Polyaspartic vs Polyurethane Floors: What's the Difference?

    

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Protective coatings and sealants can improve your concrete’s surface strength on a massive scale. But in your search for the perfect sealant, you’ve likely come across a difficult question: “What’s the difference between polyaspartic and polyurethane sealers?”

Not sure when to use which sealer? In this article, we’ll map out the differences between polyaspartic and polyurethane coatings and discuss when to use each sealant to best protect your concrete surfaces.

What’s the Role of Polyurethane and Polyaspartic Sealers?

Essentially, both polyurethane and polyaspartic sealers can protect and strengthen your concrete surfaces. You can add either as a top coat, and it will completely transform the capabilities of your concrete. Both bond with concrete and form a thick layer of protection, including: 

  • Heat resistance
  • Scratch resistance
  • Chemical resistance
  • Abrasion resistance

Still, despite playing similar roles in preserving concrete, polyurethane and polyaspartic coatings hold unique advantages and disadvantages.

What Is a Polyurethane Sealer?

Polyurethane sealers and coatings give surfaces additional protective qualities. However, they tend to work best as a top coat. This is because they add a relatively thin film that protects concrete surfaces from spills, oils, chemicals, and wear from heavy traffic. 

Essentially, they provide many of the same protective qualities as polyaspartic sealers. However, they differ from polyaspartic coatings in a few key ways:

  • Cost: Polyurethane sealers tend to be less expensive than their polyaspartic counterparts.
  • Curing time: Polyaspartics cure much faster than polyurethane. Polyurethane tends to take 24-48 hours to cure, whereas polyaspartic sealers can cure in a few hours.
  • UV protection: In many cases, polyaspartic coatings will hold up better to UV exposure than polyurethane. Some polyurethane sealers will yellow with sunlight exposure, whereas polyaspartic coatings preserve a floor’s original colors.
  • Volatile organic compounds: Because polyurethane is often solvent-based, it tends to contain some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), although some coatings are available in low-VOC forms.

Because polyurethane features many of the same advantages as polyaspartic coatings, it’s popular in residential garages, industrial warehouses, and commercial spaces that can afford to shut down floor access as the sealants cure.

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Strengthens surfaces
  • Preserves decorative concrete
  • Protects against friction, wear, oils, chemicals, spills, and heavy equipment

Cons

  • Longer curing time
  • Sometimes contains VOCs

What Is a Polyaspartic Sealer?

Like polyurethane coatings, polyaspartic sealers penetrate concrete surfaces and protect them from wear, scratches, cracking, and stains, which makes them popular for industrial, commercial, and residential concrete flooring that an owner needs to retain a sharp look and exceptional performance amid heavy use. 

Although polyaspartic and polyurethane coatings offer similar benefits, polyaspartics provide a few additional avantages. First, because they cure quickly, they have a faster return-to-use time, which is attractive for businesses that can’t afford to shut down operations for long periods of time. 

Second, they often contain zero VOCs. By cutting out VOCs, polyaspartic coatings put off less odor and produce cleaner air than polyurethane spaces. 

Finally, polyaspartics can be applied in a thicker coating, which means you can use them as a complete flooring system, rather than solely as a top coat. Essentially, because they can be formed into a thicker coating, you can reduce the number of coats you need to apply to maximize protection..

Polyaspartic sealers’ unique qualities and fast cure time make them a popular choice in restaurants, commercial spaces, showrooms, and industrial garages.

Pros

  • Strengthens surfaces
  • Preserves decorative concrete
  • Protects against friction, wear, oils, chemicals, spills, and heavy equipment
  • Zero VOCs
  • Fast curing

Con

  • Higher up-front cost

Chemical Differences Between Polyaspartic and Polyurethane Coatings

Wondering what gives polyaspartic and polyurethane sealers their unique properties? Here’s how each coating is produced:

How Are Polyurethanes Produced?

Polyurethanes form when a polyisocyanate reacts with a polyalcohol (polyol), with the assistance of a catalyst and other additives. Essentially, isocyanates can be either aromatic or aliphatic. Depending on the type of isocyanate used in the reaction, you’ll be left with either an aromatic polyurethane or an aliphatic polyurethane.

How Are Polyaspartics Produced?

When a polyisocyanate combines with an amine-terminated polyester resin, it reacts to form polyurea. When an aliphatic polyisocyanate reacts with a diamine, it’s called polyaspartic polyurea. “Polyaspartic” is just a shortened term for polyaspartic polyurea.

A Side-by-Side Comparison of Polyaspartic and Polyurethane Sealers

Because the two compounds have subtle differences, it’s important to dive into the details and determine how much each factor is worth to you. Here’s a side-by-side breakdown that details each product’s differences:

 

Polyaspartics

Polyurethanes

Thin to moderate film builds (up to 15 mil DFT)

Only thin film builds, up to 6 mil DFT

Zero VOCs

Vary between 0.1 lb/ga and 2.5 lb/ga

Variable cure speed

Slow to moderate cure speed

Quick return to service

24-48 hr before return to service

Short pot life (20-30 min at 700°F)

Long pot life (1.0-1.5 hr at 700°F)

 

Who Uses Polyurethane and Polyaspartic Sealers?

Both polyurethane and polyaspartic coatings are top choices for commercial, industrial, and residential concrete flooring. Here are a few examples of where these sealers are most popular:

  • Restaurants and breweries: Because they add chemical resistance and stainproofing, these coatings are a top choice for restaurants and breweries. They can protect flooring from spills, heavy foot traffic, and grease while preserving intricate designs.
  • Showrooms: Showrooms and lobbies benefit from floors that dazzle visitors despite wear. That’s why these sealers are popular options for flooring that’s exposed to high amounts of customer traffic.
  • Retail and commercial stores: Retail and commercial store owners who want to impress customers often use polyurethane or polyaspartic sealers to maintain a floor’s stunning appearance. They’re also popular coatings on heavily trafficked commercial spaces, such as mall floors. 
  • Professional and residential garages: Because they help floors shrug off oil, chemicals, grease, and other destructive materials, these sealers are popular in garages of all kinds. 

Find the Right Product for Your Next Project 

Ultimately, the most effective way to decide which product is right for you is to weigh your priorities, consider the pros and cons of each coating, and pick the sealant that brings out the best in your concrete surface. Still, the best solution for your project may not be so obvious. Have questions about your next project? Talk with one of our concrete flooring experts today. 

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