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The Best Polyurethane for Table Tops: Our Top 5 Picks

Repainting or refinishing a table is a great way to showcase your style. But before you haul your hand-painted masterpiece into the house, make sure to protect your table top. You don’t want to see all your hard work spoiled by a spilled drink!

Below, we’ve put together five of the best polyurethanes for table tops. Whether you’re waterproofing a picnic table or restoring a family heirloom, we have a recommendation for you! Read on to learn all about the best polyurethane for table tops.

wooden table ready for a coat of the best polyurethane for table tops

Our Top Picks

Best Overall
Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Best Value
Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish

Best Outdoor
Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish

Best Overall

Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Varathane 200141H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Semi-Gloss Finish

Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane is ideal for both novices and professionals, offering superior protection at a good price. Its self-leveling formula ensures an even finish, ideal for table tops, and is easy for beginners to use. This product is favored by DIYers for its quick drying time and hassle-free soap-and-water cleanup.

Perfect for situations where a clear finish is needed, its ease of use and effective results make it a top choice for table top applications.


  • Clear finish will not yellow over time
  • Water-based product is easy to apply and clean up
  • Quick drying
  • Self-leveling


  • Superior quality still will not have the performance of an oil-based product
  • Brush marks can be hard to avoid since it is quick-drying
  • Thin consistency may require extra coats

Best Value

MinWax Fast-Drying Polyurethane

Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish, Clear Semi-Gloss, 1 Quart

Our most budget-friendly option doesn’t skimp on quality. MinWax Fast-Drying Polyurethane is also one of our most durable selections. This oil-based polyurethane is one of the best polyurethanes for table tops due to its thick, protective coating.

Oil-based products are a favorite for table tops with a wood finish. The polyurethane will penetrate the natural wood, highlighting wood grain and enriching the color. While oil-based products may have more of a learning curve for first-time DIYers, the results are well worth it. Go slowly to ensure even application and build in extra time for cleanup.

Bottom line: don’t feel like you have to break the bank in order to protect or restore a beautiful solid wood table. MinWax Fast-Drying Polyurethane delivers a high-quality finish at a remarkably low price point.


  • One quart is about half the cost of comparable polyurethane
  • Extremely durable finish resists stains and scratches
  • Quick dry time for an oil-based product


  • Strong odor
  • Dries with an amber cast, not ideal for finishing white table tops
  • Does not dry as quickly as most water-based products

Best Outdoor

Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish

TotalBoat-497712 Halcyon Marine Varnish (Gloss, Quart) | Water-Based Polyurethane Wood Finish | Clear Gloss UV Protection for Interior and Outdoor Use

Outdoor furniture is guaranteed to take a beating from the sun and rain. Protect your hard work by choosing a polyurethane that will stand up to the elements. For adding durability to outdoor projects, you can’t beat Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish.

What makes this the best polyurethane for table tops that will face the great outdoors? The formula is extremely flexible, allowing even very thick coats to expand and contract with the wood. This ensures the finish will not crack in extreme temperature changes.

The product also offers UV protection and waterproofing. Total Boat Halcyon Marine Varnish will even stand up to salt and scratches, making it a top choice for boaters!


  • Available in a variety of sheens and clear or amber finish
  • Superior self-leveling
  • Quick drying


  • More expensive than most polyurethanes
  • Cannot apply over some wood stains; check for compatibility
  • Some users have reported the product yellows over time

MinWax Wipe-On Poly

Minwax 60910000 Wipe-On Poly, Quart, Satin, 32 Fl Oz

Most polyurethanes are applied by brush or even with a roller. It’s not the easiest way to apply a smooth, blemish-free finish. In fact, many DIYers go through several rounds of sanding to remove unsightly brush marks and bubbling.

MinWax Wipe-On Poly eliminates the need for a brush or roller. You can wipe this product on with any lint-free rag. Even old tee shirts or socks would work! The result is a perfectly smooth finish that enhances and enriches the look of the wood tabletop. The ease of application makes this one of the best polyurethanes for table tops.

Be sure to read the product description carefully: MinWax Wipe-On Poly is available as an oil-based or water-based product. While the water-based polyurethane will have easier cleanup, we recommend the oil-based for its durability and finished look.


  • Easy wipe-on application
  • Durable finish protects against water, stains, and wear and tear
  • Available in satin or gloss finishes


  • Requires more coats for full protection
  • Thin consistency can be difficult to control during application
  • Best for finishing natural wood tones, not painted surfaces

Varathane Triple-Thick Polyurethane

Rust-Oleum Varathane 284473 Triple Thick Polyurethane, 32 Fl Oz, Satin

In general, semi-gloss and glossy sheens are the most durable and easiest to clean. The best polyurethanes for table tops will generally have a shiny, reflective finish for this reason. But what if you need extra durability and don’t like the look of a glossy table top?

Varathane Triple-Thick Polyurethane is available in a satin finish. The results will be less shiny and reflective than most of the polyurethane products on the market. However, you’ll still have a durable, scratch-resistant surface thanks to the extra-thick polyurethane.

We recommend this as the best polyurethane for table tops with a textured or rustic finish. The thick, clear polyurethane coating should fill in the crags and divots of wood planks while preserving the rustic look. The result is a matte, easy-to-clean surface for your textured tabletop.


  • One-coat coverage
  • Dries quickly
  • Satin finish that will stand up to wear and tear


  • Not as self-leveling as comparable products
  • Extra-thick polyurethane is tricky to apply
  • Only rated for indoor use

Polyurethane for Table Tops Buyer’s Guide

Before choosing the best polyurethane for your table top, consider durability, sheen, color, and ease of application. With so many great products on the market, you’re sure to find a polyurethane that meets your needs.

  • Protection & Appearance: Polyurethane not only protects against spills but can also enhance wood color or maintain the paint beneath. Options range from soft, glowing finishes to shiny surfaces.
  • Quick-Dry Options: For projects requiring a fast turnaround, choose easy-to-apply, quick-drying polyurethane.

Considerations Before Choosing:

  • Durability: Essential for frequently used or outdoor tables. Look for waterproof and UV-protective formulas. Hardwoods need less protection, while softer woods benefit from extra durability.
  • Sheen: Available in various sheens like high-gloss or satin. High-gloss is easier to clean but shows wear more quickly, while satin offers a warm, soft look.
  • Color: Choose between polyurethanes that yellow over time and those that remain clear. Water-based options are more likely to stay clear. Amber-tinted polyurethanes enhance wood tones, ideal for rich, natural wood looks.
  • Ease of Application: Allocate time for multiple coats and sanding. Options include self-leveling polyurethanes for fewer brush marks and thicker formulas requiring fewer coats. Thinner polyurethanes are easier to apply and more mistake-forgiving.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many coats of polyurethane should I apply to my table?

Typically, three thin coats of polyurethane will do the trick for covering a table top. Less than that may not give your surface enough coverage. More coats become trickier to apply and sand down to a truly smooth overall finish.

However, always be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for specific recommendations. Some of the best polyurethanes for table tops can be applied in one or two thick coats. Others could require four to six thin layers. If you’re on a timeline, be sure to allow enough time for additional coats, if needed.

Do I need to sand between coats?

Yes! Without sanding, polyurethane can bubble or have a tacky, sticky texture. Use fine-grit sandpaper on each coat of polyurethane after it dries.

Check out some of our favorite sanders for this important task: The Best Sander for Furniture Painting • That Sweet Tea Life The non-electric micro sander is our favorite for small table tops!

Finally, be sure to wipe away any dust before applying the next coat of polyurethane. Use a tack cloth or even a wet paper towel to ensure a perfectly clean surface.

How long will polyurethane last on my table top?

A polyurethane finish generally lasts about ten years, but its durability depends on various factors. Using a high-quality product and applying it carefully can prevent issues like cracking or flaking. Make sure to stir the polyurethane well before use.

The finish’s lifespan is also affected by usage; heavily used items like daily-used patio tables may need refinishing every few years, whereas less used items like an antique side table will last longer. It’s important to sand and refinish at the first sign of scratches or chips to maintain the finish and protect the wood beneath.

painting a table with a can of polyurethane

Choosing the Best Polyurethane for Table Tops

Whether restoring vintage furniture or completing a new build, it’s important to protect your work from wear and tear. The best polyurethane for your table top will depend on your specific requirements. Consider durability, color, sheen, and ease of application before investing in a product.

Now that you know how to choose the best polyurethane for table tops, you’ll be on the lookout for more DIY table projects to tackle! Here are 15 of our favorite painted table top ideas.