Best Polyurethane for Table Top

I Tested 5 Polyurethanes for Table Tops: Here are the Best (2024)

Polyurethane is an excellent wood finish to protect your furniture and give it the look you want. This is especially true for table tops.

I tested some of the best polyurethanes for table tops to help you make the right choice. Here are my favorites!

In a hurry? Minwax Polycrylic Finish is the all-around best polyurethane for table tops, as it’s strong, reliable, long-lasting, easy to apply and clean, safer, and more affordable when compared to other products of similar quality.

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Best Polyurethane for Table Tops

1. Minwax Polycrylic Finish – #1 Best Overall

Minwax Polyurethane

At the top of my list is Minwax’s Polycrylic Finish, a durable, accentuating wood finish that’s not only easy to apply but easy to clean and touch up as well, and these latter qualities are especially important for tabletops.

Moreover, it’s quite cheap considering its quality.

It can protect all kinds of wood surfaces from stains, scratches, and other disfiguring elements, but it’s only for indoor use.

Plus, it’s a water-based polyurethane, so it’s less odorous and contains less volatile organic compounds (VOC), which is a breath of fresh air for people like me who get nervous around highly toxic products.

It works with both water-based and oil-based stains, and it can cover 400-500 sq ft if applied properly.

Minwax recommends applying it with a synthetic-bristle brush for best results, and it should be given at least two hours of drying time before another coat is added.

All you need to clean it is warm, soapy water, and since it doesn’t yellow over time you won’t have to keep an eye out for surface discoloration.

And even though it’s a fantastic poly for tabletops, it’s not food-safe, so you shouldn’t eat directly off a poly-coated table, especially if it hasn’t had at least four weeks of curing time.

Finally, there are detailed instructions on the can, and it comes with a warranty so you can enjoy peace of mind after purchase, which I really value.

What I Liked:

  • Achieving smooth, even coats is easier since this is a thin, self-leveling polyurethane.
  • It’s shiny enough to enhance a table’s appearance without being slippery.
  • You can apply the required number of coats in one day since this is a quick-drying, water-based poly.
  • It can even be used on lighter woods, like maple and birch, because it’s free of yellowing components.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Proper surface prep is essential, otherwise the poly won’t adhere well.
  • Its sheen can make it hard to keep track of how much you’ve applied.

My Thoughts:

Minwax Polycrylic Finish is an all-around terrific product for professionals and DIYers. Once completely cured, it forms a durable seal, but its strength in no way diminishes a wood surface’s appearance. In fact, this product’s semi-gloss sheen helps to accentuate wood grain and other natural features, and it’ll never discolor the surface it’s applied to. Its sheen can, however, make tracking how much you’ve applied a little difficult, but this one gripe is vastly outweighed by all its benefits.

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2. Varathane Water Based Polyurethane Finish – Best Value

Water Based Polyurethane

Varathane Water Based Polyurethane Finish is not only affordable but cost-effective, since you only need to apply one coat to effectively seal any interior wood surface for years to come.

This water-based poly has an attractive satin finish, and like other water-based polyurethanes it doesn’t yellow wood surfaces over time.

And who doesn’t love versatility? Well, this interior polyurethane works well on wood tables, chairs, cabinets, countertops, and other wooden furniture.

It takes just 30 minutes for this poly to become dry-to-touch, and in two hours it’ll be dry enough for another coat, if you wish to add more.

About a month after application, the polyurethane should be completely cured, and this is when it’ll be strongest and most visually appealing.

Maintaining it is a breeze, and this fact may be overlooked by many but it’s incredibly important to me. All you have to do is clean it once in awhile; touch-ups are rarely necessary.

Lastly, this product is backed by a pretty standard limited warranty. So if the one you get is defective, they’ll send you a new can or give you a refund.

What I Liked:

  • It only takes a few dollars worth of this polyurethane to ensure a long-lasting seal.
  • Perfect for DIYers since there’s no mixing required, it’s self-leveling, and only one coat is necessary.
  • Highlights wood’s features while ensuring the surface is never at risk of getting scratched or stained.
  • Maintenance is neither hard nor time consuming, so it’s easy to ensure the finish lasts years.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It’s thicker than most water-based polyurethanes and therefore offers less spreadability.
  • It can’t be used outdoors since prolonged exposure to UV rays can damaged it in numerous ways.

My Thoughts:

If getting bang for your buck is important to you, like it is to me, you’ll love Varathane Water Based Polyurethane Finish. One can will cover dozens of square feet with a durable, visually appealing polyurethane finish, and since it’s on the thicker side only one coat is necessary. And even though it’s capable of achieving professional-grade results, inexperienced DIYers have no trouble using it, since it doesn’t need to be mixed and levels out on its own. If it worked outdoors, it’d probably be the superior polyurethane.

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3. General Finishes Water-Based Topcoat – Most Durable

General Finishes Polyurethane

If you need an extremely durable finish for a wood kitchen table, I highly recommend General Finishes Water-Based Topcoat. Application doesn’t take long, it’ll last for years, and it’ll highlight the wood’s natural beauty.

This product is a unique blend of urethane, acrylic, and other components, and it’s not only scratch- and water-resistant but less toxic and non-flammable as well.

It usually takes an hour or two for this water-based, semi-gloss finish to dry, and in most cases only 2-3 coats are needed to make an extremely durable and smooth finish.

For interior use only, it can be applied to tables, doors, cabinets, chairs, countertops—even hardwood floors!

Plus, it has UV blockers, so you don’t have to worry about natural light causing yellowing, something that’s important to me since my home gets lots of natural light throughout the day.

Lastly, this product is backed by a warranty, but unfortunately there’s not much on its terms online.

What I Liked:

  • Though it’s relatively expensive, it’s incredibly tough and long-lasting, and therefore cost-effective.
  • Its semi-gloss sheen is perfectly balanced, so it’s got some shine but it’s far from overpowering.
  • Because less VOC are used, it’s safer, more eco-friendly, non-flammable, and less odorous.
  • Can be used on light-colored woods since it doesn’t yellow over time.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Surface prep and application both need to be done perfectly to ensure a 100% durable finish.
  • May come in a plastic jug instead of a metal can, which can be inconvenient for storing purposes.

My Thoughts:

General Finishes Water-Based Topcoat is one of the most durable consumer polyurethane top coat on the market today. It’s an extremely durable, water-based polyurethane that’s perfect for an indoor wood table. It resists all the elements that wear down surfaces over time, and it brings out wood features in a truly breathtaking way. If absolutely perfect prep and application weren’t required to get the most out of it, it’d be atop my list. That said, if you’re looking for the most durable finish – go with this one.

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4. Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane – Best Wipe-On Polyurethane

Minwax Wipe On Polyurethane

If you’re a fan of wipe-on finishes like I am, then you’ll probably love Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane, as it’s easy to apply and pretty effective in all the ways you want a poly to be effective.

Another water-based product, a full bottle can cover more than 60 sq ft, and usually only two coats are necessary (though Minwax recommends three).

Once applied, it’ll take 2-3 hours for a thin coat of this wipe-on poly to dry. The final coat, however, should get at least 24 hours of drying time before you start using the surface.

But because of its glossy finish, Minwax wipe-on poly is not good for hardwood floors, as it makes these surfaces slippery and dangerous.

On a kitchen table, however, a glossy coating can be appealing, provided there aren’t low-hanging lights overhead to make it blinding.

Finally, as with other water-based polys, you only need soap and water to clean it up, and touch-ups might be necessary every year or so.

What I Liked:

  • Achieving a smooth finish with a wipe-on poly is much easier, as you avoid drips and brush marks.
  • It provides all the benefits of a glossy sheen without masking natural wood features, e.g. wood grain.
  • It’s cost-effective since you only need 2-3 thin coats to ensure a durable seal on a wooden table.
  • It’s easier to spread than other water-based polyurethane finishes because it’s meant to be wiped on.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It’s too glossy for certain wood surfaces, mainly floors and stairs.
  • It shouldn’t be used outdoors because it can’t withstand constant exposure to the elements.

My Thoughts:

As far as glossy wipe-on polys go, Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane is the best. You can put down multiple coats in a single day because it dries quickly and is easy to apply. And it’s perfect for table tops of all kinds, since it’s a durable finish that offer superior scratch and stain resistance. Plus, it can accentuate all the features that natural wood boasts. It’s too slippery for floors, however, and only effective on an interior wood surface, but it’s still an awesome poly with much to offer.

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5. TotalBoat Halcyon Marine Varnish – Best Marine Polyurethane

Gloss Polyurethane

TotalBoat Halcyon Marine Varnish is a multi-purpose, water-based poly that’s designed for marine applications, but it can be used indoors as well without any problems.

At first I thought it was a bit strange that this poly came in a bag, but I’ve come to realize the bag is actually more convenient than the standard can or bottle.

This satin poly resists all kinds of erosive elements, including UV rays, salt, and moisture.

It can be rolled, brushed, or sprayed on, but I prefer spraying it since no mixing is required and it’s easy to fill my sprayer with the bag.

And unlike other water-based polys, it yellows over time, mostly because it has ingredients that cause this.

But a full bag covers 80-120 sq ft, it’s self-leveling, and all you need to clean it is warm, soapy water.

Finally, it takes about an hour for a coat to dry all the way through, and the manufacturer recommends using 2-4 coats for indoor surfaces, while outdoor surfaces should get 4-6.

What I Liked:

  • It’s a versatile, cost-effective product that can be used indoors, outdoors, and for marine applications.
  • Because it comes in a bag, it’s much easier to avoid bubbles while pouring.
  • Overall application time is shorter since you don’t have to sand between coats.
  • You can achieve a smooth surface in no time since it’s self-leveling and easy to apply.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • This poly will eventually display an amber tint, especially if it gets direct sunlight day after day.
  • Whereas other polys only need 1-2 coats to form a durable surface, this one requires 4-6 outdoors.

My Thoughts:

TotalBoat Halcyon Marine Varnish is a fantastic product for boats, decks, and other marine applications, as it’s designed to withstand constant moisture, UV rays, and salt exposure. And even though it dries hard, it’s thin and clear during application, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting an even, smooth finish. Its ability to resist moisture also makes it great for wood surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms. The only notable downside is it yellows like an oil-based polyurethane, but overall it’s a versatile, user-friendly product that’ll deliver great results on any wood furniture.

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What to Consider When Buying Polyurethane for Table Tops

completed build a dining room table


This is probably the most important aspect to consider when browsing polyurethanes. Generally speaking, oil-based polyurethanes are strongest, but plenty of water-based versions are durable enough for use on table tops.

And stronger polyurethanes tend to not need as many coats, which is something to consider if you’re looking to ensure a shorter application process.

Are you searching for a new finish for your stairs? Check out these best polyurethane coatings for your stairs!


How the poly appears on a wooden surface is important as well, of course. Polyurethanes with a semi-gloss or satin finish are best at bringing out the beauty in natural wood. Specifically, they highlight wood grain patterns and colors well.

Drying Time

DIYers and professionals alike don’t want to spend multiple days applying polyurethane, and that’s a main reason why water-based polyurethanes have become so popular.

Usually, a thin coat of this polyurethane finish will dry in under an hour, which means even applying multiple coats won’t take all day.

Oil-based polyurethane, on the other hand, usually takes 5-6 hours to dry. But only two coats are required for most surfaces, so even an application process involving this poly can be completed in a day.

You can check out my full polyurethane drying guide for more tips to speed up the process.


Water-based polys contain less VOC, so they’re much less toxic. Still, you need to wear proper safety gear when applying this finish, and it’s best to have a window open with some fans running to ensure good ventilation.

Final Thoughts

Minwax Polycrylic Finish is the superior wood finish because it has all the qualities you’d want in a table top polyurethane, yet it’s not outrageously expensive. Specifically, it’ll form a strong, protective coating once dry, and it’s easy to use, easy to clean, and safer since it doesn’t include as many VOC.

The most-budget friendly option is Varathane Water Based Polyurethane Finish, as it’s not only affordable but cost-effective too. A capable polyurethane, it’s great for individuals who don’t want application to take longer than a day.

One of the strongest interior polyurethanes on the market right now is General Finishes Water-Based Topcoat, but it’s sought-after for other reasons as well. Specifically, it’s self-leveling and more accentuating than other water-based polyurethanes.