Varathane vs Minwax — Which is the Best for Your Project?

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Finishing products give your wood projects the final appearance and long-lasting protection. So it’s important to choose wisely among the best. But with all the many options out there, how can you choose the best among them?

In this article, I’m going to share the strengths and weaknesses of two of the most renowned finishing products – Minwax and Varathane. This way, you can discern which one aligns best with your project needs. Let’s get into it!

What is Varathane?

Since 1958, woodworkers have been using Varathane as an wood-finishing product. Varathane polyurethane has become popular because of its quick drying after application while giving your wood surface scratch and stain resistance.

Rust-Oleum 284470 Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane

Varathane offers a comprehensive solution, from wood putty right through to the finishing touches. They also have a variety of color options available, from deeper shades like black, blue, and brown to the subtler tones like pink and grey.

In my circles, many fellow woodworkers including myself have Varathane stain products as shop staples. Their products are a real time-saver on our projects. They have an array of polyurethane oil and water-based stains, which include the standout soya oil-based wood conditioner.

Ultimate Polyurethane Oil

The Varathane premium oil-based wood finishes give your projects a natural appearance. You will get a rich and golden finish after the recommended two coats of polyurethane oil. 

When using this product, you will notice that it dries faster than any oil-based stains and polyurethane, has no visible brush strokes, and is self-leveling. 

Pros and Cons of Varathane

For Varathane topcoats, here are the pros and cons when using them. 

close up view Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane



What is Minwax?

Minwax polyurethane is known to be one of the best pre-stain polyurethane products, offering consistent finish quality on wood surfaces since 1904. There are several Minwax oil-based and water-based products that you can use as sealants or fillers and pre-stain wood conditioners. 

Minwax also offers refining products that protect the wood surface for a long time. Its famous Design Series Color Wash creates a finished of old-fashioned yet unique designs. 

Minwax Performance Series

You can expect Minwax a lasting finish from its oil-based formula. For as fast as 2 hours, you can recoat the surface when using solvent-based and 6 hours for water-based finishes. This means that the drying time of Minwax is faster than traditional wood stains.

Minwax Polycrylic

Also, its texture is thicker which makes it easier to apply with minimum spatting and dripping. You can choose from 48 colors from the Minwax performance series, spanning from golden oak, red mahogany, birchbark, and grey elm among others.

complete list of the Minwax Performance Series

Pros and Cons of Minwax

Here is my list of Minwax wood stains’ pros and cons: 

paint brush and Minwax Helmsman Indoor-Outdoor Spar Urethane



Side-by-Side Comparison of Minwax and Varathane

If you want the best results for your finish, here’s a side-by-side comparison of Minwax vs. Varathane. 

Product Range

Minwax and Varathane cover polyurethane that’s oil-based, water-based, and oil-modified. You can use either of them for floors, interior, and exterior by rolling, wiping, brushing, or spraying.

For most customers, a wipe-on poly is easier. But Varathane does not offer a wipe-on product, making this an edge for Minwax.  

Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane Spray

Minwax carries a wipe-on poly which costs less than other companies in the industry. So in terms of product range, you can rely on Minwax.

Winner: Minwax


When it comes to ease of application, both manufacturers provide various options to apply like spraying, brushing, or wiping. Also, they both have water-based polyurethane products that dry quickly, requiring only one coat of poly.

This means that both Minwax and Varathane are considered to be on the top list of wood stains you can apply effortlessly.


Most wood finishing products are durable. Some are both safe for public health and the environment while protecting the wooden surface from extreme heat and cold and water or moisture.

Minwax 60910000 Wipe-On Poly

Both Minwax and Varathane deliver reliable durability. If a long-lasting wood finish is what you’re after, I can personally vouch for either of these brands.


The versatility of wood stain is important to save you more time in your wood projects. Varathane offers its stain+poly product, whereas Minwax has its Polyshades product. 

Both of their products do not require a brush, bucket, or sprayer. All you need to do is prepare the can and start your finishing touch on your furniture or flooring. So, you can grab both in terms of versatility.

Toxicity and Smell

Polyurethane is composed of isocyanates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which make the Minwax and Varathane products high in terms of level of toxicity. When you smell VOCs for a couple of hours, you will experience headaches, irritations to your eyes and nose, and dizziness.

painting wooden furniture with Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Authorities regulate the use of polyurethane so using it can be less hazardous. But between these brands, Varathane contains less VOC compared to Minwax, but the difference is not significant. 

Winner: Varathane

Dry Time

While Minwax is often touted for its fast-drying properties, many might be surprised to learn that Varathane also boasts an ultra fast-drying poly in its lineup. The evolution of wood stains, be it water-based or oil-based, has indeed leaned towards quicker drying times.

Having used both, I can confirm that Varathane and Minwax share comparable drying times. So, if quick drying is a priority, you’re in good hands with either choice.

Applicable Supplies/Materials

Supplies and materials available for Varathane and Minwax applications can be found easily in the market. Also, you can use a brush or aerosol spray [1] if you are going to apply it on the surface.  

applying Minwax 25555 Clear Protective Finish

Color and Shine

For a particular finish, Varathane gives an absolute shine to the surface and does not give an off-color afterward. Also, this poly could give you the most prolonged effect than Minwax. 

But in terms of coat, both Varathane and Minwax peel off. However, it still highly depends on the conditions of the surface.

Winner: Varathane


Normally, polyurethane can only be applied on a bare wood surface. Also, oil-based and water-based stains have different effects, particularly on color. 

If you apply oil-based stain polyurethane, you can get an amber shade afterward. Water-based will give you a yellowish color if you applied on a white-painted surface. Most of them have this effect including Minwax products.

Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

On the contrary, you can use Varathane products on a white-painted wooden surface without turning yellowish or amber shade. So for this feature, you know which you can use.

Winner: Varathane

Coats Required

Multiple coats are time-consuming so when using Varathane, you have to allot more time compared to applying Minwax products. Though one layer is all you need for Minwax, the finish looks appealing and the coat dries fast.

Winner: Minwax


While both finishes stand out for their durability, they differ in how they interact with wood surfaces. Varathane, when compared to some other stain products, doesn’t penetrate as deeply into the wood. On the other hand, Minwax tends to seep in more, granting the finish added resistance against fading.

Given these differences, I suggest you take into account how each product might peel or wear over time before making a purchase decision. It’s essential to match the product to the specific needs of your project.

Winner: Minwax


The finish texture of Varathane is smooth and glossy for its final coat whereas, Minwax is far from a smooth finish. Also, the latter mostly has a non-gloss finish.

Winner: Varathane

preparing Rust-Oleum 284470

Penetration and Waterproofing

First, Varathane products offer waterproofing to protect wood surfaces. You cannot rest easy if you use Minwax as a waterproof finish to your furniture and floorings. 

Lastly, penetration is important for the overall performance of the finishing products. For this one, you can rely on Minwax.

Minwax penetrates deeply into the surface. This explains that it does not peel off easily or chip over time.


Varathane products are composed of costly chemicals and other materials so you can find the products more expensive than Minwax’s offerings

wood painted with Minwax Helmsman Indoor-Outdoor Spar Urethane

However, you need more than a couple of coats for Minwax to achieve the result. So, combining what you spent buying Minwax products, it will be the same as you spend purchasing Varathane. 

Choosing a Finish to Make Your Room Brighter

After giving you a side-by-side comparison between Varathane vs. Minwax, it’s time to choose the final look of your finish. Will you opt for a oil-based or water-based finish?

Both polyurethane types offers durability and an appealing finished look. But there are always differences between the two.

Oil-Based vs Water-Based Polyurethane

For water-based polyurethane, you can get a clear finish on your wood projects without toxic VOCs. It gives you a natural look and you have the edge of coating the surface more than once because the water-based finishes dry quickly.

But your limitations in using water-based are the cost as compared with oil-based. You cannot expect a glossy appearance and the surface water-based needs more maintenance or refinishing such as wooden floorings.

can of polyurethane and paint brush

Meanwhile, oil-based polyurethane offers some advantages in terms of durability and cost-effectiveness. If you are going to use it, your wood project will have an amber glow and a more protective finish than water-based. You can save money and time when you used oil-based. 

The only limitation you will have when using oil-based is you need to wait for 12 hours curing time after the last coat. Also, this polyurethane emits a strong odor due to stronger VOCs.

Want to explore their differences more? Learn more in this oil vs water-based polyurethane comparison. 

The Purpose of Wood Preparation

Preparation of your wood is important with any wood projects that you will do. You can make sure that it has protection and can be preserved for a long time.

How to Prepare Wood

Before your finishing coat, you have to prepare your wood by sanding and conditioning. Here’s how you do it like a professional woodworker.


As a starter, use sandpaper with 100-grit to get rid of the visible imperfections on the surface. Then move to 150-grit paper to give your wood surface more uniform and smoother. For final sanding, get your 220-grit sandpaper for the ultimate finish on preparing your wood.

sanding block


For conditioning the wood, you have to choose the right conditioner as the first step. Make sure you use the same brand of conditioner with the wood stain. Water-based conditioner should match with water-based wood stain. 

Then pick a location as your workstation. Make sure the place is dust free so it cannot go on your wood surface. Also, good ventilation is necessary for the odor of stains and finishes.

After making sure everything is in order and you have cleaned thoroughly the wood surface, you can apply the conditioner. Using a foam brush, lint rag, or bristle brush, you can start applying the wood conditioner. You need to follow the direction of the wood grain for easy absorption.

Finally, after the penetration of the pre-stain wood conditioners on the surface, you can wipe off excess. 

Safety Precautions

Since polyurethane is highly flammable, you have to take precautions while using it. Aside from the part that you should know how to use it, you also need to know important safety measures.

protective gears

Of course, it’s a must not to allow smoking in the workstation. You also need to make sure that there are no open flames. 

Wear Goggle

Then, wearing goggles is the next thing you have to do. Protect your eyes from VOCs that caused irritations, especially when brushing them. Also, you will never know if small drops can get to your eyes by accident so better to prevent them from coming to your eyes.

Use Gloves

Next, wear a pair of gloves as soon as you start doing your wood project. Any chemicals you start from the beginning are toxic and contain irritants that can cause skin problems later on. So, better to protect your hands before you begin.

Use a Respirator

Lastly, wear a comfortable mask or respirator especially if you need to use fire in the middle of your work. It’s a routine that’s become second nature in my workshop. And when it comes to applying polyurethane, I’ve found that a simple paper dust mask usually does the trick. 

Recommended Read: Is Polyurethane Toxic to Your Health & The Environment

Can You Combine Varathane and Minwax?

The answer is yes. Water-based and oil-based polyurethane is compatible respectively but not oil with water or vice versa. 

mixing Minwax Water-Based, Oil-Modified Polyurethane

However, if you are going to combine oil-based and water-based Varathane and Minwax, you need to use Shellac. This oil can combine two different Minwax and Varathane wood stains to stick together.

Can I Apply Minwax Over Varathane?

You can apply Minwax over Varathane as long as one of them is cured properly. If you want to mix stain colors, you need to do a color test so you have an idea of the result. 

You’ll Also Like:


Are Varathane and Minwax similar?

Varathane and Minwax are different brands. They have similarities but their differences can affect the result on a wood surface.

Is poly ideal for outdoor use?

Polyurethane is not always the most ideal choice for outdoor use. Over time, exposure to sunlight and weather conditions can cause polyurethane to break down.

But there polyurethane that can be used outdoors. For example, you can use Varathane wood stain outdoors as it offers to waterproof.

Did Varathane acquire Minwax?

No, Varathane did not acquire Minwax. Both Varathane and Minwax are well-known brands in the wood finishing industry, but they have distinct histories and ownerships.

As of writing, Minwax is owned by Sherwin-Williams, a major paint and coatings company, while Varathane is a part of the Rust-Oleum brand, which is under RPM International.

Can I apply Minwax over Varathane?

As I mentioned earlier, you can apply Minwax over Varathane as long as you use Shellac between them so there’s no peeling off.


If I were to choose between Varathane vs. Minwax, I’d lean towards Minwax. It just seems to have a slight advantage on both indoor and outdoor wooden surfaces. 

That said, Varathane’s finish often imparts a more refined look to furniture and flooring, thanks to its glossy component. Plus, the efficiency of needing just a single coat with Varathane to cover the wood base is something I also truly appreciate.

robert headshot

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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