What is Polycrylic and How Should I Apply It?

Save for later!

How Long Does it Take for Polycrylic to Cure

If you are a carpenter, woodworker, DIY person, or anything in between, if you work with wood, you know that it has to be specially treated to endure. Wood pieces have to be finished with a special layer to add protection from moisture, light, and the elements.

Using a finish on the wood is also ideal because it helps protect the paint underneath and keeps colors vibrant and intact for much longer than they otherwise would.

A good finish can even help add some color and/or gloss to the mix as well. One of the best types of finished and protective agents for wood is Polycrylic.

Today we want to talk all about Polycrylic, what it is, how to use it, how it is applied, and much more. Let’s get right to it and tell you all about this awesome protective and finishing agent for wood.

What is Polycrylic?

Technically speaking, Polycrylic is a water-based protective coating. The main purpose of Polycrylic is to protect the wood. Polycrylic comes available in a variety of finishes including high gloss and satin finishes.


Not only does Polycrylic come with the benefit of protecting wood pieces from various forms of damage, like water damage, but it also helps add some beauty to the mix too.

Depending on the type or color of Polycrylic you use, it can help add some nice color or a glossy finish to your wood pieces. Polycrylic is often used as a finish for things like doors, cabinets, furniture, and other pieces of wood.

Types of Polycrylic

There are two main types of Polycrylic that you can use:

  1. spray-on or aerosol Polycrylic
  2. roll-on Polycrylic

Spray-on Polycrylic

Spray-on Polycrylic

Spray-on Polycrylic is a good option to go with if you just want to apply a thin layer really quickly.

It sprays out of an aerosol bottle and is quite easy to apply. This ease of use is probably its biggest benefit.

It does dry very fast because it comes out in a thin layer, but applying a very even layer, especially without getting air pressure marks, can be a bit difficult.

There is also the fact that aerosols in spray cans are not very good for the environment, plus these aerosol Polycrylic cans are usually fairly limited in terms of quantity.

It is best used for smaller projects.

Roll-on Polycrylic

Roll-on Polycrylic

On the other hand, you have roll-on Polycrylic, which usually comes in a can just like paint. These cans tend to be fairly large and they are best used for larger projects.

There are also more varieties of roll-on Polycrylic. However, the downfall of a roll-on Polycrylic is that it is hard to apply without noticeable brush strokes.

It also dries very fast, so when using a brush or roller, you have to be very quick to get the right look before it dries.

What Polycrylic Is Recommended?

There are several different brand names of Polycrylic available, but our personal favorite is a popular one in the industry for good reason.

It works well, is competitively priced, and available in a multitude of finishes, colors, aerosols, and cans.

Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish

The product we would most highly recommend is called Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. For $20, you get a full quart of Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish, which is a really great price for quite a large quantity.

Next, keep in mind that this is the roll-on variety, so you need to use a brush or roller to apply it to wood, just like you would with paint or varnish.

For this reason, this particular product is best used for larger projects and for flat pieces of wood.

Furthermore, this particular Polycrylic is very fast drying and it only takes a few minutes to begin setting.

So, while you do have to work fast to apply even and good looking layers of it, it does dry fast, which many views as a bonus.

Now, keep in mind that Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish goes on clear, and dries clear. It features a crystal-clear finish and it does not provide extra color or any kind of gloss.

Therefore, while it is not the best for adding aesthetic qualities, it is a really good option for protecting your woodwork pieces for light and moisture damage, and to keep the paint underneath intact for a much longer time than without the finish.

What is also nice, is that this finish is very easy to clean up with some soap and warm water, at least when it is still wet.


  • Very fast drying
  • Provides ideal protection for wood
  • Good quantity for a great price
  • Cleans up easily


  • Not ideal for very small and intricate projects
  • Requires a brush and/or roller to apply

Why Apply Polycrylic?

Let’s quickly talk about why you should apply Polycrylic to your woodworking projects.

Polycrylic is a protective layer, which is something you should apply to your woodworking projects.

It forms a solid seal over any piece of wood and therefore protects your projects from damage that can be caused by temperatures, water, and light.

Polycrylic is a good option because you can find clear, satin, and glossy finishes.

Simply put, you could use the clear variety to protect the paint underneath, or you could use the glossy or satin options for something more glamorous or ornate.

How Long Does it Take for Polycrylic to Cure?

How Long Does it Take for Polycrylic to Cure

Applying Polycrylic and letting it cure does take some knowledge.

Polycrylic is very fast drying, much faster than most other finishes or varnishes, but that said, it does not dry or cures instantly.

First, whenever you are using Polycrylic, it is always recommended that you apply 3 layers, as 1 or even 2 will usually not suffice.

Polycrylic will dry to the touch within about 30 minutes, and it can then be handled about 1 hour after application.

However, keep in mind that you should recoat it, and you can apply the second coat of Polycrylic 2 hours after the first application, and then repeat this for the third coating as well.

After you have applied the third and final coating of Polycrylic, you should wait for at least 24 hours to fully cure.

So, generally speaking, depending on how much you applied, it should take roughly 24 hours for Polycrylic to fully cure.

How to Apply Polycrylic

Let’s quickly go over exactly how you need to prepare a surface so you can apply Polycrylic. It might sound complicated, but there is actually not all that much to it.

Repair dents and cracks

Before you apply Polycrylic, you need to repair any dents and cracks that may be in the wood piece.

If you are creating a new piece, there should not be dents or cracks, but if you are working on an older piece, then this does need to be done.

You don’t want it seeping into cracks, as this will result in uneven application.

Clean the surface

The other thing that you need to do before applying Polycrylic is to clean the surface. You do not want any dust, dirt, or other debris getting stuck under it.

Once that stuff is stuck under the Polycrylic layer, it is there for good; not only will it look bad, but it will also create streaks during the application process.

How to Apply Polycrylic Spray

When using the aerosol variety of Polycrylic, first off, be sure to follow the steps above in terms of making sure there are no cracks and cleaning the piece.

The aerosol variety is very easy to apply, but be sure to read the instructions on the specific product you have, as different products have different guidelines.

Generally speaking, you want to hold the spray about 1 foot away from the piece and apply an even layer, making sure that you are somewhere with no or minimal airflow.

You will also want to wear a protective breathing mask when doing this, just so you do not inhale any. This is best used for smaller projects.

How to Apply Polycrylic With a Brush

Applying Polycrylic with a brush is also fairly easy and straightforward.

Once again, you want to clean and repair your workpiece before applying Polycrylic with a brush.

When doing this, you want to use a high-quality synthetic brush. Now, the hard part here is avoiding streaks and brush marks.

To avoid brush marks, make sure to use a high-quality and fine bristle brush, make sure to only apply the Polycrylic in a single direction, and always go with the grain of the wood.

Do not apply too much pressure to the brush, and make sure to only apply a thin layer.

It is better to use 2 or 3 thin layers, rather than a thick layer at once.

Tips For Applying Polycrylic Over Paint

Yes, it is possible to apply Polycrylic over paint, but it is a little bit tricky.

What you need to do is apply 2 or 3 layers of the paint before you get started. Make sure that the paint is totally dry.

Now you want to use very fine sandpaper, just to sand it a little bit in order to get some texture going on the paint.

Normal dried paint is too smooth and the Polycrylic will not stick right, so sand it slightly.

Other than that, applying Polycrylic over paint is the same as applying it on unfinished or unpainted wood.

Tips for Applying Polycrylic Over Stain

Once again applying Polycrylic over stain is the exact same as with applying it over paint.

Just make sure that the stain is completely dry and that you have a couple of layers of it.

Lightly sand the stain to create some texture, and then apply the Polycrylic using the techniques we discussed.

Can You Paint Over Polycrylic?

Technically speaking, yes you could paint over Polycrylic, but it is somewhat pointless.

The whole point of Polycrylic is to be a protective coating over wood and paint, so painting over it is somewhat counterproductive.

Applying Polycrylic Over Vinyl Decals

Yes, you can apply Polycrylic over vinyl decals. Keep in mind that normal decals can be easily removed from most surfaces.

However, if you go over vinyl decals with Polycrylic, they are there for good. The Polycrylic will seal the decals in place and you won’t be able to get them off again.

If this appeals to you, just ensure that you follow proper brushing instructions to prevent visible streaks.

Alternatives to Polycrylic

There are some alternatives to Polycrylic, but quite honestly, we would recommend using Polycrylic over all alternatives.

You could go with polyurethane, which can be oil-based, whereas Polycrylic is only water-based. There are also bio-paints, Candelilla wax, and various oils that can be used.

Related Article: Free Scroll Saw patterns, a great resource for those who are looking for a new project!

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane

Technical terms can get a little, well, technical. This section will help you understand the difference between polycrylic and polyurethane.

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is more common than polycrylic, even though they are actually used for the same task.

When you want to apply a protective finish to a project, it’s important to know which one is best. And within the category of polyurethane, there are two types: oil-based and water-based.

Oil-based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane is the more durable choice. It can withstand higher temperatures and is better suited for hot climates.

It is, however, slower to dry than water-based polyurethane so it is sure to factor this in, especially if you are working on a large project that may need a few coats.

You will want to use an oil-based polyurethane on surfaces that may become wet, such as kitchen tables, wood flooring, or other wood surfaces.

Water-based Polyurethane

If you’re short on time, water-based polyurethane is your best bet. It will dry quickly and doesn’t give off as strong an odor as oil-based polyurethane.

However, water-based polyurethane is not as durable. It is best used for smaller, indoor objects such as end tables, bookshelves, and desks.

How Long For Polyurethane To Dry

Polyurethane is often used to coat hardwood floors. It is a clear coating that allows the vibrancy of the wood to dry. However, it does take a while to dry, sometimes up to 48 hours, so you need to factor in this drying time.

How long for polyurethane to dry? There are two types of polyurethane and they take different amounts of time to dry. Oil-based polyurethane takes 48 hours to walk on with shoes, although if you really need to get across it, you can wear socks and walk on the floor after 24 hours or place another layer on top. As for water-based polyurethane, it is much quicker as it only takes 24 hours to walk on. Again, if you really need to get across it or are ready to apply another layer, you only have to wait 6 hours.

Polyurethane Cure Time Table

 Water-based polyurethaneOil-based polyurethane
Ready for next layer6 to 8 hours24 hours
Dried and not tacky24 hours48 hours
Can place furniture1 to 2 days3 to 4 days
Fully cured20 to 25 days30 to 35 days

Polyurethane Drying and Curing

The process of polyurethane starts with drying, where the thinner agent evaporates. Basically, once your floor is no longer tacky, it is dry and you can start to walk on it.

After this, the curing process begins which leads your floor with the hard and durable finish you are looking for.

Curing takes a lot longer and while it starts to cure after 24 to 48 hours, the whole process can actually take a few weeks. Don’t worry as you can start to use your flooring during this process.

Factors That Influence Curing Times


In order for polyurethane to cure, the oxygen in the air needs to interact with the chemicals in the coating. A higher air temperature will cause the polyurethane to cure quicker.

If you can, set your thermostat for at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Or, work in early fall or late spring to reach the ideal temperatures.


Similar to temperature, humidity can greatly affect the curing time of polyurethane. The more humid it is, the more moisture in the air, which prolongs the curing time.

For those that live in a humid climate, consider borrowing a dehumidifier when working with polyurethane so you can speed up the curing time.

Thickness of Layers

Again, the process of curing is all about bonding. If you have multiple layers of polyurethane, or even just a thicker coat, it will take more time for the mixture to bond properly.

While you might think a thicker coat is more durable, you may want to apply to or three thinner coats. This way the mixture can properly bond through all the layers.

Tips and Tricks for a Faster Drying Time

Keep your doors and windows open

Not only does this lessen the chemical smell, but it allows air to circulate which will allow the polyurethane to dry quicker.

 Lower the humidity

If you can, work with polyurethane when it isn’t too humid out. If you can’t reschedule this task, use a dehumidifier in the room to remove excess moisture from the air.

Don’t use a space heater

While a higher temperature will decrease the drying time, don’t turn on all your heaters. Polyurethane is very flammable and an artificial heat source poses a fire hazard.

Use a water-based polyurethane

While oil-based polyurethane has a slight tint to it that many people really want, if you aren’t picky about this, use a water-based coating instead. It will dry completely clear and takes half the time to both dry and cure.

Polycrylic vs Polyurethane Difference


If you have a small surface to cover, polycrylic will work just fine. For a large surface, you will probably want to try polyurethane.

When you apply polycrylic, you will need to apply thin coats and be mindful of drips. Its consistency is a lot thinner than polyurethane so drips and beading are more of an issue.

Polycrylic also dries quicker. This is a nice bonus for smaller projects but can create an uneven finish on large projects.

Polyurethane is easier to apply and the result is a nice, protective coat.


Once dry, both polycrylic and polyurethane don’t pose any hazards. However, in its liquid form, polyurethane is very flammable.

Please store any polyurethane in a safe, dry area, away from the home if possible.

When applying polyurethane, it is recommended to wear respiratory protection so that it doesn’t enter your lungs. If you have the option, choose water-based polyurethane as it is less potent than oil-based.

Polycrylic will still have an odor but it is not as strong and not as toxic. You don’t have to wear any protective gear when applying polycrylic.


Both polycrylic and polyurethane are durable products. They are meant to create a finish that protects your furniture from damage.

However, polyurethane is best, especially oil-based. This is what you will want for wooden floors or kitchen tables.

Basically, if everyday wear and tear are an issue, go for the strongest, most durable finish.

How to Get Polyurethane Off Hands

Using polyurethane to coat your hardwood floors is a common task. While you should always use gloves when applying it, there may be a time when it comes into contact with your skin. Find out some easy ways you can remove polyurethane from your hands.

How to get Polyurethane off hands? Polyurethane does not pose a serious, immediate risk to your hands so if you do get some on you, the first step is to not panic. Head to the sink and use warm soapy water to get most of it off. If this isn’t working, you can use mineral spirits which help to break down the polyurethane, after which you can then wash it all off. If, however, you want a more natural remedy, coat your hands with peanut butter, rub them together, and then you can wash everything off.

How do you remove polyurethane from skin?

Wash your hands

Immediately after getting polyurethane on your hands, head to the sink and wash them with warm soapy water. If you have dish soap, such as Dawn, it can help to break the chemical bonds better.

Rinse and dry your hands and then assess if they need a different cleaning method.

Mineral spirits

Before you start any project with polyurethane, you should make sure you have mineral spirits on hand. This is a clear liquid that is used to thin paint or substances like polyurethane, but unlike traditional paint thinner, can be used on your hands.

Rinse your hands in a sink with mineral spirits, or apply it first to a clean cloth and then rub your hands. Just be sure to perform this task in a well-ventilated area and away from an open flame as mineral spirits are flammable.

Peanut butter

It might seem surprising, but peanut butter is an efficient and natural way to remove polyurethane from your hands. Simply rub some peanut butter on your hands and then wash everything away.

The peanut butter works to coat your hands and absorb some of the chemical. If you need to, you can repeat the action until it is all gone.

Things to consider when choosing a sealer

Before you purchase a sealer, really think about the project you are working on.

Consider how large it is, how often it will be used, and how much time you have to work on it. To get the best results, carve out some uninterrupted time to ensure you get the finish you really want.

Additional Tips for Working With Polycrylic

  • Always use Polycrylic in a well-ventilated area. It has some pretty strong fume
  • Always wear a face mask when using the aerosol variety. You don’t want to inhale the fumes
  • Always allow Polycrylic to cure for a few hours more than the label instructs, just to be sure that it has set properly
  • Keep some warm water and soap nearby, because if you apply it wrong, you will want to wash it off before it dries
  • Make sure to use Polycrylic in a fairly cool and dry environment. Too much heat and moisture will cause the Polycrylic to take much longer to dry and cure
  • When using Polycrylic, never use a wet brush, as this will negatively affect the consistency and overall efficacy of the product
  • Whenever possible, Polycrylic should be the final layer, not an intermediary layer

Related Questions

Are polyurethane and Polycrylic the same thing?

While both products are used to create a protective finish on surfaces, they are different chemicals and have different functions.

Which is more durable polyurethane or Polycrylic?

Polyurethane is more durable than polycrylic. And within this finish, oil-based polyurethane is the most durable.

Is polyurethane bad for skin?

While it has a strong odor to it, an unpleasant feeling, and is highly flammable, polyurethane isn’t inherently bad for the skin. However, it should be cleaned off right away as it isn’t a pleasant sensation.


There you have it – everything you need to know about Polycrylic – what it is,  how to use it, tips, and more. It really is a great type of finish to use on wood, so give it a try.

Save for later!

5 thoughts on “What is Polycrylic and How Should I Apply It?”

  1. My son built me a dining table with old heart pine that my dad had stored in a barn. It is beautiful, but I am not sure how to finish it. I do not want to stain it, but seal and protect the natural beauty. Please advise me on my next steps and products you would use.
    Thank you,
    Mary Randall


Leave a Comment