Applying Paste Wax onto Polyurethane: Simple Steps to Follow

Wax and polyurethane give surfaces an excellent finish, and you can use them interchangeably depending on your project needs. However, some cases would make you want to use the formulas on one surface. So, let’s answer a primary question, What do you need to know about Applying Paste Wax onto Polyurethane? Should you do it?

No, you should not wax over a polyurethane surface. Polyurethane does not need extra protection from elements, and you may end up making the floor more slippery and dangerous. You will also have to strip the wax later as it eventually yellows.

That said, check out this write-up for more insight on wax and polyurethane products. Also, we’ll learn how to handle the formulas to deliver a sophisticated finish.

Wax Over Poly or Poly Over Wax?

The rule of thumb is to apply polyurethane then wax. A waxing finish should always be the final topcoat on the surface. Otherwise, it will compromise polyurethane adhesion and lead to more work.

Also, if you’d like to apply polyurethane to waxed wood furniture, you must first strip off the wax. So, wipe the surface down with a TSP solution or mineral spirits. Then, apply the polyurethane formula afresh.

Consider working in a well-ventilated space and wear a P-100 rated respirator mask to keep safe from toxic polyurethane fumes. In addition, you can get protective gloves to prevent harm in case of spillages.

Lastly, remember that a single protective topcoat is usually all you need for your surface. But sometimes, you may want to apply both polyurethane and wax finishes to deliver superior durability. Check out this detailed account for better decision-making.

  • Polyurethane

Polyurethane is plastic in liquid form until it dries. It comes in both oil-based and water-based options and is available in multiple finishes from glossy to satin. Hence, you can utilize it for many applications.

The water-based option is popular because it features low toxicity and odor and remains clear for longer. Better still, it does not add color to the surface or fade like oil-based polyurethane.

However, this polyurethane does not hold up well to chemicals and heat. Therefore, it would be best to use it for projects with little exposure to extremes, like desks, picture frames, side tables, and bookcases.

On the other hand, oil-based polyurethanes last longer and can handle extreme heat levels. Thus, they are a perfect alternative for kitchen tables and other surfaces used in heavy traffic areas.

The formula also adds color tone to the wood and glorifies its richness and natural glory. However, working with a respirator in a well-ventilated area is advisable, or the fumes may take a toll on you.

Oil-based polyurethane works best with natural-bristle paintbrushes or a rag. Also, they require more time to cure than their counterparts. So, plan accordingly, check the weather forecast, get the proper supplies, and follow the manufacturer’s application and drying instructions.

On top of that, both water-based and oil-based polyurethane can work on a latex or acrylic paint finish. But the oil-based formula may leave an amber or yellow hue to light colors. Thus, it is prudent to use a water-based finish and keep the wood color intact.

Remember that it is possible to use fortified water-based polyurethane products on oil-based finishes. Better still, the product combines the durability of an oil-based formula with the clean-up of a water-based one. So, you can comfortably use it on wooden floors.

In addition, we have wipe-on polyurethane that delivers a ‘hand-rubbed’ finish on special wood projects. And you can utilize a spray can to apply the formula when working on large surfaces.

Lastly, polyurethane is among the best and most protective topcoats in woodworking and painting projects. Even better, it can last for more than 50 years, depending on usage and maintenance hacks.

  • Wax

Wax is an oil-based product that cures in 24 hours. And although it does not harden like polyurethane, it offers superior protection to the surface. Thus, you can still use the wood for a long duration.

In addition, wax has a buttery-smooth finish and a soft sheen, making it wear down in direct sunlight or excess heat. Hence, it would be best to avoid placing waxed furniture next to radiators or under the sun.

This wearing-down also requires you to have a maintenance routine. So, it would be best to re-apply the paste after every few years, depending on the usage. For instance, coffee tables and dressers need re-application after ten years or more, and dining tables require a touch-up after just three to five years.

Fortunately, waxing wood’s benefits outweigh the work needed, and you’ll get value for your time, money, and energy. Wax delivers a hard finish and reduces surfaces scratches. Even better, it does not smear and is more durable than most sprays and polishes. 

That said, it is okay to want the buttery feel and soft sheen from a wax finish and the superior surface protection of polyurethane. So, go ahead and experiment. Only ensure that polyurethane goes over wax.

How to Apply Paste Wax Over Polyurethane

The basics for this project include a duster, a clean cloth, a cloth diaper, and the correct waxing procedure. Then, follow the guidelines below to deliver a perfect final finish.

  • Step 1

Use the duster to remove dust and debris from the surface. Also, it is okay to use a damp cloth and some oil soap to wipe away stubborn stains. This way, you’ll facilitate proper adhesion for the wax.

  • Step 2

Apply the wax paste with a cloth or 0000 steel wool. In addition, remember that working with a rag will require more effort on your part. For instance, you’ll have to rub the wax using a circular motion till the film disappears.

A professional wax finish only needs a light coat. Hence, if you see ridges in the final coat, you probably used too much formula. Also, since you do not have to smear the product parallel to the wood grain, you can spread it in any direction and save time.

  • Step 3

Wax, like all formulas, needs to dry to the touch before use. Most wax products only need ten to 15 minutes, but it would be prudent to check out the manufacturer’s drying recommendations and wait.

  • Step 4

Buff the wax finish with a cheesecloth piece, a terry cloth towel, an electric buffer, or a cotton diaper for a professional outcome. In addition, it is okay to use a floor buffer featuring a lambswool buffing pad for floors. So, you do not have a reason to skip this step.

  • Step 5

Wait for about four to eight hours and examine the surface before considering another layer. Fortunately, you are free to spread an additional light coat on the surface and buff it up if you are not content with the shine. Thus, you should not get stuck with incomplete work.

 It is better to have many light coats and polish the surface progressively than have one heavy layer. In addition, a heavy layer takes more time to dry and may leave you with a tacky and sticky texture. So, repeat the procedure multiple times until you get your desired finish.

Previously, paste wax was the best option for giving lumber floors and furniture a protective coating before film finishes, like polyurethane, came into the market. But now, wax is a better alternative for polishing an existing finish.

Also, you do not need much wax for the above project. And the less you have on a surface, the easier time you’ll have to maintain its shine. In addition, the touch-up routine is pretty simple as twice a year keeps the finish in good shape.

Lastly, flooring professionals discourage woodworkers from applying wax to polyurethane finishes. The latter do not need extra protection and are sufficient on their own. Therefore, you do not need the two products on one surface.

How Long Should Polyurethane Dry Before Waxing?

Water-based polyurethane takes six hours to dry, while the oil-based version needs 24 hours. But you’ll have to wait for a month before resuming heavy use. So, don’t wax over polyurethane until it fully cures, or else the finish may spoil and get you back to square one.

On top of that, the above drying and curing durations may lengthen or shorten depending on a few factors. They include humidity and temperature levels, the wood’s state and type, and the polyurethane formula.

  • Temperature and Humidity. The standard polyurethane drying time depends on 70 percent humidity and 21 degrees Celsius. So, the finish will dry faster in high temperatures and dry air. The opposite is true when the temperature and humidity levels are low.
  • The Wood’s State. You will enjoy a faster polyurethane drying time when working with raw and sanded bare wood. The lumber absorbs the first formula coat fast and allows for subsequent applications.

Besides, dry wood surfaces are ‘thirsty’ and will absorb any liquid quickly. But this is not the case for the next coat, which needs more time to dry and cure.

  • The Wood Type. Various wood types need different drying and curing times. For instance, Rosewoods and other aromatic cedars have chemicals that compromise the oxygen-induced crosslinking. Thus, they fail to cure completely.
  • The Type of Polyurethane. Oil-based and water-based formulas feature varying drying durations. Moreover, various brands and manufacturers have different product manufacturing processes and ingredients.

Also, some add drying agents and others oil, altering the formulas’ drying attributes. Therefore, you will observe that oil-based polyurethane has a longer drying time than its water-based version.

Fortunately, you can speed up the drying process by preparing the surface and adopting the recommended application technique. Otherwise, using false trickery and special additives may frustrate you if they backfire.

In addition, you can consider utilizing a quick-drying water-based polyurethane if a faster drying process is critical to your work. Or get a high-build formula to reduce the needed coats. This way, you’ll speed up the drying time of each layer while maintaining a professional result.

Can You Lime Wax Over Polyurethane?

It is not advisable to lime wax over polyurethane or other polyacrylic sealants. The formula will not bond well with these surfaces and quickly wear down in high-traffic areas. So, there are no advantages to this process.

However, please note that limed wax serves as a topcoat and lends a more durable finish to lumber surfaces. In addition, you can coat it with clear wax to deliver a superior protection layer.

Liming wax over wood is straightforward and convenient. But you will not deliver a satisfactory outcome if you utilize it in the wrong place or way. So, ensure that you work on the correct surface, clean it, remove grease and existing finishes, and let it dry before application.

Lastly, it would be best to strip the wood of old polyurethane before applying the wax. Fortunately, you will not have to sand it; thus, you can enjoy a faster working session with outstanding results.

Can You Put Dark Wax Over Polyurethane?

Yes, it is okay to apply dark wax over a polyurethane surface. Moreover, wax is always the perfect final finish as it is clear and enhances the existing finish’s color. Therefore, once you verify that it is compatible with polyurethane, why not?

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of the most common questions around this subject include:

  • How do I Polish Polyurethane?

You can polish polyurethane by buffing the surface, using a polish for a glossy look, or waxing the finish for a satin appearance. However, it would be best to determine what works for your project before deciding on the strategy.

Buffing the finished surface is easy. Spritz some tap water with a plastic spray bottle on the dry polyurethane surface. You can also mist the surface lightly with water to help sand down the existing finish more efficiently.

Please consider wet sanding or an orbital sander with 2,000-grit paper for a better outcome. Then, take a circular sandpaper sheet and rub the sander slowly in horizontal motions. This way, you can work away any bumps and scratches on the finish.

Ensure that the sandpaper label is ‘wet/dry and use the recommended scrubbing pad. In addition, the pad will spin to buff the surface. So, stick a soft buffing pad under the sander for a shiner finish.

The other option is using polish to deliver a glossy surface. Spread some grape-sized car polish onto a pad and smear it on the finish. Also, ensure that you get a clear polish, not one designed for dark applications.

Buff the polish on the surface until it looks shiny. Also, turn the orbital sander to a low-speed setting and apply small pressure amounts. Then, work in long and horizontal motions for proper coverage.

The last strategy is to wax the surface to deliver a satin finish. So, rub the product in the wood grain’s direction and use a polishing cloth or pad for a professional result. In addition, consider short and smooth motions until there are no visible flaws or scratches in the polyurethane.

Use a paper shop towel and move in long, horizontal motions to remove excess wax. In addition, it would be better to rub the formula before it dries. Otherwise, it may be hard to deliver a smooth and uniform finish.

Fortunately, you can remedy the situation when the wax dries before removing excesses. Sprinkle a few water droplets over the entire surface. Then, use a clean 0000 steel wool pad on the surface from left to right.

Lastly, give the finish a good wipe and flip the pad before repeating the process. Next, wipe away the water with a paper towel or cloth after removing all the leftover wax.

  • Are There Any Advantages of Using Wax on Wood?

First, wax gives your hardwood floors and surfaces a noticeable finish. More so, waxing an existing polyurethane finish is something you’d want to experiment with as it provides a low sheen and relaxed feel.

On top of that, wax penetrates deep into the wooden surface and delivers an excellent wax finish. It is also simple to use and apply, and you can expect a comfortable and fast working session.

Paste wax is ideal for polishing polyurethane finishes as it delivers extra protection against elements and cracking. Therefore, it is a perfect maintenance strategy for your polyurethane surface.

Also, although modern polyurethane formulas are abrasion-resistant, paste wax is the best product for furniture maintenance. But please avoid interchanging the application order. For instance, ensure that you use the correct base coat and topcoat. 

  • What Safety Measures Do I Need When Working With Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is toxic, and you need to stick to a few safety measures. Also, although the toxicity levels depend on the product brand, you are safer taking precautions. Below are some recommended precautions.

First, read and understand the safety instructions on the product label to know what protection clothing and supplies to get for your work. In addition, it would be prudent always to mask up, regardless of the finish, as they all have some VOC levels.

Work in a well-ventilated room to prevent toxic fumes accumulation, especially when using oil-based polyurethane or lacking a respirator. You can also get water-based polyurethane as it features less toxic components.

Also, avoid exposing yourself to the formula for longer durations during the application, drying, and curing. Fortunately, a well-ventilated workstation is always a safe bet when you doubt the product’s toxic level.

Finally, remember that oil-based polyurethane has flammable solvents. Therefore, please keep fire sources from the project during and after application.

  • Is Wax Better Than Polyurethane?

The answer depends on the surface in question. For instance, hard-wax oil extends the floor’s life, making it last longer and retain its original look. Therefore, you are better off using it than polyurethane.

Besides, hard-wax oil finished floors resist water better than polyurethane-finished ones as they readily allow for contraction and expansion. And so, you won’t experience cracks or an early product failure.

Also, remember that a quality hardwood floor needs a careful finishing touch before it comes to life. Thus, it would be best to opt for a more surface hardening finish to get value for your money.

Lastly, waxes are all-natural and non-toxic with no preservatives, biocides, and benzene-free. In addition, although they need a periodic maintenance coat, the process is straightforward, and the floor returns to its original gloss level within a few days.

  • Do I Need to Seal Wood Before Waxing?

No, you do not have to seal the wood before waxing. Paste wax protects surfaces and is ideal for finishing raw lumber. Even better, it also works on hard, close-grained woods, like Marple.

In addition, some wax formulas have more color and are perfect for dark lumber, such as Walnut. Also, although they do not restore the finish or stain the wood, they are helpful for blotchy surfaces.

Paste wax is non-sticky, easy to apply, and heat resistant. Better still, it works wonders on multiple surfaces, whether stained or stripped. However, it would be best to re-apply it periodically as it is liable to wear.

Lastly, please check your project requirements before waxing, as some surfaces need filling before wax application. Fortunately, you can use any paste filler and get a perfect result. So, you do not have to stress about getting the wrong filling product.

Here’s How to Apply Wax Finish:


Wax and polyurethane finishes are beneficial products in woodworking. They harden the surface and are a protective layer against elements. However, with many confusing views about whether one can wax over polyurethane, it is prudent to get the correct answer. So, check out the discussion:

Can You Wax Over Polyurethane?

It is against the flooring professional’s advice to put wax over polyurethane. Moreover, the formula permeates the wood and serves as a barrier against water and stains, which polyurethane does. Thus, there is no need for the two products on one surface.

Additionally, you’ll make the floor more dangerously slippery and open the door for accidents. So, again, it is not worth it!

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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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