My Best Rollers for Applying Polyurethane to Wood

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 12/31/23 • 

There are various methods to apply polyurethane, such as using a brush, sprayer, roller, or T-bars. Each method has its pros and cons, and in this article, I’ll discuss rolling polyurethane and share some of my best roller recommendations for this task. Additionally, if spraying is your preference, you can also check out our guide on the best sprayers for polyurethane.

My Top Rollers for Polyurethane

Best Roller for Polyurethane: Purdy Parrot Woven Mohair Roller

For achieving a smoother surface, my top pick is the Purdy Parrot Woven Mohair Roller. Crafted from Mohair, this roller provides a smooth overall finish with both oil- and water-based polyurethane. Available in different sizes, it suits various applications, from larger surfaces like floors (9-inch) to smaller projects like cabinets and furniture (4-inch). Gently washing the roller with warm water before use enhances its performance.

Purdy Parrot 9 inch x 1/4 inch nap Roller

The purdy parrot Mohair roller has a soft nap that delivers a smooth surface with different finishes. They are available in different sizes for larger surfaces like floors and small sizes for cabinets, furniture, and smaller wood projects.

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Best Roller for Water-based Polyurethane: FoamPRO 176-5 Foam Paint Roller

My go-to roller for water-based polyurethane is the FoamPRO 176-5 Foam Paint Roller. This roller also works well with other finishes, such as latex and oil-based paints. It ensures an even application with no roller marks, resulting in a smooth overall finish. The smaller size holds a considerable amount of paint and allows access to tight spots. While some foam rollers may not be reusable, cleaning and rinsing this one for later use is feasible if it remains in good condition.

FoamPRO 176-5 Foam Paint Roller

The FoamPro foam roller is great for different paints, from primers, stains, urethanes, varnishes, and enamel paints. It holds a lot of paint and also leaves a smooth and even finish without lint and other imperfections.

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Best Microfiber Roller for Polyurethane: Pro Grade Microfiber Paint Roller

The Pro Grade Microfiber Paint Roller is an excellent choice for various finishes, providing a shed-free and reusable option. With excellent paint retention and coverage, this microfiber roller comes in different sizes suitable for different surfaces. If you’re looking for a faster application, minimal shedding, and a smoother surface, these rollers are worth trying.

Pro Grade Microfiber Paint Roller
$9.99 ($2.00 / Count)

The Pro-Grade microfiber roller is an applicator that will work on different finishes. It is easy to clean and reusable for later use. It holds a lot of paint and has good coverage.

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Best Lambswool Roller for Polyurethane: Wooster R291-9 Lambswool 100 Roller

Lambswool rollers, known for their natural properties, offer impressive results. The Wooster R291-9 Lambswool 100 Roller holds a substantial amount of finish without dripping, ensuring smooth application. Available in various sizes, it’s suitable for larger areas. While reuse may be limited compared to some rollers, the even poly finish makes this roller a worthwhile investment.

Wooster Lambswool 100 Roller

The Wooster lambswool roller is a good roller that works well to apply an even finish. The roller holds paint with splatter and goes on smoothly. It is good for applying a finish to smooth and semi-smooth surfaces.

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Another Foam Roller for Polyurethane: Whizz Premium Foam Concave Roller

The Whizz Premium Foam Concave Roller is an excellent choice for polyurethane and other oil-based finishes. Its dense foam ensures a smoother application, and the sharper concave ends make blending and feathering different layers more seamless. Ideal for trim, cabinets, doors, and edges, this roller leaves a smooth and even surface. It’s also reusable, particularly when working with water-based polyurethane or water-based finishes.

Whizz Premium Foam Concave Roller

The Whizz roller is a perfect foam roller to finish cabinets, trim, doors, and ends. The concave edges exert less pressure on the edges for seamless blending. The foam is also dense, which makes the application smoother.

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My Polyurethane Roller Buying Guide

Types of Roller Cover Material for Polyurethane

There are different kinds of rollers you can use for polyurethane, including foam, microfiber, and lambswool rollers. Each of these types of foam materials comes with its pros and cons. Let’s look at each one below.

Lambswool or Mohair Rollers

Lambswool and mohair rollers are the two natural types of roller cover materials. These rollers are great for applying oil-based finishes, such as oil-based polyurethane. However, they can also be used with other finishes and still provide an excellent finish. Depending on the nap size, lambswool, and Mohair rollers can be used on smooth or rough surfaces.

Foam Rollers

As the name implies, a foam roller is made with a solid foam-like spongy material. This material is soft and porous, allowing it to absorb liquids easily. Foam rollers are great with thinner paints and finishes, making them suitable for water-based polyurethane or other thinner finishes.

Because of the smooth surface of the foam, they redistribute finishes evenly without leaving any surface marks. Foam rollers can be a problem when used on rougher surfaces due to their smooth nature. Compared to other types of roller materials, foam rollers don’t last as long and are usually considered ‘single-use’ covers.

Microfiber Rollers

Microfiber rollers are relatively new to the scene and can be identified by the diagonal stripes on their plush cover. They are great for different finishes, including oil-based finishes and oil-based polyurethane. They also leave a smooth finish but are best used on smoother surfaces for the best results.

Microfiber rollers are made from a combination of different synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, kevlar, polyamide, Nomex, trogamide, and polypropylene.

Compared to other types of rollers, microfiber rollers pick up more paint but hold the paint until it is applied to the surface, minimizing splatter. They can also be reused on another project by washing them after applying a finish.

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Polyurethane

Oil and water-based polyurethane both respond differently when applied using different roller cover materials. Oil-based polyurethane is thicker/more viscous, making it harder to spread. On the other hand, water-based polyurethane is thinner and also dries fast, which can make tracking your progress more difficult.

While you can use different rollers for both types of polyurethane, it is better to choose the best option for the polyurethane you’re applying. For oil-based polyurethane, a natural roller like lambswool or mohair is great. For water-based polyurethane, a foam or microfiber synthetic roller is great.

Roller Nap Size Explained

Different rollers come in different thicknesses of fibers, also known as the nap. A thicker/higher nap size will pick up and hold more finish, while a smaller nap size will pick up less paint. If you want a smooth, quality finish, a smaller nap size is the best choice.

Apart from holding more or less paint, the different nap sizes also determine the surface you apply a finish. A rough surface will require a higher nap size, while a smoother surface will require a lower nap size.

Rolling vs. Brushing Polyurethane

Using a roller or brush is a great way of applying polyurethane. Rollers are great for applying poly on larger areas; however, brushing will deliver better results, especially with clear finishes like polyurethane. When rolling polyurethane, you should also be careful not to introduce bubbles.

However, when properly rolled, you can be sure of a smooth and even surface free of brush marks. To avoid thick coats along the edges, use a brush to touch it up. You can also use a brush to back brush over rolled polyurethane for a smoother and even surface.


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