How long should I wait in between coats of polyurethane?

We are refinishing our floors. This weekend we will be putting on our first coat of polyurethane. We want to do three coats in total. How long should I let each coat dry before applying another coat? I know you have to wait 2 weeks after the final coat before you put furniture on the floors.

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    One Response to “How long should I wait in between coats of polyurethane?”

    • housedoc:

      Hi – are you using water based or oil based?

      The decision to use an oil-based or water-based polyurethane will depend on your project. Oil-based polyurethanes are easier to apply and less temperamental than water-based polyurethanes, as two or three applications will usually be enough to protect your project. Oil-based polyurethane finishes are susceptible to brush marks, and they take some time to dry, which may subject your finish to bugs or dust.

      Oil Based

      After the first coat has dried (I typically wait 24 hours), lightly sand the entire surface (again, with the grain) with 320-grit sandpaper. The polyurethane will sand easily, so be careful not to sand through the thin coat and damage the stain underneath. Wipe off all dust caused by the sanding before applying a second coat.

      Repeat these steps until the desired level of protection is achieved (two to three coats is usually enough). After your final coat, you may choose to rub out the finish with #0000 steel wool to a consistent sheen level, followed by an application of paste wax for a nice lustre

      Water Based

      Apply a very thin coat of polyurethane with a fine brush, foam pad or cloth. Work with the grain, and avoid applying too much polyurethane to avoid raising the grain.

      The initial coat should be dry within a couple of hours, and a second coat can be applied. If applying in this manner, one shouldn’t need to sand between coats as with the oil-based version. However, in order to get the same amount of protection, you may need to add a dozen or more coats of the water-based polyurethane.


      Water-based polyurethane versions dry much more quickly, are a bit more self-leveling and have less odour when applying than the oil-based versions. However, the water-based polyurethanes tend to raise the grain of the wood, are susceptible to water marks and can be somewhat temperamental when using with stains. Water-based polyurethanes tend to have a milky-whitish look when applying, but this should disappear as the finish dries.

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