With a never-ending list of urethane products, Minwax and Varathane have set themselves apart in the industry.
While that doesn’t necessarily make them the best, they are certainly the most popular brands, and for a good reason.
So, when choosing Varathane Vs Minwax polyurethane, does it even matter? In this article, we’re going to break down the differences between these two brands and help you decide once and for all.
What’s the Difference Between Varathane and Minwax?
What is Varathane?
Since 1958, Varathane has been producing some of the best wood finishing products in the world. Their storied reputation carried on as they became part of the Rust-Oleum company.
The brand is sometimes listed as Rust-Oleum, which is the name of their parent company, but it’s the same product.
Varathane has maintained a prominent position in the market thanks to its wide range of offerings when it comes to polyurethane.
They make the two types of poly across all sheen types and make products for both interior and exterior use.
Besides that, they also have unique products like their triple coat poly, otherwise known as one-coat poly, and one-step wood stain and poly mix, gel wood stains, wood putty, oil-based wood stains, and water-based stains
Varathane’s polyurethanes can also be applied in the standard formats – brush, roller, lambswool applicator, HVLP sprayer – and they also have aerosols.
Only one company is just as wide when it comes to range, and we’ll get to them soon.
If I had to nail down Varathane’s specialty, it would be making quick-drying products as standard, which is invaluable for oil based polyurethane.
But all in all, varathane products are durable, easy to use, and dynamic.
Find out the steps of determining the ideal polyurethane finish for wood floors.
What is Minwax?
For over a century, Minwax has defined and constantly redefined the meaning of high-end wood finish.
Started in 1904, the brand is so well established that one particular product has become eponymous with the company.
Of course, I’m talking about Minwax wipe-on poly, which is one item Varathane lacks in its repertoire, but we’ll get back to this later.
Like Varathane, Minwax makes every conceivable iteration of polyurethane or spar urethane, from the domestic to the industrial, interior to exterior, etc.
They have a full range of aerosols, water-based wood stains finishes, oil based stain, and the trademarked Polycrylic, which many woodworkers use interchangeably with water-based polyurethane.
Besides, they also manufacture quality wood filler, pre-stain wood conditioners. However, can I screw into wood filler? While it is possible to do so, wood filler may not provide the same structural integrity as solid wood. Therefore, it is generally not recommended to screw directly into wood filler for load-bearing or structural purposes.
With so many household name brands, it is not surprising that Minwax products sit on top of the polyurethane food chain. Minwax products are solid and have passed the test of time for decades.
Varathane Pros and Cons
- Wide range of wood finishing products
- High-quality and very durable
- They come in different sheens and sizes
- Fast-drying products come as standard
- It does not have a wipe-on version
- Polyurethanes are toxic
Minwax Pros and Cons
- They have products for every skill level
- High-quality and very durable
- They offer more sheen and size options than the competitors
- Very experienced manufacturer
- It does not have a polyurethane scratch repair pen
- Polyurethanes are toxic (Read also: Is polyurethane toxic to skin?)
Minwax vs Varathane Polyurethane: In-Depth Feature Comparison
When choosing the right polyurethane, many factors have to be considered, some of which I will elaborate on below.
But the most pressing concern for most users is this: does the brand matter? As long as the product ticks all the right boxes, should you be concerned about who made it?
I guess that is almost like asking if the brand of car you buy matters. While all polyurethanes do the same task, some do it better than others, which is a similar argument for cars.
By looking at individual features in detail, we will be able to ascertain if there is a difference and how it should affect your buying decision.
Varathane Vs Minwax Polyurethane – Product Range
The world of polyurethane has come a long way in the past few decades. First, there was oil-based polyurethane, then water-based poly, and finally, water-based oil-modified polyurethane.
Not only that, but there is polyurethane for floors, interior, and exterior use, for spraying, rolling, wiping, brushing, or writing.
There are also fast-drying polyurethanes, one-coat poly, aerosols, and four to five different sheens. That’s a lot of products to choose from!
While many of these are gimmicky, and you probably won’t use them in your entire lifetime, most of them are very handy.
No two companies have a more comprehensive range than these two manufacturers, and quite frankly, it is hard to decide a winner.
The one option Varathane lacks is wipe-on poly. However, that isn’t a big deal because you can easily learn how to make wipe-on poly at home, and it costs a lot less than Minwax products.
It is also worth knowing that Watco, which Rust-Oleum also owns, has a wipe-on poly, so Varathane sort of technically has one too?
On the other hand, Varathane has a scratch repair polyurethane pen, which does exactly as the name suggests, and it’s pretty cool. Of course, wipe-on poly does the same thing as the pen, though not as quickly.
As at the time of writing, Varathane also doesn’t have water-based oil-modified polyurethane. Is this a big deal? Not at all, but it’s enough to give Minwax products the edge on this one.
After all, Minwax has been in the industry for a good half-century longer, so it makes sense that they’ll have more wood finishing products.
Verdict – Minwax by a slim margin
Minwax vs Varathane – Ease of Application
Applying polyurethane can be a pain on the wood surface. It requires numerous processes, takes several days, and leaves you with a lot of washing up afterward.
So, ease of application has been a priority for manufacturers for a long while. That is why we not only have water-based polyurethane but fast-drying water-based polyurethane and the increasingly popular one-coat poly.
With the exception of specialty products, all polyurethanes are applied the same way: sand, poly, sand, poly, sand poly; and there is no exception with Varathane and Minwax products.
The easiest way to apply polyurethane might be with an aerosol can, and both companies have those. Next would be wipe-on poly, which you can easily make.
For that reason, even when comparing Varathane vs Minwax water based polyurethane, it is difficult to call a clear winner
Verdict – tie
Minwax vs Varathane – Durability
let’s be honest – of all the clear coats, polyurethane isn’t the prettiest. It is also not the easiest to apply, and neither is it the most eco-friendly. But what sets it apart from other wood finishes is its durability.
When appropriately applied, polyurethane can protect bare wooden surfaces for up to a decade. This is true for any type of poly.
When it comes to a match-up between these two companies, there is no discernible difference. As long as you are comparing product for product, Varathane and Minwax products both provide exceptional durability.
Sure, some people will swear by one brand over the other, but there is no conclusive proof either way.
Verdict – tie
Varathane Vs. Minwax – Versatility
With all of the different stages required in applying polyurethane, it is helpful to have products that make the job quicker.
For example, when applying water-based stain or polyurethane, you don’t always need to sand between coats.
But that’s just regular stuff. No, to win this category, these companies need to dig deep into their bag of tricks, and dare I say, they delivered.
Varathane has a showstopper of a product called stain+poly. As the name implies, it is a wood stain and polyurethane all in one. This product shaves hours off the application process.
You would be delighted to know that Minwax also has an answer in Polyshades. Other products that help make applying polyurethane easier and quicker are aerosols.
There is no need for a brush, bucket, or HVLP sprayer; just whip out the can and start applying. Again, both companies have this product.
Other products like the scratch repair pen and wipe-on poly also make it easier to make corrections to jobs, instead of having to use a lot of different tools.
Verdict – tie
Read also: How to fix polyurethane drips.
Minwax vs Varathane Stain – Toxicity
As frustrating as the long drying times can be for polyurethane, the only really annoying thing about them is the toxicity.
Spending a few days to apply a protective coat that will last for years is a good trade-off unless it makes you sick in the process. This is because polyurethane contains high levels of isocyanates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
When exposed to a small amount of VOCs for a few hours, you may experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritation of the nasal cavities, and asthmatic attacks.
VOCs can cause cancer in humans, while isocyanates can cause cancer in animals. As a result, minimizing the level of toxicity should always be a priority when choosing products.
By law, all polyurethanes must meet the regulatory thresholds. But as you would expect from the market leaders, they remain one step ahead.
Minwax’s water-based stains and polyurethanes have a maximum VOC of 275 grams per liter (g/L), which is very impressive.
However, it is not as impressive as Varathane’s water-based forms, which have a maximum VOC of 250 g/L. While the difference isn’t so significant to be considered game-changing, it does make it easier to pick a winner.
Verdict: Varathane by a slim margin
Varathane Stain vs Minwax – Drying Time
Now, we return to the age-old battle between polyurethane and speed. It would be easy to declare Minwax the winner by a mile with fancy names like fast-drying polyurethane, super fast-drying, and ultra fast-drying polyurethane.
After all, what can beat super fast and ultra-fast? Well, no one. However, that is not to say that VVarathane’sproducts are left behind.
One of the hallmarks of Varathane through the years has been creating the fastest drying polyurethanes on the market.
What that means is instead of creating different products with varying drying speeds, they put all of their eggs into one fast-drying basket.
As such, Varathane Ultimate water-based poly is ready for a recoat in 2 hours, same as the ultra fast-drying Minwax options.
Varathane’s oil-based version takes slightly longer at 4 hours, which also matches with the super fast-drying alternative.
So, despite the clever branding, there is only one logical conclusion.
Recommended read: What should I do when polyurethane won’t dry?
Verdict – tie
Minwax vs Varathane Colors – Applicable Materials
As long as it’s bare wood, you can apply polyurethane on it, right? Yes and no. Yes, in that you can actually apply polyurethane on any wooden surface and give it long-lasting protection .
No, because you won’t always like how it’ll look. The most obvious example is applying oil-based polyurethane on light-colored woods, as it gives an amber hue some people don’t fancy.
The more complex one is applying any type of polyurethane on the white-painted wood surface. Even water-based polyurethane will cause the wood stains to be yellow.
Minwax and many other manufacturers outrightly warn against this. But not Varathane. Varathane’s water-based polyurethane has been successfully applied on the white-painted wood surface without yellowing.
However, this does take some skill and experience and, in some cases, just luck. If you must use poly over white paint, test it on a small area first.
Who knows, you might get lucky with Minwax wood stains. But if it yellows, don’t say they didn’t warn you.
Verdict – Varathane
Varathane or Minwax FAQ’s
Are Minwax and Varathane the same?
No, Minwax wood stains and Varathane wood stains are two different brands that make wood finish products. However, they are the top two brands in this market and have the broadest range of products.
However, a lot of their products provide nearly identical results, so in many instances, you can use either one.
Can I put Minwax over Varathane Finish?
Yes, as long as the Varathane wood stain has dried, you can apply Minwax polyurethane, polycrylic, or any other suitable clear coat over it.
As they are rival companies, Minwax will only recommend you use their own products, but that isn’t necessary. The reverse of this is also true – you can put Varathane topcoats over Minwax wood stains.
Is polyurethane good for outdoor use?
You need to use exterior polyurethane for any outdoor woodworking projects. Indoor polyurethane dries really hard and does not contain UV blockers, so it won’t last long outdoors.
Besides exterior polyurethane, you can also use spar urethane for outdoor works.
Did varathane buy minwax?
No, Sherwin-Williams Co. acquired Thompson Minwax Holding Corp. from Forstmann Little & Co. for $830 million, making it the company’s biggest acquisition to date in its effort to expand its market share in the United States.
Water Or Oil Based Poly?
Please read our guide on oil-based polyurethane vs water-based polyurethane to decide which polyurethane is best suited for your project.
Is varathane and Minwax the same?
The Varathane has a more oil-like odor, and the Minwax has an antique aroma when applied on wood surfaces.
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Minwax or Varathane: Our Verdict
This was a battle of epic proportions. But before we call a winner, who do you think won between Minwax vs Varathane?
If you’ve been following the scorecard, then you saw that there was never a distant winner, so it’s a tie!
There really is no situation in which you must use one brand over the other. You will be delighted with the results of either of them.
Your choice will have to come down to the project you are working on and what is available in your area.