How Long Does Polyurethane Take to Dry?

applying polyurethane varnish to wood

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We bet you’ve ruined and spent a lot on your woodworking projects before because you’ve miscalculated the whole process. We’ve been through that! So to help you, our woodworking experts will teach you how long polyurethane takes to dry, so you won’t end up with a mess when doing your projects.

Oil-Based and Water-Based Polyurethane Sealer

Polyurethane is a plastic liquid, otherwise known as Polyurethane varnish, created by dissolving polyurethane resin in a liquid form. There are both oil-based polyurethane and water-based options, so knowing which is best for your floor is critical.

Polyurethane varnish is applied to wood by dropping or brushing the liquid solvent onto the surface properly. Over time, the oil or water in which the resin is dissolved evaporates, leaving the polyurethane resin on the wood as varnish.

Water-based polyurethane varnish dries faster and is nearly odorless, requiring less ventilation when applied. It is simple to clean with water and will not yellow over time.

applying Oil Based Polyurethane on a wooden board

Furthermore, water-based polyurethane varnish is not long-lasting in high-traffic areas.

On the other hand, polyurethane with an oil base takes longer to dry and cure than water-based finishes but is more durable. The chemicals used need well-ventilated environmental conditions during application.

Polyurethane varnish with an oil base resists moisture, heat, and solvents better. It is best suited for high foot traffic areas. This finish starts clear but ages to yellow or amber.

Difference Between Drying and Curing Time of Polyurethane

Drying phase consists of the time between polyurethane coats, whereas the curing time is when the wooden floors are fully available.

When the poly dries, it no longer remains sticky and will be okay to hold. You may add one more coat if necessary.

polyurethane wood varnish matte finish

With socks on, you can step on the surface after the final coat has dried, but you shouldn’t put heavy items on it because it isn’t durable enough to withstand too much pressure.

If you spill anything on it, it will sink into sanded wood, and you’ll have to repeat the process because it is hardly long-lasting, water-resistant, or useful.

Different Types of Sheen

High Gloss

High-gloss polyurethane has a completely shiny and slick appearance; thus, you can use it on indoor and outdoor wooden surfaces, although it takes a little longer to dry.

Semi-Gloss

Semi-gloss formulas have a shiny finish but don’t shine as bright as high-gloss alternatives. Because of its versatility, semi-gloss polyurethane dries as quickly as high-gloss polyurethane but almost as slow as satin.

Satin

Satin finishes are less shiny than others. This polyurethane almost has a matte appearance with a slight, subtle shine. Satin is the fastest drying polyurethane on the market.

satin finish on a coffee table

Application Prep

Determine the number of polyurethane varnish coats required for a specific project. Clean the varnished surface. Wipe a thin coat of polyurethane varnish onto the wood with a bristle or foam brush. Repeat the procedure for each coat.

Oil Based Polyurethane Drying and Curing Time

How Long Does it Take for Oil-Based Polyurethane to Dry?

The typical dry time for polyurethane with an oil base is 24 hours. For some products, this could be 48 hours. 

Always consider the specific product and application conditions for a more accurate polyurethane drying time.

Oil Based Polyurethane Curing Time

Curing polyurethane with an oil base takes 30 days.

Oil Based Polyurethane on a wooden board

Quick-dry polyurethane may take 21 days to cure fully, but the weather may cause it to take longer. Furthermore, woods such as aromatic cedar and rosewood may cause delays due to natural oils that slow it.

Water Based Polyurethane Drying and Curing Times

How Long Does it Take Water-based Polyurethane to Dry?

In ideal conditions, the next coat can be applied after 2 hours when the water-based poly dries. It can be fully cured in three days, but how many coats you apply can cause this curing process to take longer, so allow at least three weeks.

Water-Based Polyurethane Curing Time

A full cure time for water-based polyurethane can range from 24 to 72 hours. Water-based polyurethane dries in 6 hours or less. Of course, this differs significantly depending on the product and the environment.

Factors That Affect Polyurethane Drying and Curing Times

Polyurethane Type

The two different formulations below affects polyurethane cure time and dry time on a wood surface.

polyurethane products

Wood Species and Condition

Wood is composed of a network of fibers with open cells. Stain works so well on wood because the wood absorbs the dried wood stain, resulting in a rich, even color. However, like a sponge, those cells can only hold so much liquid before becoming saturated.

Polyurethane will dry faster depending on how saturated the wood is. Younger wood that hasn’t fully dried will take longer to dry because the polyurethane is looking for empty cells to inhabit.

On the other hand, dry wood will absorb more polyurethane and dry faster, but it is only true for the first two coats, as subsequent coats will cling to and dry to the previous layer of polyurethane.

treated wood

When listing the drying times of their products, most polyurethane manufacturers do not consider wood species because most hardwoods and pine react similarly to polyurethane.

However, some woods, such as cedar and rosewood contain natural oils that inhibit drying time. These woods have the ability to lengthen the drying time to several hours or more.

Coat Thickness

Always apply thin layers because they dry more quickly and evenly. Furthermore, they can be tweaked easily if problems arise.

The polyurethane will take much longer to dry when the coat is too thick. You must wait and refrain from using a hair dryer to enhance it, or the interior coat will cake.

polyurethane varnish on wood

Our professionals advise against using a triple-thicker coat or a single coat of poly since they rarely dry quickly, despite claims to the contrary.

Method of Application

Polyurethane finishes can be applied by spraying, wiping, or brushing. If you cannot control the amount you apply properly, you may put in too much, which can slow the process.

The finish will dry much faster if you use wipe-on poly or the spray type instead of a brush/roller because the previous application methods result in thin and light multiple coats.

Wear appropriate PPE to limit contact with VOCs.

Base Type

The type of polyurethane base used has a significant impact on dry time. Coatings with an oil base take a little longer to dry than water-based coatings, whether polyurethane, primer, stain, or paint.

applying base coat to a wooden board

Unlike water-based polyurethane, which can be dry to the touch in minutes and dry enough for another coat in an hour or two, coatings with an oil base can remain tacky for up to 10 hours.

This distinction can significantly lengthen the time it takes to complete a polyurethane process from start to finish.

Sheen Type and Overall Formula

Another factor to consider when calculating polyurethane drying time is the product’s sheen. Polyurethane varnishes are available in three sheen levels. These are the levels of glossiness (or lack thereof) provided by the finish after it has dried.

Finally, the product formula influences the drying and curing of polyurethane. Fast-drying formulas based on water-based polyurethane tend to cut drying time in half than regular oil-based finishes do.

table with polyurethane varnish top coat

While there are advantages and disadvantages to using faster alternatives, this is a significant benefit to consider when planning your next project.

Temperature

The external temperature is an important consideration when applying polyurethanes. The ideal temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature falls below this level, the poly finish will dry too slowly.

Cold temperatures can result in a complete chemical reaction wherein an odd white film forms on the polyurethane. In higher temperatures, the resulting polyurethane finish may suffer.

Ventilation

The drying time can also be influenced by ventilation. A well-ventilated room allows the polyurethane to dry faster because the airflow constantly supplies fresh air that can collect more moisture from the drying polyurethane.

well ventilated workshop

However, you must exercise caution when it comes to ventilation because polyurethane takes longer to cure properly if there is high humidity in the room.

While fans can help improve ventilation, they can also cause dust and dirt onto the wet edge or polyurethane surface.

Humidity

The market offers different brands of polyurethane, so some products may take longer hours to completely dry.

However, generally speaking, the ideal humidity for drying water-based polyurethane is 50% and 70% for drying oil-based polyurethanes.

If you have an HVAC system [1], a humidifier, or a dehumidifier in your home, these devices would definitely help in regulating the humidity indoors.

applying polyurethane varnish to wood

If you don’t have them and you don’t want to buy these devices any time soon, waiting for better weather is your best bet.

Dust and Cleanliness

When applying polyurethane or other coverings to bare wood, keep the windows closed to prevent dust from entering. However, because of the strong odors produced by some finishes, particularly oil-based polyurethanes, you should keep the windows open.

While fans can help improve ventilation, they can move dust around and cause them to fall into the finished surface.

How Long Does Polyurethane Take to Dry

 Water-BasedOil-BasedTips
Time Between Coats6 Hours24 HoursShoes and pets not allowed
Shoes allowed after:24 Hours48 Hours 
Move furniture after:2 Days4 DaysUse rubber mats on furniture bases
Rug, mats, etc. not allowed for: 2 Weeks2 WeeksLight sweeping is allowed
Fully cured in:30 Days30 Days 

This polyurethane cure time table can serve as a guide to help you determine the time it takes for polyurethane to dry. Use proper protective equipment when applying polyurethane coatings to avoid contact with volatile organic compounds.

Polyurethane Dry Time: Top 20 Products

ProductTypeDry time before recoatingDry time before use
Minwax polyurethaneOil-based poly4-6 hours24 hours
Minwax Fast-Drying AerosolWater-based4-6 hours24 hours
Old MastersOil-base6 hours 
Deft DefthaneAerosol, oil base6 hours24 hours
Minwax PolyshadesOil-based6 hours24 hours
Old Masters FinishOil-based6 hours48 hours
Rust-Oleum ProOil-based8-10 hours24 hours
Minwax Water Based Oil-ModifiedWater-based2 hours24 hours
Varathane Water-Based UltimateWater-based2 hours 48 hours
Rust-oleum Triple ThickWater-based2 hours 48 hours
Minwax Water-Base Wipe-OnWater-based2-3 hours24 hours
VarathaneWater-based2-4 hours24 hours
Vallejo Model ColorWater-based4 hours24 hours
Varathan RustoleumWater-based1 hour24 hours
TotalBoat Marine Spar VarnishWater-based1 hour48 hours
Interlux BrightsideOil-based12 hours24 hours
ZARWater-based2 hours24 hours
Deft Interior ExteriorWater-based2 hours24 hours
Minwax One CoatWater-based2 hours24 hours
Zar Ultra Max OilWater-based2 hours24 hours

How Important is the Drying Time of Polyurethane?

Now that you know the answer to the question: “how long does polyurethane take to dry?” There are several important reasons why understanding the drying time of a polyurethane product is critical before purchasing and using it.

If you apply polyurethane to an exterior surface, you’ll need to know how long it takes to dry so that rain and wind don’t ruin it with water or airborne dirt and debris. Check the weather forecast to ensure the weather conditions are suitable for applying the polyurethane-based on its dry time.

wooden boards with different polyurethane finish

Polyurethanes require at least a third coat, sometimes up to six, to achieve the smooth finish and protection they are known for. Most polyurethanes, particularly products with an oil base, have a window of time during which you can apply a second coat.

You can ruin the consistency if the second coat is applied while the first coat is still wet. If the second coat is applied too late, it will not adhere properly to the first coat.

Finally, dry time influences the overall duration of the project. An oil-based poly that requires 12 hours between coats may cause the project to take several days or longer. It may not be practical for some applications, such as a home’s main hallway or living room.

How to Speed Up the Polyurethane Drying Time Process

The four methods you can use to dry poly faster without causing damage are as follows:

man applying paint on wooden board

If you’re using a quick-drying substitute, don’t try to shorten the process unless the poly is taking so much longer. Otherwise, you risk ruining the layer and having to start over.

Drying Polyurethane in the Sun

Leaving polyurethane-finished wood outside in the sun may not be the best idea for your projects. The heat from the sun can aid in the drying process, but leaving them in direct sunlight is not recommended.

UV rays from the sun are extremely damaging to a polyurethane finish. UV rays from the sun can damage clear polyurethane coats, causing tiny pinholes in the finish as bubbles escape through them.

How Long Does It Take for Polyurethane to Dry on Different Surfaces?

Furniture

While the broad flat surfaces of wood furniture may adhere to the drying times specified on the package, most furniture has interior spaces where wood pieces are joined together to form a corner, curved wooden legs turned on a lathe, or decorative carvings.

center table with polyurethane finish

The interior spaces provide areas for polyurethane to collect, resulting in a thicker coating than on the furniture’s flat surfaces. They will also receive less airflow than other parts of the piece. Both of these factors make it take longer for these areas to dry.

Hardwood Floors

These types of floors are broad and flat, creating even coats of polyurethane that are easier to apply.

Furthermore, because most of these floors are installed in climate-controlled environments, they adhere strictly to the manufacturer’s drying time guidelines.

How Long Should You Wait Between Coats of Polyurethane?

According to our woodworking professionals, almost all polyurethane manufacturers include the time you should wait between polyurethane coats. While this is useful, there are a few things to remember.

The first coat of polyurethane will usually dry faster than subsequent finishing processes because the first coat is applied to bare wood, which quickly absorbs the polyurethane.

refinishing a table

Additional coats will cling to the previous coats instead of soaking into the wood, making drying time longer.

Wait approximately 2 hours between coats of water-based polyurethanes and approximately 8 hours between coats of oil-based polyurethane before adding extra coats.

How Long Should You Wait for Polyurethane to Dry Before Sanding?

Allow the polyurethane to dry for 24 to 48 hours before light sanding to allow the surface to cure and harden.

Apply two to three more coats of full-strength polyurethane, cleaning the polyurethane brush and sanding in between. Brush polyurethane along the grain, stretching the polyurethane into as thin a coat as possible.

FAQ

Can you sleep in a house after coating polyurethane?

No, sleeping in a house after coating polyurethane is not advised, and you should not take any chances either. Even water-based polyurethane will off-gas heavily during the first 24 hours. It’s even worse if you use oil-based products, which are highly toxic and can cause various health issues.

How long does it take for polyurethane to stop smelling?

It will take three to six weeks for polyurethane to stop smelling. The number of polyurethane coats applied and the weather conditions determine how long the smell will linger.

Is 2 coats of polyurethane enough?

2 coats of polyurethane are enough to protect the wood against moisture and contaminants. However, three or four coats of polyurethane would be sufficient to protect against water damage.

How long does it take for water-based polyurethane to dry on hardwood floors?

It takes 4 hours for water-based polyurethane to dry on hardwood floors. After that, you can now use the floor while wearing socks. After three days, you could begin rearranging furniture on the surface but take note that the surface will fully cure after 21 days.

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

When good ventilation, the right tools, and ideal weather conditions are present, polyurethane on the furniture will dry after 2 hours. However, water-based finishes can fully cure after 21 days, and oil-based products can fully cure after 30 days.

How long does it take for spray polyurethane to dry?

You can touch a surface treated with spray polyurethane after 2 hours of application. You’d have to wait a whole night for it to be okay for light usage and at least three days to cure fully.

How long does Varathane polyurethane take to dry?

Varathane polyurethane will dry after 2 hours or even 30 minutes when treated with aerosol. After 24 hours, the treated surface is okay for use and will fully cure in three days.

When can you walk on polyurethane wood floors?

You can walk on wood floors treated with water-based or quick-drying finishes after 24 hours, as long as you have socks on. After seven days, rearranging furniture on polyurethane-treated floors is allowed.

Conclusion

You will see a significant distinction between curing and drying time, so knowing how long polyurethane takes to dry is tricky because it may simply mean the polyurethane cure time.

There are many factors affecting polyurethane drying times; that is why you have to ensure that conditions are nearly ideal to what is recommended. Water-based finishes dry faster, but they will take nearly as long to cure as polyurethanes with an oil base.

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 and women. 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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