Important Differences between Polyurethane and Polycrylic


Polyurethane is a versatile polymer known for its exceptional durability, flexibility, and resilience. It is formed through a chemical reaction between polyols and diisocyanates, resulting in a wide range of materials with varying properties. Polyurethanes can exist in forms ranging from rigid, like foam insulation and structural components, to flexible, like elastomers and coatings. They are employed in diverse applications, including furniture upholstery, footwear soles, automotive parts, and sealants. Additionally, polyurethane coatings provide protection against corrosion, abrasion, and weathering. Their ability to be tailored for specific purposes, combined with their excellent physical properties, makes polyurethanes indispensable in numerous industries and consumer products.

Physical Properties of Polyurethane:

  1. Hardness:

Polyurethane can range from very soft and flexible to extremely hard, depending on its formulation.

  1. Flexibility:

It can be formulated to be highly flexible or rigid, making it suitable for a wide range of applications.

  • Density:

The density of polyurethane varies based on its formulation, allowing for customization of weight and buoyancy in applications.

  • Tensile Strength:

Polyurethane exhibits good tensile strength, making it suitable for load-bearing applications.

  • Abrasion Resistance:

It is highly resistant to abrasion, making it durable in applications subject to wear and tear.

  • Elasticity:

Polyurethane can stretch and recover its original shape, making it useful in applications requiring resilience.

  • Thermal Stability:

It can withstand a wide range of temperatures, depending on the specific formulation.

  • Chemical Resistance:

Polyurethane has good resistance to many chemicals, making it suitable for applications where exposure to chemicals is a concern.

Chemical Properties of Polyurethane:

  • Polymer Structure:

Polyurethane is a polymer composed of repeating units called urethane linkages, formed through the reaction of polyols and diisocyanates.

  • CrossLinking:

Depending on the formulation, polyurethane can be cross-linked to enhance its mechanical properties and chemical resistance.

  • Isocyanate Reactivity:

Isocyanates, a key component of polyurethane, are highly reactive and can react with polyols to form the polyurethane polymer.

  • Hydrolytic Stability:

Polyurethane can be susceptible to hydrolysis, particularly in the presence of moisture, which can lead to degradation over time.

  • Solvent Compatibility:

Polyurethane formulations can be tailored to be compatible with specific solvents or chemicals, allowing for a range of applications.

  • Polyol Varieties:

Different types of polyols (polyether, polyester, etc.) can be used to influence the properties of the resulting polyurethane.

  • CrossLinking Agents:

Cross-linking agents, like chain extenders and cross-linkers, can be used to modify the cross-link density and properties of the polyurethane.

  • Curing Reactions:

Depending on the specific formulation, polyurethane may cure through various mechanisms, such as moisture curing or chemical cross-linking.

Uses of Polyurethane

  • Furniture:

Polyurethane foam is commonly used in furniture upholstery for its comfort, durability, and ability to retain its shape.

  • Automotive Interiors:

It is used in vehicle interiors for seats, headrests, armrests, and other components, providing comfort and durability.

  • Footwear:

Polyurethane is used to make shoe soles, providing cushioning, shock absorption, and durability.

  • Insulation:

It is used as a thermal insulator in buildings, refrigerators, and appliances due to its low thermal conductivity.

  • Mattresses and Bedding:

Polyurethane foam is used in mattresses and pillows for its comfort and support properties.

  • Sealants and Adhesives:

Polyurethane-based sealants and adhesives are used in construction and manufacturing for their strong bonding capabilities.

  • Coatings and Finishes:

Polyurethane coatings provide protection against abrasion, chemicals, UV rays, and weathering for surfaces like floors, furniture, and automotive parts.

  • Marine Applications:

It is used for boat hulls, decks, and other components due to its resistance to water, chemicals, and UV radiation.

  • Aerospace:

Polyurethane is used in aerospace applications for components like seals, gaskets, insulation, and adhesives.

  • Medical Devices:

It is used in the production of medical devices such as catheters, wound dressings, and prosthetic parts due to its biocompatibility and flexibility.

  • Sports Equipment:

Polyurethane is used for components in sports equipment such as roller skate wheels, skateboard wheels, and protective gear.

  • Automotive Bumpers:

It is used in the production of automotive bumpers for its impact resistance and ability to absorb energy during collisions.

  • Industrial Rollers and Wheels:

Polyurethane is used for rollers and wheels in industries like material handling and manufacturing due to its durability and wear resistance.

  • Electronics Encapsulation:

It is used to encapsulate and protect electronic components from moisture, dust, and mechanical damage.

  • Oil and Gas Industry:

Polyurethane components are used in drilling and production equipment due to their resistance to abrasion, chemicals, and harsh environmental conditions.


Polycrylic is a water-based protective finish used for wood surfaces. It is a type of clear acrylic resin that provides a durable and protective coating when applied to wood projects. Polycrylic is known for its quick drying time, low odor, and ease of application compared to oil-based alternatives. It dries to a clear, transparent finish, allowing the natural beauty of the wood to show through. It also offers good resistance to moisture, making it suitable for indoor projects like furniture, cabinets, and trim. Polycrylic is commonly used by DIY enthusiasts, woodworkers, and craftsmen for adding a protective and attractive finish to their woodworking creations.

Physical Properties of Polycrylic:

  • State:

Polycrylic is a liquid at room temperature and is typically applied as a thin, clear coating.

  • Appearance:

It dries to a clear, transparent finish, allowing the natural grain and color of the wood to show through.

  • Odor:

It has a relatively low odor compared to solvent-based finishes, making it more pleasant to work with.

  • Viscosity:

Polycrylic has a relatively low viscosity, allowing it to flow easily and be applied smoothly on surfaces.

  • Drying Time:

It has a relatively quick drying time compared to oil-based finishes, which can save time in the finishing process.

  • Durability:

Polycrylic provides a durable protective coating, offering resistance to moisture, mildew, and some chemicals.

  • Flexibility:

It exhibits a degree of flexibility once cured, which can be advantageous for wood projects that may experience slight movement or expansion.

  • Adhesion:

Polycrylic adheres well to a variety of surfaces, including wood, painted surfaces, and some plastics.

Chemical Properties of Polycrylic:

  • Composition:

Polycrylic is a water-based finish made from acrylic polymers. It contains acrylic resin, water, and various additives.

  • Solubility:

It is soluble in water, making it easy to clean up with water and allowing for easy application with simple brush cleaning.

  • Polymerization:

Polycrylic cures through a process of evaporation and cross-linking of the acrylic polymers, forming a protective film on the wood surface.

  • Chemical Compatibility:

It is compatible with a variety of paints, stains, and other finishes, allowing for layering and customization of the final appearance.

  • UV Resistance:

While it provides some UV resistance, prolonged exposure to direct sunlight may cause yellowing over time.

  • Environmental Impact:

Polycrylic is considered more environmentally friendly than solvent-based finishes, as it has lower VOC emissions and is water-based.

  • Reactivity:

Polycrylic may react with certain chemicals or solvents, so it’s important to avoid contact with incompatible substances during application and curing.

Uses of Polycrylic:

  • Furniture Finishing:

Polycrylic is commonly used to finish and protect wooden furniture, providing a clear, durable, and attractive coating.

  • Cabinet Refinishing:

It is applied to cabinets to protect and enhance their appearance, making them more resistant to wear and moisture.

  • Trim and Molding:

Polycrylic can be used to finish and protect wooden trim, molding, and baseboards, adding a protective layer to these architectural elements.

  • Wood Crafts and Decor:

It is used on smaller wooden crafts, decorations, and DIY projects to provide a protective seal and enhance the wood’s natural beauty.

  • Wooden Floors:

In some cases, Polycrylic may be used as a protective finish for wooden floors, particularly in areas with low foot traffic.

  • Wooden Toys:

It is a popular choice for finishing wooden toys, ensuring they are safe, durable, and resistant to handling.

  • Picture Frames:

Polycrylic provides a clear protective coat on wooden picture frames, preserving their appearance over time.

  • Bookshelves and Shelving Units:

Wooden shelves can be finished with Polycrylic to protect the wood and enhance the overall look.

  • Wooden Countertops:

In some cases, Polycrylic is used to finish and protect wooden countertops, adding a layer of durability.

  • Wooden Veneer Projects:

It is applied to wood veneer projects, providing a protective layer and enhancing the appearance of the veneer.

  • Craft Projects with Painted Wood:

Polycrylic can be used to seal and protect painted wooden surfaces, ensuring the longevity of the finish.

  • Protecting Decoupage Projects:

It is often used to protect decoupage projects where paper or fabric is adhered to wood surfaces.

  • DIY Woodworking Projects:

Polycrylic is a go-to finish for DIY enthusiasts and woodworkers for a wide range of projects, from small crafts to larger furniture pieces.

Important Differences between Polyurethane and Polycrylic

Basis of Comparison Polyurethane Polycrylic
Chemical Composition Oil-based or water-based Water-based
Odor Stronger odor, may require ventilation Lower odor, less ventilation needed
Drying Time Slower drying time, longer curing period Faster drying time, quicker curing
Color Alteration May amber or darken over time Minimal color alteration
Application Method Can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed Typically brushed or sprayed
Thickness per Coat Applies thicker per coat Thinner application per coat
Durability Highly durable and resistant to abrasion Durable, but less resistant to heavy wear
Yellowing Over Time Can yellow with age, especially oil-based Minimal to no yellowing
UV Resistance Offers good UV protection May offer less UV resistance
Water Resistance Resistant to water and moisture Resistant, but not as waterproof
Compatibility with Stains Can be used over oil-based stains May not be compatible with all stains
Recoating Time Longer wait time between coats Shorter wait time between coats
Cleanup Requires mineral spirits or solvents for cleanup Can be cleaned up with water
Environmental Impact Higher VOC emissions, less eco-friendly Lower VOC emissions, more eco-friendly
Cost Generally more expensive Generally more affordable

Important Similarities between Polyurethane and Polycrylic

  • Protective Finishes:

Both polyurethane and polycrylic serve as protective coatings for wood surfaces, helping to shield them from wear, moisture, and other potential damage.

  • Clear Finishes:

Both provide a clear, transparent finish that allows the natural beauty of the wood to show through.

  • Available in Water-Based Formulations:

Both polyurethane and polycrylic are available in water-based formulations, which are less toxic and have lower VOC emissions compared to their solvent-based counterparts.

  • Versatility:

They can both be used on a variety of wood projects, from furniture to cabinetry to smaller crafts.

  • Easy Application:

Both polyurethane and polycrylic can be applied using a brush, roller, or spray gun, making them accessible for DIY enthusiasts and professional woodworkers alike.

  • Drying Time:

In comparison to oil-based finishes, both polyurethane and polycrylic have shorter drying times, allowing for quicker project completion.

  • Compatibility with Stains:

They can both be applied over stained wood to enhance the appearance and protect the stain.

  • Water Cleanup:

Water-based formulations of both finishes can be cleaned up with water, simplifying the cleanup process.

  • Resistance to Chemicals:

Both polyurethane and polycrylic provide a degree of resistance to chemicals and household substances.

  • Variety of Sheens:

Both finishes are available in various sheens, including satin, semi-gloss, and gloss, allowing for customization of the final appearance.

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