Asked on May 21, 2020

Painted floor: is polycrylic really enough protection, long term?

Jessica Davis
by Jessica Davis

I rent, and I was inspired by many posts here and elsewhere of stenciled floors on, among other things, vinyl remnants. Typically, they are primed and then painted with chalk paint and finished with a water-based polyurethane.

I spoke with a very knowledgeable guy at Ace Hardware, who was very doubtful that even two or three coats of poly alone would protect a floor, especially in the case of a vinyl remnant that might be subject to some bending. He suggested Varathane Floor Finish or something like it that is designed for floors. He said that polyurethane couldn't possibly hold up under the feet, and with cleaning, it was just a bad idea.

Does anyone have actual experience with this? Using polyurethane--e.g., Minwax or another cheap brand--over, say, chalk paint? Has anyone done a project like this and seen how it has held up in the longer term, say 3 to 5 years?

I really want to do this, but that floor finish is really, really expensive. When you're factoring in the cost of the color paint, primer, and then stencils, it gets crazy expensive.

Thanks! Appreciate any help anyone can offer.

  7 answers
  • GrandmasHouseDIY GrandmasHouseDIY on May 21, 2020

    Hi Jessica, yep just about everyone will tell you not to use polycrylic (water based poly) on any surface that will see heavy wear and tear. I've always ignored them lol those eurathanes and shellacs are HUGELY toxic and nasty, the only thing that will get them off your hands is paint thinner and they take forever to dry. And they're super expensive!

    YES they will last longer and give you a tougher surface but I've never felt they were worth it.

    I used polycrylic (water based poly) on all of my 100 year old hardwoods throughout my entire house. (That's 2,000 square foot of wood floors.) I used a lot of it! I put on a VERY thick coat and its always lasted a good five years before needing to be reapplied. I really hope that helps!

    • See 3 previous
    • Jessica Davis Jessica Davis on May 21, 2020

      Great! I think I have to figure out exactly how much coverage I need using the floor finish versus using like four coats of regular polycrylic. It might just end up being the same, you know? Anyway, appreciate your help. If you have any pointers on good color paints, let me know. I don't know if you've posted any tutorials on what you've done, but I'll check under your name. Thanks!

  • I will say that I alway defer to the pros. They have seen it all. Most of the DIYers I have seen over the years, do recommend the Varathane Floor Finish. And I agree it's super expensive, but stenciling a floor is a very labor intensive job. Sealing it properly is the key to keeping it looking good for the longterm, especially in high traffic areas.

    • Jessica Davis Jessica Davis on May 21, 2020

      I think you're probably right, but I swear every blogger makes it sound so simple and cheap sigh. And Kim above says hers have held up... I'll see if get some other answers. But think your instincts are prob right on. Thanks :)

  • Gk Gk on May 21, 2020

    Varathane Floor Finish IS a "polyurethane" but it is made for floors. It comes in either oil based-which will yellow over time and water based which will not yellow. It is specifically made for floors so it is manufactured to be more durable than your usual poly. Minwax makes a similar product and they are comparable in price-actually MinWax is a bit more so don't consider it a "cheap" poly. The Varathane is on sale now at Menards for about 41.00 per gallon. About the price of a good can of wall paint. If you are looking for a longer lasting, more durable poly on your vinyl remnant then use the poly made for floors. You can spend less on your paint and primer because you will be using the poly over it to protect it. Hobby Lobby and WalMart have some less expensive stencils as well.

    You do NOT want to use vinegar on the poly to clean it. The acid will eventually break down the finish and strip the poly away. Water and a bit of dish detergent is a better choice.

    TRUE: All my DIY projects end up costing more than I anticipated! But...if you are going to invest the time you want to do it right or you are just wasting money for something that may fail if you use the wrong products!

    • Jessica Davis Jessica Davis on May 21, 2020

      Thanks for the info! Man, I miss Menard's. I'm from Wisconsin and they always have such good prices; I'm in Oregon now and there's no home improvement store that can match them.

      I think you're right. This will be for BOTH my kitchen and bathroom; it's worth doing right.

      And thanks for the tip about the vinegar! :)

  • Cheryl A Cheryl A on May 21, 2020

    First of all if you are a renter, would you need permission from the landlord before stenciling a floor? here is an inexpensive idea

    • Jessica Davis Jessica Davis on May 21, 2020

      Thanks, not stenciling the floor, stenciling a piece of vinyl loose lay as a "rug" to cover up the ugly floor.

  • Dee Dee on May 21, 2020

    Since you are renting, I would just invest in some pretty peel and stick tiles. They have wood look, and stenciled types that are really pretty. Go to Habit for Humanity or a builders surplus store and see what they have as they will be cheaper

    Home Depot has some very pretty ones as well as lowes.

  • William William on May 22, 2020

    Varathane and Polycrylic are both polyurethane. I use water based poly on everything. When I redid my maple floors I used three coats of a water based polyurethane. Held up well over ten+ years. Don't remember the brand but it was made for floors.

    • Jessica Davis Jessica Davis on May 25, 2020

      Thanks. Do you recall what brand? Again, the concern is whether your typically cheaper general purpose poly will do as well as something designated for use on floors. Thanks!

  • William William on May 25, 2020

    I prefer Minwax products but Varathane is just as good owned by Rustoleum. Water based goes on slightly milky but dries clear in 2 to 3 hours and does not yellow. Oil based has a yellow cast to it and does yellow over time. Does have an odor. Needs 24 hours to dry