Is Polyurethane Food Safe For Wood Countertops?

applying polyurethane on wood

Is polyurethane food safe for wood countertops? That is a question that I have come across so many times on the internet. Having beautiful wood countertops is a dream kitchen for most people. The last thing someone wants to worry about is that their new beautiful countertops will be harmful if food is on them.

To answer the question in short, yes, polyurethane is food safe for wood countertops. Per the FDA, to become food safe, it must be fully cured and dried to the touch, which ranges in time. The time it takes to fully cure is anywhere from days to a month. Make sure to read the label before using it to see the curing times and any other important information. 

How Safe Is Polyurethane?

Before polyurethane is finished curing, it can be harmful. It has been known to cause breathing issues, asthma attacks, and irritation of the lungs and mucus membranes. Experts say pregnant women and children should not be exposed to the fumes of polyurethane until the curing process is complete. The curing can take anywhere from around three days to almost a month, depending on the brand and kind you purchase.

Taking proper precautions by having a well-ventilated area, keeping your windows open, and wearing protective gear are all great steps to prevent any of the harmful side effects from occurring. After the surface is cured, wipe it clean with soap and water. Then enjoy your new beautiful, safe wood countertop or a kitchen table.

What Is Polyurethane and What is it Used For Exactly?

Polyurethane is a polymer composed of organic units by urethane links. Widely known as a synthetic resin and as a liquid coating that dries into a plastic film protecting whatever surface it is applied and cured to. It works very well to seal countertops. 

Whether it is a wood countertop or even wanting a nice coat of polyurethane on your laminate countertops, it is a great choice. 

Polyurethane is also an extremely popular material used in many things such as refrigerators, freezers, furniture, cushion padding, footwear, in automotive, coatings, adhesives, and many more items. It has been used for years and in many more things than one would think.

Polyurethane, The Pros, and The Cons

Pros – It will protect the surface from scratches and protect your wood. It will make the wood exceptionally durable to the everyday wear and tear of a kitchen countertop. It is beautiful and makes the wood the star of your kitchen. A coat of polyurethane will also give your countertops a nice shine (depending on the finish you pick) It will enhance the look of your wood while protecting it. A win-win. 

Cons – This particular finish takes a lot longer time to apply than other finishes and also takes a lot longer to cure or dry than most finishes. You need to be in a very well-ventilated area as to not experience the side effects that can be very dangerous. 

To many, the pros outweigh the cons all you need to do is follow the handful of important safety steps and you will have a beautiful countertop in no time.

Are There Different Types Of Polyurethane?

Yes, there are a few different types. The top two different ones that most people pick are Water-based and Oil-based. Which come in different finishes from satin to glossy. 

Water-Based is extremely easy to clean up, using mild soap and water will make clean-up a breeze versus the harsh chemicals needed to clean up others. Water-based also has a lower odor and an exceptionally low toxicity level, more so than oil-based. 

It also goes on clear, while sometimes, an oil-based polyurethane can leave a yellowish tint behind. It also dries a lot quicker than oil. 

However, it does not hold up to heat too well, so I would not recommend it for outdoor projects, or anywhere heat would be involved. Water-based tends to sit on top of the counter instead of soaking deep into the wood. Some may not like that look. 

Oil-based is a little heavier duty, prone to less damage but clean up could be a problem for some as you will need turpentine or mineral spirits. Most people don’t have those lying around.

It is also highly recommended that you use a respirator when applying oil-based polyurethane. It will take much longer to dry than the water-based. 

Make sure to plan ahead to have any children, animals (they have very sensitive mucus membranes), and yourself out of the house for a decent amount of time while it cures, and your house airs out. 

Oil-based also soaks a little deeper into the wood.

Taking all of these factors into consideration will help you choose what is best for you and your home.

Does Polyurethane Come in Different Colors?

No polyurethane does not come in different colors, but you can still get the different colors you desire with a little more effort. Polyurethane can be painted over any latex paint with both water-based and oil-based polyurethanes. 

With that information, you will be able to paint your countertops any color your heart desires letting it fully dry, then adding a few coats of polyurethane over it.

Polyurethane is clear, but remember, oil polyurethane can sometimes leave a yellow tint behind, and on light colors, it could show up, altering your color choice. So, it is best to stick with water-based if that is a concern to you.

What Are Some Of The Best Ways To Apply A Polyurethane Finish?

I find the best way to apply it is with a paintbrush. The type of brush needed can differ based on what base you are using.

Natural bristles work really well for oil-based polyurethane because natural bristles can absorb water it is best to stick with synthetic bristles with water-based polyurethane. 

Remember a few thin coats will always be better than one thick one; allow each coat to dry fully. Be careful while using a brush with water-based polyurethane because it could bubble; slow strokes are better. 

If you do accidentally make a few bubbles, make sure to brush over them before they harden. Otherwise, the only way to get them out will be to sand them down.

You can also find polyurethanes in a wipe-on type of formula that you apply to the counter with a rag and an aerosol can.

Is There Any Prep Needed Before I Start My Project?

With any type of wood project, it is always better to start with a nice smooth finish. Remember, once the polyurethane sets, the only way to get to the wood again is to completely sand all traces of polyurethane off. 

So, make sure you have a nice, clean, and decent-looking surface. Do not forget to wipe the wood surface before beginning so there isn’t any debris stuck forever under the polyurethane. 

If there are large cracks, you can always use a wood grain filler to have a little bit of a smoother finish once you apply the poly.

What Are the Best Brands Of Polyurethane To Buy?


General Finishes High-Performance Water Based Topcoat 

  • is a very highly rated brand. It is one of the hardest, most durable polyurethane coats out there. 
  • UV stabilizers protect it from breaking down in sunlight, no need to worry about the sun shining in on your countertops.
  • Dry time between coats is only around 1 to 2 hours.
  • It’s water-based, so clean-up, toxicity level, and dry time will be very low.

Miniwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane Aerosol

  • Exceptionally durable coating and scratch-resistant
  • Dries quickly
  • Extremely easy to apply, no mess of a paintbrush, rag or spilling polyurethane places

Rust-Oleum Water-Based Polyurethane

  • It is water-based so it will have a lower order than most
  • Will never yellow, actually guaranteed by the company
  • Easy cleanup, just use mild soap and water 
  • Durable and scratch-resistant

Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Polyurethane

  • One coat coverage
  • Dries to touch in as little as 2 hours
  • Extremely durable, scratch and stain resistance
  • 1 coat equals about 3 coats
  • Self-leveling formula

With Miniwax and Rust-Oleum you really will not go wrong. There are many different brands, styles, and different application methods to fit everyone’s budget, style, and ability. Everyone can easily do this DIY project in no time. 

Yes, you can always hire someone but there is no great feeling than finishing a project for your home. You will save quite a bit of money. There are not many things a beginner would not be able to do while following along a how-to guide and a little research. 

J. Aaron Custom Wood Countertops has beginners mistakes to avoid article that is absolutely great – Mistakes to Avoid

Miniwax has an extremely easy to follow guide on how to pick the right finish for you and also how to apply polyurethane – Miniwax – How to Guide

The United States Department Of Labors Findings – Risks Of Polyurethane

Frequently Asked Questions

Is polyurethane food safe for countertops?

Polyurethane is a resin that is used to create hard, durable finishes. It is often used on countertops because it is heat resistant and very durable. Polyurethane is considered safe for food contact when it is fully cured. This means that the polyurethane has had enough time to off-gas any harmful chemicals and has hardened completely. You can typically tell if a finish is fully cured if it feels hard to the touch and does not have a strong smell. If you are unsure, you can always contact the manufacturer to ask.

Is polyurethane toxic?

Most polyurethane products are not toxic. However, some people may be sensitive to the fumes from polyurethane and may experience respiratory irritation or other symptoms. If you are concerned about the toxicity of polyurethane, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional.

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