Can You Roll On Polyurethane? (2023)

Polyurethane is a wood finish that adds beauty to deck flooring, kitchen cabinets, tabletops, and many other wooden surfaces. Not only does the result appear stunning, but the finish also protects against moisture and seals even scratched surfaces. Most people apply polyurethane with a brush, but can you roll on polyurethane?

You can roll on polyurethane rather than use a paint brush. It’s an excellent finish for floors and other wooden surfaces. Using polyurethane with a roller includes multiple benefits, such as eliminating brush strokes and over-application or getting the project done fast.

In this article, we’ll show you the steps you need to use a roller with polyurethane. The following information is a guide to help you create a shiny polyurethane finish without causing harm to yourself or the environment.

Can You Roll On Polyurethane? (1)

Contents (Jump to Topic)

  • Can You Roll On Polyurethane?
  • Reasons to Use a Roller with Polyurethane
  • How to Apply Polyurethane With a Roller
    • Step 1: Prepare Your Materials
    • Step 2: Dip the Roller in Mineral Spirits
    • Step 3: Dip the Roller in Poly
    • Step 4: Apply the First Coat
    • Step 5: Repeat as Needed
    • Step 6: Sand the Surface
    • Step 7: Store Your Roller in Between
    • Step 8: Paint on Additional Coats
    • Step 9: Clean Up
  • What Type of Roller Do You Use for Polyurethane?
  • Can You Apply Oil-Based Polyurethane With a Roller?
  • Best Roller for Polyurethane
    • Finest Finish Paint Roller
    • FoamPRO 164 Fine Finish Roller
  • Can You Apply Too Many Polyurethane Coats?
  • How Many Layers of Polyurethane is Best?
  • How to Properly Dispose of Polyurethane
  • Summary

Can You Roll On Polyurethane?

You can use a roller with polyurethane. Using a roller is highly recommended if you’re working with water-based polyurethane, some oil-based options, and moisture-cured poly finishes. Doing so even comes with many benefits. For example, it helps finish multi-direction or wood floors well. The primary downside is that rollers are not ideal for covering corners or crevices.

Reasons to Use a Roller with Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a popular choice for finishing wood. Using polyurethane with a paint roller can help speed up the process, especially in large surface areas like wooden floors. Rollers are much faster and work better than brushes as your application method because they don’t leave brush marks and prevent you from over applying the finish.

There are many benefits to using a roller with polyurethane. However, the biggest downside is that rollers are not effective at covering corners, curves, or joints. You may need to go over these areas with a handheld paint brush.

(Video) How to Apply Polyurethane with a Foam Roller


  • Dries faster
  • Smooth finish
  • Eliminated brush marks
  • Prevents over-application
  • Full coverage on broad surface areas
  • Ideal for modern finishing materials, like decorative liquid plaster


  • High-quality rollers cost more than a paintbrush
  • Rollers are not excellent for painting curves, joints, or corners

How to Apply Polyurethane With a Roller

Can You Roll On Polyurethane? (2)

When applying polyurethane with a roller, you must wear protective gear. Polyurethane is incredibly toxic and dangerous, whether it’s water or airborne. You will need latex gloves and a face mask or ventilator to protect you from the chemicals. Wear goggles and a thick protective suit to keep your eyes and body safe.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

After you have your protective gear on, prepare your materials. Add two cups of mineral spirits to a paint pan, and pour the polyurethane into a separate paint pan. Make sure not to get the chemicals in your lungs or on your hands. Place the two pans in your work area, where they are readily available.

Step 2: Dip the Roller in Mineral Spirits

Dampen the paint roller by dipping it in the pan with mineral spirits. Shake off the excess. Your roller should not drip mineral spirits. This step helps apply the polyurethane smoothly.

Step 3: Dip the Roller in Poly

Dip the same roller in the pan of polyurethane immediately afterward. Dampen the roller’s surface. You will use this mix for your first finish layer.

Step 4: Apply the First Coat

Use the mineral spirit and polyurethane coated paint roller to apply the first coat on the surface you want to finish. Roll on the mixture quickly. Continue covering the surface area until the roller is clean. Then, allow the layer to dry completely. Check the polyurethane’s label for an exact dry time.

Step 5: Repeat as Needed

When the first polyurethane is dry, repeat steps two to four if you need to re-apply the first coat. You may want to repeat this step if the first coat does not seem to have a decent seal. Allow the layer to dry before moving to the next step.

(Video) How to Apply Polycrylic and Polyurethane (Like a PRO!)

Step 6: Sand the Surface

When the first coat is dry, sand the surface using 280-grit or higher sandpaper. The goal is to roughen up the first polyurethane coat so that the additional coats adhere thoroughly. You can use a cloth with mineral spirits to remove sand or dust from the surface area.

Step 7: Store Your Roller in Between

After applying the first coat of polyurethane, you may need to store your roller somewhere while you sand the surface. Dip the paint roller in your mineral spirits pan and dampen the entire roller. Shake off the excess, and put the roller in a freezer bag until it dries. Allow the pan to air dry as well.

Step 8: Paint on Additional Coats

When you’re ready, repeat steps two to seven to apply each coat of polyurethane. Allow each layer to dry in between, making sure to remove the poly from the roller each time. Three coats of polyurethane are typically ideal. However, you may need more coats for full coverage.

Step 9: Clean Up

You may be able to use soap and water to clean some water-based polys, but never if it’s oil-based. The clean-up process is crucial because polyurethane is not safe to dispose of the same way you would with water-based acrylic paint. Start by washing the paint roller with hot water to remove the poly and mineral spirits.

Next, you need to clean the paint pans. After you allow them to completely dry, even if there is a bit of poly or mineral spirits left in the pan, remove the dried matter from the pans. A flathead screwdriver should help you remove the material. Then, you can run the pans under hot water.

Excess polyurethane requires careful disposal. Pour any extra poly into a metal or plastic container with a tight lid. Then, throw the polyurethane in an outdoor trash can. Never pour leftover polyurethane back into the original container.

Finally, wash the pan in hot water. You can dry and reuse the roller and pans or dispose of them. If you don’t want to keep the paint pans, dispose of them in your outdoor trash can. Otherwise, you could store them in your garage for future projects.

What Type of Roller Do You Use for Polyurethane?

There are a wide array of rollers available in stores and online. They come in many textures, making them ideal for certain applications. For a smooth polyurethane finish, you want a soft roller. A smooth roller is excellent for flat surfaces.

When working with polyurethane, look for a lambswool or fiber paint roller. These are the best options because they prevent dust and lint from mixing with the finished surface. They also provide a smooth, sleek finish for hardwood flooring.


However, the type of roller you use may vary based on the wood condition and the polyurethane type. Urethane is available in water or oil-modified solutions, and your applicator should go with the type you choose. Specialized rollers may work better for specific wood conditions as well.

You can also use any foam roller by wrapping it in plastic, then with a cloth. The homemade applicator works perfectly for wipe-on polyurethane finishes and helps lay down polyurethane without lap lines. More importantly, it keeps the roller from absorbing the liquid, which also makes clean-up easier.

To wrap a roller, keep the plastic wrap in place with a sealed baggie. Then, cover it with lint-free cloth like an old t-shirt. Stretch the ends to overlap around the roller toward the handle.

Can You Apply Oil-Based Polyurethane With a Roller?

You can use a roller to apply some oil-based polyurethanes, but not all. Oil-based poly is designed to bring out the wood’s natural grain, so most people use a natural bristle brush.

Best Roller for Polyurethane

A soft, high-density roller is the ideal option for polyurethane. Look for lambswool, fiber, or foam rollers that are four inches long for the best results. However, the size of your roller may vary based on the surface area you plan to cover. You can find rollers available in 12, 18, 24, or 36 inches as well.

Finest Finish Paint Roller

Can You Roll On Polyurethane? (3)The Finest Finish Paint Roller is a four-inch foam high-density roller. It won’t leave lint behind, and the size makes the application process quick and easy. You can better cover corners or provide a spray touch-appearing finish. Plus, the foam holds the finish for a long time, allowing you to create a clean, streak-free surface.

You can even reuse this paint roller for other projects. It’s great for painting or varnishing any wooden furniture.

The foam also helps reduce the likelihood of drips and is super easy to clean later. The roller washes clean with ease, allowing you to use it many times.

FoamPRO 164 Fine Finish Roller

Can You Roll On Polyurethane? (4)The FoamPRO Fine Finish Roller is another high-density foam roller that’s great for applying oil-based polyurethane. It’s available in two, four, or six inches.

(Video) How to Roll Oil-Based Polyurethane Sealer

This roller is the best choice if you’re working on a smaller project, like refinishing kitchen cabinets or a wood table. The roller maneuvers well in narrow spaces and provides a clear, smooth surface with no lint.

The foam applicator absorbs poly thoroughly, preserving the moisture long enough for you to complete your project. Plus, the frame and roller cover included are reusable. You can paint, stain, varnish, or apply polyurethane with the paint roller.

Can You Apply Too Many Polyurethane Coats?

You can apply many layers of polyurethane if you cover the entire surface and sides of the wood. Otherwise, moisture could get underneath and cause the wood to bulge over time. Too many coats of polyurethane may cause similar bulging.

How Many Layers of Polyurethane is Best?

The best results come when you apply three layers of polyurethane for a wood floor, especially if you use an oil-based polyurethane. The first coat should mix with mineral spirits to create a barrier between the wood and the finish, like a sealer. A bristle brush is ideal for this step. Then, you can use a roller to apply the subsequent two layers of polyurethane.

How to Properly Dispose of Polyurethane

Be careful how you dispose of polyurethane. It’s not biodegradable, and the smoke emits highly toxic substances that can ignite, so polyurethane is not ideal for burning or throwing down the drain. However, the material does become easier to dispose of when it dries to a hard material.

To properly dispose of polyurethane, make sure to seal the leftover liquid or dried matter in a plastic or metal container or can with a lid. Then, throw it in the trash. Never pour polyurethane down the drain or directly into the garbage.

If you wrapped a foam roller in plastic and cloth before applying the poly, clean-up is easy. You’ll need mineral spirits for any wet polyurethane. Throw out the fabric when you’re done and use mineral spirits to wipe off the plastic wrap.


You can use a roller with polyurethane, whether it’s oil or water-based. Most types of poly look great when you roll them on. However, you should check the finish’s label to make sure the materials you use are compatible. Rollers help create smooth, sleek results on wood surfaces. They’re a great way to cover a large surface area, in particular, like a floor.

Did you find the information you need to complete your polyurethane finish? If you enjoyed learning how to roll on poly, please let us know. Share our article with your friend and leave us a comment.

(Video) Applying polyurethane with a roller


Is it better to brush or roll polyurethane? ›

Don't use rollers or foam brushes—they create bubbles. Your brush will be easier to clean, and will go longer between cleanings, if its bristles are dipped first in mineral spirits, if you're using an oil-based poly, or in water, if the finish is water-based.

Can I apply Poly with a rag? ›

Polyurethane is so durable and water-resistant, it has largely replaced shellac and varnish as a wood finish. Originally, it had to be brushed on, but different formulations mean it can now be applied as a spray or by wiping it on with a rag.

Do you really need 3 coats of polyurethane? ›

For ideal results, you should use about three or four coats. You will also have to wait quite some time between coats, as this polyurethane takes longer to dry. No matter how many coats of polyurethane you apply, it will always be quite a time-consuming process when using an oil-based finish.

Can you put polyurethane with a roller? ›

Yes! You can use a roller to apply polyurethane (and definitely should) when working on floors and large furniture. Applying polyurethane using a roller is easier, and the drying time is short. The roller also removes brush marks and prevents over-application on the surface.

Why do you not shake polyurethane? ›

Tip: Before use, a can of polyurethane should be stirred, not shaken. Shaking can introduce air bubbles in the finish that could make an uneven coat.

Why should you never shake polyurethane? ›

Never shake a can of polyurethane or wipe your brush on the rim of the can because you'll introduce bubbles into the finish. The bubbles will dry in your finish and leave the surface bumpy. The only way to get rid of the bubbles is to sand, which means more time and effort.

How do you get polyurethane even? ›

Use a Roller on Large, Flat Surfaces
  1. A 6-in. rollers lets you apply the poly fast and evenly. ...
  2. Don't freak out when you see the finish right after you lay it down. ...
  3. After each coat, re-dip the roller in mineral spirits and put it into a zippered plastic bag for the next coat and leave the wet tray to dry.
14 Nov 2019

How do you know when polyurethane is done? ›

Polyurethane, Shellac, Varnish and Lacquer – Use a cotton swab with acetone on it and apply to the wood. If it becomes tacky, than it is shellac or varnish and if it beads, it has a polyurethane finish. If it is lacquer, the lacquer will dissolve completely.

Does Poly dry faster with heat or cold? ›

Adding a heat source when the weather is too cold will speed up the drying process of your polyurethane. You can use a hairdryer or a wall heater – just ensure that you are only using gentle heating, as too much will impact the overall finish.

How long should Poly dry between coats? ›

Water-based polyurethane requires at least two hours of dry time between coats, and you should only apply two coats in a day. It's important to remember that drying time is affected by temperature and humidity.

How do you get brush strokes out of polyurethane? ›

Let dry 24 hours and scuff sand with 320 grit wet dry paper. I prefer to dry sand however, if I have stubborn brush marks, I wet sand using mineral spirits as the lubricant. I then lightly rub with 0000 steel wool. Do all the scuff work with a firm gentle hand.

Do you lightly sand between coats of polyurethane? ›

For fast-drying polyurethane and most water-based poly, it will still remain glossy even after sanding, so it won't necessarily help with adhesion. In conclusion, it's necessary to sand polyurethane between coats for a perfect finish.

Do you sand the last layer of polyurethane? ›

No, you don't need to sand the final coat of polyurethane. The only time you should sand the final coat of polyurethane is if you haven't gotten a smooth finish. Different problems can occur when you apply polyurethane, such as dust nibs, bubbles, and streaks.

Can you apply too much polyurethane? ›

Do not apply too much polyurethane in one coat, as this can result in the wood grain rising to the surface. You will not need to sand the surface between coats of water-based polyurethane, but it is always best to do it anyway. You will need at least three coats for a surface that is lightly used.

What happens if you put a second coat of polyurethane too soon? ›

It's all about adhesion. When you recoat after 2 hours you get a chemical bond between layers. If you let it go longer than that, you need to wait 24 hours so it's hard enough to sand and get a mechanical bond.

How do you apply polyurethane without bubbles? ›

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Apply Polyurethane Without Bubbles
  1. Remove All Dust. ...
  2. Sand the Surface. ...
  3. Wipe Down After Sanding. ...
  4. Mix Your Polyurethane. ...
  5. Apply Your First Coat. ...
  6. Sand Before The Next Coat. ...
  7. Apply Your Next Coat of Polyurethane. ...
  8. Repeat This Process.
30 Oct 2022

Can clear coat be applied with a roller? ›

Apply DiamondFinish Clear using a bristle brush, foam brush or tight-knap foam roller to a test area first. Don't use polyester knit or woven roller that might shed lint.

Can you buff bubbles out of polyurethane? ›

“The only way to correct this issue is to strip the finish down to bare wood, wipe it thoroughly with denatured alcohol, and restain. Next, brush on a couple of coats of dewaxed shellac, such as Zinsser's SealCoat.

How toxic is polyurethane dust? ›

As for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or semivolatiles (SVOCs), PU Europe states that polyurethane insulation has very low emission levels. In their tests, they found no substances harmful to health in the emissions.

What happens if you put polyurethane on too thick? ›

Causes. Thick coats: If the polyurethane coats applied to the wood is too heavy or thick, cracks may appear. In severe cases, alligatoring can occur.

How do you make polyurethane smooth and shiny? ›

Add a pea-sized amount of car paste wax to a polishing pad or cloth. Work in short, smooth motions until there are no visible scratches in the polyurethane. Move the pad in smooth, horizontal motions so you can apply an even coat of wax to the surface. You can also use a section of 0000 steel wool to buff the surface.

Can I apply multiple coats of polyurethane without sanding? ›

The answer depends on the manufacturer and type of polyurethane you are using. Some manufacturers of water-based polyurethanes do not require sanding between coats, as long as you observe specific recoating times. Most manufacturers of oil-based polyurethanes do require sanding between coats.

Why does my polyurethane look blotchy? ›

Those streaking marks appear because polyurethane finish dries before marks are gone. This causes rapid gloss levels all over the surface. You may notice some areas have high gloss while some are not.

What causes orange peel in polyurethane? ›

The most common cause of orange peel is an imbalance between the viscosity of the finish and the amount of air atomizing the liquid as it exits the gun. The thicker the liquid, the more air required; the thinner, the less air needed. So the obvious fix is to increase the air pressure or thin the material.

How long does it take for polyurethane to get hard? ›

Polyurethane dries in 24-48 hours and takes about 30 days to fully cure. Your new hardwood floor is installed, and just one more thing needs to be done to protect the wood and bring out that beautiful grain. It's time to apply the polyurethane varnish.

Do you have to polyurethane both sides? ›

Not at all. In fact, all the evidence points the other way – that it doesn't make any difference whether the wood is finished on both sides or not. It will warp or not warp totally independent of how it's finished, because a finish only slows moisture exchange.

How many coats of polyurethane do I need to put on? ›

As a general rule, apply at least two coats of oil-based polyurethane. Floors, kitchen furniture and other high traffic areas will need three coats. For water-based polyurethane, apply five coats to achieve adequate protection.

How many coats of polyurethane is too many? ›

Remember that the more coats you add, the longer it may take to dry. Four coats may be fine in certain circumstances, but more than that can be problematic. There is indeed a chance that it will look fine – but at the same time, it might peel or turn yellow. Three coats of polyurethane should be more than enough.

What do you do when polyurethane won't dry? ›

If you have already applied the polyurethane and it isn't drying, you can try applying heat—for example, from a heat lamp or blow dryer. It will speed the drying, just not very much.

How long should polyurethane CURE before buffing? ›

Allow each coat of Polyurethane to dry at least 2 hours before applying the next coat or 24 hours if sanding between coats. See Sanding & Polishing below for more information. The last 2-3 coats should be applied WITHOUT scuff sanding between coats to ensure a smooth, clear surface.

Can you sleep in house after polyurethane? ›

We recommend a minimum of 2 days of socks-only traffic for floors finished with oil polyurethane. The house is not inhabitable for a minimum of 2 days after the job is completed, and better to stay out for at least 5 as the fumes/off-gassing is not advisable to breathe in, even if there are other rooms to sleep in.

Is 3 coats of wipe on poly enough? ›

As a rule, it takes three coats of wipe-on to match the buildup that you get from one coat of brush-on poly. That said, the speed of wipe-on application often makes up for those extra coats.

Can I do second coat after 1 hour? ›

Adding a Second Coat

After your first coat of paint is dry, it's safe to recoat typically after four to six hours. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least three hours to recoat your paint or primer if it's water-based. Waiting 24 hours is best for oil-based paint and primer.

Will a fan help polyurethane dry faster? ›

Fast drying polyurethane takes up to 4 hours for oil-based and 2 hours for water-based formula. It depends on the brand of fast-drying poly you use, temperature, and humidity conditions. You can always speed up the drying process by using a hair dryer or fan to circulate air around the polyurethane drying area.

Is it better to brush or wipe polyurethane? ›

Brush-on polys work best on flat surfaces where it's important to build up a durable film. Brushes hold a lot of finish, so you can cover a wide area each time you load them up. Wipe-on polys are best for contoured surfaces—crown molding and stair balusters—where brushing might create drips.

Should I use a foam brush for polyurethane? ›

Yes, it is OK to use a foam brush to apply polyurethane. However, it isn't the best choice for larger projects because the foam doesn't spread the polyurethane as well as a synthetic or natural brush. Use a foam brush to apply polyurethane to smaller projects, like finishing a birdhouse.

What's the best way to brush on polyurethane? ›

Use a foam brush! It doesn't leave brush marks because it has no bristles. And it's easier to control the amount of polyurethane being applied. It's also easy to gently smooth out any line marks caused by the ends of the foam brush (if too much is applied) and the lines are easy to see and smooth out while applying.

Does a brush or roller give a smoother finish? ›

Brushes will provide a smoother finish than rollers and provide a more controlled paint. Delicate and smaller painting like trim and woodwork is the ideal place to use a brush. When getting brushes for your project, size, and quality are important considerations.

How do you apply polyurethane without brush marks? ›

Thin your polyurethane with paint thinner, mixing it with a paint stir stick. When polyurethane is too thick, the brush marks hold their shape and don't settle out. Thinning the product provides a smoother finished surface. Experiment with different amounts of paint thinner to see what works best for you.

Can you roll on polyurethane? ›

Yes! You can use a roller to apply polyurethane (and definitely should) when working on floors and large furniture. Applying polyurethane using a roller is easier, and the drying time is short. The roller also removes brush marks and prevents over-application on the surface.

Do professional painters use rollers? ›

Many professional painters combine spray painting, roller painting and brush painting depending on the exact surface being painted. Starting with the brush, each method is faster than the previous one, but each method is less accurate than the previous one.

Do professional painters use brushes or rollers? ›

Most professional painters will combine spray painting, roller painting and brush painting depending on the surface. Spray painting is the fastest way to paint large areas where we don't need to be very accurate, like on an exterior wall.

How long do you wait between coats of polyurethane? ›

Water-based polyurethane requires at least two hours of dry time between coats, and you should only apply two coats in a day. It's important to remember that drying time is affected by temperature and humidity.

Can you buff out brush marks in polyurethane? ›

Let dry 24 hours and scuff sand with 320 grit wet dry paper. I prefer to dry sand however, if I have stubborn brush marks, I wet sand using mineral spirits as the lubricant. I then lightly rub with 0000 steel wool. Do all the scuff work with a firm gentle hand.


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