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How to get polyurethane off your hands

Have you made a mess with your top coat? Here’s a guide on how to get polyurethane off your hands!

One of the most important steps in any wood project is applying the top coat. Sealant protects wood from damage and helps your project to look its best for as long as possible.

We love using polyurethane as a wood sealant. But, it can be possible – and messy – to get polyurethane on your hands while working on woodworking projects.

When this happens, we need to do quick and effective cleanup to prevent skin irritation!

Today we wanted to chat about how to get polyurethane off your skin!

how to clean polyurethane off your hands

Water-Based Polyurethane vs. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Before we start cleaning up your polyurethane, it’s important to understand what type of polyurethane you are working with. Polyurethane could be water-based or oil based.

Water based polyurethane dries clear, stays clear, and is easy to clean up with soap and water. But, it is not as durable and can get dents or scratches.

Oil based polyurethane is more durable and is generally considered weather-resistant, UV-resistant, and heat-resistant. However, it does change the color of the wood and can yellow, and is a bit more difficult to clean up.

Water-Based PolyurethaneOil-Based Polyurethane
AppearanceDries clear and stays clearChanges wood color, may yellow
DurabilityLess durable, prone to dents and scratchesMore durable, resistant to weather, UV, and heat
Clean-UpEasy cleanup with soap and waterMore challenging cleanup compared to water-based

I almost always choose water based poly. While it is not quite as strong, it’s totally fine for everyday wear and tear (especially with 3-4 coats) and is much easier to work with.

water based polyurethane

What solvents remove oil-based Polyurethane?

Water-based polyurethane will clean up with dish soap and water, but oil based polyurethane requires a solvent to break it down. The best options are:

paint thinner

Tips for Preventing Skin Contact to begin with

It sound silly to say it, but the best way to clean polyurethane off your hands is to never get it on there in the first place!

Here are some preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of getting polyurethane on your hands:

  • Always wear protective gloves when working with polyurethane.
  • Use disposable gloves for quick and easy cleanup.
  • Consider using hand creams or barrier creams before starting your project to create a protective layer on your skin.

When working with polyurethane, always work in a well-ventilated area to minimize exposure to fumes.

supplies needed to stain wood: gloves, lint free cloth, foam brush, or paint brush

Dealing with Wet Polyurethane on Your Hands

Your best course of action if you do get poly on your hands during a project is to wash it off immediately before it has the chance to dry.

Here’s how to remove polyurethane from your hands while it’s still wet!

  1. As soon as you notice poly on your hands, go ahead and clean it off.
  2. Wash your hands with warm soapy water.
  3. Scrub gently with a sponge or soft brush.
  4. Rinse thoroughly and repeat until the poly is all gone.
  5. Put on gloves for the remainder of your project!
using soap to wash hands

Removing Dried Polyurethane from Your Hands

It is slightly more challenging to remove dried polyurethane from your skin.

It can be peeled off and will fall off on its own over time. Or, you can scrub it off.

Some people swear by using vegetable oil, mineral spirits, or even peanut butter to clean your hands from poly.

I personally prefer to just use liquid dish soap (dawn) and a bit of elbow grease.

Here’s how to remove dried polyurethane from your hands or skin!

  1. Rinse or soak your hands with warm to hot water to begin to soften the polyurethane.
  2. Rub your hands under warm water with a pumice stone or soft brush as it softens to genty scrape it away.
  3. Repeat as needed.
  4. Wash your hands with warm soapy water to remove any remaining residue.
  5. Apply a moisturizing lotion because your skin is going to be tender after that!
washing hands in garage utility sink

Getting polyurethane on your hands is annoying, but is totally fixable. You’ll be ready for your next project in no time!

Any more questions about getting polyurethane off of skin?

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