Can You Apply Polyurethane with a Roller?

polyurethane on roller

You know you need polyurethane to finish your product, but the question is what to apply the product with? The short answer is yes, you can use a roller instead of a paintbrush. However, as with all things, there is a longer answer to more thoroughly cover the topic. Take a look at all the different aspects you need to consider before using a roller to apply polyurethane.

Types of Polyurethane

Polyurethane protects surfaces with a soft protective coating ensuring the finish lasts longer and handles abuse with ease. It can also prevent water damage, debris, and scratches. The first step is to decide what type of polyurethane to use – water or oil-based. Both have their advantages and flaws, and both work with a roller, although oil-based tends to work a little better if you overwork the roller.

Water-based polyurethane dries quicker and has a low odor and toxicity level. It’s great for indoor projects but does not handle extreme heat well and dries clear. Oil-based polyurethane works indoors and outdoors but has a slight yellow tint, takes longer to dry, and has high odor and toxicity.

Types of Rollers

Dust is a major issue when applying polyurethane, so you will want to use a short roller made of either lambswool or fiber to get a smooth finish. You need a roller that will not add lint or dirt to your project. When purchasing, read the label of the roller carefully to ensure it says it avoids lint and is a short surface.

Rollers come in a variety of sizes too. For smaller jobs, you will want a two-inch roller, but for larger projects, nine-inch. Go for a very short nap but thick enough for mineral spirits and polyurethane, preferably under an inch in thickness. Ensure the roller says it will work for either water-based or oil-based polyurethane, depending on which you are using.

Amount of Coats

For most projects, you will need between one and three coats of polyurethane erring on the side of more for added protection. Add more for an extra sturdy surface ready to last for years.

Supplies Needed

For a quality job and easier cleanup, you will need:

  • 2 Paint trays
  • 2 Paint tray covers
  • A roller Handle
  • A lambswool roller
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Polyurethane
  • Tarps or drop cloths
  • Protective clothing including gloves, eyewear, and face mask
  • Paint stirrer
  • Large plastic bag
  • Painters tape (if necessary for areas you will not be covering)

How to Use a Roller to Apply Polyurethane

Step 1 – Always mix the first layer with mineral spirits for a thin, even coat that dries quickly to form a quick barrier between the other layers and the surface of your project. You can also use two paint trays side by side, one with mineral spirits and one with polyurethane. Do not forget protective gear for this step, including gloves, a face mask, and protective clothing.

Step 2 – Put the roller in the mineral spirits first and get the roller’s surface damp and shake off the extra liquid before dipping into the polyurethane and cover the roller completely.

Step 3 – Now, you can roll the polyurethane onto the surface of your project. Roll quickly until all the polyurethane is off the roller. Repeat until the surface is completely covered in the first layer.

Step 4 – Wait for the surface to dry fully before moving on to sanding. Put the roller in a bag and in the fridge until you are ready for the next layer to keep it from drying out and so you do not have to clean it between uses.

Step 5 – Use sandpaper, preferably 280 grit or higher, to scuff the area and even it out before applying the next layer. Also, clean the area thoroughly to ensure there is no dust on your project before adding another layer.

Step 6 – Repeat steps two through five for subsequent layers of polyurethane.

How to Clean Up

Cleaning up is a pain, but it’s a necessary process for your safety and everyone else in your home. If you want, you can simply throw the roller away and buy a new one for your next project. However, save money by washing it completely by washing it under hot running water to get all the mineral spirits and polyurethane off the roller.

Next, use a screwdriver or flat paint stirrer to remove the dried products from the drip pan. If you would rather use a paint tray cover to prevent the need to clean this step as well. Otherwise, was the pan in running hot water. Pour any remaining polyurethane back into its original container and the same for the mineral spirits. Dry the rollers by shaking excess water outside and then use a soft cloth to finish drying it and then store it when it’s fully dry.

Pros of a Paint Roller

The first benefit of using a roller to apply polyurethane is you can avoid brushstrokes and lines on the finished project. It also helps to prevent over-applying the polyurethane on the surface and spread it around more evenly. Third, a roller allows for faster application smoothly over a larger surface. Overall, they are a very effective tool ready to work quickly and effectively with very little downside.

Cons of a Paint Roller

While a paint roller for the application of polyurethane has very few downsides, it does have a couple. For one, a good quality paint roller can cost a whole lot more than a paintbrush. If cost isn’t an issue, then this is a moot point. The only other issue is rollers work in large flat areas and not in curved or narrows spots like corners or smaller areas. You will still need to get a paintbrush for these areas.

Final Thoughts

Using a paint roller to apply polyurethane helps deliver the product to a larger surface quickly with fewer brush strokes and lines. It’s a great way to get an even coat quickly. However, you will still need a paintbrush for smaller areas and corners. Follow the step above for a fantastic finished project.