Lacquer Vs Polyurethane

Lacquer vs polyurethane is a question asked by new DIYers when they are trying to protect their new work.  You have a beautiful wood project you’ve just finished and you want it to stay in great shape for as long as possible. 

So, what is the difference and is one better for your protecting your surfaces?  Read below to find out. 

lacquer vs polyurethane lacquer spray
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Lacquer Vs Polyurethane: Is Lacquer Better than Polyurethane? 

When it comes to finishing wood projects, there are many options available. Two popular options are lacquer and polyurethane. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two will depend on the specific project you’re working on. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between lacquer and polyurethane, so you can make an informed decision.

Best Times to Use Lacquer

Lacquer spray should be used in specific situations and is best to use on some surfaces, while polyurethane is better on other surfaces.  So, lacquer isn’t better than polyurethane overall, each one has its benefits and is great in it’s on way at protecting your DIY surfaces. 

Lacquer is a more liquid type of coating and provides a glass like finish, so if that’s the look you’re going for, choose a lacquer.  It is made from nitrocellulose or acrylic resins, which are dissolved in solvents like lacquer thinner or acetone. The solvent evaporates, leaving a hard, durable finish.

Lacquer is very thin, and you get amazing results by using the best lacquer spray gun when applying lacquer.  You have to be careful with lacquer and liquids and wipe up any spills right away or it could leave a cloudy mark on your lacquered surface.   

Since poly is a liquid form of plastic, it is thicker and doesn’t penetrate as deeply into your surface as lacquer. But, it doesn’t scratch as easy or is as susceptible to water marks as lacquer. 

Some professionals consider lacquer the superior product, because it dries faster, and the finish it leaves on your projects is more mainstream than poly.  Poly can take up to 24 hours to dry on a surface, while lacquer can take only a few hours because it is more liquid than polyurethane. 

Summary of Lacquer Pros and Cons

Fast Drying Time
Excellent Clarity
Scratch and Abrasion Resistance
Easy to Repair
Strong Odor
Limited Resistance to Moisture

Pros Of Using Lacquer Explained

Lacquer dries quickly, which means you can apply multiple coats in a short amount of time. This is especially important if you’re working on a large project.

Lacquer has excellent clarity, which means it won’t yellow over time. This is important if you want to maintain the natural color of the wood.

Lacquer is hard and durable, which means it can resist scratches and abrasions. This makes it ideal for high-traffic areas like tabletops and floors.

If your lacquer finish gets damaged, it’s easy to repair. You can simply sand down the damaged area and apply a new coat of lacquer.

Cons Of Using Lacquer Explained

Lacquer has a strong odor, which means you need to work in a well-ventilated area. You may also need to wear a respirator.

Lacquer is highly flammable, which means you need to be careful when storing it and using it near a heat source.

Lacquer has limited resistance to moisture, which means it’s not ideal for use in areas where there is a lot of humidity or moisture, such as bathrooms or kitchens.

Summary of Polyurethane Pros and Cons

Polyurethane is a clear or colored coating that is often used on wood floors, doors, and furniture. It is made from synthetic resins that are dissolved in solvents like mineral spirits or water. The solvent evaporates, leaving a hard, durable finish.

Good Resistance to Moisture
Hard and Durable
Easy to Apply
Available in Different Finishes
Longer Drying Time
Yellowing Over Time
Can be Difficult to Repair

Pros Of Using Poly Explained

Polyurethane has good resistance to moisture, which makes it ideal for use in areas like bathrooms and kitchens.

It’s hard and durable, which means it can resist scratches and abrasions. This makes it ideal for high-traffic areas like floors.

Poly is easy to apply, as it can be brushed, sprayed, or rolled on. It also has a long working time, which means you have more time to work with it before it dries.

You can get Poly in different finishes, such as matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. This means you can choose the finish that best suits your project.

Cons of Using Poly Explained

Polyurethane takes longer to dry than lacquer, which means you may have to wait longer between coats.

It also yellows over time, especially if it’s exposed to sunlight. This can change the color of the wood. If there is a chip in your poly coating, it can be difficult to repair.

Can I put Polyurethane Over Lacquer? 

You might wonder can polyurethane be used over lacquer?  Yes it can.  Polyurethane over lacquer adds an extra protective coating over your projects.  Lacquer is absorbed into your surfaces more and gets deep into your wood or surface.  Polyurethane is a more plastic type coating that can withstand more intense traffic than lacquer, which tends to scratch easier than poly.   

Lacquer or Polyurethane on Metal 

Both can be used on metal and offer different benefits.  For home based DIY projects, poly offers the best protection against water damage, making it great for outdoor furniture than sees a ton of moisture.   

Poly is also more scratch resistant, which works well for high use items like chairs or table tops.  Because poly is a thicker plastic coating that you paint onto your surface, it doesn’t do so great in heat, which leads to peeling, cracking and discoloration.   

When would you use lacquer spray on metal vs polyurethane?  Using lacquer is great for metal surfaces that may be heated up like surface outdoors. 

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Lacquer vs Polyurethane on Outdoor Furniture 

Again, if your outdoor area is getting a ton of moisture, we would go for a poly coating (even over a lacquer spray) to protect your outdoor furniture.  Areas that get lots of heat, mean you should be applying a lacquer.  Lacquers, because they are thinner and are absorbed into surfaces more than poly, need more maintenance and re-staining than poly.  Lacquer can lose its gloss and discolor over time, just like poly. 

Lacquer or Polyurethane for Table Tops 

We’d use a lacquer spray under a poly here, if your table will be getting a ton of traffic.  More use on your table tops will lead to a very scratched surface if you only use lacquer. If it’s a decorative table that doesn’t see any use, then lacquer is totally fine to use on its own.


Lacquer vs polyurethane isn’t a competition.  Each product works great, but, they should be used in the right situations to give you and your projects the best long term protection from water, weather, and anything else you can throw at them.   

Check out our best lacquer spray guns post for a fast and easy method to apply lacquer on your next DIY project with professional results every time. 


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Check out our lacquer paint sprayer post with detailed discussion and reviews.