Can You Put Polyurethane Over Wax

Which one should come first - poly or wax?
Can you polyurethane over wax?

Can you put polyurethane over wax? Well, there’re tons of conflicting information about applying polyurethane over the wax or waxing over poly.

So you know, polyurethane gives a perfect finish and also offers strong protection to your surface. Wax, on the other hand, does a lot in polishing surfaces. But can you polyurethane over wax?

In this masterpiece, we’ll touch on:

  • Drying time of polyurethane.
  • Factors hindering drying and curing time of polyurethane.
  • Safety measures.
  • Advantages of wax.

Let’s get started.

Can You Polyurethane Over Wax?

NO, you can’t polyurethane over wax. Rule of thumb requires you to first apply polyurethane to your piece of furniture and then wax as your final topcoat. If you want to poly an already waxed surface, you must remove the wax by wiping it down with a TSP solution or mineral spirit.

Poly vs. Wax

A single protective topcoat is all everyone needs. But there’s always a reason behind applying the two finishes. 

About Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane is one of the most protective topcoats available and can last for up to 50 years. It dries in less than 24 hours and cures in 30 days. Water-based polyurethane, on the other hand, takes about six hours to dry and 30 days to fully cure.

About Wax

Wax is a paste that cures in 24 hours. It protects your furniture but then doesn’t harden to the capacity polyurethane does. 

You must be careful not to place your waxed furniture near heat or redirect sunlight for a long time as they soften quickly.

Wax wears down over time and you will need to re-wax the surface after a few years to regain the soft sheen and buttery-smooth finish.

Dressers and coffee tables may need re-application after ten or more years, while dining tables may be re-waxed after 3 to 5 yrs.

Some people will want the soft sheen and buttery feel of wax and the protection of polyurethane. But, how do you use them both?

Read on.

Poly First, Then Wax

The right way is to apply poly first then wax. In every piece of furniture, wax should always be the last topcoat. 

I once painted furniture that cracked after every layer of paint. I then sealed it with polyurethane, but it never stopped cracking. As a result, the furniture piece had wax buildup. This wax buildup never allowed the polyurethane to adhere to the surface properly. 

So to apply polyurethane perfectly on a piece of furniture that has already been waxed before, remove the wax first. You can wipe the wax down with a TSP solution or mineral spirit. 

Pro Tip: Ensure you’re working in a well-ventilated room with your mask and protective gloves to prevent health complications resulting from direct exposure to the finishes.

How Long Should Polyurethane Dry Before Waxing?

This question is specific to the drying time of polyurethane and under normal conditions. Oil-based polyurethane takes 24 hours to dry. Water-based on the other side takes 6 hours. But you will have to wait for a month for it to cure. 

Factors Hindering Drying and Curing of Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a finish with unique qualities. So when talking of drying and curing time of polyurethane, you could be talking of days and weeks.

But, what factors hinder its drying and curing time?

  • Temperature and humidity: The drying time is based on 21°C and 70% humidity. Polyurethane will dry faster when the air is dry and the temperature is high. The opposite is true when the humidity is high and the temperature is low.
  • State of the surface: You will realize a faster drying time of your polyurethane if your wood surface is raw and sanded. This is because the wood absorbs the first coat fast. Why? Well, upon application of the first coat on a dry wood surface, the wood absorbs it so fast hence the shorter drying time. But for the next layer, it will take a longer time to dry and cure. 
  • Type of polyurethane formula: There are two different polyurethane formulas – water-based and oil-based. Different manufacturers employ different approaches in the manufacturing of these formulas. Some add oil, while others add drying agents. The inclusion of these components in the formula impacts the drying and curing time of the polyurethane finish. You will realize, the drying time of oil-based polyurethane is longer than the water-based counterparts
  • Wood type: Different wood types take different times to cure. Some fail to cure completely, because woods like Rosewoods and other aromatic cedars produce chemicals that will compromise the crosslinking process.

What Are the Advantages of Using Wax on Wood?

Waxing a surface with an existing polyurethane finish brings something different all adventurous individuals will want to try out. Wax gives a noticeable finish to your hardwood floors and other surfaces. 

Wax gives a relaxed feel and low sheen. Other advantages include:

  • High penetration: wax has a high penetration deep into the wooden furniture. In the process, you achieve a perfect wax finish
  • Simple to apply: With many years of experience dealing with finishes, wax is the most comfortable and simple to finish.
  • The smell: Unlike polyurethane, most wax products have no offensive or irritating smell. Use wax if you are allergic to strong odors.
  • Simple to apply: Out of all the finishes I have interacted with as a woodworker, I found out wax is the simplest finish to apply. If you want to apply the finish by yourself, I recommend you go for a wax.

Safety Measures When Working With Polyurethane

Is polyurethane toxic? Yes, it is. However, it will depend on the brand you are using. Now that you are dealing with something toxic, what are some of the measures you will take?

Here are some measures.

  • First, make sure you read and pay attention to the safety recommendations.
  • While the polyurethane is drying, oil-based formulas specifically do emit smelly toxic fumes. So, you must put on a nose mask as these fumes can cause respiratory complications. The room should be well ventilated to prevent the accumulation of toxic fumes. You can also use water-based polyurethane as they contain less toxic compounds.
  • Do not be exposed for a longer time to the formula during application and when it is starting to dry and cure. A well-ventilated room will always be a safe bet.
  • When wet, oil-based polyurethane is flammable. It has oil-based solvents that generate flammable vapor. Therefore, fire sources must be kept away from polyurethane products.


1. Can I Put Wax Over Polyurethane?

No, you shouldn’t apply wax over polyurethane. Read our wax over poly to why you don’t need to make that mistake.

2. Can You Put White Wax Over Polyurethane?

Yes, you can put white wax over polyurethane. Using wax over polyurethane only helps in appearance. Your desired white wax will give nothing but the best smooth finish.

3. Can You Use Dark Wax Over Polyurethane?

Wax should always be the last finish. So, yes, you can apply your dark wax over the polyurethane surface. 

4. How long should mineral spirits dry before polyurethane?

It is always necessary to allow mineral spirits to dry for about 15 to 20 minutes before applying polyurethane.

5. Can You Put Polyurethane Over Paint?

Yes, you can put polyurethane over paint. As long as the paint has fully cured and it’s clean, you can apply both water-based and oil-based polyurethane over any type of paint. However, you need to be cautious of discoloration, especially from oil-based polyurethane.

Check out our guide on how to apply polyurethane over paint.

Final thoughts

So far, we have looked at how you can make the best out of wax and polyurethane as they are great finishes for wooden surfaces. However, how you apply them dictates the final outlook. 

You should never use poly over wax as has been discussed.

I hope this article on “can you put polyurethane over wax” will be resourceful when dealing with both polyurethane and wax.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

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