How Many Coats of Polyurethane to Use on Hardwood Floors?

by Charlie
How Many Coats of Polyurethane to Use on Hardwood Floors

Many people love how hardwood floors look and are keen to install them in their homes. Hardwood looks fantastic, bringing a warm and cozy appearance to any home. It’s also hard-wearing and timeless, meaning you won’t need to replace your floor for a long time, even if it gets a lot of use. Those alone are often sufficient reasons to choose this flooring.

However, hardwood floor does need to be thoroughly sealed if it’s going to work well in your home. Unsealed hardwood is an option, but it will be marked by even small splashes of water, and dirt will quickly get into the wood. That means you need to coat your floor with polyurethane thoroughly before you start using it.

How many coats of polyurethane to use on hardwood floors? Hardwood floors should have a minimum of 2 coats of polyurethane, and preferably more. The more coats you have, the better protected the floor will be from splashes and dirt. If you use water-based polyurethane, make sure you have a minimum of 4 coats, and your floor will continue looking good for years.

Do You Need Multiple Coats of Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors?

You do need multiple coats of polyurethane on a hardwood floor. This protects the wood and it’s a key part of maintaining a hardwood floor in your home – so don’t skip this step. You must lay a minimum of 2 coats of polyurethane, or 4 if you are using water-based polyurethane.

When you’re choosing polyurethane for your floor, you can either opt for oil-based or water-based. There are pros and cons to each, but make sure you are aware of which you have chosen, so you know how many coats you need to do. Water-based polyurethane finishes are thinner, and therefore do generally need more coats.

It’s important to get a thick enough layer of varnish to protect the floor, because if you only add 1 coat or there is insufficient thickness, moisture and dirt could still penetrate through to the wood. This is particularly true after a few years, once the varnish has begun to wear off, so don’t just do a single coat.

Remember that the polyurethane is what protects the wood, and since hardwood floors are expensive, it’s important to take the time to do this well. Don’t rush the process, or the wood will get ruined.

If your hardwood floor is in a particularly high traffic area of your house, you might want to put an extra coat on, because the varnish will wear out more quickly, and there will be more dirt to deal with. Even so, don’t add multiple extra coats, for reasons which we will cover in the next section.

Are More Coats Always Better?

Although having plenty of polyurethane protects your floor, using too much can be problematic too. It tends to give your floor a plastic-like feel and may affect the color and the beauty of the wood’s grain. You should therefore avoid adding an excessive number of coats. 3 coats should be sufficient for an oil-based varnish, while you might be able to do 5 coats of water-based varnish.

It is generally better to err on the side of too many coats, because this ensures the wood is protected, and the varnish will wear down as time passes. However, you shouldn’t put excessive coats of varnish on your floor.

Which Kind of Polyurethane is Better?

Both oil-based and water-based polyurethane have advantages and disadvantages. Oil-based is denser and needs fewer coats, and it tends to be cheaper than water-based. However, it usually takes longer to dry and it has a much stronger smell, meaning you’ll need better ventilation in the room.

A lot of people prefer oil-based polyurethane varnishes, but you should be aware that some of these can take as much as 10 hours to dry.

On the other hand, because the water-based polyurethane needs more coats, you will have to spend more time directly working on it. Neither is automatically better, although water-based polyurethane will often still be faster overall.

One of the other features of oil-based polyurethane is that it has quite a yellow hue to it. This can be a positive when it is used on dark wood, because it makes it richer. On the other hand, it doesn’t look as nice on lighter woods, such as maple, and can lend them a cheap sort of tinge.

How Do You Apply Polyurethane to Hardwood Floors?

Once your floor has been cleaned, sanded, and prepared for the polyurethane, stir it thoroughly and then use a paintbrush to start applying it. Begin in one corner of the room, and gradually work your way across the room, working toward the exit, so you can leave the room while the polyurethane dries.

Allow the polyurethane to dry, and when it is completely dry, lightly sand the floor and wipe it down with a damp cloth. Apply another coat, again working from the furthest corner and heading towards the door.

If you are using oil-based polyurethane, just do one coat per day, so the varnish can thoroughly dry in between coats. This doesn’t apply if you are using a quick-drying oil-based polyurethane, which will sometimes be ready for a new coat in as little as 4 hours.

When you have got a sufficient number of coats on the floor, leave the room for at least 1 week before you put furniture on it. This will allow the polyurethane to fully harden and set.

If the manufacturer instructs you to use a certain number of coats, follow this guide to make sure you get a good, protective layer across the floor. For high-traffic areas, remember that an extra coat may be beneficial.

Final Thoughts

The number of coats you need for a hardwood floor will vary depending on whether you are using oil-based or water-based polyurethane. For water-based, you may need up to 5 coats, while oil-based will probably only require around 3 coats. Choose the polyurethane according to the wood type and the speed with which you need to complete the project.

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