11 Best Polyurethane for Stairs (Reviews and Buyer’s Guide)

Ever wondered how to shield your stunning staircases from wear and tear? Discover the magic of the best polyurethane solutions now!

Best Polyurethane for Stairs

Over the years, I have created different types of wood stairs and finished them with quality sealers based on expert recommendations. 

Likewise, one of the best finishes that I have used is Polyurethane. I’ve used different polyurethane products over the years and able to gain a lot of experience with each one of them.

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    In this article, I’ll explore the best polyurethane for stairs by taking the qualities of each with their application process. Plus, I’ll share with you some tips and tricks as well.

    Furthermore, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions.

    Just keep reading!

    Wooden stairs finished with polyurethane
    Wooden stairs finished with polyurethane

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    What is Polyurethane?

    Polyurethane is a strong synthetic resin finish with exceptional durability and good resistance. 

    Polyurethane is used to create a tough protective layer on surfaces such as concrete, wood, metal, and plastic.

    A strong coating should be applied to withstand the heavy foot traffic felt on the stairs. 

    Therefore, it is ideal for areas with high traffic such as stairs. The application of polyurethane provides protection from water and scratches in addition to a good finish.

    Did you know fact about using polyurethane for stairs
    Did you know fact about using polyurethane for stairs

    There are two basic types of polyurethane.

    Oil-based Polyurethane

    Oil-based polyurethane is known for its durability and suitability for outdoor use. 

    Read to know the Best Exterior Polyurethane (Tested & Reviewed!)

    But on the other hand, oil-based polyurethane dries slower than water-based polyurethane and there’s a tendency of yellowing.

    Water-based Polyurethane

    Water-based polyurethane offers flexibility and elasticity with resistance to UV radiation and moisture.

    Therefore, it is very important to choose the right polyurethane for the long-term protection of the stairs.

    Benefits of using polyurethane finish for stairs
    Benefits of using polyurethane finish for stairs

    Factors You Need to Consider When Selecting Polyurethane for Stairs 

    There’re several factors you need to focus especially when selecting the right polyurethane product for stairs.


    The durability of the project should be considered when choosing polyurethane. 

    Durability is a bonus for wooden stairs, hardwood floors, metal surfaces, and similar materials.

    The selected polyurethane must be protected from moisture, ultraviolet rays, heat, and other surface erosive elements.

    Drying time

    Choosing polyurethane is very important considering the amount of time you will be putting into the project. 

    They vary depending on the drying time. 

    Water-based polyurethanes are suitable if you want to finish the stairs without using them because they take 6-24 hours to dry. Oil-based polyurethane dries quickly and takes 4-6 hours.

    This is especially important if you plan to apply multiple layers. 

    Water-based polyurethane dries in 30-120 minutes, making it convenient for those who want to return to their homes quickly after finishing their wooden stairs. 

    Unlike oil-based polyurethane, less drying time is required before use. 


    When deciding how many cans of polyurethane to purchase for your stairs, it largely depends on the type of finishing and the level of traffic they receive. 

    Staircases that are frequently used will require more coating for better wood protection.

    Water-based finishes need more coating than their oil-based counterparts. Both types have their own advantages and disadvantages.

    Staircases that experience heavy foot traffic may require additional coats of the best polyurethane for stair treads to prevent wood damage, which may increase the number of cans needed. 

    If you opt for a water-based finish, you will need to apply extra coats to the wooden steps.


    Polyurethane products generally cover an area of 300 to 600 square feet per gallon. 

    Larger surfaces, such as extensive staircases or hardwood floors, may require multiple cans for proper coating. 

    It’s important to consider this coverage range when purchasing polyurethane for your project.

    The Cost

    Selecting the right polyurethane product is crucial, as prices vary. 

    It’s important to find one that aligns with your budget and meets your needs effectively.

    Tip for using polyurethane finish for stairs
    Tip for using polyurethane finish for stairs


    Oil-based products provide enhanced color and definition. Gives an amber color to the wood. This amber tone deepens over time. 

    Water-based polyurethane is clear throughout the life of the wood.

    If you intend to emphasize the grain and color of the wood, choose an oil-based treatment. 

    This is because polymers derived from oil are yellow in color while those derived from water are transparent.

    While water-based polyurethane maintains its clarity, oil-based options can develop a yellowish tone and darken over time.

    Flexibility and Elasticity

    Choosing a flexible polyurethane is important for concrete projects. 

    Flexible polyurethane is best suited for wood applications because not all applications exhibit the same level of flexibility and resilience.

    Ease of Application

    Applying a polyurethane finish is a simple process. Flexibility is provided in the selection of applicants. 

    Brushes can be used effectively if sprayers are not available, and sprayers are the preferred method. 

    While foam rollers offer less productivity due to their size, they are still suitable for certain applications.


    Toxicity should be considered when choosing polyurethane. Water-based polyurethanes have lower VOC levels than oil-based ones. 

    Regardless of the type, it is best to take safety precautions. It is advisable to wear protective gear such as a hood, respirator, gloves, long sleeves, and pants. 

    Also, it is advisable to apply polyurethane in a well-ventilated space with adequate ventilation through open windows and electric fans.

    Tip for using polyurethane for stairs
    Tip for using polyurethane for stairs

    Best Polyurethane for Stairs

    So, let’s have a look at the best polyurethane products you can use to protect your stair floors from the elements and enhance their appearance.

    I’ve tested each one of them and shared my honest experience for you to consider before making the decision.

    Just keep reading!

    1. Varathane 200041h Water Based Polyurethane

    Varathane Poly is a good choice for wooden stairs because of its non-slip properties.

    Easy to clean with soap and water.

    Varathane 200041h Water Based Polyurethane
    Varathane 200041h Water Based Polyurethane
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    It dries quickly and has a shiny polished finish. Ideal for small surfaces. It covers approximately 32 square feet. Suitable for interior wooden surfaces. 

    It can be applied with different methods and needs to dry for 30 minutes before reapplying. It is a risk-free purchase.

    Pros and Cons of Varathane 200041h Water-Based Polyurethane for Stairs

    Cleans with soap and waterNot suitable for white surfaces
    Fast dryingSmall can necessitate extra steps for application
    Ideal for small projectsLimited applicability to wood-based surfaces
    Provides non-slip finishHigher price point
    Easy to spread in tight spacesWorks best on unpainted surfaces
    Suitable for lighter woods 
    Dries quickly 
    Impressive durability 
    Offers good protection 
    Available in gloss, satin, and semi-gloss 

    2. RUST-OLEUM 130031 Varathane

    Rust-Oleum 130031 oil-based polyurethane with patented aluminum oxide nanotechnology provides excellent scratch, scratch, and stain resistance. 

    It maintains the desired color stability of an oil-based finish.

    RUST-OLEUM 130031 Varathane
    RUST-OLEUM 130031 Varathane
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    This product dries relatively quickly. The stairs become touch dry within two hours. After ten hours a second layer can be applied to complete the same day.

    Varathane Premium Floor Finish ensures outstanding durability. Ideal for high-traffic stairs.

    However, it should be noted that it should be used undiluted and applied with a brush or wool coat to avoid bubbles.

    Pros and Cons of RUST-OLEUM 130031 Varathane for Stairs

    Scuff and scratch-resistant      Requires a good applicator              
    Can be applied without thinning  May require multiple layers
    Available in four sheen optionsShouldn’t be applied with a roller
    More affordable compared to competitorsSlower drying time compared to competitors  
    Impressive ability to resist scratches   
    No need for thinners 

    3. Bona Mega Semi-Gloss Finish

    A high-quality product from the renowned brand Bona, the ‘Bona Mega’ water-based floor finish is an excellent choice for interior residential and commercial floors with heavy traffic, especially on staircases. 

    Bona Mega Semi-Gloss Finish
    Bona Mega Semi-Gloss Finish
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    It provides the same strong finish as oil-based alternatives but avoids their drawbacks, such as high VOCs, long drying times, and messy cleanups.

    Notably, it is odorless and is easily cleaned with water. However, it is thin and requires multiple coats for heavily used stairs.

    This versatile polyurethane is equally effective on indoor floors and is a top choice for businesses and homes. Ease of use and good durability.

    Pros and Cons of Bona Mega Semi-Gloss Finish for Stairs

    Quick-dry formulaHigher price point                        
    Durable finish                       Not entirely odourless                     
    Available in 4 finishes               
    Fast drying 

    4. Minwax Wipe-on Polyurethane

    Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane is a high-quality water-based type. Especially suitable for stair railings.

    Its thin application is perfect for applying on worn or scratched areas. 

    Minwax Wipe-on Polyurethane
    Minwax Wipe-on Polyurethane
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    Before use, ensure that the surface is dry and free of old finishes for optimal protection against water, chemicals and stains.

    Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane covers about 100 square feet per liter and provides a glossy, non-slip finish.

    Make sure to check for any yellowing during the application since Minwax Wipe-on polyurethane is an oil-based one.

    Usually, 2-3 coats are sufficient, but outdoor surfaces may require up to four. Complete healing takes about 31 days.

    Pros and Cons of Minwax Wipe-on Polyurethane for Stairs

    Can be used indoorsCan turn lighter colors yellow  
    Incredibly durableRequires more coats than brush-on polyurethanes             
    Easy to achieve a smooth finish       Has higher VOC levels, requires caution during application  
    Brightens wood surfaces with glossy sheen 
    Can be too slippery if too much is applied to floors and stairs 
    Not too viscous for quick spreading 
    Comes in oil and water-based finishes 
    Ultra-fast drying  
    Reduced odor 
    Easy water cleanup 

    5. Deft Defthane Polyurethane

    Deft is a high-density oil-based polyurethane designed for high-use areas such as floors, doors, furniture, and cabinets. 

    It gives a clear and tough finish to interior and exterior wood surfaces.

    Deft Defthane Polyurethane
    Deft Defthane Polyurethane
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    DEFT Polyurethane Spray is a good choice for woodworkers and homeowners because it dries quickly, has low VOC content, and provides excellent coverage. 

    Light colors have no yellowing effect so are suitable for finished and unfinished wood. 

    This versatile product is great for protecting wood and metal surfaces.

    Pros and Cons of Deft Defthane Polyurethane for Stairs

    Natural hue for an authentic lookNot suitable for beginners                  
    Satin finish for subtle shine        Better for indoor use                        
    High viscosity for easy application  Difficulty maintaining consistent spray stream  
    450 VOC Compliance for environmental benefitTime-consuming application process         
    Adjustable valve for control         Harder to work with than thinner alternatives
    Easy access to hard-to-reach places   
    Wide spray mist for a smooth finish  

    6. General Finishes High-Performance Polyurethane

    General Finish Polyurethane is an excellent choice for stairs due to its durability, versatility, and strong water resistance. 

    General Finishes High-Performance Polyurethane
    General Finishes High-Performance Polyurethane
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    This water-based polish dries quickly in 1-2 hours and contains UV stabilizers to prevent sun damage and fading.

    General Finishes High-Performance Polyurethane covers 125-150 square feet per quarter and is for internal use only. 2-3 coats are recommended at around 70°F with 50% humidity.

    Oil-based finishes take about 72 hours to dry. It may turn yellow over time. It is unsuitable for white or brightly colored surfaces.

    Pros and Cons of General Finishes High-Performance Polyurethane for Stairs

    Includes UV stabilizers                  Not odourless                         
    Low VOCs                                Thinner consistency                   
    Fast drying time                        May yellow certain paints and surfaces
    Durable finish for long-lasting results Requires surface material compatibility test
    Available in four finishes               Relatively expensive                  

    7. Minwax 63010444 Polyurethane

    Minwax 63010444 is a premium polyurethane designed for stairs This product is designed to protect all wood surfaces and provides quick drying and long-lasting protection.

    Minwax 63010444 Polyurethane
    Minwax 63010444 Polyurethane
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    It can be used on both finished and unfinished wood, making it suitable for furniture, flooring, doors, and cabinets. 

    It is advisable to apply three coats of this product to achieve maximum durability.

    It is best to avoid heavy traffic and furniture movement for at least 72 hours after applying the final coat. It is advisable to use a natural brush, synthetic pad or sheep wool coating.

    Slight ambering may occur on light-colored wood finishes. A 1 liter can of this product can cover 100-200 square feet (or 300-400 square feet if thin) and dries in 4-6 hours. 

    This product also comes with a limited warranty to ensure customer satisfaction.

    Pros and Cons of Minwax 63010444 Polyurethane for Stairs

    Suitable for various wood surfaces Not odourless                                                           
    More affordable than other polyurethanes  Consistency is on the thinner side                                   
    Available in 5 different finishes          Multiple cans are needed for larger surfaces                                  
    Works well on both finished and unfinished surfacesMay develop a yellowish tint over time                            
    Short drying time                       Strong fumes due to being oil-based
    Durable for high-traffic areas (e.g., stairs, floors)Thinner than some other polyurethanes                              

    8. FixALL Skid Grip Polyurethane

    FixALL Skid Grip Anti-Slip Acrylic is a high-end non-slip polyurethane for wooden stairs. 

    FixALL Skid Grip Polyurethane
    FixALL Skid Grip Polyurethane
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    Made of 100% acrylic, its textured coating makes any surface slip-resistant, making it ideal for high-traffic areas such as walkways, parks, and playgrounds. is appropriate. 

    Significantly, it provides an additional shield against UV exposure, protecting wood from chipping and cracking.

    The product offers a range of fade-resistant colors for aesthetic enhancement. Whether for residential or commercial use, this versatile and durable coating excels in both settings.

    Pros and Cons of FixALL Skid Grip Polyurethane for Stairs

    Easy application                    Doesn’t adhere to all surfaces    
    Slip Resistant Surface              May not stick to certain surfaces 
    Perfect for interior or exterior    Bit pricey                       
    Colour Fade Resistant                
    Comes in 7 different colours         

    9. Bona Traffic Anti-Slip Polyurethane

    Bona Traffic HD Commercial Semi-Gloss is an ideal choice for high-traffic stations. 

    This water-borne hardwood floor finish offers exceptional durability, flexibility, and quick drying.

    Bona Traffic Anti-Slip Polyurethane
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    It has a pleasant application process due to its very low odor and VOC levels. It is also scratch-resistant and environmentally friendly.

    It maintains a natural wood tone by covering 350 to 400 square feet per gallon. 

    Due to its improved friction, it is excellent for stairs and similar areas. Ideal for slippery wooden surfaces.

    Pros and Cons of Bona Traffic Anti-Slip Polyurethane for Stairs

    DurableMay need more than one coat
    Flexible/Elastic              Quite pricey              
    Dries Quickly                 Only available in matte finish
    Very low odor 
    Easy application  

    10. Insl-X Suo31009a-01 Poly

    Insl is a good finishing solution ideal for stairs due to its durability and non-slip properties.

    It is ideal for high-traffic areas such as staircases, walkways, and entertainment spaces. 

    Insl- X Suo31009a-01 Poly
    Insl- X Suo31009a-01 Poly

    Easy to apply. It efficiently manages seals and cracks on various surfaces such as wood, concrete, and metal.

    Heavily used areas require 4-5 days for complete drying. 

    The tile is available in seven colors, including red, pine green, and white, and features a color retention formula for long-lasting vibrancy.

    Insl remains a reliable choice for ensuring safety in areas prone to slip hazards.

    Pros and Cons of Insl-X Suo31009a-01 Poly for Stairs

    Easy application            Relatively pricey          
    Fast-drying and durable     Limited to matte finish    
    Available in 5 ready mixed colors and white 
    Suitable for both interior and exterior use 
    Limited to a matte finish     

    11. Rust-Oleum Brands 230231 Clear Varathane

    Rust-Oleum Brands 230231 Clear Varathane is a top choice for flooring projects. This product has exceptional durability.

    Rust-Oleum Brands 230231 Clear Varathane
    Rust-Oleum Brands 230231 Clear Varathane
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    Due to its flexibility and elasticity, it adapts to different surfaces and gives a good finish without any problems.

    Maintains its clarity over time so does not develop a dirty yellow color. Varathane also features scratch resistance due to its strong protective properties.

    Pros and Cons of Rust-Oleum Brands 230231 Clear Varathane for Stairs

    DurableNot for exterior use   
    Flexible/Elastic Must be stirred often  
    Scratch resistance 

    12. Water-base wipe-on Polyurethane 16fl oz

    Water-based Wipe-On Polyurethane is environmentally friendly, with low odor. This 16 oz product is known for its durability and quick drying properties.

    Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane
    Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane
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    Non-toxic and emits a minimal odor. Ensures a safe and pleasant app experience. Significantly, it contributes to a VOC-free healthy indoor environment.

    Each purchase includes four clear gloss topcoats and provides enough coverage for a variety of projects.

    Pros and Cons of Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane 16fl oz for Stairs

    DurableLimited color selection
    Fast drying     
    Low odor       

    How To Apply Polyurethane on Stairs

    Now I’m going to show you the best application technique for polyurethane on stairs for a durable and nice finish.

    I personally follow and recommend the below method and I was able to gain excellent results without making any polyurethane mistakes like blotches and streaks.

    Here are the supplies you will need to apply polyurethane on stairs,

    Collect the above supplies from quality manufacturers and get ready for the polyurethane application process.

    Here are the steps you need to follow when applying polyurethane on stairs,

    Surface Preparation

    1. Sand the stairs with 120-grit sandpaper until they are smooth. Use a brush attachment to remove sanding dust and a tack cloth for a final polish.
    2.  Apply painter’s tape along the trim to protect walls from polyurethane. Cover any areas you don’t want to finish on.
    3. Gently invert the polyurethane about ten times before use to ensure an even consistency.

    Application of Polyurethane

    1. Dip a polyfoam brush halfway into the polyurethane, allowing it to saturate. Let excess drip back into the can before applying.
    2. Apply a thin coat of polyurethane, starting from the top of the stairs and working downwards. Use long, uniform strokes in the direction of the wood grain. Back-brush over any drips or pools.

    Drying Polyurethane Coat

    1. Let the polyurethane dry for two to 12 hours, or as recommended on the manufacturer’s label.
    2. Allow the first coat to dry overnight.

    Finishing Coats

    1. Sand the stairs smoothly with 200-grit sandpaper. Vacuum and clean with a pH-neutral cleaner and tack cloth.
    2. Apply a second coat using a clean brush, following the same method. Allow it to dry overnight.
    3. If necessary, apply a third coat, ensuring to sand and clean in between. Confirm the required number of polyurethane coats for the desired appearance.

    Final Steps

    1. A total of four or five coats may be needed for the desired finish. Do not sand after applying the last coat.


    1. Allow the polyurethane to dry for at least 24 hours before walking on the stairs.


    1. If desired, apply a non-slip finish to the stairs after the polyurethane has fully dried.

    Avoid shaking the can of polyurethane to prevent bubbles in the finish.

    Once you’re done with the application, make sure to clean your polyurethane brush properly to keep it fresh as new for a long time.

    By following these steps, you can achieve a beautifully finished and durable surface on your stair treads.

    How to use polyurethane for stairs
    How to use polyurethane for stairs

    Is Polyurethane Good for Stairs? 

    Yes, Polyurethane is good for stairs since it makes a protective coating for surfaces, but certain types can make stairs slippery, posing a safety risk.

    Smooth, polished hardwood surfaces are particularly hazardous on stairs, and applying shinier polyurethane exacerbates the problem. 

    To prevent accidents and injuries, it’s recommended to opt for anti-slip or anti-skid polyurethane materials.

    Alternatively, there are other solutions available, such as anti-slip sprays, floor treatments, and clear anti-slip strips. 

    These options offer the necessary grip without compromising the visual appeal of the stairs. 

    However, some choices like stair runners, anti-slip tape, carpet strips, and additional anti-slip tape may cover a portion of the steps and detract from their aesthetic value.

    Ultimately, when dealing with hardwood flooring, it’s crucial to prioritize safety alongside aesthetics to achieve a beautiful, glossy floor without incurring unnecessary risks.

    Better to apply polyurethane on unfinished stair surfaces, but if the surfaces are already finished, don’t worry, read this to put polyurethane Over paint!

    Best Polyurethane Finish for Stair Treads

    You can same polyurethane finish you used for stair floors for the stair treads as well.

    Based on my experience, here are the best polyurethane finishes for stair treads,

    1. Bona Mega Clear HD
    2. Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane
    3. General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat
    4. Rust-Oleum Varathane Floor Finish
    5. Duraseal Polyurethane Water-Based Finish

    Follow the same application procedure that I described above and let each coat to dry well before applying an another for the perfect finish.

    That’s it, folks! Now you have good knowledge about the best polyurethane for stairs in detail with their pros and cons.

    So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions.


    What is the best type of polyurethane to use on stairs?

    Oil-based polyurethane is often preferred for stairs due to its durability and rich, amber hue that enhances the wood grain.

    How many coats of polyurethane should I apply on stairs?

    Typically, applying three coats of polyurethane is recommended for optimal durability and appearance.

    How long should I wait between applying coats of polyurethane on stairs?

    Allow at least 4-6 hours between coats, but it’s best to follow the specific product’s instructions for drying times.

    Can I use a water-based polyurethane on wooden stairs?

    Yes, you can use water-based polyurethane, which offers the benefits of easy cleanup and lower VOC levels.

    What is the best method of applying polyurethane on stairs?

    Using a high-quality natural bristle brush or a lambswool applicator is often the best method for applying polyurethane to stairs.

    Do I need to sand the stairs before applying polyurethane?

    Yes, sanding the stairs with fine-grit sandpaper (like 220-grit) helps to create a smooth surface for the polyurethane to adhere to.

    How do I maintain the polyurethane finish on my stairs?

    Regular cleaning with a dry or slightly damp mop and avoiding the use of abrasive cleaners can help maintain the finish.

    Can I apply polyurethane over an existing finish on stairs?

    Yes, but ensure to lightly sand the existing finish to create a rough surface for better adherence of the new coat.

    What safety measures should I take while applying polyurethane on stairs?

    Ensure proper ventilation, use protective gloves and a mask, and keep away from open flames due to the flammability of the fumes.

    How long will a polyurethane finish last on stairs?

    A polyurethane finish can last several years depending on the traffic and wear; it’s usually best to reapply every 5-10 years.

    Did I cover all you wanted to know about: Best Polyurethane for Stairs

    In this article, I’ve deeply discussed the 11 best polyurethane for stairs with their properties, pros, cons, and application steps.

    The best polyurethane for stairs is oil-based polyurethane due to its durability and rich finish. Apply at least three coats for optimal protection and appearance, allowing sufficient drying time between each coat.

    Furthermore, I’ve answered some frequently asked questions as well.

    Hope you’ve learned everything you wanted to know about the best polyurethane for stairs without missing anything.

    Now, it’s time to read this article again and again and select the polyurethane product that suits your stairs the most and give them a try following the right techniques. Happy wood finishing!

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    Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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