Can You Put Polyurethane Over Lacquer?

What to consider before using polyurethane or lacquer
Can You Put Polyurethane Over Lacquer?

I know it’s a common question, but I’m going to answer it anyway. Can you put polyurethane over lacquer?

The short answer is no, you cannot.

Polyurethane can react with the lacquer and produce an ugly finish. If you want to apply polyurethane on your project without damaging the existing surface, sand off all of the existing paint or varnish before applying.

Besides, there are some things to keep in mind before you start. Some of these include what type of wood you have, how much time you want to spend on preparation work for your surface, and which coatings will be compatible with each other.

This post will go through all these considerations.

Let’s get started!

Can You Polyurethane Over Lacquer?

No, you can’t apply poly over lacquer as polyurethane won’t bond. The two can’t be used interchangeably because if you put Polyurethane over lacquer, the surface will bubble up and flake over time. But it’s fine to put Lacquer over poly if you have a barrier coat.

What Is Lacquer?

What exactly is lacquer paint? 

The word lacquer is generally used for glossy or semi-gloss finish applied to nonporous materials, including metal or wooden kitchen cabinets. These fall into several different categories. 

Understanding these can help you shop for quality products like mineral spirits suited to your individual needs.

The primary category of lacquer is made from dissolving nitrocellulose and plasticizers and pigments in volatile solid solvents. 

Lacquer is also made with a solution of shellac in denatured alcohol to mimic the appearance of expensive wood finishes like cherry, mahogany, or walnut.

The finish protects wood from outdoor elements, like snow, rain, and heat. In addition, it’s commonly applied to wooden surfaces to prevent damage from water, like the one caused by flooding or leaks.

The main feature of this type of paint is its smooth, shiny, and durable surface. It can protect most scratches and abrasions caused by traffic, equipment, and grit.

Apart from resisting weathering, scratching, chipping, and fading it’s an excellent barrier against UV rays, making them ideal for outdoor locations.

How Many Coats of Lacquer Should I Apply to Wood?

This is a question that often bewilders the do-it-yourself craftsman. But, unfortunately, there’s no single answer since each type of lacquer has its way of curing, hardening, and curing time. 

The number of coats you apply on a new lacquer job is different from the number you’ll apply on a refinish task. Only a few coats are needed for a re-coat task.

But before you buy any strong coating, you should first determine how many thin coats you plan to use on your piece. I’ll recommend two to four coats for better results. It’s also important you follow the instructions on the label.

As I mentioned, the different types of coatings lacquers available are either oil-based or acrylic-based. Each type of coating has different pros and cons when it comes to applying them to wood.

For example, oil-based coatings are more permanent since they are denser than acrylics. Meaning, once the paint dries, you should be able to apply another coat without having to sand or scrape the area again.

Can I Stain Over Lacquer Finishes?

If you’ve been looking at the painting in your furniture, chances are, you’ll be thinking of staining over lacquer. Although lacquer is quite a durable finish, it takes a while to dry – about half a day for the initial soak, and the rest of the paint should dry in most cases at about the same time.

If you intend to stain a lacquered part of the furniture, you’ll have to strip the lacquer off the surface and treat the exposed surfaces with an appropriate leather-specific cleaner. 

Buff if necessary, rub a protective coating of lacquer over the stained area. Once this is done, you’re ready to start staining!

A word of caution, although most lacquers are pretty tough and durable, they can be damaged by being placed directly on top of a fresh coat of varnish or paint. In addition, certain types of lacquers (stiffened with wax) can even damage the finish on newly-painted or finished wood furniture. 

Read: Can you polyurethane over varnish?

Will Acrylic Paint Stick To Lacquer On Wood Surface?

I’m sure you’ve been in a pinch and asked yourself, “will acrylic paint stick to lacquer?” Whether it’s your first time painting with acrylic or your hundredth time doing so, the answer is a resounding yes.

The reason is, Acrylic and Lacquer have nice properties together, which makes them easy to work with when it comes to painting. The Acrylic and Lacquer paint can be easily blended, giving the result a lovely sheen, almost like oil paints. 

Clean the lacquer with soap avoiding circular motions and spilling excess water, then proceed with the other finish.

Also, Acrylic is a thin paint by nature, so it will adhere to a lacquered surface with ease. You also need to realize that this type of paint doesn’t cling to its base like other more viscous paints. If you leave your paint for too long, it will run down the side of the Lacquered surface, giving you a smooth glossy finish!

As you can see, there’s no need to be afraid of adding a layer of acrylic paint to your lacquered furniture project. Follow the instructions on the label.

Pros and Cons of Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer on wood is a prevalent practice to add a shine to the finished wood surface. Lacquer is often also used on hardwood floors, musical instruments, and many other woodworking projects and the house. 

The shiny coating gives the wooden surface a glossy look without jeopardizing the appearance of the natural material. However, there’re both pros and cons associated with the use of lacquer.

What We Liked More About The Product

  • It gives a polished and shiny finishing to the surface of the material.
  • It can be left to dry and harden naturally. Therefore there’s no need to worry about repainting.
  • If the finish is damaged, sanding only needs to be carried out.
  • It can also be painted over to create a different appearance.
  • It is resistant to oil, water, grease, varnish, and stain, and if damaged, it doesn’t require a coat of paint to fix the damage.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive compared to other finishes available.
  • It’s easy to manipulate and shape. This allows for intricate detailing.

What Could Be Improved

  • It wears away faster than other finishes, especially with hardwoods (exceptions being redwood)
  • Oil, grease, varnish, and stain easily seep into the surface of the wood floors and affect the finish.
  • In case of spills, it may be necessary to clean up the mess to restore the original luster. 
  • The protective coating gets quickly chipped away, causing unevenness on the floor. 
  • Lacquer is a porous material that allows dirt and liquids to penetrate the surface, exposing you to bacteria and mold.
  • Requires color sanding or wet sanding after the first coat and the rest.

Does Lacquer Scratch Easily?

Lacquer doesn’t sustain scratches on any furniture surface. However, its scratching tendency will depend on the type of wood used in the project and what condition it is in. If the finish has been applied correctly, then you should have no problem with scratches. 

On the other hand, if you’re using wood such as pine that hasn’t been finished or has a weak finish, you could have a problem with the scratch.

If you apply a thick clear coat of lacquer to your painted surface, it can become scratched easily, doing more damage to your woodwork.

Applying a thinner coat of paint to the same area will help reduce the amount of scratch to a level that won’t make the wood look worn out or damaged.

When you begin seeing scratches on your painted surface, all you have to do is buff the scratch up with a dry rag or cotton cloth to remove the scratch and protect the wood from further damage.

You will need to buff the scratch to remove as much of the original color of the paint as possible. If you leave any of the colors behind, it will be impossible to restore it to a level acceptable for you to use as a finish if you wish to continue using the great lacquer finish to cover the scratch. 

Applying a thin layer of dry lacquer over the scratch may be all you need to achieve the results you want, although there’re some cases where you may require a full coat of paint to get the best possible finish.

Does Water Damage Lacquer?

Water can cause severe damage to the lacquer finished surfaces as it isn’t among the most protective topcoats by turning them hazy and milky. Water can also form white rings produced by hot or wet glasses and pots left standing on lacquered furniture.

One thing you may notice immediately after a flood is the discoloration of the wood which could result in yellowing, peeling, or warping.

This will depend on the severity of the water damage, this could be weeks, months, or even years. The longer it takes to treat the water damage, the more severe the cosmetic problem will be.

So how does one choose a paint that won’t bleed after a severe flood or other water damage? A high-quality, long-lasting waterproof paint is one crucial aspect of any project that may deal with water damage. 

Many reputable waterproof paints are made using only the most advanced pigment technology, and as such, they provide the best possible finish after exposure to water. These types of paints will provide a bright, clean finish that is impenetrable to water.


1. Will acrylic paint stick to lacquer?

Yes, acrylic paint will stick to lacquer if the surface is nitrocellulose lacquer and not something else (like a metal or glass surface).

2. Can a brush be used to apply both poly and lacquer to wood piece completely?

Yes, a brush can be used. Most people prefer using spray cans or paint sprayers. While these products provide a fast, easy way to coat many surfaces, they often don’t work well on water-resistant clear finish -Polyurethane and other high-performance sealants.

3. Is Lacquer Water-Resistant?

The answer depends on the type of coat, how it has been applied, and how it has been treated. For example, oil-based polyurethane coatings are not water-resistant. In contrast, solvent-based coatings such as those applied with acrylic lacquer thinner and the likes are only minimally impervious to water. So one coat won’t work. You’ll need several coats for better results of your wood finish.

4. Is Sanding Needed Between Polyurethane Coats?

Yes, sanding is needed between polyurethane coats and for a good reason. If you want to paint your furniture a particular color or want the finish to look a little better, sanding will help the finish last longer. You should lightly sand towards the direction of the wood grain.

5. Can You Paint Over Polyurethane Clear Coat?

Yes, you can paint over polyurethane clear coat. Polyurethane is compatible with most paints and no negativity can be encountered when you use paint over the polyurethane clear coat.

6. Is Alkyd Varnish Polyurethane?

No, Alkyd varnish isn’t polyurethane, but there’re alkyd-based polyurethane coatings e.g., PU which are chemically curing solvents. They are characterized by a high solid content to form a more durable finish.

Poly Over Lacquer

Many types of sealants on the market can work as the final coat, and they can be costly. Plus, there’re numerous steps involved in applying sealants, such as sanding, priming, painting, drying, and a whole lot more.

Once you have chosen your product, it is important to carefully install it over the existing surface to avoid any damage to the surface underneath. But you won’t go wrong if you apply Polyurethane over lacquer. It is a super durable finish and only requires a mild soap wipe with a soft dry cloth when cleaning the surface.

Was this blog post helpful? Well, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section if you had a problem working on your lacquered piece. Also, check out this article on Lacquer vs. Polyurethane.

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