What’s the Best Polyurethane for Furniture?

Applying a polyurethane finish to your painted or wood furniture is a great way to protect it from scratches, stains, and other damage. However, with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to determine what’s the best polyurethane for furniture.

Part of painting furniture is choosing the right furniture painting tools and supplies, and this includes selecting the right polyurethane. Let’s go over the different types of poly and which one is the best for your furniture!

best polyurethane for furniture

Polyurethane is a clear finish that is applied to painted and wood furniture to protect it from scratches, wear, and tear. It can also enhance the appearance of the finish by giving it a glossy sheen.

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There are different types of polyurethane finishes available, each with their own unique qualities and benefits. You should consider the one that suits your furniture and desired look, and even your budget.

In this blog post, we’ll give you a quick overview of three of the best polyurethane so you can choose the best option for your needs.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I also may earn from other qualifying purchases with other companies or get free product to review and use. All opinions are my own.

Best Wipe-On Polyurethane

tin of minwax wipe-on poly

Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane

Wipe-on polyurethane is ideal for small projects, tabletops, or flat furniture

Minwax Wipe-On Oil Based Polyurethane is our top pick for wipe-on polyurethane because it’s easy to apply and provides a brush free finish.


  • It’s very durable and protects against scratches and dings
  • It’s also moisture-resistant for a long-lasting finish
  • Oil-based polyurethane is also more durable for outdoor furniture


  • Since it’s oil-based, it’s best to use over wood or dark colored paint
  • Oil-based polyurethane has an amber color to it and will turn your light colored paint yellow.
  • It also has a strong odor
  • And wipe on polyurethane can look streaky if you don’t apply it just right

I used Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane on a dining table makeover here in this post about how to strip a kitchen table.

Where To Buy Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane

Best Spray Polyurethane

spray can of minwax polycrylic

Minwax Polycrylic in a Spray Can

Spray polyurethane is one of the easiest types of polyurethane to apply, and it’s a great option if you’re working on a smaller project or if you’re new to using polyurethane.

It’s also perfect if you don’t want any streaks or brush marks in the finish.


  • Minwax is the best spray can version of polyurethane
  • It’s easy to use and provides excellent protection against scratches and stains
  • It’s water-based as well and creates a perfect looking finish
  • Comes in an oil-based finish as well if needed.


  • It is more expensive than regular polyurethane in a can

Learn more about the features and how-to’s of Minwax polycrylic spray here. Check out the best spray polyurethane here.

So if you are spraying a large project or if you are redoing furniture a lot, it might be cheaper, in the end, to invest in a paint sprayer to spray polyurethane.

Here are the best HVLP paint sprayers that are awesome at spraying polyurethane.

See Minwax Polycrylic in action in this Waverly chalk paint review where we did a sofa table makeover. Learn more about the difference between polycrylic vs polyurethane here.

Where To Buy Minwax Polycrylic in a Spray Can

Best Water-Based Polyurethane for Furniture

can of varathane water-based polyurethane

Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane

Varathane Water-based Polyurethane is another popular option (and my personal favorite) for protecting painted or wood furniture.

This type of poly is rising in popularity because it doesn’t have the strong fumes associated with oil-based polys.

Water-based polyurethanes give off little to no odor. This makes them a great choice for indoor projects! 


  • Can apply it with a brush, foam sponge, or sprayer
  • Little to no odor (perfect for indoor projects!)
  • This product provides a durable, long lasting finish
  • It is moisture resistant
  • Can be used over wood and paint without yellowing


  • I’m trying hard to think of the cons, and I really can’t think of anything

See Varathane Water-based polyurethane in action on most of my posts, but specifically, this makeover on how to paint a dresser white.

Where To Buy Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane

No matter how you want to apply polyurethane to furniture, there’s a perfect type of polyurethane out there for you!

All three of these polyurethanes will provide scratch and stain resistance, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Best Way to Apply Polyurethane

The best way to apply polyurethane by hand and avoid streaks is by using a foam sponge. You can find these at most hardware stores or online on Amazon.

foam sponge to apply polyurethane by hand

The next best streak free method is to spray the polyurethane on with either a spray can or a paint sprayer. Check out the best sprayers for polyurethane here if you decide to go for a sprayer.

You can also brush the water based polyurethane on, but it most likely won’t create a perfect finish.

Darker colors are harder to topcoat with polyurethane than light colors, because light colors hide streaks and brush marks better than dark colors do.

If you are topcoating paint, add some of the water based paint to your water based polyurethane to tint the polyurethane and help prevent streaks from showing as much.

Either way, apply the polyurethane in even, long strokes across the furniture.

Don’t go back over the polyurethane once you’ve applied it. Polyurethane dries quickly, so if you go back over it, more streaks will be created.

Check out how to apply polycrylic to painted furniture here. Get more tips about applying polyurethane in my topcoats for painting furniture post.

Best Brush for Water Based Polyurethane

If you want to brush water based polyurethane onto furniture, the best brush is this Zibra topcoat brush that’s made specifically for topcoating with polyurethane.

Check my blog post for the best paint brush for polyurethane to learn more about using the Zibra brush.

zibra topcoat brush to apply polyurethane

Best Paint Sprayer for Polyurethane

My favorite entry-level paint sprayer for polyurethane is either the Wagner Double Duty, or the Wagner FLEXiO 3000. The Wagner FLEXiO 3500 is the new model of the FLEXiO 3000.

(Note: The Wagner Double Duty above has been discontinued. The Wagner Control Spray 250 Sprayer is its newer model. You can check out our Wagner Control Spray 250 review to learn about this Wagner sprayer.)

Here’s how to use a Wagner Double Duty paint sprayer and how to use the FLEXiO 3000 if you have these sprayers.

wagner paint sprayer for polyurethane

The Wagner Double Duty paint sprayer sprays polyurethane really well and is cheaper.

But if you are planning on spraying paint with the paint sprayer too, I would suggest the Wagner FLEXiO 3500 (or even the Wagner FLEXiO 5000) because they spray thick paints easier.

Check out our post on the best Wagner paint sprayers for furniture if you want to learn about the different Wagner models and their features.

How many coats of polyurethane should I apply?

For the best results, it’s usually recommended to apply 2-3 coats of polyurethane. Of course, this can vary depending on the type of wood and the level of protection you’re after.

Some may opt for a single coat for a more natural look, while others may apply multiple coats for maximum durability.

When you’re applying multiple coats, make sure to give them a light sanding in between to get that smooth finish. It also helps the next coats stick better. Be sure to wipe away any dust or debris before applying the next coat.

How long does it take for polyurethane to dry on furniture?

Polyurethane typically takes anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to fully dry on furniture. However, this can vary depending on factors such as temperature and humidity levels.

If it’s warmer and less humid, it’ll dry quicker. On the other hand, colder temperatures and higher humidity will slow things down a bit.

It’s important to note that while polyurethane may feel dry to the touch, it can take up to 30 days to fully cure. This means that during this time, it is still vulnerable and can be damaged or scratched easily.

To protect your furniture during this curing period, try not to put it in heavy traffic areas or place many objects on it. If you must use it, handle with care and avoid dragging stuff across the surface.

Choosing the best polyurethane for furniture can make a big difference in the overall appearance and durability of your piece.

So we hope these recommendations and tips have helped you narrow down your options and find the perfect poly for your project.

More Polyurethane for Furniture Resources

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  1. I just sealed our newly built white oak fireplace mantle using the varathane water based polyurethane in matte. I like that it’s not shiny. I am now restoring our old antique dining table. Would the matte polyurethane look good for an old farmhouse table or do tables need satin? Have you used the matte finish on any table projects before?
    I only recently discovered your emails and info and I find them very helpful.

    1. Hey Kim!
      Matte poly is not as durable as satin or gloss poly. For best durability, use a couple of coats of satin or gloss poly first, and then you can do the last coat with matte to give it the look that you want.

  2. Hi there ….you are full of information and helpful hints ….Im debating on painting my China cabinet and put wall paper inside ….also paint the side board and server ……would it look odd if I leave the table as is ….its in good condition and dont want to paint it ….its light walnut stain …….thanks …..from Jean

    1. Hey Jean! I personally love a mix of painted furniture and wood stained furniture in a space. I even mix wood tones as well to create a warmth in my home. I hope that helps give you the confidence to run with your idea!

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