Applying Polyurethane With a Rag In 4 Easy Steps

Applying polyurethane with a rag must be one of the most fascinating way of finishing your woodworking project.

If you have never used this method to apply polyurethane, you must be thinking about it the next time polyurethane over any of your wooden structure.

Professionals, homeowners and woodworkers prefer polyurethane for its numerous benefits and qualities, like better protection, water resistance, ultra-durability, and easy application.

As much as there are many way to polyurethane over different surface, to day, the focus is on applying polyurethane with a rag

Applying polyurethane with a rag is a common strategy. It is an excellent way to avoid brush marks and paint bubbles and cover hard-to-reach areas.

Once you open the can of wipe-on polyurethane, poor some some onto a clean, lint-free rag.

Alternatively, you can pour a small amount into another can and dip the rag into that.

Apply the polyurethane formula by wiping it onto the wood in smooth, and even strokes.

Ensure to overlap each stroke slightly to for a complete coverage.

Consider applying thin coats and waiting for two minutes between each coat for better coverage.

A polyurethane finish is a sure way to protect the surface. It’s also user-friendly and dries very quickly.

Thus, read this article for more insight on applying the formula using various techniques and accessories.

What Is Polyurethane?

Image of polyurethane finished floor, know what to do What to Do When Polyurethane Won’t DryPolyurethane is an organic polymer featuring multiple organic units linked using urethane molecules.

Further, most products are among thermosetting polymers as they do not melt upon heating.

Nonetheless, please note that some specific polyurethane types show thermoplastic attributes.

In addition, you can melt and remold them through heat application.

Scientifically, polyurethane consists of two primary chemical components: urethane and polymers.

The manufacturer links the polymers using urethane groups, creating a versatile product.

The polymer compound delivers a stable, durable, safe, and valuable formula for daily applications.

Moreover, unlike other potential synthetic products, most polyurethane types are heat resistant. Hence, they do not melt under heat.

This attribute makes the formula excellent for applications emitting considerable energy like refrigerators and cars.

Besides, you can work on your projects without fear of overheating and melting.

However, remember that we have some select compounds that can melt under applied heat.

Therefore, confirm your product’s limits before operations.

Convectional strategies to prepare polyurethane involve chemical processes between polyols and di- or tri-isocyanates.

You can also regard the formula as an alternating copolymer. It features two monomer kinds undergoing polymerization after each other.

The manufacturer uses both the isocyanates and polyols as monomers when making polyurethane.

Further, these components contain at least two functional groups in every particle.

Polyurethane is synthetic, allowing the user to formulate it in multiple ways.

Also, you can use it comfortably in various applications, including varnishes, adhesives, foams, varnishes, and sealants.

Polyurethane is easy to manipulate to create various velocity states.

It is also a pliable and flexible plastic compound to accommodate multiple applications.

Alternatively, thanks to its durability and rigidity, you can use it with car parts or as a liquid finishing product like varnish.

Polyurethane’s primary application is in foam seating material production.

It offers impressive resilience and works in microcellular foam seals, gaskets, spray foam, and rigid foam insulation panels.

Sometimes, this polymer category is suitable for specific elastomeric wheels and tire manufacture.

And it delivers a long-lasting effect in high-performance adhesives.

Here is a breakdown of the product’s essential applications.

  • Flexible polyurethane comes in handy in manufacturing partially elastic straps and bands.
  • The product is suitable for making some garments.
  • You can also use it in making foams used in domestic furniture, upholstery fabrics, and refrigerator sheets.
  • Polyurethane moldings are excellent for door frames and columns. Besides, the compound works well in window headers and balusters.
  • The footwear industry uses low-density elastomers of polyurethane.
  • Polyurethane’s low-density foams are typical in mattresses and other bedding products. In addition, you will find them in upholstery and automobile seats.
  • The material is notable in bathroom and kitchen sponges manufacture. It also comes in handy in making couches and seat cushions.

Although polyurethane has multiple industrial and woodworking uses, we cannot ignore its drawbacks. So, let’s examine its pros and cons for better judgment.

Pros Of Polyurethane

  • The material has a wide hardness and resiliency range.
  • It has a high load-bearing capacity in both compression and tension.
  • You will enjoy excellent electrical insulating attributes.
  • Polyurethane is resistant to oil, water, and grease.
  • It is flexible and accommodates high flex fatigue applications.
  • You can isolate the compound’s flexural properties for elongation and recovery purposes.
  • The polyurethane resists impact and abrasion, making it a perfect solution even at low temperatures.
  • It possesses high tensile, bonding, and tear resistance properties.
  • You have a wide color range to suit various project needs.
  • A polyurethane finish does not support mold, fungal, and mildew growth. Thus, it is ideal for tropical environments.

Cons Of Polyurethane

  • Polyurethane utilizes toxic isocyanates.
  • It is flammable.
  • The formula has poor thermal capability and weatherability.

Should I Apply Polyurethane With a Brush or Rag?

The answer depends on your final finish. For example, it is advisable to use a synthetic nylon brush when you want to create a high-gloss surface. 

The accessory will also deliver the best application and flow from the can to the surface. 

On the other hand, consider using a natural hair brush with polyurethane when creating a more semi-gloss finish.

The natural hair fibers help break up the formula into smaller particles. Hence, you deliver enough sheen and texture for your desired look.

In addition, you can use a foam brush to apply polyurethane. But it does not spread the finish as other bristled brushes.

Also, the brushes soak up too much formula and deliver an uneven thin layer. 

Consider a synthetic or natural bristled brush when working on large projects. This way, you’ll avoid brush marks.

Alternatively, you can use a roller to apply the finish. It is also more manageable and leaves no brush marks.

Besides, the accessories are lighter than bristle brushes and eliminate brush strokes.

In addition, the tools can reach tight spaces and guarantee optimal coverage. However, they are not the best when working with plastic, metal, or glass.

A rag is another applicant to consider for your project. Furthermore, the most significant advantage of spray and wipe-on polyurethane is its thinness.

The formula is easy to apply in ultra-thin coats, resulting in less buildup on edges.

Also, you don’t have to stress about the nooks and crannies after applying too much product.

Using a rag prevents bubbles or drips and delivers a consistent and beautiful finish. Besides, it applies the formula neatly in hard-to-reach areas without any buildup.

Therefore, the wipe-on strategy benefits you when working on tricky applications like fine details and vertical surfaces.

Nevertheless, the technique has a few drawbacks. For example, you need extra layers for a more refined and consistent finish.

A brush does the trick in three polyurethane coats, whereas you may need at least eight layers to the same finish with a rag.

In addition, you will deliver a very uneven finish on your paint if you use a rag or cloth with lint.

How to Apply Polyurethane With a Rag

Polyurethane can be challenging to apply. But you can avoid common bubbles and brush strokes using the rag technique.

Check out the steps below.

  • Prepare the Surface

Position the workpiece in a properly ventilated space. Or you can choose to work outdoors only if there is no moving dust or wind.

Sand the wood adequately before applying the finish. Start with coarse sandpaper like 120 grit, then move to a finer grit, say 220-grit.

Use a vacuum cleaner or microfiber rag to remove the sanding dust. Also, dip the cloth in some mineral spirits for a more effective job.

Next, stain the surface according to the product instructions. However, this step is not mandatory, and you can skip it if staining is not necessary.

  • Dip the Rag Into the Polyurethane Formula

Grab the polyurethane can, but avoid shaking it before opening. Then, pour it into a jar carefully to keep air bubbles from forming.

Dip a microfiber tack rag or lint-free cloth into the solution. Ensure it soaks an even formula amount, and wipe the wood using fine strokes.

Overlap the strokes to facilitate optimum coverage. Also, move the rag in a lined motion as you progress to other surface parts.

Please avoid thick layers and use multiple thin ones. This way, you guarantee uniform and complete coverage.

  • Sand the Surface

Let the finish dry for a few minutes before applying a second coat. Check the product brand in question and give it the recommended duration.

Moreover, always apply the second layer after the first dries completely. Otherwise, rushing will ruin the final finish.

Sand the first coat lightly with 320-grit sandpaper to ensure better adhesion. Afterward, clean the wood properly with a lint-free cloth dipped in mineral spirits.

  • Apply the Second Coat Using the Rag

Apply the second polyurethane coat using the above procedure. Then, repeat the sanding and cleaning process between coats.

Besides, the steps for applying the finish with a rag are identical on almost every surface.

Finally, embrace doing more than one coat as they yield a better finish.

Here’s How to Apply Poly With a Rag:

How to Apply Polyurethane With a Brush

The first step is to prepare the project and work area. For instance, use a drop cloth or painter’s tape to cover areas you do not want to stain.

In addition, sand the workpiece thoroughly to guarantee maximum adhesion and a smooth, flawless finish.

Next, follow the instructions below.

  • Take your polyurethane foam brush and soak it halfway into the formula. Hold it in there for some seconds to ensure optimal absorption.
  • Let some excess liquid drip back into the container. Then, turn it both ways and bring it onto the wood surface.
  • Touch the brush at the surface’s corner and apply some pressure. Also, slowly brush an entire row without lifting or stopping.

You will quickly get a feel of how fast the polyurethane lies down. Thus, do not worry about your speed when starting.

Besides, the formula will not lay down even when you move too fast. Plus, you can restart the row, so go slow.

  • Consider filling the entire foam brush to last you at least two or three rows on a medium-sized surface. In addition, you can see how full the accessory is, allowing you to refill it once it gets close to emptying.

The next row requires you to overlap by ¼ inch. Alternatively, only use enough to ensure you do not accidentally leave a gap.

The foam brush possesses a nice straight edge tip. Therefore, you can stop the brush at the material’s edge and lift it off to avoid dripping.

  • Make your touchdowns and lift-offs at obvious joints or seams. Otherwise, it may be hard to blend a point when you lift off in the middle of a flat board.
  • Please avoid starting in the middle when working on large surfaces. You will create an overlapped row, resulting in some nasty streaking.
  • Lastly, consider using oil-based polyurethane. It blends well into preceding rows and is slow-drying. Thus, you will not see any row lines or streaks after application.

Application of Polyurethane By Brushing:

Can You Apply Poly With a Microfiber Cloth?

You can use a microfiber cloth to apply polyurethane. It works best for oil- and water-based formulas and is a top pick for most professionals.

Moreover, the accessory helps you avoid brush strokes, streaks, and bubbles during the application. Therefore, consider it for your next polyurethane application project.

What Kind of Rag Do You Use for Wipe On Poly?

Applying polyurethane requires a microfiber tack or lint-free cloth. The rag delivers a thin top coat and dries quickly between the layers.

In addition, most companies manufacturing polyurethane ensure it is easy to apply with a cloth.

Choosing the most suitable cloth is the primary task when applying the product.

Besides, selecting a bad-quality accessory compromises the chances of a good finish.

So, always go for an excellent quality cloth for your project. Also, clean an old rag to remove the dust before use.

Further, we have specifically designed microfiber tack cloths for polyurethane application.

They work as an ordinary rag, but you can expect a better finish.

A microfiber tack rag eliminates grain problems. It also absorbs limited polyurethane amounts to facilitate a smoother finish.

Lastly, please avoid using an old rag used earlier for top clothing.

You will be working with reduced absorption power, which leads to inconsistent polyurethane layering.

Can You Apply Brush On Polyurethane With a Rag?

It is possible to apply brush-on polyurethane with a rag. However, all the standard downsides apply. For instance, you must work in the grain direction to avoid raising it.

Also, pay attention to the polyurethane quantity applied to reduce streaks and buildups.

Nonetheless, most product brands are working hard to produce less complex formulas. Therefore, it is easier to use rags than before.

In addition, these formulas are easy to apply, dry faster, and clean quickly with soap and water. So, you enjoy a less frustrating application process.

Why Use Wipe On Polyurethane?

We have multiple reasons to use wipe-on polyurethane. For example, you can use it in various applications on almost any surface.

The formula has very low VOCs and a low odor, meaning it is eco-friendly and fit for interior use.

These attributes also benefit users with allergies or sensitivity to chemicals and other substances in paints and woodwork finishing materials.

Finally, wipe-on polyurethane is excellent for people wanting their finish to last more than two years. Besides, it guarantees resistance to wear and tear from everyday life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most rampant questions around the subject of discussion:

  • What Is the Best Way to Apply Polyurethane?

We have two excellent polyurethane application methods: brush-on and spray-on techniques.

You can choose either depending on the available applicant and intended finish.

The spray-on method is perfect when coating hard-to-reach areas like chair spindles, shutter louvers or encapsulating a flaking finish.

In addition, you can use it to touch up a damaged or scratched surface. But the technique needs careful application and some caution to avoid drips.

Conversely, although the brush-on strategy is not as quick as a spray gun, it is gentler on the painted surface. It is also more suitable for some projects.

Ensure you do not get air bubbles in the polyurethane coats during application. They will appear later and compromise the final finish, making it look unsightly.

Use high-quality brushes and follow the wood grain. Also, place the tiny brush hairs as close as possible. It helps the accessory absorb more formula and eliminate clumps at other points.

Lastly, do not use too much polyurethane. It causes running, leading to cracks.

  • Do You Wipe Off Excess Polyurethane?

Consider wiping off excess polyurethane to prevent drips and runs.

Besides, most manufacturing companies print this directive on the container to help you deliver a smooth finish.

The layers may have the excess formula, especially when using a rag. This situation causes streaks and eventually an unsatisfactory surface. 

Sand the surface when the polyurethane layer dries before you can wipe excess formula.

However, please apply little pressure during sanding to avoid removing the whole layer.

In addition, wiping off the excess coat when the finish is wet is better. Leave it for at least thirty minutes, then wipe the surface with a clean, lint-free rag.

Please avoid wetting the cloth with too much mineral spirit lest you remove the entire finish. 

Also, be careful during application and never forget to wipe off the excess formula for a professional finish.

  • Why Should You Use a Rag to Apply Polyurethane?

The conventional way of applying polyurethane has some drawbacks. For instance, a brush causes dripping, bubbles, bumps, and marks. In addition, you may not deliver complete coverage.

So, a rag comes in handy as it prevents these occurrences from delivering a consistently beautiful finish.

Furthermore, some surfaces have sophisticated designs and very narrow corners that are hard to reach with a brush. Thus, the rag covers these areas neatly without any buildup.

Also, the wipe-on technique delivers a satisfactory outcome on tricky applications such as vertical surfaces and fine details.

Nevertheless, we have a few disadvantages to watch out for when using a rag to apply polyurethane.

For example, you need some extra coats to deliver a more professional finish, say eight.

In addition, using a cloth with lint to apply the formula will leave an ununiform finish on your paint.

  • Can I Apply Minwax Polyurethane With a Rag?

You can apply Minwax polyurethane with a rag. However, it depends on the material type as it will determine how quickly the finish will dry and what you’ll need for clean-up.

Fortunately, we have fast-drying formulas, making them easy to clean up with water and soap.

  • What Do I Use to Apply Oil-Based Polyurethane

Use a natural or synthetic bristled brush or a foam brush to apply oil-based polyurethane .

In addition, please avoid inexpensive paintbrushes as they leave obvious brush marks.

Also, foam brushes are affordable and disposable and work well for most flat workpieces, whereas bristle brushes are ideal for fine details and molded edges.

Brush on the formula and ensure the brush strokes parallel the wood grain. Then, complete each area with long, straight coats.

  • Which Is the Best Applicant for Water-Based Polyurethane

Use a fine brush, cloth, or foam pad to apply water based-polyurethane. Also, work with the wood grain and avoid applying too much formula. Otherwise, you will raise the grain.

Next, rough up the surface before applying the formula using some synthetic steel wool. It prevents the polyurethane from beading on the wood.

Finally, allow the first coat to dry to the touch before adding the second one.

Fortunately, you do not have to sand between layers. So, you will apply your three or so coats easily.

  • How Do I Remove Brush Strokes On a Polyurethane Top Coat?

Allow the first coat to dry for 24 hours, then sand it lightly. Preferably use 220-grit sandpaper wrapped on a block.

Use a cloth moistened with mineral spirits to remove the sanding dust. Then, examine the varnish for brush marks.

Sand again with 220-grit sandpaper if you still see marks, and clean the surface.


Earlier, woodworkers used to apply polyurethane with a brush. But with the new new product coming into the market, you don’t have to worry about brushes anymore. 

Wipe on polyurethane is applied by wiping making it an easy yet interesting application method

Applying Polyurethane With a Rag

Polyurethane application by the use of rag has revolutionized application process as it offers the most seamless approach to have your surface done.

When applying with the rag,, poor some some onto a clean, lint-free rag.

Or, you can pour a small amount into another bucket and dip the rag into that.

Apply the polyurethane formula by wiping it onto the wood in smooth, and even strokes.

Ensure to overlap each stroke slightly to for a complete coverage.

Consider applying thin coats and waiting for two minutes between each coat for better coverage.

As I wind up this discussion, I hope you have gathered enough information to help you with your polyurethane finishing projects. Especially application by wiping on.

Do you have a point that still need my attention? Any questions that you’d like to get answered or just general observation?

Kindly reach out to me through the comment section below!

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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