How Many Coats of Polyurethane Should You Use on Stairs?

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A beautiful hardwood staircase is the centerpiece of your home.

It adorns the hallway of your house, but foot traffic and age have taken their toll. 

You may be wondering how to restore the stairs to their former glory.

Polyurethane may be the answer to your question.

However, how many coats of polyurethane should you use on stairs?

The answer to this question depends on several factors.


Types of Polyurethane

Polyurethane is considered the most durable yet easily-applicable protective hardwood finish. Polyurethane finishes come in two main types: oil-based finishes and water-based finishes. Choosing one or the other depends on your preferences and the specific project you're working on.

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Generally speaking, oil-based polyurethane is a bit easier to apply. It is thicker as well, which means fewer coats are required. Depending on the type of wood and condition of the stairs, usually two or three coats of oil-based polyurethane are enough.

However, you need to be aware that it takes longer to dry. Also, it can add an amber glow to the wood, making it susceptible to brush marks. The odor of oil-based polyurethane is stronger than that of the water-based variety.

Taking all of the features into account, if you apply two or three coats of oil-based polyurethane to your stairs, the project may run much longer than if you use a water-based formula.

Water-Based Polyurethane

Water-based polyurethane can be more temperamental. The finish can raise the grain of the wood and is susceptible to watermarks. Additionally, water-based polyurethane is not as thick as oil-based polyurethane, so you may need to apply up to four or more coats.

On the other hand, it dries quickly and doesn't have such a strong odor. The color of water-based polyurethane is usually clear or neutral. Note that when applied it looks milky-white, but as it sets the finish becomes clear.

Applying Polyurethane Wood Finishes

Now that you know how many coats of polyurethane you need on stairs to get the mirror finish, let's see how to properly apply them.

Prepare the Wood

Sand the wood with 120- or 220-grit sandpaper. Some woods may require a wood-grain filler before you apply the first coat. You should gently sand the stairs before applying each coat. When you are done sanding, clean the stair thoroughly using a vacuum cleaner.

Apply Oil-Based Polyurethane

It is advisable to splurge a little on the brush. Use a fine-bristled brush or a foam brush. Take long brush strokes and follow the grain of the wood. Take out as many bubbles as you can. When it dries, repeat the process including the sanding.

Apply Water-Based Polyurethane

The process is quite similar to oil-based polyurethane. Using a fine-bristled brush, work your way down the grain in long strokes.

Don't apply too much or the grain will rise. Water-based polyurethane dries in a couple of hours, so you should be able to apply the four required coats in one day. Applying this number of coats will insure your stairs are completely protected.


The Last Stroke

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