Polyurethane vs. Epoxy

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When it comes to coatings for flooring and countertop surfaces, epoxy vs. polyurethane is a commonly discussed topic. These coatings are widely used on factory floors as well as for countertops. The flooring where these are used is mostly concrete, but we do find the occasional wooden floor as well. A factory owner or manager may have a bare floor that needs to be coated but unsure which type of finish to choose.

Polyurethane vs epoxy discussions often result in a toss-up between the two materials. What many people don’t realize is that these two materials complement each other, especially with flooring. Therefore, when you consider using these coatings in a woodworking project, you need to consider combining both for the best results.

The standard requirement is for a coating that should be durable but safe, bright, and easy to maintain. The usual procedure is to go in for three coats, the first two being epoxy and the topcoat being polyurethane. The misconception is that all coatings are epoxy. However, it is the polyurethane topcoat that adds to the durability and smart looks of the floor.

As far as industrial floor coatings are concerned, both epoxy and polyurethane come under the category of “thermosetting polymers.” They form the most long-lasting coating systems that you can get. This type of finish offers a highly robust solution in countertops or for coating desktops in kids’ rooms and various tabletops.

While epoxies and polyurethanes are both thermosetting polymers in the industrial floor coating world, their differences in function and performance are vast. For concrete floor coating applications, the most durable, longest-lasting coating systems usually include epoxy and polyurethane. You need a durable coating like this on a factory floor because of heavy loads, equipment, and impacts. Here we discuss the various aspects of polyurethane vs. epoxy coatings.

The Importance of Floor Coatings

Room Of House with Finished Wood Floors.

As we mentioned above, you can use polyurethane which usually comes in resin and epoxy, to coat floors to add to their durability. You might wonder why it is so essential for a floor to have a coating. The reason for coating a floor is to give it resistance to heavy impact, moisture, and chemical spills.

Resin flooring is extremely tough and can withstand the beating that industrial applications can deliver. It can bear up to heavy loads without getting the surface damaged. Applying an epoxy or PU resin coating to a floor creates a chemical reaction between the floor and resin. The process increases the overall strength of the floor. The floor also becomes easier to clean and maintain because it doesn’t absorb spills that easily, and there is less likelihood of hazardous chemicals being trapped in the floor.

Another advantage of an epoxy-polyurethane-coated floor is that it is more hygienic, definitely a plus point at a food handling unit. Finally, the floor develops an anti-slip surface which makes it safe to walk upon.

Epoxy Coatings

Self-leveling epoxy. Leveling with a mixture of cement floors.

Epoxy is an organic substance which we use to make epoxy resin. We make epoxy resin by curing the substance by heating it in the air and adding chemicals to harden the mixture. Epoxy has multiple applications in addition to using it for coating floors.

Today, you can get countless varieties of epoxy flooring that come in a vast price range. The basic composition of epoxy is two parts – the first part being the resin and the second part the hardener. When we mix both components, the mixture cures to form a rock-solid layer. You get a variety of epoxy types like fast-drying epoxy, chemical-resistant epoxy, pigmented epoxy paint, and so on.

The primary advantage of epoxies is that they bond exceptionally well to the floor surface, adding mechanical strength. On drying, it provides a solid base for applying successive coats. For using an epoxy coating, the flooring surface needs to be thoroughly prepped. The recommended prepping procedure for concrete is diamond grinding or abrasive shot blasting. For wooden flooring, you would have to sand down the surface of the wood thoroughly.

Epoxy adds thickness to a floor surface at the rate of roughly eight mils to 15 mils per coat. The thickness helps provide mechanical strength and fills blemishes and cracks on the surface. You will also find epoxy relatively easy to install, but you may need to gain a bit of experience and prior knowledge for using it perfectly.

The downside of epoxy coatings is that it does not provide ample UV protection and tends to fade to amber or yellow over time. It is also as abrasion-proof and chemical resistant as polyurethane.

Polyurethane Coatings

Lacquering wood floors. Worker uses a roller to coating floors.

Coming to polyurethane or PU as we commonly call it, is a multifunctional coating that finds wide usage on various woodworking items in addition to the prominent role it plays in flooring solutions. Poly comes in both oil-based and water-based forms.

Polyurethane forms a much thinner film on curing. It offers a fair degree of UV protection, and if added over epoxy, it can protect the epoxy from becoming yellow over time. PU also exhibits better resistance to chemical spills and resistance to rubber marks from tires, making it a suitable factory floor coating. It also shows a high degree of resistance to abrasion – almost four times more than epoxy.

You get different finishes with polyurethane, such as satin, high-gloss, and semi-gloss. You can also add optional wear and safety additives to the final coat.

Epoxy Resin for Countertops

Texture of a wooden table with epoxy resin. Top view of wood for background
Texture of wood

Epoxy resin makes long-lasting countertops thanks to its high durability, and you will find it reasonably priced as well. This material plays a prominent role in making lab countertops because of epoxy’s high resistance to chemical spills, moisture, and heat. It finds popularity in kitchens for the same reason.

Polyurethane for Countertops

Stylish kitchen interior design. Luxury modern kitchen furnitur

We consider polyurethane as liquid plastic, and it can be oil-based or water-based. Poly comes as a preferred choice for countertops. It is easy to apply and serves well as lacquer. You can easily use it with a brush, and it will dry within 24 hours.

Polyurethane vs Epoxy at a Glance

Parameter Polyurethane Epoxy
Durability Requires periodic refinishing Highly Durable
Safety A smooth finish can be hazardous Extremely high grip
Aesthetics Different textures available Not much variation in appearance
Ease of Use Easy to apply Needs some experience
Maintenance Needs regular maintenance Low maintenance
Mechanical Strength Tends to crack Tough material
UV Protection Medium High


From what we have discussed here regarding polyurethane and epoxy, it is evident that each has its advantages and disadvantages. Which coating should you go in for – epoxy or polyurethane? With these two types of coatings, you would not choose one in preference of another.

You need to combine both finishes to achieve the desired results. Combining these two types of floor finishes will create a robust bonding system to the surface through epoxy and a topcoat of polyurethane to create a safe, physically strong, chemical resistant, and aesthetically good-looking top layer.

We can conclude by saying that the preferred choice for a substrate is epoxy. It helps to build up a thickness to the floor or countertop and fills up flaws and cracks on the surface. Polyurethane on the other hand adds durability to the coating in terms of mechanical resistance, chemical resistance, shock resistance, and UV protection.

Use both these coatings as a robust finishing solution to achieve excellent results in terms of durable and smart-looking floors, countertops, and tabletops that will last for many years.

Read about wipe-on poly here.