications: Used in synthesizing pharmaceuticals pesticides and as a polyurethane starting material.
  • Properties: A simple compound with specific chemical characteristics.


  • Applications: Extensively used in foams, coatings, adhesives, and elastomers.
  • Properties: A complex polymer with diverse properties that can be tailored to specific needs.


  1. Urethane Linkages: Both urethane and Polyurethane contain urethane linkages, but Polyurethane has many, forming a polymer.
  2. Commercial Naming: In the market, products made from Polyurethane are often labeled as “urethane.”

Comparing Urethane and Polyurethane: Which is Superior?

The debate between urethane and Polyurethane often boils down to a question of superiority. Which one is better? As with many things in life, the answer is not so straightforward.

Performance Comparison


  • Strength: Urethane offers excellent wear and abrasion resistance.
  • Flexibility: It can be formulated to be very rigid or very flexible.
  • Resistance: Resistant to oils, solvents, and other chemicals.


  • Strength: Known for its high tensile strength and impact resistance.
  • Versatility: Can be tailored to specific needs, such as hardness or elasticity.
  • Environmental Resistance: Resistant to weather, chemicals, and UV radiation.



  • Price: Generally more expensive due to its superior durability and resistance properties.
  • Value: Its long-lasting nature may justify the higher cost, especially for commercial applications.


  • Price: Usually more affordable and widely available.
  • Value: Offers good value for money, especially for residential use where extreme durability may not be required.

Application-Specific Superiority

  1. Outdoor Furniture: Spar Urethane is superior due to its flexibility and resistance to UV light.
  2. Industrial Equipment: Polyurethane is preferred for its high tensile strength and impact resistance.
  3. Automotive Paint: Both have their merits, with urethane offering greater toughness and Polyurethane providing more customization options.
  4. Wood Flooring: Depending on the desired appearance and durability, either could be superior.

Urethane vs. Polyurethane: A Battle of Wood Finishes

In wood finishes, two contenders often face off: Urethane and Polyurethane. Both are popular choices, but how do they compare?

Types of Wood Finishes


  • Oil-Based: Offers a rich, glossy finish with excellent durability.
  • Water-Based: Provides a clear finish with less odor and faster drying times.


  • Oil-Based: Known for its deep, warm glow and long-lasting protection.
  • Water-Based: Dries quickly, has low odor, and maintains the wood’s natural color.



  • Outdoor Furniture: Excellent for outdoor applications due to UV resistance.
  • High-Traffic Areas: Suitable for floors and surfaces that endure heavy wear.


  • Interior Furniture: Ideal for tables, chairs, and cabinetry.
  • Wood Flooring: Commonly used for wood floors, providing a durable finish.

Selection Criteria

  1. Durability: Urethane generally offers greater durability, while Polyurethane provides adequate protection for most indoor applications.
  2. Appearance: Urethane may yellow over time, while water-based Polyurethane remains clear.
  3. Ease of Application: Both can be brushed or sprayed, but water-based options dry faster and are easier to clean up.
  4. Environmental Considerations: Both water-based versions are more environmentally friendly due to lower VOCs.
  5. Cost: Polyurethane is typically more affordable, making it a popular choice for DIY enthusiasts.

Frequently asked questions

Urethane and Polyurethane are terms that often pop up in various industries, from construction to automotive. With their widespread use comes a plethora of questions and misconceptions.

Are Urethane and Polyurethane the Same Thing?

No, urethane is a single compound, while Polyurethane is a polymer containing multiple urethane linkages. They are related but not identical.

Can I Use Urethane for Outdoor Furniture?

Spar Urethane is designed for outdoor use and offers UV resistance and flexibility.

Is Polyurethane Safe for Food Contact Surfaces?

When properly cured, food-grade Polyurethane is available and safe for food contact surfaces.

Which is Better for Wood Floors, Urethane or Polyurethane?

Both have their merits. Urethane offers greater durability, while Polyurethane provides a versatile finish. The choice depends on the specific needs of the project.

Can I Paint Over Polyurethane?

Yes, but proper surface preparation, such as sanding and priming, is essential for good adhesion.

Is Water-Based Urethane as Durable as Oil-Based?

Water-based urethane is generally less durable than oil-based but offers faster drying times and lower odor.

What’s the Difference Between Acrylic Urethane and Polyurethane?

Acrylic urethane is a type of Polyurethane that uses acrylic resins. It offers excellent UV resistance and color retention, while traditional Polyurethane may become yellow.

Can I Use Polyurethane on Metal?

Yes, Polyurethane can be used on metal surfaces to provide a protective coating against corrosion and wear.

How Long Does Urethane Take to Dry?

Drying times vary based on the type of urethane (oil or water-based) and environmental conditions. Typically, it takes 24 to 48 hours to cure fully.

Is Polyurethane Environmentally Friendly?

Water-based Polyurethane is considered more environmentally friendly due to lower VOCs. Oil-based versions may contain higher levels of harmful chemicals.

Table Comparison: Urethane vs. Polyurethane

Comparing urethane and Polyurethane can be complex, given their diverse properties and applications. Visual aids like tables, charts, and infographics can simplify this comparison, providing a clear and concise overview.

Table 1: Basic Properties Comparison

DefinitionSingle compoundPolymer with multiple linkages
AppearanceColorless, crystallineVarious forms and colors
ApplicationsPharmaceuticals, pesticidesFoams, coatings, adhesives
DurabilityHighVaries based on formulation
Environmental ImpactVariesWater-based is eco-friendly

Chart 1: Application Areas

  • Urethane: Industrial components (40%), Pharmaceuticals (30%), Agricultural (20%), Others (10%)
  • Polyurethane: Foams (35%), Coatings (25%), Adhesives (20%), Elastomers (15%), Others (5%)

Infographic 1: Selection Guide

  • Purpose: Indoor vs. Outdoor
  • Budget: Cost-effective vs. Premium
  • Environmental Considerations: Eco-friendly options
  • Appearance Preferences: Glossy, matte, clear, etc.

Table 2: Comparison in Wood Finishes

PropertyUrethane (Oil-Based)Urethane (Water-Based)Polyurethane (Oil-Based)Polyurethane (Water-Based)
AppearanceGlossyClearWarm GlowClear
Drying TimeSlowerFasterSlowerFaster

Final Thoughts on Urethane vs. Polyurethane

The exploration of urethane and Polyurethane is a diverse exploration of their strengths, weaknesses, and applications. These materials, from construction to automotive, furniture, and pharmaceuticals, are vital daily. Understanding their unique characteristics and applying them wisely unlocks their potential, showcasing the rich tapestry of science, art, and innovation in the seemingly mundane world of materials. These materials challenge us to think, create, and innovate, turning ordinary objects into extraordinary creations.