How Many Coats of Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors

A picture of polyurethane finish on hardwood floors

Polyurethane is popular among homeowners who want to create a protective barrier over their floors. Its popularity is supported by its water resistance and ease of cleaning. Besides, the polyurethane finishes will protect your floor against chemicals that can harm concrete and steel, also protecting your floor against damage by harmful bacteria, debris, or bird droppings.

However, despite the massive importance, choosing between how many coats of polyurethane to add to your hardwood floors is often a primary ask among homeowners. Ideally, the number of polyurethane coats you add to your hardwood floor will depend on various factors, including the conditions of your floors, the wood type, the level of protection you want, the quality of polyurethane, and the recommendations by the manufacturers.

So, How Many Coats of Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors?

Let’s find out.

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How Many Coats of Polyurethane for Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors should have three to four coats of polyurethane independent of whether you are using oil-based or water-based polyurethane. Multiple coats establish a robust, thick, and durable barrier that safeguards the longevity of your wood floors.

The durability of the two types of polyurethane (water or oil based) affect the number of coats on your wood floor. For instance, even though water-based polyurethane is less smelly and dries faster on the floor, they are also less durable compared to oil-based polyurethane. As such, you must apply 3-4 coats of water-based polyurethane to create the desired protective layer.

On the other hand, oil-based polyurethane is long-lasting and will provide better protection to your wood floor than water-based polyurethane.  As a result, due to their immense durability, you may get away with two coats of oil-based polyurethane. However, you should use three coats of oil-based polyurethane for long-lasting floor protection. On the downside, the oil-based polyurethane has a strong odor and takes longer to dry.

 Applying multiple coats of polyurethane builds a long-lasting protective layer on your floor’s surface, improving its resistance to wear, scratches and moisture.

However, you may need light sanding between coats to promote adhesion for the polyurethane to bond with the wood and establish a smooth and even finish. Also, paying attention to the manufacturer’s instructions concerning the drying time between the coats is crucial.

Recall picking hardwood as your flooring option is an investment, and the quality of the polyurethane application can affect the lifespan and appearance of the finish.

Another challenge with this process is that you may intend to carry out it the first time and might not know the appropriate way to execute it. Below is a general guideline on applying polyurethane to your hardwood floor.

How to Apply Polyurethane Coat to Hardwood Floors

  • Clean the floor: Before applying polyurethane coats, thoroughly clean the floor to remove any dirt, dust, or debris on your floors using a vacuum or a damp mop. The dust or dirt particles on your wood floor will stick to the polyurethane, giving the wood surface a permanent dirty appearance, hence the importance of cleaning.
  • Sand the Floor: Sanding is imperative to establish a rough texture for polyurethane to adhere to the wood floor. Use medium-grit sandpaper to sand the surface of your wood floor. Once you are done with sanding, wipe away the sanding dust using a damp cloth.
  • Apply Polyurethane: Using a roller or brush, apply the polyurethane in thin, even coats on the clean wood surface. Allow the first coat to dry completely. You can allow up to 24 hours before you apply a second coat. For water-based polyurethane, apply 3-4 coats and 2-3 coats for oil-based polyurethane.
  • Let the Coat Dry: Give the floor about 24 hours for the coat to dry before using the floor.

The below video illustrates how to apply polyurethane coating on hardwood floors


Applying polyurethane on hardwood floors requires certain tips or precautions to enhance the efficiency of your practice.

Below are some of the tips when applying polyurethane on wood Floors.

  • Ensure your room is well-ventilated. When applying the oil-based polyurethane, your windows and doors should be opened as it has a strong odor. A well-ventilated room ensures you do not directly inhale the odor that can cause breathing problems.
  • The polyurethane should be applied as thin coats. Thick coats may take time to dry, and the finish will be uneven.
  • You should not overwork the polyurethane. Once you have applied the polyurethane, you must not return to it as this can cause uneven drying.
  • Allow the polyurethane to completely dry before applying the next coat and when all the coats have been applied.

Applying polyurethane coatings is an essential practice that can help you protect your hardwood floors for years, enhancing their durability and finish. It improves the value of your floor and its appearance. As a result, you must ensure that you have correctly done the application, following the proper manufacturing instructions.

How long will one coat of polyurethane last?

A single coat of polyurethane can last four to six years depend on factors such as the type of finish, the type of wood, the amount of foot traffic, and the level of exposure to elements.

Typically, a single coat of polyurethane is unreliable and will not withstand much of the weight the floors bear. As a homeowner, you should apply at least two coats when using oil-based polyurethane or 3 for water-based polyurethane since they are less durable.

The different types of wood influence how long polyurethane coats can last. For instance, softwoods like spine are less durable than hardwoods like maple or oak.

Also, areas with high foot traffic require more frequent reapplications than those with less foot traffic. For instance, if you operate a commercial premise, you may have to reapply the polyurethane more often than when applied in a residential space. Also, if you have many individuals in your household, you may need to add more coats of polyurethane than individuals with fewer individuals.

Furthermore, suppose your floor is exposed to various elements like chemicals or stains. In that case, you may need to reapply the polyurethane more often or in much fewer years (lower than 2) than the floors not exposed to the elements.

Is Layering 4 Coats Too Much?

No. Four coats are not too much, especially when using water-based polyurethane. Besides, four or five coats are still recommendable if your hardwood floor is in an area exposed to a lot of moisture or a primary passageway.

Most manufacturers recommend that coatings be at least three regardless of the type of polyurethane used, as many coatings can ultimately damage the floors. Nevertheless, the type of coating you use matters when deciding on the number of coats to apply.

For example, the oil-based polyurethane is thicker than the water-based; thus, when applied in many coats, it would likely be thicker and result in uneven finish.

Moreover, the type of surface you are applying the coat also matters. For example, if you are using the coat on a piece of furniture that you or a member of your family will handle frequently, then it is appropriate to apply a few coats so that the finish is not damaged or scratched.

And lastly, your personal preference is also an integral part of deciding the number of coats to apply. If, for instance, you like the look of a glossier finish, then you would prefer applying more coats.

What is the Best Applicator for Polyurethane on Hardwood Floors?

If your floor is made of hardwood and you intend to apply polyurethane, a lambswool applicator is your go-to choice. Lambswool is ideal for polyurethane application since it is absorbent and soft. As a result, it will not leave any streaks or lint behind, helping create a smooth and even finish. Besides, the applicator is easy to apply and control and reusable.

To use the applicator, ensure it is clean and free of debris. Besides, lambswool should be applied in thin and even coats. You must allow every coat to completely dry before you apply the next coat while using the lambswool applicator.

Furthermore, a lambswool applicator is ideal for use on wood blocks when using an oil-based polyurethane. With Lambswool, you can effectively distribute the polyurethane evenly and prevent it from dripping. The image shows an example of lambswool applicator, Bon Tool 24-290 Sheepskin Applicator.



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Other types of applicators that you can use for polyurethane include:

  1. Rollers

A roller will be ideal if you have a large floor area to apply polyurethane. On the contrary, a roller as an applicator is not perfect when working on a small area or around tight corners.

  1. Brushes

Brushes are another perfect option to use when applying polyurethane. However, they are somewhat more challenging to control than the lambswool applicator, which gives the latter an edge over them. Besides, unlike lambswool applicators, brushes can leave bubbles or streaks on the floor surface after polyurethane application.


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3. T-bars

T-bars are among the most convenient polyurethane applicators besides Lambswool as they are usable in small and large areas. They are a type of roller with a form pad on one end and a handle on the other end and can be effective as they give you control and versatility of application in different areas.

Ultimately, the type of polyurethane applicator you use will be significantly determined by the size of the area you are applying it to and your preferences. In cases when you are not sure of the applicator to use on your project, you must consult with an expert. We recommend Lambswool as the ideal and perfect applicator for polyurethane.

An image showing Duratool 18″ Lightweight T-Bar Applicator with Refill, one of the best T-bars for polyurethane application.


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You consider other elements, such as your budget for the other types of applicators described above.

Do you have to sand between the coats of polyurethane on a Hardwood Floor?

Yes. It is essential to sand between the coats when applying polyurethane on hardwood floors. Sanding is an effective practice to remove the bubbles and dust nibs from the hardwood surfaces. Also, sanding promotes sticking of the subsequent coats, especially where more than one coat is required, notably with all polyurethane coats.

Moreover, sanding between the coats helps level out the surface, giving the final coat a smoother and even finish. You can use fine-grit sandpaper, like 220 grits, for sanding between the coats. However, you must not do the sanding aggressively, as you may remove the polyurethane on the previous coats.

Below are a few tips when sanding between the coats of polyurethane on wood floors.

  1. You must first thoroughly vacuum the floor to remove any debris or dirt.
  2. Before sanding, allow the previous coat to dry completely. This can take up to between 2 and 4 hours. However, you must also check the instructions from the manufacturers on the product’s drying time.
  3. Ensure you sand the floor toward the grain to prevent the wood from splintering, utilizing light and even strokes.
  4. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying every coat.
  5. Wipe away each sanding dust with a tack cloth to ensure the surface is clean.

How Long to Wait Between Coats of Polyurethane on Hardwood Floors

The drying time varies with the type of polyurethane used. If you apply water-based polyurethane, you will wait for two to four hours before applying the next coat. The wait time for oil-based polyurethane can be between 10 and 24 hours. The oil-based polyurethane has a longer drying time compared to water-based polyurethane.


Ultimately, whether to use three or four coats of polyurethane on your floor is significantly influenced by the type of polyurethane, the desired finish, the amount of foot traffic, and the conditions of your floor. Generally, you should have 3 to 4 coats of water-based polyurethane and 2 to 3 coats of oil-based polyurethane since the oil-based type is thicker and more durable than the water-based polyurethane.

A single coat is not sufficient for most hardwood floors. Multiple coats help establish a durable protective layer and improve the floor’s resistance to moisture and wear. More essentially, you must follow the instructions by the manufacturers on the application procedure and allow enough drying time before using the floors. Also, it is essential to sand between the coats to enhance the bonding between the polyurethane and the wood and also to realize an even finish.

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