Adding an extra layer of protection is an essential part to extend the lifespan of the material. Lacquer and polyurethane are the top-recommended products by many people in terms of adding a protective layer to a surface because of their proven durability. If you haven’t used them yet, you might wonder, what product will make my material last longer?

To help you decide on what coverage you should apply to your project, we will discuss the difference between lacquer and polyurethane in terms of their durability. Not knowing the difference between the two will not only waste your money, but will also degrade your wood decks, automotive parts, textile, and other materials.


Lacquers are frequently described as the best all-around finish for wood projects because of their quick-drying capabilities and durability. It contains a shellac-like solution that forms a durable synthetic covering.

In applying lacquer, speed is necessary because it dries very quickly around 10 minutes or less after the application. You can coat the material again with lacquer after 30 minutes. Lacquer acts like its own solvent, meaning, if you put a second coat on your material, it will dissolve the first coat to provide a smooth finish.

Lacquer is typically applied with a sprayer or from a spray can, but it can also be applied by a brush although brushing lacquer is difficult on any large object because it dries so quickly. If you’re applying the lacquer on small surfaces, this feature is not a problem.

If you throw small objects on a surface with a hardened coat of lacquer, there will be no marks on it because it is durable enough to withstand small external forces. Lacquer is not very fragile. It’s not something that’s just going to flake off if you apply a normal force to an object coated with lacquer just like hitting it with your hand.

You might be able to protect your wood from wear caused by environmental conditions if you put a lacquer finish to it. Lacquer is rare to crack and makes it difficult for mold to enter and grow on the material. Lacquer lasts for years without fading, unlike varnish, polyurethane, or shellac. Lacquer is thinner than other solutions, allowing it to penetrate deeper into the wood, providing a long-lasting coating that protects it from the inside out.

Lacquer is quite durable so most furniture available on the market is lacquer finished. Lacquer is inexpensive and easy to apply, but there are also downsides to using this coating.

  • Lacquer is not recommended as a coat for outdoor objects. Lacquer is best to use for indoor materials because those things are not frequently exposed to UV rays.
  • Response to heat. If you put lacquer on any kitchen components, it will deteriorate over time, mostly around the sink, stove, oven, and any heat-emitting appliances because lacquer cannot withstand long exposure to moisture, heat, or steam.
  • Wood problems. The wooden materials can expand and contract when it absorbs moisture or is exposed to temperature changes. Because the lacquer finish is so fragile, even minor motions might cause it to break. Over time, lacquered kitchen cabinets are prone to discoloration and visible blemishes on the surface, such as dents and scratches.

On average, coating material with two or three layers of lacquer will make the object last for years. Although on wood materials, it is advisable to recoat them with lacquer every one to two years.


Polyurethane provides a smooth finish in a form of liquefied plastic until it dries on your material. It comes in both oil-based options and water-based types but many people prefer the latter because it has very little odor and low toxicity.

Polyurethane takes 12 to 24 hours to dry before you can recoat it. The smell of polyurethane is also pungent and might last for weeks after the application.

Applying polyurethane with a sprayer is not advisable. There’s a technique that you must know to apply it with a brush to get a smooth and even finish. Use a quality brush and don’t apply too much pressure while applying it so you won’t leave unnecessary brush marks on the surface. 

You can use polyurethane for indoor and outdoor surfaces because it can withstand daily UV light and frequent temperature changes. It is not as flexible as lacquer or varnish but it is not prone to scratches. Polyurethane offers a modern finish and is designed to be durable. Here are other proofs that polyurethane is durable enough for your projects:

  • Can withstand harsh environments. Polyurethane is thermally stable across a wide range of temperatures and environmental conditions.
  • Liquid resistance. When exposed to water, oil, or grease, the properties of polyurethane stay constant. In underwater applications, its polyether molecules allow the material to survive for a very long period.
  • Resistance to bacteria. Polyurethanes prevent the growth of fungi, mold, or mildew, making them ideal for humid environments. In textiles with polyurethane, special additives can be added to help decrease the presence of bacteria.

On the other hand, dents and deep abrasions on polyurethane are hard to repair. Also, textile floors with polyurethane coatings are susceptible to visible dents and other irregularities, that’s why adding extra layers of the coating is necessary.

With proper maintenance, polyurethane can last for decades. Polyurethane is best to use as an adhesive, varnish style coating or as filler material on decks, automotive parts, sports grips, electronic components, and water tanks.

Overall, Which is More Durable?

Lacquer is prone to scratches and has low thermal stability. The nitrocellulose chemical in lacquer makes the object deteriorate if frequently exposed to heat. If not handled appropriately and with safety precautions, it can impose medical hazards.

Although lacquer dries faster, is easier to apply, and has minimal maintenance, polyurethane is the top choice of many people in terms of longevity because it is more durable than lacquer. Polyurethane has additives that make it more resistant to moisture, sun rays, and abrasion. It also lasts longer than lacquer, even without frequent maintenance.

This ends our comparison of lacquer and polyurethane. Polyurethane is more expensive than lacquer but it will save you time and money in the future.

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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