How Does Polyurethane Affect Stain Color?

When refinishing wood floors or smaller projects such as a dining room table, a polyurethane finish is a common choice to seal the stain, but one may wonder whether the finish will taint the color of the wood once it's been applied. With all the work that has already been done to create just the right hue, you surely don't want to ruin it on the very last step! No worries, though. We've done the research to let you know exactly how this sealer will affect the color of your project.

Oil-based polyurethane will likely give the stained wood a yellow, orange, or brown tint, sometimes making it appear darker. Water-based polyurethane will not affect the color of the stained wood, though the shine of the polyurethane can sometimes cause the stain to appear brighter. 

So now you know how a polyurethane finish is expected to change the quality of your project, but there are more factors to determine whether or not this sealer is right for you, and if so, which type of polyurethane to choose. Keep reading to learn more.

A bright shiny flooring after applying polyurethane, How Does Polyurethane Affect Stain Color?

Polyurethane Finishes

There are two types of polyurethane finishes, and though they are created to serve the same purpose, there are ways in which they are very different. These are oil-based polyurethanes and water-based polyurethanes.


Oil-based polyurethane has been a long-time favorite of woodworkers and contractors. It is created with a mineral solvent or petroleum base, and it is this chemical structure that causes the finish to oxidize and end with a yellow, orange, or brown tint.

This sealer never stops deepening in color throughout its lifespan. When this sealer is maintained, homeowners will notice that their floors appear darker over time.

The advantage of this finishing product is its durability and longevity. It is highly resistant to scratches, peeling, and stains. Because of this, it is recommended for high-traffic areas and for projects that a homeowner would like to last ten or more years.


Water-based polyurethane is a somewhat new advancement on its oil-based counterpart. It is created with an oil base, and homeowners will notice that it appears white when in its container because of this. No worries, though. When applied, it will oxidize and dry clear.

While it is completely clear, it can give the illusion of making the stain brighter just because of the shine it creates. Water-based polyurethane is an attractive choice for those who want an airy, bright feeling in their home.

The disadvantage of water-based polyurethane is that it is more susceptible to damage, especially from moisture, cleaning chemicals, and animal urine. When the finish becomes wet, for example, and it is not quickly dried, the finish could begin to disintegrate or peel.

Check out this cleaner specialized for water-based polyurethane on Amazon.

When inappropriate cleaning products are applied, or if a pet has an accident on the floor, this can cause unsightly blemishes that can only be corrected with refinishing.

Polyurethane Products

What Are The Best Polyurethane Products?

As with all merchandise, there are polyurethane products with higher quality than others. Minwax has been a trusted manufacturer of home-improvement products since the early 1900s, and they produce the highest-rated polyurethane finish around.

Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane is oil-based. It dries quickly for ease of use and is exceptionally durable. It comes in three sheens: gloss, semi-gloss, and satin.

Take a look at this Minwax polyurethane finish on Amazon.

Deft is perhaps a lesser-known brand, but even so, they provide a quality polyurethane product. This one is water-based and designed for use in interior and exterior areas, where there is heavy employment. It is also versatile, appropriate for use on wood, painted, and lacquered surfaces.

Check out this Deft polyurethane finish on Amazon.

Varathane specializes in manufacturing all kinds of stains and finishes. It's no wonder that they produce one of the top polyurethane finishes. Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane is water-based and created for indoor use. The formula dries quickly and provides excellent scratch and scuff resistance.

Take a look at this Varathane polyurethane finish on Amazon.

Is There A Wood Stain With Polyurethane?

Yes, there is! Wood stain and polyurethane combinations have become favored by some in recent years, as woodworkers and homeowners seek to shorten the process of staining furniture and especially hardwood floors.

Minwax Polyshades is one of these products that has proved to be very popular and reliable. It comes in sixteen shades and can be purchased in a satin or gloss sheen. This product typically must be applied in two coats.

Check out this combined stain and polyurethane on Amazon.

How To Use Polyurethane

Before applying polyurethane, the substrate must be sanded so that it will properly bond. This should be done with a sanding paper of at least 220 grit.

The surface of the wood and the environment that the wood is in should be cleaned thoroughly before applying the polyurethane. Keep in mind that polyurethane takes a long time to dry, and dust in the air or on surrounding surfaces could easily make contact with the sealer, making for an unpleasant finish.

Once ready to apply the stain, you will want to use a lint-free applicator, such as a fine brush or foam pad. A lambswool pad is also a popular choice. Using your tool, apply the polyurethane, just as you would paint, working in the direction of the wood grain.

Take a look at this lambswool mophead on Amazon.

For water-based polyurethane, the sealer will quickly dry and be ready for a second coat. This type of polyurethane does not require sanding between coats.

However, oil-based polyurethane requires lightly sand and clean the surface with a vacuum between each coat.

Should I Polyurethane Over Stain?

Yes, polyurethane is formulated as a finish. It won't affect the structure of what's beneath it. It will just provide a protective finish.

Whether the substrate is stained, painted, or lacquered, polyurethane is meant to seal the work that has been done and preserve its beauty.

How Long After Staining Can I Polyurethane?

This depends on the product you have chosen. One should always refer to the instructions on the stain's label. Some stains take a short time, and others much longer.

For example, Varathane has a very short dry time, as fast as 2 hours between coats. Minwax stain may dry completely in 12 hours. And Behr stain typically takes as long as 72 hours.

Water-based stains generally call for shorter dry times. On average, a water-based stain only takes 3 to 4 hours to dry completely.

How Many Coats Of Polyurethane Should I Put On?

This depends on whether you are using water-based or oil-based polyurethane and where you are applying the finish.

Oil-based polyurethane has a thicker composition than water-based, and it's also more durable overall. Because of this, an oil-based finish may only need 1 to 2 coats depending on where it's being applied.

For floors, especially floors with a lot of traffic, two coats should be applied. For woodwork such as trim and doors, one coat may be sufficient.

Water-based polyurethane is thin and less durable. Because of this, you will most likely always need two coats, no matter the project. For heavy use areas such as floors, three coats are always needed.

In Closing

Polyurethane is a hardwearing sealer and a wise choice for your home improvement venture. However, it can affect the color of the wood you are sealing.

Oil-based polyurethane will give the stained wood a yellow, orange, or brown tint and will continue to deepen in color as time passes. Water-based polyurethane does not pose this issue and dries clear, but it can cause a stain to look lighter as light reflects off the finish.

Each type of polyurethane has its advantages and disadvantages and may suit some projects better than others. Choose whichever best meets your needs, and we know that your project will turn out splendidly!

Want to learn more about refinishing woodwork in your home? Visit these related posts:

Should You Oil Wood Before Staining Or Varnishing?

How To Install Vinyl Or Hardwood On Stairs With Nosewood

Should Hardwood Floors Match Throughout The House?

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