Wooden surfaces like countertops in kitchens and bathrooms frequently come in contact with water and moisture that can damage them.

Thankfully, the best polyurethane for wood countertops can provide the needed protection against moisture-related damage. 

You want to go for food-safe polyurethane for kitchen countertops to avoid putting your family at risk of food poisoning. 

Most leading manufacturers sell food-grade polyurethane for countertops, so you simply need to identify the ones you like best. 

This article provides a shortlist of the best polyurethane for countertops, plus a detailed guide on the factors to consider when selecting such polyurethane.

Our Top Picks

Best Polyurethane for Wood Countertops

  1. Minwax Fast-Drying PolyurethaneBest durable clear coat for wood countertops
  2. Rust-Oleum Watco Butcher BlockBest food-safe formulation
  3. General Finishes High TopcoatBest polyurethane for butcher block countertops
  4. Minwax Helmsman Spar UrethaneBest versatile polyurethane finish
  5. AFM Safecoat Acrylacq Wood SealerBest sealer for wood countertops
  6. Varathane Ultimate PolyBest water-based polyurethane for countertops
  7. Rust-Oleum Triple Thick PolyurethaneBest one-coat coverage

Is Polyurethane Food Safe for Wood Countertops?

Yes, poly is food safe and suitable for use on wooden kitchen countertops. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that the finished surface must be allowed to dry and cure fully before being considered food-safe. 

This cure time varies from one poly to the other, so you need to read the label for the manufacturer’s recommended drying and curing times. This will help ensure you are using the product safely. 

Using a polyurethane surface for food handling before it is fully cured can be risky. The product may release chemical fumes and odors that can cause negative symptoms when used before it is fully cured.

Types of Polyurethane for Countertops 

The two main types of polyurethane available for use on countertops are oil-based and water-based poly. Each type has distinctive characteristics that make it a better choice over the other.

Understanding these characteristics can help you choose better for your project.  

Oil-based poly 

This type of liquid coating contains solvents that can be highly flammable, so the product requires careful handling away from flame-causing agents.

The solvents also give oil-based poly a higher toxicity profile, so you need to wear a protective mask or respirator when handling it.

The product can emit toxic fumes for several weeks after application. Therefore, it is recommended to pay careful attention to the cure time to decide when to start using the polyurethane surface correctly. 

On the brighter side, oil-based poly can be highly durable and resistant to scratches. The product also dries to form a glossy finish, even though different sheen levels are available. 

You will need to use solvents like mineral spirits or turpentine to clean oil-based poly. This may be a challenge for people who do not keep such solvents at home.

Water-Based Polyurethane  

This type of poly consists of water instead of toxic solvents are the base. This use of water makes water-based poly safer, with low toxicity levels. 

This kind of polyurethane dries faster, so you can expect shorter curing times than oil-based poly. The poly also cleans up easily with mere soap and water, making it stress-free to use.

Water-based poly has very low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) levels in its profile, so you may apply it to your countertop without wearing any special breathing equipment. 

Most water-based polyurethanes will also go on clear and stay clear over time. This is as opposed to oil-based polyurethane that might turn amber with time. Some oil-based polyurethanes also carry a yellowish tint. 

On the flipside, water-based poly may be less durable and not hold up well to heat. Nonetheless, this type of poly remains the better choice for most indoor applications. 

Best Polyurethane for Wood Countertops Reviews

The polyurethane marketplace is flooded with various brands and formulations. 

1. Best durable clear coat for wood countertops – Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane

Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish, Clear Satin, 1 Quart
8,496 Reviews
Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish, Clear Satin, 1 Quart
  • PROTECT WOOD SURFACES – Minwax Polyurethane Wood Finish protects interior projects like woodwork, furniture, floors and cabinets. The oil-based, clear top coat is one of the most durable coatings for wood protection against scratches, spills and more.
  • OIL-BASED DURABLE FINISH – Clear finish provides long-lasting protection and warm beauty to both finished and unfinished wood projects. Protective coating is ideal for woodwork, furniture, doors, cabinets & floors, and is available in a variety of sheens.
  • SATIN SHEEN – Give your wood projects a sleek finish with this satin clear varnish. It not only protects the natural beauty of the wood, but offers a soft, unique sheen for a modern, cozy and on-trend look.
  • FAST DRYING – Get more done with this protective poly coating. It’s a fast-drying clear coat, which allows for quick recoats after 4-6 hours, letting you get projects done faster. Be sure to apply with a high-quality natural or foam brush.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

This Minwax polyurethane has an oil-based formula that guarantees durability and lasting protection for wooden countertops. This oil-based formulation forms one of the most hard-wearing coats ever. 

It dries to form a scratch-resistant surface, keeping the wood looking pristine for longer. With this product, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that occasional spills and moisture will not threaten your wood. 

While this formula is oil-based, it dries much faster than other similar oil-based products. This can mean completing the task in less time. 

You can apply subsequent coats of this polyurethane after 4 to 6 hours of application. And since the product does not require many coats to achieve the desired coverage, you can complete the entire project in one day.

What We Liked Most

  • The satin sheen brings out the natural beauty of the wood.
  • The polyurethane is durable and offers lasting protection to wooden countertops. 
  • Minwax is a leading brand with a good reputation for creating dependable products. 
  • This product dries relatively quicker than many other oil-based products.

What Could Be Improved

  • You may have to wait for several weeks for the polyurethane surface to be fully cured and usable.



2. Best food-safe formulation – Rust-Oleum Watco Butcher Block

1 pt Rust-Oleum 66051H Watco Butcher Block Oil & Finish
2,208 Reviews
1 pt Rust-Oleum 66051H Watco Butcher Block Oil & Finish
  • Protects interior wood surfaces such as butcher blocks, cutting boards, salad bowls and more
  • Non-toxic, food safe wood oil is easy to apply with no brush marks
  • Dries to the touch in 2 hours and covers up to 50 sq. ft. , ready for use after 72 hours
  • Easy wipe-on application with a clean cloth - meets government standards of 21 CFR 175. 300
  • Enhances and maintains wood items with a rich, lustrous sheen

This poly from Rust-Oleum is specially formulated to be food-safe. It is specifically designed with food handling items and interior surfaces like cutting boards, salad bowls, and butcher blocks in mind.

It is completely non-toxic, so you can use it on your wooden kitchen countertop without worries. This product boasts a fast drying that helps you save time. It dries to the touch in well under two hours.

This means you can recoat multiple times and finish your project the same day. Even better, the polyurethane surface will be ready for use in just 72 hours.

However, we recommend checking the cure time and allowing it to cure fully before using the countertop for any food-related tasks. 

As soon as the surface is cured, it is safe for food contact, and you can use it for any role without any health issues. 

It is formulated for easy application. The self-leveling property makes it easy to apply, especially for beginner DIYers. You will not have to worry about brush marks as none of it will appear on your project.

What We Liked Most

  • This polyurethane is easy to apply. You can use a clean cloth to wipe it onto your wood countertop. 
  • It is formulated to be safe for food contact.
  • It dries to form a rich sheen that helps enhance the wood on your kitchen counter.
  • The lustrous sheen is easy to maintain 

What Could Be Improved

  • Some users find it pretty sticky while applying it. It is therefore recommended to wear gloves when applying it. 



3. Best polyurethane for butcher block countertops – General Finishes High-Performance Topcoat

General Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat, 1 Quart, Satin
6,011 Reviews
General Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat, 1 Quart, Satin
  • Do not apply clear topcoats over bright white paint, as yellowing may occur due to a reaction to the substrate. Light color paints may also experience yellowing due to topcoat application, but it will less noticeable.
  • The hardest, most durable consumer polyurethane top coat on the market today
  • Dry Time Between Coats is only 1 to 2 Hours
  • Interior use only

Here is a fast-drying water-based formulation that dries to the touch in minutes. The product dries between coats in just 1 to 2 hours. This means you can apply as many coats as necessary within a few hours and complete the entire project in just one day. 

It dries into a robust coat, offering long-lasting protection to your wooden countertop. This polyurethane is among the toughest in the market. It does an excellent job of resisting scratches.

This property goes a long way in keeping the wood countertop looking immaculate for a long time. The product is loaded with UV stabilizers to make it resilient against the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

If your kitchen lets in lots of sunlight, this polyurethane may be perfect for your situation. It will protect your countertop while resisting the harmful effects of UV rays.

What We Liked Most

  • UV stabilizers keep it from breaking under the sun’s radiation. 
  • The water-based formula is easy to clean with soap and water.
  • It is low VOC and non-toxic. You do not necessarily need sophisticated breathing equipment when using it. 
  • It dries pretty quickly.

What Could Be Improved

  • This poly is formulated exclusively for interior use, so you cannot use any leftover product on your outdoor projects. 



4. Best versatile polyurethane finish – Minwax Helmsman Water-Based Spar Urethane

Sale
Minwax Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane, Quart, Satin
6,732 Reviews
Minwax Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane, Quart, Satin
  • PROTECTIVE CLEAR FINISH – Minwax Helmsman Water Based Spar Urethane is a crystal clear wood finish that is specially formulated to protect against nature’s toughest conditions.
  • EFFECTIVE YEAR ROUND – This wood varnish forms a protective barrier against rain and moisture to protect your projects and keep them looking their best. Special oils allow the finish to expand & contract with the wood as seasons and temperatures change.
  • VERSATILE – Ideal for use on doors, windows, trim, bathroom cabinets, bar tops, kitchen countertops, outdoor furniture and more. It’s a versatile water-based spar urethane that dries quickly and cleans up easily with warm water.
  • SATIN FINISH – Give your wood projects a sleek finish with this satin clear varnish. It protects the natural beauty of the wood and offers a soft, unique sheen for a modern, cozy, and on-trend look. It’s ideal for use over light colored woods and stains.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care products. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

Helmsman spar urethane is one of the very best clear coats on the market. It is formulated to work both indoors and outdoors across various surfaces.

Its superior ability to adhere to virtually any surface makes it a go-to polyurethane for tabletops and kitchen countertops. There is no need to worry about being stuck with leftover poly.

You can use what is left on any other project regardless of where it is located. If you love the natural color of your wood, this polyurethane from Minwax may be ideal for you.

Thanks to its special water-based formula, it goes on clear and stays clear. The clear color does an excellent job of preserving your wood’s natural color for the long haul.

It is a non-yellowing polyurethane, so you can depend on the super-tough coat to remain crystal clear for ages. The superior UV blockers in this product help keep it from breaking under the sun.

So you may want to consider it if you have a spacious kitchen with lots of sunlight coming in. It will do a great job of preventing your wooden countertop from fading.

What We Liked Most

  • This polyurethane offers dependable protection throughout the year. It is formulated to be flexible enough to withstand extreme weather changes. 
  • It is extremely versatile and can work on many surfaces, so whatever remains after finishing your kitchen countertop will not go to waste. 
  • The water-based formula means it is low-odor and non-toxic
  • It dries to form a beautiful satin finish 

What Could Be Improved

  • Some users find the finish to be rather glossy and not satin as they expect. This is likely a result of not mixing the product well before applying it to the project.



5. Best sealer for wood countertops – AFM Safecoat Acrylacq Wood Sealer

AFM Safecoat Acrylacq Gloss, Clear Coat Polyurethane Sealer, Wood Sealer in 32 oz.
130 Reviews
AFM Safecoat Acrylacq Gloss, Clear Coat Polyurethane Sealer, Wood Sealer in 32 oz.
  • 🖌️ PROTECTS YOUR WOOD PROJECTS - Worried about wood damage? AFM Safecoat wood sealer protects your furniture, cabinets, doors, and wood accessories from stains and scratches. Convert your wood projects into UV and chemical-resistant pieces with our polyurethane sealer!
  • 🖌️ ADDS GLOSSY FINISH - Give that stunning finish to your woodworks through AFM's clear coat! With our varnish, you won't have boring wooden furniture and home decor! What's more, you can also use AFM's acrylic varnish to refine your paintings!
  • 🖌️ NON-TOXIC VARNISH - We offer a water based polyurethane coat that doesn't include harmful chemicals. Have a safe home for people of all ages with AFM's varnish for wood decor and furniture! Aside from protecting your furniture, this polyacrylic sealer is also safe for the environment.
  • 🖌️ FAST-DRYING FORMULATION - Tired of waiting for a long time before applying a second clear coat? AFM provides a fast-drying wood sealer so that you can use furniture and decor quickly. It's also safe to use for your intricate paintings due to its quick-drying technology.
  • 🖌️ GUARANTEED PREMIUM QUALITY - For over 40 years, AFM has been providing artists, woodworkers, and carpenters with environment and kid-friendly polyurethane sealer. Thus, every can of AFM Safecoat Acrylacq Gloss does not contain toxic chemicals, and we ensure this through rigorous quality checks in our facilities.

If you are concerned about your wood countertop getting stained or scratched from daily activity, you may want to consider AFM Safecoat Acrylaq.

This wood sealer is specifically formulated to protect your wooden surface from scratches and stains. It is resistant to common household chemicals and the sun’s UV radiation.

So it protects your countertop against fading from exposure to sunlight and stain from chemical spills. The glossy finish of this polyurethane makes your countertop easier to maintain.

Such finishes also resist scratches better, making your countertop remain magnificent for longer. AFM Safecoat’s high gloss sheen can transform even an ordinary-looking wood into something spectacular. 

If you have a small kitchen, this shiny surface may be perfect for you. The high gloss finish can significantly make your small kitchen look bigger.

It can also reflect considerable amounts of light, making a dark, dingy kitchen space look brighter and more livable.

What We Liked Most

  • The product has a non-toxic, water-based formula. 
  • It dries pretty fast, which can save you time to move on to other things sooner. 
  • The polyurethane guarantees superior quality coats on your wooden countertops. 
  • This poly is low-odor, making it safe for people with allergies or smell sensitivities. 

What Could Be Improved

  • Dirt and dust may be more easily visible on the glossy countertop. 
  • The water-based formula may require multiple coats to achieve the desired coverage.



6. Best water-based polyurethane for countertops – Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane

Rust-Oleum 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Satin Finish
1,025 Reviews
Rust-Oleum 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Satin Finish
  • Protects indoor wood surfaces such as furniture, windows, cabinets, trim and more
  • Water based formula dries fast and cleans up with soap and water
  • Dries to the touch in 30 minutes with coverage up to 125 sq. ft., recoat after 2 hours
  • Durable formula provides outstanding stain and scratch resistance with excellent clarity
  • Satin finish provides a classic and natural look

As the name suggests, this polyurethane offers the ultimate coverage and protection for your wood countertop. It is specially formulated to dry to the touch in just 30 minutes, the fastest any polyurethane product can ever dry. 

Such drying speeds can be a godsend, especially if you are pressed for time and must proceed to other things. With this product, you will be able to recoat as many times as necessary and complete the project in just a few hours. 

Just one gallon is enough to cover up to 125 square feet. This high coverage means you can use less product to complete a large project. Eventually, you spend less money on your project.

Since this product is water-based, it emits less odor than most wood finishes. This property makes it ideal, especially for someone with smell sensitivities or allergies. 

The water-based formula also guarantees a clear color that remains as such over time. If you love your wood in its beautiful natural color, you can count on this product to help preserve that color.

What We Liked Most

  • It forms a durable coat that protects the wooden surface for ages. 
  • The product is non-yellowing
  • It allows for easy cleanup with dishwashing liquid or detergent and water.  
  • The protective coat is scratch-resistant
  • The satin finish of this poly helps preserve the wood’s natural appearance

What Could Be Improved

  • The product goes on thin, so you may have to apply several thin coats to achieve the desired coverage. 



7. Best one-coat coverage – Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Polyurethane

Rust-Oleum 302736 Triple Thick Polyurethane, Matte, 32 oz, Clear
701 Reviews
Rust-Oleum 302736 Triple Thick Polyurethane, Matte, 32 oz, Clear
  • Ideal for use on all interior wood surfaces including furniture, doors, trim and more
  • One-coat coverage, water-based formula provides excellent scratch and stain resistance
  • Dries to the touch in 2 hours and covers up to 50 sq ft
  • Ultimate durability for long lasting protection
  • Matte finish provides a soft, subtle finish for surfaces

If you are not a fan of recoating, this triple-thick polyurethane from Rust-Oleum may be your best choice. Its one-coat coverage means that a single coat is all you need to offer the coverage of three standard coats.

That is the greatest coverage we have seen on any poly. And you will be happy to know that the product adheres to all interior wood surfaces, so if some of it remains after completing your countertop, it will not go to waste.

You can use it on a door, furniture, trim, etc. The special formula forms a robust coat that protects the countertop excellently against scratches and stains.

The product is fast drying. Despite offering the coverage of three coats in one, it will be completely dry to the touch in two hours. 

The self-leveling formula of this polyurethane helps eliminate brush marks. As a result, you can easily achieve professional-looking results with this product even if you are unskilled in using such wood finishes.

What We Liked Most

  • This product offers the best durability, with each coat providing coverage equivalent to three coats of standard polys. This helps guarantee lasting protection. 
  • It is fast-drying despite being high coverage. 
  • It forms a matte finish that can hide surface imperfections much better. 
  • The one-coat coverage can be labor-saving, reducing the number of recoats needed. 

What Could Be Improved

  • This product is meant exclusively for indoor use. However, if you have some outdoor wood to protect with polyurethane, you have no luck with this Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Poly. 



Best Polyurethane for Wood Countertops Comparison Table

What to Consider When Selecting Polyurethane for Countertops 

Knowing what to look for in any product can help you choose better. So this section helps you with choosing a polyurethane finish for your wood countertop. 

Sheen level

Polyurethane can be high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin, or matte. High gloss finishes reflect the most light, while matte and satin polyurethane finishes reflect the least light. 

So if you have a small kitchen, you might be better off with a relatively glossy finish that will help make the space look brighter by reflecting more light.

Food safety

Kitchen counters are often used for food preparation. This means the product you use to coat that surface must be safe for food contact. Otherwise, you could be looking at potential food poisoning issues. 

Durability 

This is a no-brainer. Not all polyurethane brands will give you the same service life, so you want to go for the one that will last the longest on your countertop. Such a product gives you the biggest bang for your buck and saves you money in the long run. 

Eco-friendliness

Oil or solvent-based polyurethanes consist of chemical solvents that emit potentially toxic fumes throughout their curing periods. Such volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from these products generally harm the environment.

On the other hand, water-based finishes tend to be low-VOC, making them friendlier to the environment. So you may want to go for these safer alternatives whenever that option is viable. 

Drying time

No one wants to take several days on one project when they could complete it sooner. While some polyurethanes dry to the touch in 30 minutes, others can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to dry to the touch. 

The product that dries to the touch in half an hour will allow you to recoat in about two hours, meaning you can complete the entire project in just a couple of hours within the day. 

In contrast, the product that takes up to six hours to dry to the touch may need eight hours to be ready for recoating. Therefore, when using such a product, you may be unable to complete the project in less than three days, which can be inconvenient. 

So it makes sense to go for a fast-drying poly whenever possible to finish your projects sooner. 

Sealing Butcher Block Countertops with Polyurethane

Step1: Assemble the supplies you’ll need and prepare the workspace. 

Step2: Sand the wood countertop along the wood grain to remove any blemishes and make it smooth. 

Step 3: Wipe the sanding dust with a tack cloth and let the wood dry completely before applying polyurethane

Step 4: Seal the wood with thinned poly. To make the thinned poly, use a glass jar to mix oil-based poly with mineral spirits in the ratio of 2:1 or water-based poly with water in the same ratio. Stir the mixture gently with a stick, taking care not to disturb or shake it to introduce bubbles. Then apply with a brush. 

Step 5: After the sealer has dried completely, apply polyurethane to the wood with natural bristles (when applying oil-based polyurethane) and synthetic bristles (for water-based poly).

Step 6: Wet sand the surface and apply additional coats of the product as directed on the label. 

FAQs

Should you polyurethane butcher block countertops

You should use polyurethane on butcher block countertops to protect the wood. However, ensure the poly has fully cured and dried to the touch before using it for food handling, as that is when it becomes food-safe.

Is water-based polyurethane food safe?

Yes, water-based polyurethane is food-safe once it has cured fully. This can take several weeks or about 30 days, so it helps to be patient with the newly coated polyurethane surface. 

How many coats of polyurethane on wood countertops

Wood countertops require a minimum of two coats of polyurethane to create the desired coverage and durability. 

Is polyurethane food safe when dry?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that polyurethane is food-safe when dry. However, the organization cautions that you must let this clear wood finish become completely dried and cured before using it for food contact.

What is the best finish for wood countertops?

Tung Oil and any white mineral oil are the best finishes for wood countertops meant for food prep due to their non-toxic nature. Unfortunately, they require frequent reapplication just like walnut oil or butcher block oil to maintain their protection.

How to clean polyurethane countertop

You can clean polyurethane countertops with a clean cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol for stubborn stains or mere soap and water for regular stains. 

Is wipe-on poly food safe?

Yes, wipe-on polyurethane is food safe. Experts say that all hard-wearing clear finishes become food-safe after they have fully cured.

Conclusion 

Polyurethane varnish is ideal for sealing wood countertops because it forms a tough layer that can significantly protect the wood surface from scratches, water damage, and UV radiation.

However, it is essential to choose the best product for your project. We hope these reviews and detailed user guides help make your next project successful.

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