How Long Does Polyurethane Take To Dry?

When you are installing wood paneling, either on your flooring or on the walls, then you won’t be able to complete the project without a fresh coating of polyurethane.

How Long Does Polyurethane Take To Dry?

However, you’ll need to make sure that you know the drying time, as this will determine when and how you can use it.

There are many different types of polyurethane, the oil-based version, which takes around 48 hours to dry, and the water-based version, which takes around the same time.

However, there is a difference between drying and curing and you might have to wait a while before you can use your surface.

So how long will you have to wait for your polyurethane to dry completely? Are there different times for different brands of polyurethane? What is the proper way to apply polyurethane? Well, we have all the answers to these questions and then some more.

What Are The Different Types Of Polyurethane?

The drying time will all depend on what type of polyurethane you’re using. Certain types of polyurethane take much longer to dry than others.

You’ll need to make sure that you know which one you are dealing with so you know how much time you will need for it to dry completely. 

Here’s a list of the types and how long they take to dry:

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Polyurethane is basically made from resins that are dissolved and then transported in a solvent that is liquid. What this liquid is will vary. This results in a liquid plastic that will dry when it is applied to a surface.

There are 2 liquid bases that you can use for polyurethane: water and oil. Using an oil-based polyurethane will be a lot different than a water-based polyurethane.

You’ll want to use oil-based polyurethane if you are looking for a thicker coat and a more durable finish. However, due to the thickness, you’ll have to wait a lot longer for the whole thing to dry.

Oil-based polyurethanes will also release much stronger chemical compounds which can be toxic. They also have a much stronger odor than water-based solutions.

It will usually take about 48 hours for oil-based polyurethane to dry. You’ll have to wait around 4 days before you can walk on it.

Altogether it will take around 30 days for your oil-based polyurethane to cure completely.

Water-Based Polyurethane

Because this is a much thinner material, then it will take a lot quicker to dry, but it will result in a much thinner coating. This is also much less toxic, meaning that you won’t need to open that many windows and it won’t give off a harsh odor.

This will also take less time to cure, around 20 days, compared to the 30 days of the oil-based polyurethane.

You’ll have to wait around 24 hours for your water-based polyurethane to dry completely. If you want to double up on your coating, then wait 8 hours between applying the first coat and the second coat.

You’ll need to wait around a month before you place mats and other furniture on your polyurethane finish floor, as it will leave marks and scuffs around the edges.

Does The Sheen Of Your Polyurethane Matter?

There are different types of gloss finishes that come with water-based and oil-based polyurethane. Here are the various glosses that you can get and how they affect the final texture of your wood:

Satin Gloss

This will dry very fast, so if you want the job done quickly, then choose a satin gloss. This is more of a matte finish and has a very subtle shine to it. Satin is also the cheapest form of gloss.


This is a mid-way option between a satin gloss and a high gloss. It will give you a decent shine and it won’t take too long to dry. It has a much thicker coating than the satin gloss. This is the more common type of gloss that is used on most wood flooring.


This is the shiniest form of wood finish, slick and resilient to scratches and scuff marks. However, you will have to wait for around a month for this finish to cure properly. This can be used on both indoor and outdoor flooring and walls.

What Is The Difference Between Drying And Curing?

What Is The Difference Between Drying And Curing?

When a polyurethane coat dries, this means that it no longer has a liquid form and is no longer sticky. However, this does not mean that it is ready to use.

Even when it is dry, polyurethane can get wrinkled and distorted, so if you have a kitchen countertop that has just been glossed, then you shouldn’t use it until it is cured.

Curing is when the polyurethane has been exposed to oxygen right the way through to the center, hardening entirely. No matter what pressure you subject a cured floor to, it will retain its integrity. The curing process can take anywhere from 24 hours to 1 month.

How Long Will It Take Your Floor To Cure?

There are many factors that will influence the curing time and it won’t be just a matter of what brand of polyurethane you use. You can apply the same type of polyurethane to 2 different floors and get radically different curing times.

Here are a few factors that you should be looking out for:

What Is The Temperature?

The best temperature to cure your flooring is around 70 degrees. If your flooring is too cold, then your polyurethane will take far too long to dry.

How Humid Is The Room?

If you are laminating a room that is too humid, then your polyurethane will take far too long to dry. You should aim for a humidity level of around 50% – 70%.

How Many Layers?

Put simply, the more layers that you apply to your flooring, the longer it will take to dry.


Hopefully, our guide to drying polyurethane will give you a general idea of how long you’ll need to give it until it’s dried. Remember that there is a difference between drying and curing.

Luke Powell
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