Last Updated on October 18, 2023 by Ernest Godia
Wood surfaces or furniture pieces need a topcoat for protection against moisture, mold, heat, and mildew. Experts and experienced DIYers understand the value of a good finish on any wood project.
Polycrylic is one of the best finishes for wood due to its low-VOC, water-based formula. It is easy to use, dries pretty fast, and cleans with soap and water. A coat of polycrylic also retains its clear color over time, unlike other sealants that turn yellow with exposure to sunlight.
However, you must use the right technique to apply polycrylic without leaving brush marks or bubbles on the wood surface.
This article discusses how to apply polycrylic without streaks, bubbles, or brush marks.
Polycrylic is a water-based sealant that cleans easily with soap and water. It is quick-drying, eco-friendly, and non-toxic when dry.
Polycrylic is less durable than polyurethane, mainly used indoors on cabinets and interior surfaces. Polycrylic goes on thin; you’ll need to apply more coats to get your desired coverage and protection.
It is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it safe to use in spaces with suboptimal ventilation.
However, it won’t hurt to err on the side of caution, so ensure you work with it in a well-ventilated space.
When you open a can of polycrylic, you’ll note its milky appearance. Worry not, as it dries clear.
Polycrylic has a runny viscosity making it challenging to apply on vertical surfaces without drips. It works best on flat surfaces like table tops and cabinets.
Common Types of Polycrylic
There are two types of polycrylic:
1. Spray-on polycrylic
The spray-on or aerosol polycrylic is the better option when working on an extensive wood surface. It also goes on thin and creates even coats more easily.
You can load the polycrylic on an HVLP sprayer or use it from the can.
The HVLP sprayer may be expensive, but it helps ensure a small amount of the product goes a long way. While the aerosol bottles are less expensive, you’ll need more polycrylic to achieve the same coverage.
2. Brush-on polycrylic
Also referred to as roll-on polycrylic, brush-on polycrylic is applied with a brush or paint roller. The product comes in a can like paint.
Roll-on polycrylic dries quickly, making it difficult to work on large projects. It is also hard to apply; you’ll need a bit of skill and technique to avoid visible brush strokes.
How To Apply Polycrylic Without Streaks: At a Glance
Polycrylic is easy to apply. However, you must be careful as it dries quickly and forms air bubbles easily.
You can use a high-quality synthetic brush, spray, or a cloth to cover your pieces with polycrylic.
Polycrylic applies better on flat surfaces than on vertical surfaces. Because of its thin and runny consistency, which increases its chances of forming drips and streaks.
How To Apply Polycrylic Step By Step
Here is a detailed guide for applying polycrylic without streaks, bubbles, or unsightly brush marks.
- High-quality synthetic brush
- Tack cloth
- Drop cloth
- Clean paint stir stick
STEP 1: Prepare your work area
Spread a drop cloth or plastic sheeting to collect sanded wood dust, drips, and spillages. You could use old newspapers for this purpose if the project is small.
Wear your protective gear before you start your project.
STEP 2: Clean the wood surface you wish to coat
Clean the wood surface with soap and water but don’t soak the wood. In case you are working on painted wood, clean off any dirt and stains on the piece using a damp cloth.
STEP 3: Lightly sand the wood surface
The scuffing process depends on whether you work on bare or stained wood.
- Bare wood
Clean the raw wood with a rag dipped in mineral spirit. After wiping the surface, you can start sanding. Sanding bare wood helps to smoothen and even out the texture. Sanding also helps get rid of splinters, cracks, and dents.
- Stained wood
Clean the surface of oil, grease, stains, and dirt. Lightly sand the stained surface to enhance the polycrylic and the undercoat adhesion.
Note that polycrylic is water-based and can only adhere to a water-based stain. If the surface has an oil-based finish, consider applying polyurethane instead.
STEP 4: Remove the sanding dust
Remove the dust with a tack cloth or a vacuum.
Dust particles will be permanently embedded on the surface if you apply the finish without removing them. They also interfere with adhesion, forming streaks on the wood as apply the sealant.
STEP 5: Prepare the polycrylic
Carefully open the can of polycrylic, but do not shake it. Shaking introduces air bubbles into the finish. You’ll notice that the polycrylic looks white, but it dries crystal clear.
With a clean stirrer, stir the liquid gently to mix it appropriately and prevent streaking. Stir till there are no visible bubbles in the liquid.
Aerosol polycrylic is ready for application straight from the can. No preparation is needed.
STEP 6: Apply the polycrylic
You can apply polycrylic with a synthetic brush, cloth, or sprayer. Here is how to go about each one:
Use a synthetic brush instead of a natural bristle brush. First, submerge the brush in clean water and squeeze out the excess.
Then, dip an inch of the brush into the polycrylic but don’t wipe off the excess on the side of the can, as it traps in air bubbles. Tilt the brush and let the excess product drain off naturally.
Angle your brush at 10-15 degrees and apply light stroke along the wood grain. Move your brush in sweeping strokes from edge to edge.
Keep a wet edge and work in small portions, as polycrylic dries quickly. Covering a large area at a time, you risk getting streaks and drips.
Don’t over-brush; that creates bubbles on the wood surface and leaves conspicuous brush strokes.
Spraying polycrylic on larger projects is more convenient than using a brush or cloth. With the spray-on polycrylic, let the nozzle face the wood from the side, not from an aerial view. Keep a consistent distance from the wood and spray from end to end.
The other alternative is manually adding the liquid polycrylic into an HVLP sprayer. The sprayer applies the sealant in thin and even coats. Keep a consistent angle and pace to get a perfect finish.
Cloth application is faster than using a brush. First, dampen the cloth in water and wring out the excess. Then lightly dip the rag in the polycrylic and work the liquid on the wood surface in circular motions.
Use a circular motion when applying the first coat. However, move the rag along the wood grain as you would with a brush when applying subsequent coats.
STEP 7: Let it dry and sand
Minwax recommends a two hours drying time. As the polycrylic dries, clean your brushes with soap and warm water.
Use 220 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff the first coat. It helps bond the successive coats better.
Don’t use steel wool when working with a water-based product, as water causes the steel to rust, and introducing steel pieces on the wood piece stains the finish.
STEP 8: Remove the sanding dust
Wipe off the dust with a tack cloth or vacuum. Alternatively, begin by vacuuming and then switch to using a damp cloth.
STEP 9: Apply additional coats
Apply additional coats till the outcome is satisfactory. Repeat steps 7 and 8 after every coat.
STEP 10: Let it dry
Let the polycrylic dry for approximately 24 hours for the piece to be ready for normal handling.
When To Use Polycrylic
Here are instances when you can reach for your polycrylic:
- Polycrylic is an excellent finish for interior wooden surfaces like furniture, cabinets, and doors.
- To protect the wood from yellowing as polycrylic is resistant to the yellowing effect
- When sealing light woods like birch, maple, or ash and white furniture pieces
- When sealing water-based painted surfaces, polycrylic bonds well to the paint. However, avoid using it over red mahogany stains
- To protect the wood from weathering, moisture, heat, molding, and abrasions
- To enhance the aesthetics of the wood grain
Polycrylic Pros And Cons
Some of the advantages and drawbacks of using polycrylic are:
- Polycrylic is eco-friendly, and its fumes are less toxic
- It is quick-drying. Within 3 hours to touch and 24 hours for everyday use
- It is easy to clean with soap and water
- It comes off brushes with soap and warm water
- Polycrylic dries clear; therefore, it doesn’t change the appearance of the wood
- It is readily available in local hardware stores
- It is durable in interior pieces
- Polycrylic is pricy
- It dries with a milky finish on dark woods
- Its runny consistency makes it difficult to work with on vertical surfaces
- It dries fast but takes 21-30 days to cure
- Polycrylic damages with exposure to elements. It’s not ideal for outdoor wood
How Many Coats of Polycrylic Should You Apply?
Manufacturers recommend 3 coats for an excellent finish. Allow each coat to dry for at least 3 hours before applying another layer.
Remember to lightly sand before reapplying polycrylic, so the coats can bond into each other, forming a uniform finish.
How To Avoid Air Bubbles When Applying Polycrylic
Air bubbles are such an inconvenience when applying polycrylic. Here are occasions when you can entrap air bubbles and how to avoid them:
- Shaking or inverting the can of polycrylic creates air bubbles in the product. The best way is to handle the can gently.
- Stir the liquid with a clean stirrer till the bubbles are no longer visible in the tin. Be gentle with your stirring to avoid creating bubbles.
- Before applying, wet the brush in water and squeeze out the excess. The water eliminates most of the air trapped in the bristles. It also helps the brush not to soak much sealant as you need to apply thin layers.
- After you dip the synthetic brush into the paint, don’t wipe the excess on the sides of the tin. That encourages the formation of air bubbles. Instead, tilt the brush and let the excess finish drain naturally.
- As you apply the polycrylic, angle your brush at 10-15 degrees and move your brush from end to end. Avoid over-brushing as it forms bubbles on the surface.
How To Eliminate Air Bubbles When Applying Polycrylic
No matter how cautious you are, air bubbles can still form as you apply the polycrylic. Here is how to remove the air bubbles:
- In case the polycrylic is still wet, use the tip of the brush to pop the bubbles and lightly brush over them.
- If the polycrylic is dry, give it 2 hours, then lightly sand to smooth out the tops of the bubbles. Vacuum or wipe off the dust with a tack cloth and apply another coat over the undercoat.
How To Apply Polycrylic: FAQs
Below are straightforward answers to some of the commonly asked questions on how to apply polycrylic:
Do you need to sand between polycrylic coats?
Sanding helps smooth out the brush marks, streaks, and air bubbles. Lightly sanding between coats improves adhesion between the polycrylic layers. Wait at least 2-3 hours for each coat to dry before scuffing.
Can you use a rag to apply polycrylic?
Yes, you can use an old rag or cloth to apply polycrylic.
With the cloth, you apply the first coat in a circular motion and the subsequent coats from edge to edge as you would with a brush.
How long does polycrylic take to dry?
It takes a coat of polycrylic approximately 2-3 hours to dry to light tough and 24 hours for regular use. However, it takes polycrylic 21-30 days to cure.
Can you paint over polycrylic?
Yes, you can paint over polycrylic, but that’s pointless. The purpose of a polycrylic finish is to protect the painted wood surface; hence painting over it is a waste of product and time.
What is the method to apply polycrylic?
Spraying is the best and easiest way to apply polycrylic as it creates thin and uniform coats. In addition, spraying polycrylic is simpler when working on large projects.
What kind of brush do I use for polycrylic?
Use a high-quality synthetic brush instead of a natural bristles brush for your project. The quality and type of paint brush you use help reduce the streaks and air bubbles on the wood.
Can You Apply Polycrylic Over Paint?
Polycrylic is a water-based sealant you can apply over water-based paints, as the two will bond well. It also helps increase the durability of the paint and protect the wood.
Final Take On How To Apply Polycrylic
Other than elbow grease, you’ll need some knowledge of how to apply polycrylic without streaks or bubbles.
This article guides you through applying polycrylic and provides all the information you need to know about the product. We hope it helps you out.
Leave a comment below to let us in on your experience with polycrylic.