What is the Best Non-Yellowing Polyurethane? (Best for Hardwood Floors!) (2023)

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Polyurethane can bring out the natural beauty of the wood, creating a glossy or satin finish that can be pleasing to the eye. However, it can turn yellow over time, making your project look worn out and weak.

That’s why our paint experts will share the best non-yellowing polyurethane they’ve relied on for years to protect your project. 

Premium Option
Basic Coatings StreetShoe
Editor’s Choice
Bona Traffic HD
Budget Option
Pallmann Pall-X 96
Basic Coatings StreetShoe
Bona Traffic HD
Pallmann Pall-X 96
• Low VOCs
• Low Odor
• Scratch-resistant
• Eco-friendly
• High-quality
• Commercial-grade
• Incredibly durable
• Low VOCs
• Matte finish
• Fast-drying
• Low odor
• Self-leveling
Premium Option
Basic Coatings StreetShoe
Basic Coatings StreetShoe
• Low VOCs
• Low Odor
• Scratch-resistant
• Eco-friendly
Editor’s Choice
Bona Traffic HD
Bona Traffic HD
• High-quality
• Commercial-grade
• Incredibly durable
• Low VOCs
Budget Option
Pallmann Pall-X 96
Pallmann Pall-X 96
• Matte finish
• Fast-drying
• Low odor
• Self-leveling

Reviews of the Top Non-Yellowing Polyurethane Finishes

1. Bona Traffic HD Commercial Extra Matte

Bonna Traffic HD is a water-based poly designed for high-traffic commercial areas. It can provide a durable and long-lasting protective coating for hardwood floors. It is known for its fast drying time and low VOC emissions, which makes it a popular choice for commercial and residential applications. 

We like that Bona Traffic HD is easy to apply and maintain and can be recoated easily. In areas that don’t get much sunlight, the coat will remain clear and can protect the wood’s original appearance. 

Due to its exceptionally low volatile organic compound (VOC) profile, Bona Traffic HD is a fan favorite.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

2. Basic Coatings STREETSHOE Waterbased Wood Floor Finish

The StreetShoe finish has an extremely high resistance to scuffs and scratches, so the hardwood floors will continue to seem brand new for years to come. Its durability is especially useful in busy public spaces with hardwood flooring.

With the Basic Coatings StreetShoe poly, you get to choose between semi-gloss and high-gloss finish options. So if you’d like a glossier floor, you can select a sheen level higher than satin.

This non-yellowing top coat is extremely low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odor, making it suitable for use around people, animals, and allergy sufferers.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

3. Pallmann Pall-X 96 Matte

The Pallmann Pall-X 96 water-borne polyurethane has a strong resistance to the elements and can be used indoors and outdoors. Its durability and tested resistance to wear and tear make it a fantastic choice for commercial and residential exterior surfaces.

Due to its exceptional protection against the sun’s UV rays, it is ideally suited for use as an outdoor wood coating. It has low VOC levels, so it is fine to use around humans and animals.

We found it easy to apply without needing protective gear like a respirator or a face mask. Due to its quick drying period, this polyurethane is perfect for time-sensitive tasks.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

4. LOBA WS 2K Supra-Satin

When exposed to UV rays and other weather conditions that cause yellowing, Loba WS 2K, another long-lasting polyurethane, remains transparent.

We like that it can shield painted wood from wear and tear for years to come, ensuring that it retains its attractive appearance. You also only need a small amount of the coating to give your item a thorough covering.

It’s simple to use on a hardwood floor, and instructions for using the product are easy to understand and follow. We tried using a paintbrush, T-bar, paint roller, and lambswool, which still made our project look great.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

5. Bona Finish - Mega HD Clear Satin

The Bona Finish Mega Clear HD dries clearly and keeps its transparency long. It won’t yellow, so you may use it on freshly sanded wooden floors without worrying about ruining its natural beauty. 

We found that the Mega HD is the best option if you reside in an area that regularly experiences heavy snowfall and wet springs since it can withstand harsh weather conditions.

In addition to being extremely long-lasting, it will keep your wood safe from the elements for many years. This polyurethane is a fantastic deal and withstand foot traffic even without the need for recoating.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

6. Varathane 230131 Crystal Clear Floor Finish

This polyurethane produced by Varathane has all the qualities expected of a high-quality water-based finish. The fact that it can withstand heavy use in busy areas is the product’s greatest strength.

If you give the finish plenty of time to dry and cure, it will be much more resistant to scuffs and scratches. It is among the hardest on the market because of the nanotechnology-enabled scratch resistance provided by aluminum oxide. 

You can choose between a gloss, semi-glossy, satin, or matte appearance. The Varathane 230131 polyurethane, in contrast to other water-based poly, was developed to enhance the natural beauty of wood.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

7. ZAR 32512 Water-Based Polyurethane

The ZAR 32512 aqua poly protects the floor and furniture from scuffs and scratches. It dries quickly with a low odor and a composition proven to prevent reactivity with the most common household chemicals.

Unlike traditional waterborne polys, this one brings out the wood’s natural look and resilience. We like its ability to preserve and protect exotic woods like Brazilian walnut, Teak, Brazilian, and many others. It is also made so that it doesn’t release harmful VOC levels.

Polyurethane yellow with time, but this product won’t, and what’s more, a quart can treat up to 125 sq ft of hardwood floors.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

Non-Yellowing Polyurethane Buyer’s Guide

Type of Poly: Oil-Based vs. Water-Based

Polyurethane naturally yellow over time but a water-based finish has the lowest potential for aging and turning a slight tint of yellow, it is also the most popular finish for hardwood floors. 

You should use a water-derived solution or non-yellowing wood finishes if you don’t want the color to fade or yellow.

Polyurethane, which is water-derived, is transparent and less heavy. Yellowing is more common in an oil-based poly because of the material’s inherent yellowish or amber hue. As time passes, the color of oil-based polyurethane fades.

Color and Odor

The transparency of water-derived poly will not fade over time, guaranteeing a beautiful finish for the life of the hardwood floors.

In contrast to oil-based polyurethane, water-based polyurethane does not leave an unpleasant odor. Water-derived poly coatings allow occupants, including dogs, to remain in a home without risk.

Application

The yellowing of hardwood floors may be accelerated or made worse by incorrect application of the polyurethane. Applying polyurethane in thin coatings and softly sanding between coats has been shown to reduce yellowing significantly.

If particles have settled to the bottom, give the product a good stir to distribute the coating evenly. The best non-yellowing polyurethanes require a stable temperature and a clean, well-ventilated space.

Longevity and Durability

Polyurethane which is water-based, typically last about ten years. You should expect a lifespan of 5-6 years from low-quality water-derived polyurethane.

However, this can change based on the application’s specifics and the wooden pieces’ location.

When finishing the wood, make sure to use water-derived polyurethane materials. Since low-cost, low-quality water-based polyurethane yellow with time, shortening the lifespan of your furniture or hardwood floors.

Why Does Poly Turn Yellow Over Time?

Several factors are at play here, but the most prevalent one is the polish and species of off-wood utilized in the flooring.

Many trees will eventually become yellow as they age. In other words, when exposed to light, every wood undergoes a chemical change. The natural fading of wood is like giving your flooring a tan. 

Polyurethane coatings, which are made with oil, are another major offender. Oil-based poly will unquestionably speed up the yellowing process, which will occur with any polyurethane. Eventually, oil-based polys deteriorate, turning wood amber and making it darker.

Finally, yellowing is inevitable if you apply white paint or stain your floors with products that are already predominantly yellow or amber. You can sand the flooring and refinish them if necessary. 

What Type of Polyurethane Won’t Turn Yellow

Water-Based Poly

Water-based poly, like the Bona Traffic HD,  doesn’t fade or yellow with time. Additionally, water-based polyurethanes of poorer grades turn an obvious amber color. 

Because of their heightened sensitivity to the sun’s UV rays and other environmental factors, they develop a subtle yellow hue.

If you want the coat to retain its clarity and not become yellow with time, investing in a high-quality water-based product is advisable.

Minwax Polyurethane

Polyurethane from Minwax doesn’t age yellow. It’s a top-tier option for those seeking a water-based polyurethane that won’t yellow over time. It’s simple to use, dries in several hours, and can add many coats within a day.

Is Oil-Based Poly Non-Yellowing? How About the Oil-Modified Poly?

Oil-based poly will show a yellow tint over time. The breakdown of polymers caused by UV light is responsible for the yellowing. The gradual yellowing that develops over time is partly due to oily deposits.

Using an oil-based poly on hardwood floors causes the coat to yellow or an amber hue. This darkening of the covered wood typically continues.

Yellowing is minimal in oil-modified polyurethanes because they blend water- and oil-based poly. The chemical breakdown of the oil-based polyurethane in a mixture like Minwax causes the polyurethane to turn yellow.

Fixing Yellowing Polyurethane: 3 Methods

Method #1: Sand the Yellow Coat on the Top

To fix yellowing polyurethane, you must use fine-grit sandpaper (220)  to lightly scratch the tinted poly finish. If you sand, you can brighten the color by eliminating the most affected area, but you won’t be able to remove all of the tints.

You shouldn’t use rough sandpaper or go too deep into the wood since doing so could strip the polyurethane finish.

Method #2: Use Mineral Spirits

Scrubbing the area with a non-abrasive sponge drenched in mineral spirits is another effective method for eradicating the hue. Use this technique with polyurethane that dissolves in oil for best results.

can of mineral spirits

The yellowing is likely due to grease or oil deposits, which you can remove with spirits.

Method #3: Use a Chemical Stripper

Sanding or cleaning the top probably won’t help when the color shift is due to the polyurethane absorbing the tint stains of the surface below. You can ruin the first coat; therefore, it’s best to avoid it.

To solve this problem, you can use a chemical paint stripper should be used to remove the polyurethane coating [1]. You should use a stain-blocking primer to protect the surface further before a new coat of non-yellowing sealer is applied.

How to Prevent Poly From Turning Yellow

Using a high-quality UV protection finish is the surest approach to prevent the yellowing of the finish.

The best non-yellowing polyurethane products are often made to be resistant to UV light, which prevents the polyurethane from reacting and turning yellow.

Purchasing window treatments or films that block ultraviolet light can also help minimize the amount of sunlight that enters your home.

More guides on polyurethane applications? Check these articles:

Alternative Clear Coats For Wood

Wax

Waxing is one of the greatest ways to seal painted wood because they provide a protective coating over the paint impervious to water.

However, you should apply only one coat and not use them on bare wood since they do not provide a thick enough film to protect the material.

Shellac

This is not usually a transparent finish, but once applied, it retains its original hue and shows no signs of fading. This way, you may select your chosen color and know it will not change.

Epoxy Resin

Naturally, epoxy resins have a substantial consistency. Because of this, they are ideal for use on flat surfaces like paintings or desktops. The epoxy resin may be ideal if you want a hard-drying, non-yellowing wood finish for your tabletop.

epoxy resin flooring

Oil

Oils don’t leave behind a film, but they do a great job bringing back the wood’s original hue. They can keep wood looking vibrant and new for years if applied at the suggested intervals.

Yellowing Finishes to Avoid

If you are looking for a clear topcoat that won’t yellow or cloud over time, you should avoid the common types of wood treatments because they will show a yellow tint over time. 

Avoid oil-based polyurethanes such as Varathane and Minwax, as well as Watco’s Danish Oil, Seal-A-Cell, Waterlox, Tung Oil, and Arm-R-Seal. Choose the ones with a water-based formula instead, like the Bona Traffic HD and other items on our list.

FAQ

Will a dark hardwood turn yellow over time?

There won’t be any noticeable yellowing on dark hardwood floors since the stain color will overpower them. Choose an oil-based or water-borne polyurethane according to your aesthetic, olfactory, drying time, and budgetary choices.

Will wipe-on polyurethane Turn yellow?

Since it is oil-based, wipe-on poly will turn yellow over time. The clear coat often fades to a brown or yellow color after being used outside in the sun for an extended period. Wipe-on poly might become discolored due to the solvent’s absorbing properties.

What type of sealer won’t turn yellow?

Minwax’s Polycrylic is the top-rated sealer because it does not discolor over time. It dries in hours, may be reapplied several times in one day, and is user-friendly. This adhesive does not yellow over time and dries crystal clear.

Does lacquer finish yellow?

In most cases, lacquer coatings will not fade or become yellow over time. They’re easy to keep up with and provide a solid defense against dampness and liquids. When applying varnishes and urethanes, a sprayer is required rather than a brush, roller, or rubbed cloth.

How long will it take for poly to turn yellow?

Polyurethane will yellow after at least three years because polyurethane attracts and then absorbs the wood’s natural oils, tannins, and stains. When exposed to oxygen and other environmental molecules, Poly will also undergo a color shift.

Are varnish and polycyclic prone to yellowing?

As a water-based product, polycrylic does not yellow, except for low-quality water-based products. Yet even these choices only take on a very subtle hue. On the other hand, varnish has a yellowish hue and imparts that color to the coated wood.

Will polycrylic finish turn yellow over time as well?

Water-based polycrylic is safe from yellowing. Most water-based wood treatments don’t yellow as oil-based polys do over time, so you can see the wood grain through them.

Our Top Pick For a Non-Yellowing Polyurethane:
Bona Traffic HD Commercial Extra Matte

The best non-yellowing polyurethane for our team is Bona Traffic HD. It is the most high-quality poly we found available on the market, outperforming other water-based polyurethanes in terms of durability and results. 

If you care a lot about the environment, the fact that Bona has a low VOC is a big plus. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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