Differences in Acrylic Urethane & Polyurethane

Updated March 23, 2017

Acrylic urethane and polyurethane are the chemical components of two different kinds of floor finish. These two types of finish are distinct from each other chemically, and some different properties may make it desirable to purchase one instead of the other. Acrylic urethane is used for different surfaces than polyurethane, and it tends not to last as long as its polyurethane counterpart.


Polyurethanes are chemicals derived from fossil fuels like petroleum. Acrylics are chemicals that are water-based in their composition. An acrylic urethane finish is one that mixes the fossil fuel-based solvent and a water-based acrylic solvent to create a stronger coat. This combination is effective because it allows you to use the acrylic urethane finish on surfaces that typically use either acrylic or polyurethane finishes.

Colour and Application

Acrylic urethane usually finishes clear and nonyellowing and has a milder odour than most of the polyurethane finishes. Polyurethane finish becomes more of an amber colour as it ages and has a distinctly pungent aroma. Since acrylic urethane dries more quickly than polyurethane (two or three hours versus eight hours), it is more difficult to coat evenly when you first apply the finish. Polyurethane is one of the easiest finishes to apply when it comes to floors.

Sun Protection and Durability

Polyurethane finish is much more durable when it comes to deflecting the rays of the sun. This type of finish is naturally resistant to ultraviolet radiation. Acrylic urethane finish often has added chemicals to give the finish synthetic sun protection, though it is slightly less than the protection of the polyurethane. Thick coats of acrylic urethane are more fragile than polyurethane coats, which may cause them to crack under pressure more easily as well.

Oil and Combustion

Since acrylic urethanes are slightly water-based, they are adversely affected by hydrocarbons, petrol and other oil-based materials. Polyurethane products repel oil, fuel and oil-based paint more effectively than acrylic urethane. However, since polyurethanes are made from oil, they are combustible while acrylic urethanes are not. If a flooring area is exposed to fire or flame, it is best to use the acrylic urethane as a finish.

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About the Author

Bryan Cohen has been a writer since 2001 and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double degree in English and dramatic art. His writing has appeared on various online publications including his personal website Build Creative Writing Ideas.