Difference Between Polyurethane Urethane And Varathane

Choosing the right finish for your project can significantly impact its appearance and durability. Whether you are a professional woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, understanding the differences between polyurethane, urethane, and varathane is crucial. Each of these finishes serves a specific purpose and choosing the wrong one can lead to less than desirable results.

Polyurethane is a synthetic resin that provides a hard, durable finish, ideal for floors and furniture that sustain heavy use. Urethane, often used interchangeably with polyurethane in industrial contexts, also offers durability but with slightly different properties depending on its formulation. Varathane, a specific brand of varnish, is known for its fast-drying times and exceptional durability, making it perfect for quick projects that need a tough finish.

When selecting a finish, factors such as the project’s exposure to wear and tear, the desired aesthetic outcome, and maintenance requirements play significant roles. Polyurethane and urethane are preferred for their robust protective qualities, whereas varathane is chosen for its aesthetic versatility and ease of use. Understanding these factors will help ensure that your finished project looks great and lasts long.

Key Terms Explained

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a synthetic resin known for its resilience and versatility. It is widely used in various applications, from foam insulation in buildings to the hard, protective finishes on wooden floors and furniture. The finish is particularly favored for its ability to resist water, stains, and wear, making it an ideal choice for high-traffic areas.

What is Urethane?

Often used interchangeably with polyurethane in conversation, urethane refers more broadly to any of a group of compounds containing a carbamate group. It’s important to note that in industrial contexts, “urethane” coatings might not always adhere strictly to the traditional chemical definition of urethane.

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What is Varathane?

Varathane is a brand name often associated with high-quality wood finishes. Known for its quick-drying formulas, Varathane provides a durable and clear finish that enhances the natural beauty of wood without the lengthy curing times associated with traditional varnishes.

Chemical Composition

Polyurethane: Components and Makeup

Polyurethane finishes are composed of polyols and diisocyanates, two types of chemicals that react to form a hard, durable polymer. This chemical structure is what gives polyurethane its incredible durability and resistance to environmental factors.

Urethane: Base Materials

Urethane coatings can vary significantly in their formulations, but they typically involve a reaction between a polyol and an isocyanate. This versatility allows for adjustments in the properties of the final product, such as flexibility, hardness, and resistance to UV light.

Varathane: Unique Ingredients

Varathane products often include unique additives that speed up drying time and enhance durability. These might include proprietary resins that bond more effectively with the wood’s surface or UV blockers that help preserve the color and integrity of the wood under sunlight.

Application Techniques

Applying Polyurethane

  • Prepare the surface: Ensure the wood is clean, dry, and free of any old finishes or residues.
  • Apply a thin layer: Use a brush or a foam applicator to apply a thin, even layer.
  • Allow to dry: Let the coat dry as instructed by the product label, usually for several hours.
  • Sand lightly: Between coats, lightly sand the surface to ensure a smooth, high-quality finish.
  • Repeat: Apply additional coats as necessary, sanding between each, until the desired finish is achieved.

Techniques for Urethane

  • Surface preparation: Similar to polyurethane, the surface must be clean and dry.
  • Mixing: Some urethane products require mixing of components before application. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Application: Apply using a brush, roller, or sprayer, depending on the formulation.
  • Curing: Allow ample time for curing, as premature use can damage the finish.

Best Practices for Varathane

  • Quick application: Varathane dries quickly, so work efficiently to avoid drips or uneven thickness.
  • Ventilation: Ensure good ventilation in the working area to facilitate drying and avoid fumes.
  • Clean tools: Use mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean brushes and tools immediately after use.

Durability and Usage

Polyurethane: Strengths and Lifespan

Polyurethane is highly durable and can last for years without the need for reapplication. It is resistant to water, chemicals, and physical wear, making it ideal for floors, tabletops, and other high-use surfaces.

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Urethane: Durability Factors

The durability of urethane can vary based on its formulation. Generally, it offers excellent resistance to impact and abrasion, making it suitable for industrial floors and surfaces that require a resilient finish.

Varathane: Wear and Tear Resilience

Varathane finishes are designed to be both durable and beautiful. They resist scratches and stains effectively, maintaining their clarity and sheen over time, which makes them perfect for furniture and cabinetry in busy households.

Aesthetic Outcomes

Finish Look with Polyurethane

Polyurethane is renowned for its high-gloss finish and rich sheen, which can significantly enhance the natural grain of wood. It is available in various sheens from matte to high gloss, allowing for a tailored appearance that can match any decor style. The clear finish does not yellow over time, ensuring that the natural color of the wood is preserved.

Urethane: Visual Effects

Urethane coatings offer a similar aesthetic versatility, with finishes ranging from satin to glossy. This type of finish penetrates deeply into the wood, enhancing its texture and color. It provides a robust, clear coat that highlights the underlying material without altering its natural hues.

Varathane: Aesthetic Appeal

Varathane specializes in providing a finish that not only protects the wood but also enhances its appearance. Its formula is designed to bring out the depth and richness of the wood’s color, making it ideal for projects where visual appeal is a priority. The fast-drying nature of Varathane means fewer dust particles settle on the surface during the drying process, resulting in a smoother, cleaner look.

Suitability for Different Surfaces

Wood Surfaces and Polyurethane

  • Hardwood floors: Polyurethane is particularly effective on hardwood floors where it offers excellent scratch and stain resistance.
  • Furniture: Its durability makes it suitable for furniture that experiences frequent use, protecting against daily wear and tear.
  • Outdoor projects: Although polyurethane is not inherently UV resistant, exterior-grade polyurethane is formulated to withstand sunlight and weather conditions.

Urethane on Various Materials

  • Metal: Urethane is often used on metal surfaces because of its rust-preventative properties.
  • Plastics: Its flexibility makes it suitable for coating plastics without cracking.
  • Concrete: Urethane seals and protects concrete floors from moisture and stains.

Varathane: Ideal Uses

  • Craft projects: Quick drying times make Varathane ideal for small projects and crafts.
  • Cabinet finishes: Offers a durable finish that resists kitchen oils and stains.
  • Refurbishing furniture: Enhances existing finishes without extensive stripping.

Cost Comparison

Price Analysis: Polyurethane

Polyurethane is generally cost-effective, especially considering its longevity and minimal need for reapplication. It is available in a range of prices, influenced by the brand and specific formulation. Typically, the cost reflects the quality and durability of the finish.

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Urethane Cost Factors

Urethane may vary in price depending on its chemical composition and intended use. Industrial-grade urethane, for example, may be pricier due to its specialized additives that provide enhanced durability and flexibility.

Varathane Pricing Insights

Varathane products are often priced slightly higher than standard polyurethanes, reflecting their specialized formulations that offer faster drying times and enhanced aesthetic qualities. However, the cost is justified by the time saved in application and the quality of the finish.

Advantages and Limitations

Benefits of Polyurethane

  • Durability: Offers robust protection against physical and chemical damage.
  • Versatility: Suitable for a variety of applications, from floors to furniture.
  • Aesthetic quality: Enhances the natural beauty of wood without discoloration.

Limitations of Urethane

  • Sensitivity to application conditions: Requires careful application to avoid bubbles and imperfections.
  • Variability in formulations: Can be confusing to choose the right type without specific chemical knowledge.

Pros and Cons of Varathane

  • Pros:
    • Fast drying: Reduces the time needed for projects.
    • Enhanced aesthetic: Provides a superior finish that enhances wood’s natural patterns.
  • Cons:
    • Cost: Generally more expensive than traditional polyurethane.
    • Application precision: Requires careful application to avoid runs and sags.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate links. It is widely used in the finishing of wooden floors and furniture due to its ability to resist water, solvents, and scratches, thereby extending the life of the wood.

How does Urethane differ from Polyurethane?

While urethane and polyurethane are often used interchangeably, the term ‘urethane’ typically refers to a broader class of compounds that can vary in formulation. This variability can affect the hardness, flexibility, and other physical properties of the finish.

Is Varathane better than Polyurethane?

Varathane isn’t necessarily better than polyurethane; it’s different. It dries faster and can provide a clearer finish compared to traditional polyurethane. It’s particularly useful for projects that require a quick turnaround without sacrificing durability.

Can Varathane be used over paint?

Yes, Varathane can be applied over paint to protect the surface and enhance its durability. It is important to ensure that the painted surface is clean, dry, and fully cured before applying Varathane to achieve the best results.

What is the best finish for outdoor projects?

For outdoor projects, polyurethane usually provides the most robust protection against harsh weather conditions. It’s designed to be UV resistant and water-resistant, making it an ideal choice for outdoor furniture and decking.


In summary, the choice between polyurethane, urethane, and varathane depends on the specific requirements of your project. Polyurethane offers robust protection and is ideal for high-traffic items, while urethane provides similar benefits but can vary in formulation. Varathane, known for its quick-drying properties and ease of application, is suited for projects requiring a fast and durable finish.

As you select a finish for your next project, consider not only the level of protection it offers but also the maintenance it requires and the aesthetic you wish to achieve. Choosing the right product will ensure your project remains beautiful and durable for years to come.

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