How to Get Polyurethane Off Hands [Oil-Based and Water-Based]

You heavily use polyurethane on your projects but getting it stuck in your hands often bothers you. How will you get it off your hands? You have come to the right page! We have researched to give you the correct answer.

To get off water-based polyurethane from your hands, follow these simple steps:

  1. Wash hands with soap and running water.
  2. Soak a cotton ball with acetone or rubbing alcohol.
  3. Rub the cotton ball against the stained spots.
  4. Rinse thoroughly and apply hand moisturizer.

And similarly, to get off oil-based polyurethane from your hands, here are the steps:

  1. Apply mineral spirits to soften the substance.
  2. Rinse your hands since mineral spirits tend to be caustic.
  3. Apply soap and work into lather to further dissolve the substance.
  4. Rinse thoroughly and apply hand moisturizer.

Polyurethane is highly useful for your DIY projects. However, it is not friendly to your skin. Stay on this page to know the unique elements of each type, the steps to remove them, and how to protect yourself while working. We will also tackle home remedies and what products work best to get off your hands. 

Foam polyurethane coming from a can, How To Get Polyurethane Off Hands - Oil-Based And Water- Based

How to Know What Type of Polyurethane

Polyurethane comes in two variants, oil-based and water-based. Working with it can stain your hands. But before removing it, you need to know the type. Now, how could you differentiate one from the other?

Of course, you would know what type of polyurethane from the product label. But in instances that you can't access the label for whatever reason, you should know how to tell them apart.

Pouring Polyurethane Clear Coat

Water-Based Polyurethane

True to its name, the primary solvent in this variant is water. This means that water is needed to get it off your hands.

When you wash your hands with soap and running water, you will feel the polyurethane soften. You would readily notice that the substance is clear and light in color.

Another way to determine if it is water-based is when the substance softens and dissolves when you rub your stained hands with a cotton ball saturated with rubbing alcohol.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

This type needs a thinning agent to break it down. Paint thinner or mineral spirits are needed to remove the substance from your hands. Mineral spirits are clear liquid solvent that is proven to work fast and efficiently dissolves the substance.

Oil-based polyurethane leaves a brown or amber hue and has a sharper odor than water-based polyurethane.

Shop for this water-based polyurethane in Amazon

Shop for this oil-based polyurethane in Amazon

How To Remove Polyurethane From Hands

Dishwashing soap or handwash soap is perfect for removing stains in hand or chemicals

Cleaning polyurethane from your hands is fairly simple. You will need:

  • hand soap or dishwashing soap
  • cotton balls or rag cloth
  • hand moisturizer or lotion
  • rubbing alcohol or acetone
  • mineral spirits

For Water-Based Polyurethane

  1. Apply soap and a drop of water and work to a rich lather.
  2. The lather will break down the polyurethane. You can use your nails to scratch off the tacky spots.
  3. If polyurethane has dried up, soak your hands in the soap for a few minutes.
  4. Soak a cotton ball or cloth with alcohol or acetone and wipe any remaining polyurethane.
  5. Rinse thoroughly with water and apply moisturizer.

Shop for this dishwashing soap in Amazon

For Oil-Based Polyurethane

  1. Apply mineral spirits and rub your hands to soften the substance
  2. Rinse your hands after a minute or two since mineral spirits tend to be caustic. If there’s still stickiness, you could reapply the mineral spirits.
  3. Apply soap and work into lather to remove the mineral spirits and further dissolve any remaining polyurethane.
  4. Rinse thoroughly with water and apply moisturizer.

Shop for this mineral spirits in Amazon

Click here to see this nail polish remover in Amazon

Alternatives for Mineral Spirits in Removing Polyurethane

foams up the gaps between the door and the wall with polyurethane

Mineral spirits, or white spirit, is extensively used in industrial settings for degreasing, lubricating, and cleaning tools and machinery.

While mineral spirits are considered the best solvent for oil-based polyurethane and other oil-based products, there are also great substitutes. You could use these alternatives and apply the same steps as you are using mineral spirits.

These are common household products and are the safer go-to options. These are recommended because you aren't exposed to harsh chemicals.

  • Baby oil or body massage oil
  • Vegetable oil, olive oil, or coconut oil
  • Salt
  • Peanut butter (creamy)
  • Soy-based polyurethane stripper

The oil-based substitutes are effective cleansing agents. While getting your hands soaked with these products, they effectively loosen the polyurethane bonds. After loosening, then apply salt. Salt acts as a good scrub due to its abrasive properties.

A soy-based polyurethane stripper is recommended since it is bioactive and skin-friendly. It is non-caustic with no toxic fumes. Being plant-based, there is no methyl component.

These harsher products can also work as mineral spirit substitutes:

  • White vinegar or any acetic acid
  • Paint thinner
  • Hand or waterless cleaner

Shop for this hand cleaner in Amazon

These substitute products should be your last resort. They contain harsh chemicals and are effective with oil-based polyurethane. They are best to apply when polyurethane is still wet. Apply with caution though as they may irritate your skin further.

Paint thinners work as quickly as mineral spirits. However, they have properties that cause skin dryness. Be sure to rinse off as fast and moisturize the area immediately. The waterless cleaner works best for stain droplets while they are still wet.

Whatever product you would use, mineral spirits, alcohol, nail polish remover, or any of their substitutes, always apply a hand moisturizer after rinsing. This step is important since significant moisture loss occurs due to excessive washing and brisk scrubbing of your skin.

Ways to Avoid Polyurethane Stains

Wearing Facial Protection

It is proven that polyurethane's toxicity level is high and hazardous to health. It contains harsh chemicals that have detrimental effects due to prolonged exposure.  However, working on it doesn’t mean you are putting yourself at risk.

As long as you apply the polyurethane correctly, whether oil-based or water-based, you will be safe while using the product. You need to avoid, if not eliminate, the substance coming in direct skin contact as well as inhaling the fumes through the useful pointers below:

Wear Gloves

white glove are caulking roof leaks with canned caulk foam

This is the best approach. Avoid sticky hands at all times. Latex gloves or chemical-resistant gloves are useful for preventing the sticky substance from coming into direct contact with your skin while working.

Wear Protective Clothing

Protect yourself by wearing a coverall. Else a long sleeve shirt, full pants, and closed-toe shoes would do. The clothing fully protects you from drips, splashes, and splatters while working.

Wear Protective Goggles or Face Shield

You should prevent the substance from splashing on your face, especially near your eyes. Even a small droplet can cause severe eye irritation.

Wear Respirator Masks

You should avoid inhaling the fumes while working. Also, keep your work area well ventilated. Inhaling toxic chemicals has a direct impact on respiratory health.

Wipe Off While Wet

In case of accidental spills on your clothes or shoes, wipe off the substance immediately without giving it a chance to dry. This also applies to your hands. Prevent the gummy substance to get dry by wiping it off and washing your hands immediately.

Final Thoughts

Foam polyurethane coming from a can

Getting polyurethane off of your hands requires simple steps. Now you know you can clean off water-based polyurethane with soap and rubbing alcohol.  We've also seen that mineral spirits are effective for removing oil-based polyurethane.

We've also seen some mineral spirit alternatives that are gentler on skin, such as vegetable oil and even peanut butter. Vinegar, paint thinner, and hand cleaner are also other alternatives for heavy stains on your hands, albeit more damaging to skin.

Since polyurethane is highly toxic and detrimental to your health, you may need to protect yourself while working on it by wearing protective gloves, clothing, goggles, and respirator masks. 

Polyurethane is highly useful for many home projects. Check out these posts that might interest you:

How to Apply Water-Based Polyurethane

How to Apply Polyurethane to Painted Cabinets [5 Easy Steps]

Polyurethane Floor Too Shiny - What to Do?


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