How Long Should You Wait Between Coats of Polyurethane on Hardwood Floors?

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Applying polyurethane is a great way to preserve your hardwood floors. But if you do not know how long to wait between coats of polyurethane on hardwood floors, you cannot ensure they’re properly protected. 

Allow me to guide you through the intricacies to ensure your floors aren’t just beautiful, but enduringly protected!

Uses and Benefits of Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a known coating material in various industries, such as automotive and construction. It is typically used for hardwood for its durability and strength. 

person applying polyurethane varnish on hardwood floor

It is preferably used as a coating for hardwood floors as it serves as a barrier against dust, dirt, and debris that may cause damage to the floor. 

Different Types of Polyurethane

Polyurethane comes in two main types: oil-based and water-based, each having its unique set of advantages based on the intended use.

For a sturdier finish, I’d recommend opting for oil-based polyurethane. While it’s a bit more challenging to work with and demands a longer drying time, the payoff is its longevity, sparing you frequent recoats that you’d expect with its water-based counterpart.

More often that not, this finish has proved to be more efficient and less labor-intensive over time. However, one of its drawbacks is its tendency to slightly yellow the hardwood, shifting away from its natural hue. So, if retaining that authentic color is your aim, it might not be the best fit.

polyurethane products

On the other hand, if you prefer a polyurethane that’s easier to apply, I suggest using the water-based formula – it’s less complicated to apply, and it dries faster. 

Also, it’s a good option if you prefer to preserve the natural color of the hardwood because it is less likely to fade to a yellow shade over time. The only downside is it’s less durable compared to oil-based, so you’ll need to re-apply often to protect the wood.

Which Type is Best for Hardwood Floors?

Generally, the kind of polyurethane to be used depends on the color and the kind of wood. 

Typically, oil-based polyurethane has an amber or yellowish tint, which can get darker over time. So, most woodworkers prefer to use it on dark floors. 

I suggest applying oil-based polyurethane if you prefer to bring some color to the wood that looks too dull.

Oil Based Polyurethane on a wooden board

However, some people find the yellow tint more aesthetically pleasing and would rather maintain this natural color. Therefore, they avoid using oil-based polyurethane on lighter woods such as maple

Another factor that must be considered when deciding the kind of polyurethane to apply to hardwood is the luster of the wood. There are three common sheens you could choose from such as semi-gloss, high-gloss, and satin. 

Most people prefer the high-gloss finish on their hardwood floors. But the water-based polyurethane with a high-gloss finish can be scratched easily and will show damage only after two years. 

This issue will not occur with the oil-based polyurethane due to its amber or yellowish tint that can conceal any scratches and maintains the high-gloss finish longer.

Check This Out: Recommended Water-Based Polyurethanes for Floors

How Long Should I Wait Before Applying Another Coat of Polyurethane on Hardwood?

Typically, if you apply water-based polyurethane, you must wait at least 2 hours and a maximum of 4 hours before recoating. Meanwhile, if you use oil-based polyurethane, you will have to wait a bit longer, between 10 to 24 hours, before applying the second coat.

applying polyurethane varnish on hardwood floor

However, do not wait too long before recoating because you will need to sand the wood if it’s too dry already. The dust and dirt on the hardwood floor will be trapped in the new coat. It will also be impossible to remove the brush marks on the wood.

How Many Polyurethane Coats Should You Apply on Hardwood Floors?

You should apply at least two to three coats of polyurethane on hardwood floors, particularly oil-based formulas. 

If you are using water-based polyurethane, I typically advise applying a minimum of four coats. Layering multiple coats like this helps achieve a thicker, more robust finish. This approach not only augments the durability but also extends the life of the hardwood floor’s finish.

Do You Have to Sand Between Coats of Polyurethane on Your Hardwood Floor?

While it’s possible to apply consecutive coats of polyurethane without sanding in between, I’d strongly suggest giving the hardwood floor a light sanding before moving forward. This touch of sanding can make a world of difference in achieving an even, silky-smooth finish you’d want for your floors.

Interesting Read

sanding floor

Applying Polyurethane on Your Hardwood Floor

Polyurethane application should not be complicated if done properly. Ensure you have the proper tools and use them in the steps below.

Tools You’ll Need

staining tools and material


  1. Ensure that the floor is clear and has no dirt or dust. You may use a rag or cloth to wipe off the dust. 
  2. Use the paint roller to apply a fine layer to the hardwood floor. I suggest working in small portions with even strokes. 
  3. Wait for a few hours for the coat to dry completely. If you are using water-based polyurethane, wait for 4 to 6 hours and 10 to 24 hours for oil-based polyurethane.
  4. Use fine sandpaper to remove any imperfections. Do not immediately sand the hardwood after applying the polyurethane to avoid damaging the wood. Wait 24 hours for the coat to dry and harden before sanding. 
  5. Apply the final coat and wait 24 hours before walking on the hardwood floor. 

Extra Tips to Achieve a Fine Polyurethane Finish

applying polyurethane with a paint roller

Cleaning Up After Polyurethane Application

Applying polyurethane on hardwood floors can be a messy job. So, keep a cleaning rag ready to wipe off the spills or drips. 

Once you’ve finished applying the coats, it’s wise to clean your applicators promptly. For oil-based polyurethane, I usually clean my tools with mineral spirits. But if you’re using water-based polyurethane, plain water will do the trick.

Meanwhile, if you’re having difficulty removing dry polyurethane, try applying chemical strippers, as it’s more effective and safer for the floor. Now, let me guide you through the steps:

refinishing hardwood floor

Safety Precautions You Need to Consider During Application

Polyurethane can be dangerous to your health when inhaled. With this, ensure to wear a mask and work in a properly ventilated area. Also, as it is highly flammable, ensure there are no flames near your work area.

Working under the recommended temperature level from 50°F to 90°F with below 60% humidity should be taken seriously. Your safety is important, so follow the instructions and take extra safety precautions.

When Will the Floor be Ready After Coating It With Polyurethane?

Typically, if you use water-based polyurethane, you should wait 48 hours before the floor can be ready to be walked on or put furniture on it. However, if you use oil-based polyurethane, you must wait for about one week before it will be used.

floor with polyurethane finish

How Long Should I Wait for the Stain to Dry Before Polyurethane Application?

The waiting time depends on the kind of wood stain used. It may take at least 48 hours to dry if you use penetrative wood stain. But if you use non-penetrative stains like latex, it may take two to three weeks to dry completely.

(Know more about the drying time of wood stain in this article!)

What Kind of Polyurethane Applicator is Best for Hardwood Flooring?

Lambswool applicator is great for oil-based polyurethane as it has a remarkable absorption rate and produces an even and smooth finish.

Meanwhile, I recommend using a T-bar applicator for water-based polyurethane because it can spread the water evenly without absorbing it. 


Do you need to buff between coats of polyurethane?

You must buff between applications of oil-based polyurethane to get rid of dust and bubbles. It also helps the succeeding coats to adhere properly and ensure a smooth finish.

Related Posts

How frequently should I re-apply polyurethane on my hardwood flooring?

The frequency of polyurethane application on the hardwood flooring depends on how often they are walked on. Typically, you may need to re-apply the polyurethane coat after one to two years.

What do I do when I get polyurethane on my skin?

If you experience irritation, wash your skin with soap and water immediately. If it persists and causes burns on your skin [1], pain, or swelling, consult a doctor as soon as possible.


Polyurethane application can be tricky and messy, especially if you do not know how long to wait between coats of polyurethane on hardwood floors.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you’re now confident that your hardwood floor is properly protected and, of course, brilliant with its even and smooth finish!

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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