Applying polyurethane using a paintbrush can be time-consuming, especially when handling extensive flat surfaces. While paint rollers are the obvious solution to this dilemma, can you roll polyurethane on wood floors without risking the material’s quality?
In this post, our resident woodworkers will discuss the perks of using a paint roller and the cases when it’s not the best option to consider.
Is it Okay to Use a Roller to Apply Polyurethane?
Yes, using a roller to apply polyurethane to wooden furniture or hardwood floors is generally okay. Compared to brush strokes, spreading polyurethane with a roller allow the application to dry faster. Besides that, a paint roller doesn’t leave brush marks or lines.
And because it has a faster drying time, paint rollers naturally produce a smooth polyurethane finish. It also ends up with a rounder finished surface than other alternatives.
Types and Benefits of Polyurethane
You may not know, but polyurethane paint comes in two types: water-based and oil-based poly. These products offer different attributes, so the type of polyurethane roller you’ll use will affect the final finish on wooden surfaces.
The first thing you’ll notice when applying oil-based polyurethane on a hardwood floor or other wooden surfaces is its thick consistency. Because of this, it can be well-absorbed by the likes of microfiber, foam, and lambswool roller options.
Meanwhile, water-based polyurethane has a lighter flow than oil-based alternatives. The foam paint roller is made of porous material, so it could absorb excess poly, which may result in an uneven final coat.
If you want an even and beautiful solid coating, you can apply water-based polyurethane using lambswool and microfiber roller kits.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Roller for Poly Application
Applying polyurethane with a roller offer many perks, but it doesn’t mean this method has no downsides. Here are some things you should expect:
Covers Large Surface Easily
Most woodworkers spend days applying multiple brush strokes to ensure you don’t miss any spots. But did you know that you can make the roller cover your wood floor perfectly in a shorter time frame?
And because applying polyurethane with a roller requires less time, you don’t have to worry about extensive paint fume exposure  that can irritate your nostrils.
Since paint rollers have rotating cylinder designs, you can expect flat wood surfaces like deck flooring to yield a perfectly smooth finish. Its cylindrical roller sleeve allows users to easily determine if they’re applying too many polyurethane coats on the material.
Our team’s experience suggests that rolling poly will deliver the same results even if the material isn’t thoroughly prepared. However, we don’t recommend applying polyurethane with a roller if the workpieces aren’t sanded.
No Marks of Brush
You must be an experienced woodworker to leave no brush marks or paint streaks when using paintbrushes to apply polyurethane products. So if you’re a beginner, the best option to buy is lambswool, microfiber, or foam rollers.
As long as you use it properly and spread the polyurethane along the grain pattern, you don’t need to worry about paint brush marks.
Can Be Reused with Other Poly Types
A multi-functional roller works well with oil and water-based polyurethane products. However, as we said earlier, not all roller types will perform the same; whether you can roll on polyurethane still depends on a few factors.
At the end of the day, it depends on where you intend to apply polyurethane. For example, oil polyurethane is best applied on wood floors. Because of this, you can’t expect it to have the same finish quality as water-based products.
Saves Times & Faster Dry Time
If you look closely, you’ll see that the paint roller frame operates in a free-spin movement. Thanks to this, the roller minimizes splatter during usage and saves you from the extensive cleaning process.
They can also come in handy when applying fast-drying water or oil-based polyurethane.
Whether you want to buy a microfiber or foam roller, the truth is it’s an expensive material. After comparing the price range with brushes, it’s hard to ignore that the latter are generally affordable.
Paint roller products don’t last as long as other alternatives, so we don’t suggest using the same roller in different projects if you want to ensure the application’s best quality.
Hard to Prevent Bubbles
Some newbies may not know, but bubble formations are highly likely to happen when you apply polyurethane with a roller than with brushes. Since rollers aren’t the best for detail painting, you may need a brush for the final coating.
Hard to Coat Edges and Joints
A paint roller can deliver a smooth finish in flat materials, but you’ll have difficulty using it for detailed work like painting edges and joints.
While you can opt for a mini roller, it’ll only work if the wood materials are small and uninstalled. Needless to say, brushes are still needed for the first coat.
Applying Polyurethane Using a Roller: Step-by-Step Guide
Step #1: Get the Materials Ready
Get two cups each of mineral spirits and polyurethane. To be clear, they shouldn’t be in one paint pan because they should be stored separately. While prepping these chemicals, don’t forget to wear goggles and other safety gear to protect yourself.
Step #2: Soak Your Roller in Mineral Spirits
The next step is to soak the paint roller with mineral spirits. Shake it off lightly to ensure no dripping, especially if using a high-absorbent foam roller.
Step #3: Soak the Roller in Polyurethane
After the first coat on the foam cover, dip it into the polyurethane tray immediately. This method should mix the poly with mineral spirits, and it’s ready to go.
Step #4: Apply the First Poly Coating
Once the wet polyurethane and mineral spirits are mixed in the roller frame, it’s time to apply your first coat on the wood. Apply polyurethane fast and cover as much area as you can.
Step #5: Repeat the Application As Needed
Continue applying the coat in long strokes as long as it’s even. Check if you didn’t miss a spot on both ends of the surface. However, be careful in adding too many coats as it may result in bulging, so you need to know how many poly coatings you need to apply.
Step #6: Sanding the Surface
After the application dries, you need to sand it with 250-grit sandpaper or higher. You can eliminate sanding dust produced during this step with a tack cloth soaked with mineral spirits.
Step #7: Store the Roller in Between Coats
During the sanding process, your roller for polyurethane shouldn’t be lying around in random places. Make it damp again by soaking it in the mineral spirit’s pan. Place it inside a freezer bag as it dries to wipe on poly and remove the excess.
Step #8: Paint on Extra Coats
You can apply additional coats of polyurethane with a roller, but don’t stir away from the recommended instructions. Let each coat sit according to the required drying time.
(Read this guide to know how long you should wait between coats of polyurethane!)
Step #9: Cleaning Up
Even the best roller for polyurethane application needs to be cleaned, so don’t store it when it’s still damp from chemical mixtures. You can also dispose of both the roller and pan if they’re in no condition to be reused. Otherwise, clean them with hot water.
Can I Apply Too Much Polyurethane? How Many Layers are Recommended?
Typically, your countertop paint kit includes instructions on the recommended number of coats. It’s often three for the best results, but you must know that a full coverage application requires more than that.
Do I Still Need to Sand the Surface?
Yes, you must sand the surface for a smoother finish. If you don’t do this method, it could result in uneven surfaces and bubbling.
Find out what will happen if you don’t sand between polyurethane coats here!
Bonus Tips on Rolling Polyurethane on Wood Surfaces to Achieve a Smooth Surface
What Type of Roller Should Your Use?
The best roller for polyurethane applications depends on what materials you intend to handle and which polyurethane type you’ll use.
These rollers are designed with natural fibers, so it’s not surprising that they absorb polyurethane well. There’s also no shedding that leaves unwanted streaks or spots on the surface.
You can count on a foam roller for applying oil-based poly because they are highly absorbent. The only problem is it can cause streaks when applied with water-based polys.
If you want no signs of streaks or marks, microfiber rollers are your best option. These are made of multi-layered cloth, making them durable and long-lasting when maintained properly.
Safety Measures to Consider
For your safety, you should apply polyurethane in a well-ventilated area. While you can roll polyurethane on easily, don’t forget to wear protective gear like gloves, masks, and goggles to avoid harmful fumes produced by these chemicals.
If you can, clean the sills immediately. Once they dry, removing them from the surface can be difficult, even if you want to.
Our Top Picks For the Best Polyurethane Roller
2. Stone Coat Countertops Microfiber Paint Roller
Unlike regular rollers, this product from Stone Coat Countertops can execute different functions, from painting to varnishing. It’s also comfortable to grip, making it an ideal option for reaching tight spaces during application.
What We Like
What We Don't Like
How to Dispose of Polyurethane Properly
Never pour polyurethane mixture down the drain because it’s a petroleum product. We recommend taking it to recycling centers or local businesses to avoid hazardous incidents.
How to Clean Your Poly Roller
1. Shake off the excess
Once the last coating is applied, you can eliminate excess poly using a paint roller squeezer.
2. Make the Soap Mixture
Begin to mix the dishwashing soap and warm water. Once done, soak the roller in the mixture.
3. Remove Residue
Wait for a few minutes before washing off the residues from cleaning.
4. Wash off Stuck Polyurethane & Repeat the Process
Soak the poly roller in mineral spirits and untangle it with the metal comb at your disposal. Don’t forget to rinse it again in cold water before storing it away.
Removing Polyurethane on Wood: 3 Ways
A paint stripper can remove polyurethane residues simultaneously from a material.
It’s a solvent mixture with a citrus ingredient that helps better chemical removal.
Sand it Using Fine-Grit Sandpaper
You can also sand the excess polyurethane using 250-grit sandpaper.
Preventing Polyurethane from Drying Out: 3 Methods
Utilize a Bowl of Water
Keeping a bowl of water near your working space will keep the area moist and prevent drying polyurethane.
Use a Humidifier
It also increases moisture around your materials to prevent drying out.
Cover the Surface Using a Wet Towel
You can put a damp towel over the wood surface to maintain moisture levels.
Is it okay to apply an oil-based poly using a roller?
Yes, it’s okay to apply oil-based polyurethane using rollers. However, not all rollers will work well with it. Remember that oil-based poly is meant to highlight the wood’s grain, which brushes can do better than a foam or lambswool roller.
Do you need to sand between polyurethane coats?
Yes, you need to sand between polyurethane coatings to smoothen the surface and make it more adhesive for the next layer.
Is it okay to apply water-based poly using a roller?
Yes, you can use water-based poly with a roller. However, it doesn’t have full coverage on crevices.
Can you use a foam roller to apply polyurethane?
Yes, you can use it for polyurethane applications. However, it won’t yield great results with water-based polys.
What’s the best way to apply poly on wood floors?
Lambswool rollers are the best way to apply poly on a wood floor. It absorbs chemicals well and does not shed.
Which is better for applying poly, brush or roller?
If you’re working on extensive flat materials, the fastest way to apply polyurethane is through rollers. Meanwhile, brushes work well for handling smaller and more intricate materials.
Now that it’s clear that you can roll polyurethane on wood materials, the next step to make is to try it yourself. This woodworking task may seem rigorous and intimidating, but trust our experts when we say it’ll come in handy in the long run. After all, most workpieces require this step.
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