Acrylic VS Polyurethane – Detailed Comparison in 2022

There are thousands of fans of both polyurethane and acrylic urethane which makes you more confused about which one should be your pick.

And, the fact is, you must know the key differences between both finishes concerning their prices, durability, versatility, and so on.


That’s fine, you don’t have to worry because we’re here with the information below:

  • Detailed comparison about acrylic vs polyurethane
  • Things that make a paint high quality
  • Explanations of the differences between acrylic and polyurethane
  • Some questions and answers
  • And, other useful facts

So, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Polyurethane vs Acrylic: Comparison On The Fly

Main baseWaterOil
AppearanceMilky-whiteGolden hue
FlexibilityLess flexibleMore flexible
DurabilityLess durableMore durable
PriceCheck HereCheck Here

What Makes A Paint High Quality?

Before we delve into what makes polyurethane and acrylic quality paint, let’s get to know what quality paint does mean first. Generally, high-quality paint contains more total solids. Hence total solid refers to pigments and resins.

Moreover, high-quality paint contains fewer solvents compared to lower-quality paint.

Therefore, if the two go on with the same thickness, at the time of evaporating solvents, a high-quality paint tends to leave a tougher and thicker paint film.

Also, high-quality paints come with better pigments so they hide imperfections better. Paints that have better resins in them are higher-quality as they stick better and last longer.

High-quality paints contain additives that improve their application and protective qualities.

Differences Between Acrylic and Polyurethane with Explanations

Let’s have a look at the factors we’re trying to explain so you can pick one option more easily.

Differences Between Acrylic and Polyurethane with Explanations

Main Base

Do you want to choose between oil and water? If yes, then, polyurethane allows you to choose but acrylic paint only comes in the water-based version.
Oil-based polyurethane is even more durable and it’s the best option for refinishing furniture or wooden floors. Oil-based paint can handle high heat greatly whereas water-based acrylic and polyurethane struggle with it.

On the other hand, water-based polyurethane has fewer VOCs compared to its oil-based counterpart so it’s less hard on your nose and lungs.

Acrylic, water-based paint is far less toxic and smelly compared to either type of polyurethane. It makes it easier to work with. But you can’t have an oil-based option and go with acrylic at the same time.

And, acrylic paint can’t withstand high heat like oil-based polyurethane can.


Both acrylic and polyurethane come in gloss, satin, and high-gloss sheens, so you’re free to choose from the finishes. Still, there are some differences:

  • Oil-based polyurethane: Dries with a yellowish tint which means, you should only use this over dark woods to hide the yellow cast.
  • Water-based polyurethane: Since it dries completely clear, it’s okay to use it over light woods such as maple without worry about yellowing.
  • Acrylic: It may take on a milky appearance if you apply it heavily over dark wood so try only on light woods.

So, overall, if you want something like a milky appearance, going for acrylic is okay otherwise, polyurethane is what you want. Paints without oil are less resistant to heat and solvents though.


No matter if you’re using acrylic or polyurethane, you’ll want to get a hard, durable finish that can protect your floor or furniture from mild/moderate abuse.

However, if you want to use a sealer as well that can deal with literally strong stuff (e.g lots of foot traffic or daily, vigorous use), then oil-based polyurethane will work best. The amount of resin in urethane makes it more resistant to scratches and eventually, more durable.

Worth mentioning the more urethane a finish contains, the more durable and harder the finish is.

Ease of Use

The fact is, applying acrylic evenly is more difficult than applying polyurethane. You can choose both brush and spray options from acrylic and polyurethane. But you have to be extra careful of acrylic’s runnier consistency.

While working with acrylic paint, you’ll want to apply several thin coats and be very watchful for drips. After that, you must wait a specific dry time so you don’t end up having a sticky finish.

Moreover, acrylic paint dries very fast to the touch which makes it really hard to have an even finish over a large surface area.

You can apply both acrylic and polyurethane over oil-based and water-based paints but polyacrylic tends to dry late over matte latex paint for the additives present in the paint.

Air Time

Since acrylic paints are thinner than any oil-based paint like polyurethane, they require at least 3-4 coats for creating a protective layer.

Eventually, they require 1-2 hours for drying between coats.

On the contrary, 1-3 coats are okay for polyurethane to create a protective layer (2 coats are recommended for hard-wearing floors) but the finish takes 12-24 hours to dry between every coat.

As you can see, acrylic paints require more coats but they dry faster.

Coverage & Cost

You’ve already been informed that oil-based polyurethane contains more solids than water-based acrylic paint. More specifically, polyurethane has 45-50% solids whereas acrylic contains 30-35%.

Solids (pigments and resins) build tough protective finishes so you have to apply the double coat of acrylic rather than polyurethane. Meaning, to get the same as polyurethane’s two coats, acrylic’s four coats are required.

About coverage amount, well, that really depends on hardwood floor applications. One gallon of acrylic provides 600 sq. ft coverage at $40. And, one gallon of polyurethane can cover 400 sq. ft and you have to count $25.

Health Risks

Last but not least factor (especially, if you’re a health-conscious person) that matters here is health issues. Oil-based polyurethane is more toxic and dangerous than acrylic urethane.

Polyurethane is highly flammable when it’s wet so you must be very careful while storing it to prevent a fire. Also, it contains a high amount of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) that may irritate your nose and lungs.

Acrylic paint, from this point of view, is the winner. Acrylic paints come with a lower amount of VOCs so they release less odor into the air as well. But paints with lower VOCs aren’t pretty easy to apply because they don’t flow smoothly.

But, acrylic paints are more environmentally friendly than polyurethane. Now, you know better which one you want.

Acrylic or Polyurethane – Which One Should You Go For?

You’ve known almost everything about both paints and it’s time for you to make the final decision. It’s great if you’ve already made your mind about which one you’re going for, otherwise, answer the questions below to make sure about what you want.

1. Are you planning to seal a wooden floor?

Oil-based polyurethane would be the most durable option for high-use things like flooring.

2. Do you want to apply it to light wood?

Use acrylic then, polyurethane may dry with a yellow tint.

3. Will the surface be exposed to high temperature or moisture?

Oil-based polyurethane is the best option for this.

4. Need something that dries super fast?

Acrylic dries faster.

5. Is your project indoors without good ventilation?

Go for a less toxic option, acrylic.

6. Do you want easier cleanup?

Acrylic is there for you.

7. Is the budget a matter of concern for you?

Polyurethane can hurt your wallet but acrylic is more affordable.

You Might Also Ask

Question: Can I apply acrylic over polyurethane?
Answer: Yes, you can.

Question: Is polyurethane water-resistant?
Answer: Yes, water resistance is one of the stand-out features of polyurethane.

Question: Is acrylic paint water-resistant when dry?
Answer: Acrylic is slightly water-resistant.

Question: What temperature does acrylic melt?
Answer: Acrylic can withstand up to 320℉ before it melts.


Have you got what you were here for? Hopefully, you’re saying yes as we’ve tried our best to cover ‘acrylic vs polyurethane’ as greatly as we could. Regardless of which option you choose, make sure you consider every single factor before making the purchase.

Also, take enough safety precautions while working with any paint product of the two. Good luck!

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