When refinishing hardwood, how long does it take for the polyurethane to dry? How long for it to cure? And, what's the difference?
One of the most frequent questions customers ask me is "how long does it take for the floors to dry?" It's important that customers plan ahead so they allow enough time for the work to be done and the floors to properly dry.
How long does it take polyurethane to dry?
The answer depends on the type of polyurethane you are using - is it oil based or water based polyurethane? And, this article on "How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?" should come in handy for an overview of the whole process from start to finish. For purposes of this post, this timeline is from the time the last coat of polyurethane is applied. Please note that these times are estimates and times can vary, especially based on humidity levels.
Time for oil-based polyurethane to dry:
Oil based polyurethane takes longer to dry than water based poly.
- 24 hrs before you can walk on the floors
- Hours 24-48, you can walk on the floors with socks. Avoid shoes and bare feet. And, make sure your pets (who usually have bare feet) do not walk on the floors during this time.
- 48 hrs you can walk on it with shoes
- After 4 days, you can move furniture back on to the floors.
- It takes a full 30 days for the floors to cure, so it's ideal to wait 30 days before putting area rugs on the surface. If you need to/want to put them on sooner, 2 weeks is another good benchmark, but 30 days is better.
Time for water-based polyurethane to dry:
Water based polyurethane dries faster
- 4-6 hrs before you can walk on the floors
- Hours 6-24, you can walk on the floors with socks. Avoid shoes and bare feet. And, make sure your pets don't walk on the floors during this interval.
- 1 hrs you can walk on it with shoes
- After 2 days, you can move furniture back.
- It takes a full 30 days for the floors to cure, so it's ideal to wait 30 days before putting area rugs on the surface. If you want to put area rugs back sooner, than 2 weeks is another good benchmark.
How long does it take polyurthane to cure?
Oil based finishes dry/cure in 2 phases. First, the thinners evaporate and the finish becomes tack free (see above). Then, oxygen begins to combine with the varnish and curing process starts. It's the curing that makes the finish hard, durable and creates the full adhesion with the floor. This curing process can take up to 4 weeks or so depending on environmental conditions (e.g. humidity) and how thick a film was applied and number of coats of polyurethane. As long as the poly is emitting an odor (even if it's mild), it's still curing.
Other useful articles on refinishing hardwood and polyurethane:
- Oil based or water based polyurethane - which is better for hardwood floors?
- How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?
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