Epoxy vs Polyurethane vs Urethane Cement

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Epoxy vs. Polyurethane vs. Resin vs. Urethane Cement Flooring

When looking for flooring for your business, there are many options out there. It can be overwhelming at first. You want a floor that is strong, like your business, and worry-free. You want a floor that will withstand the cleanings necessary to keep your employees safe and meet any specific industry or government regulations. You want a floor that will last. 

When figuring out the right kind of floor for your business needs, there are a few questions to ask yourself. 

  • Turnaround:  Your work must stop while any coating is applied. What is the required turnaround time? There are a variety of coatings based on return-to-service times. These coatings include epoxy, polyurethane, polyaspartic, MMAs and urethane cement. 
  • Temperatures: What temperatures does the floor need to hold up to? Will there be excessive heat from a warehouse in the summer or extreme cold from a walk-in freezer?
  • Cleaning: Do you do hot water washdowns? Do you scrub your floors? 
  • Chemical resistance: Even in warehouses and distribution centers, chemical resistance may be critical. 
  • Anti-slip: It’s crucial to ensure the surface isn’t slippery to avoid fall hazard. Slips, trips, and falls cause nearly 700 fatalities per year and many more injurious accidents in the workplace according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Please see OSHA 1910.22.
  • Traffic: How much foot and machine traffic will there be? What types of weight must your floor sustain? These include forklifts, carts, warehouse storage, cooking apparatus, refrigerators, etc. 
  • Durability: What type of contaminants could potentially come in contact with the floor? Think of food products, cleaners, oil, and chemicals that could damage the flooring. 

We’ll help you understand the difference between epoxy, polyurethane, and urethane—all types of both resin and thermosetting polymers—to figure out which option works best for your business. 

Epoxy: What Is It?

Epoxy flooring is a very popular solution for floors. It’s a coating with aesthetic appeal and also lasts a long time. Epoxy, also known as resinous or polymer flooring, is a coating that may be placed over many different surfaces. 

There are different types of epoxy flooring, but they’re all made up of two main compounds: resin and hardener. Resin is what holds it all together, and the hardener is what gives the floor its strength. The chemicals bond together and create a hard, smooth coating. 

The numerous benefits of epoxy flooring are part of what makes it so popular with businesses. 

Epoxy Benefits

Epoxy flooring is a suitable option for many different businesses and industries. Because of its strength, epoxy floors are perfect for warehouses, manufacturing facilities, airports, hospitals, commercial kitchens, and schools - those are just a few places where you can see the benefits of epoxy floors at work.

Seamless, easy to clean surface

With epoxy floors, you don’t have the typical floor maintenance issues. Since epoxy is poured, the floor is seamless. Without cracks, cleaning is a breeze. There is also an option to pour an epoxy cove base, which creates a slope in the usual 90-degree angle between the floor and walls. This eliminates wall-to-floor cracks and corners that are hard to clean and attract dirt and germs, making it perfect for industries with high sanitation regulations, such as healthcare and food and beverage production facilities. 

Beautiful and versatile

Epoxy makes it easy to turn plain or old flooring into something attractive. It’s easy to customize and add a pop of color to your business. There are many colors and textures available to match the aesthetics of your building. 

Eco-friendly

Epoxy flooring can be an environmentally-friendly option. Epoxy is available 100% solvent-free or as a water-based version. When installing solvent-free epoxy flooring, it doesn’t off-gas as much or as long. When installed properly, the coating doesn’t flake off to pollute the environment. 

Quick turnaround

If you need a job done right and quickly, certain epoxies can dry faster than others. Typically, epoxy floors need 24-72 hours to cure. However, there are some epoxy coatings that can cure faster. Many businesses choose epoxy for the minimal business downtime.

Types of Epoxy and Uses 

The many types of epoxy floors makes them extremely versatile. All epoxy flooring types do a fantastic job of hiding any blemishes. Because epoxy is poured on a pre-existing floor, it builds the floor’s thickness, giving it a strength that lasts many years. 

Here are some of the types of epoxy floors.

Self-dispersing (non-slip)

Another name for self-dispersing floors is non-slip. Epoxy can be mixed with different aggregates to provide ample traction. Non-slip floors have a gritty texture so that even when wet, the chance of a fall is greatly decreased. Self-dispersing epoxy floors are great for areas that have high foot traffic or heavy machinery, as they provide better traction. These non-slip floors are perfect for the food and beverage industry, where spills are likely to occur. The floor coating can prevent slips and falls and make cleaning up a breeze. 

Mortar

Out of all the types of epoxy flooring, mortar is the strongest. Epoxy mortars can be used to resurface heavily damaged floors and can be troweled up to six-inches thick. The epoxy mortar solution is poured over the existing floor and it enters the cracks and fills them, achieving a level surface. Epoxy mortar can also work to create slopes to drains in the floor which makes cleaning even easier. 

Decorative 

To add an aesthetic appeal to the floor, color quartz or flake may be added to the epoxy to give a granite-like finish. You can choose from many different color schemes and textures. Decorative epoxy flooring uses colorful chips and colored sand to create a beautiful, functional floor. The flake chips or sand can be multi-colored for appeal and also camouflage any imperfections in the original flooring. Decorative epoxy is a great option if you want a floor that is colorful and unique. You can even have your custom business logo set in the floor! 

Metallic 

Another way to add pop to the floor is the addition of metallic powder. . Metallic powder can be added to the epoxy then swirled and rolled in different directions to give every floor its own unique look. 

Self-leveling 

Self-leveling epoxy floors are a great way to smooth out your lightly cracked, spalled or pitted areas bringing a beat-up floor back to life. This flooring is perfect for manufacturing environments. 

Electrostatic dissipating (ESD)

In certain facilities, it’s crucial to have a way to deal with the electric charge build-up and release that can happen in certain types of floors. ESD flooring is specially formulated to prevent the electric charge that could be both dangerous and damaging in facilities such as labs, hospitals, or electronic manufacturing. 

Polyurethane: What Is It?

When choosing the right flooring, polyurethane flooring is another great option. Polyurethanes (also known as urethanes  —  without the “poly” prefix) are polymers that are part of a chemical group called carbamates. The carbamates stick with the polymers to create a strong floor covering. In turn, this chemical makeup provides protection from bacteria, chemicals, and moisture.

There are some differences between polyurethane and epoxy. Polyurethane is generally more resistant to scratching, chemicals, UV rays, and general wear and tear than epoxy. However, epoxy and polyurethane can be used together to create a very strong flooring system. Epoxy serves as a thickness underlayer or topcoat; polyurethane is strictly a topcoat.

Polyurethane Benefits

There are a plethora of benefits with polyurethane floors, such as floor performance, safety, and aesthetics. Let’s dive into some specific details.

Humidity and heat tolerant

Polyurethane stands up well to humidity and moisture. Because of the flexibility, it won’t buckle under extreme temperature fluctuation. The flooring will expand and contract, so cracks are less likely to form. It also has approximately double the heat tolerance of epoxy—up to almost 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

UV resistant

Outdoor flooring—or indoor flooring with a lot of UV exposure—eventually fades and deteriorates under the sun. With a polyurethane topcoat, the flooring is safe from harmful UV sunlight. Oftentimes, UV sun exposure results in a floor yellowing. A protective polyurethane coating can prevent that unappealing discoloration. 

Chemical and stain resistant

Because polyurethanes are the most chemical resistant, they are less likely to stain or fade and hold their true color longer. Polyurethane floors stand up to corrosion, inorganic alkalis, organic alkalis, and solvents much better than epoxy, lending to them as a good fit for the chemical industry. They’re particularly protective against natural chemicals, such as lactic acid, which makes them a popular choice for dairy farms. The polyurethane topcoat protects the floor from eroding and staining when inevitable spills happen. Polyurethanes are the only product to hold up to airplane hangers’ skydrol (airplane hydraulic fluid). 

Smooth and seamless

Because it is poured, urethane is smooth and seamless. You won’t have to deal with bumps or cracks. The smooth texture makes urethane floors extremely easy to clean and care for. It is worth noting that because urethane serves as a surface film, it can be a little difficult to apply to small cracks and imperfections. (Epoxy wins as far as masking flooring blemishes.) 

Moisture and heat resistant 

Heat and moisture can cause major flooring damage. Floors will warp and even buckle under temperature change and humidity when not treated properly. Polyurethane protects the floors even in extreme heat. It’s a strong and resilient protective layer for your floors.

Extremely durable 

There is no denying that polyurethane flooring is sturdy. In fact, it often has at least double the lifespan of uncoated epoxy. The chemical compounds in polyurethanes make them very resistant to impact and abrasions. This protects even the most heavy traffic floors. 

Various finishes

There are a few different attractive polyurethane floor options for your business space. These include satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss finishes, depending on the level of shiny you desire in the floor. However, these finishes not only make the floor look better, the additives in the finishes can increase the safety and wear of the polyurethane topcoat. 

Types of Polyurethane and Uses 

There are a few different types of polyurethane. They’re all strong, and they’re all tailored for specific uses. Whatever type of polyurethane you choose to use, know that your floor will be long lasting and attractive. 

Polyester  —  Vinyl Ester

Polyester and vinyl ester in the paint world refers to a certain type of polyurethane that is resistant to acid spills. It’s also a chemical resistant urethane (CRU). This makes it great at combating chemical spills such as gas, oil, salt, grease, and most acids. Polyester makes a great finish for containment and secondary containment areas where meeting EPA regulations are imperative. 

Acrylic

Another suitable type of polyurethane is acrylic. While most polyurethanes are oil-based, acrylic is water-based. Acrylic flooring has beautiful color retention and a shiny gloss finish. It’s UV resistant, which makes it durable for outdoor use. Additionally, the lack of oil in acrylic means it won’t yellow or fade over time. 

Another advantage of acrylic flooring is the low-VOC formula. It releases less odor into the air when drying than the average polyurethane, lending acrylic as an environmentally-friendly option. 

Moisture cured

Moisture-cured polyurethanes deliver a high-performance finish that cures even in the presence of moisture, and they cure fast and remain flexible. They also can handle higher dry temperatures than epoxy can. However, it’s important to be aware that moisture-cured flooring does tend to change color over time and can have an extremely potent odor and application requires highly-trained professionals with proper PPE. 

Aliphatic 

Aliphatic polyurethanes are widely used in an interior or exterior setting. They are the hardest and most scratch-resistant of the urethane family as well as UV resistant and maintain their color for a long time. They can be a nice decorative topcoat on concrete. 

Urethane Cement: What Is It?

Urethane cement is a high-build, thermal shock resistant, trowelable coating designed for severe environments. It can be top-coated with a chemical resistant urethane for harsh environments. It can be used to slope floors to drains and also be filled with colored quartz or flakes for a decorative finish. 

Due to the chemical makeup of urethane cement, it moves with the concrete - unlike epoxies that are hard and rigid, and cannot hold up to thermal shock. 

Urethane cement requires no priming, can be put directly over damp concrete and is available in fast turnaround versions which results in less downtime in your operations. 

There are many other great benefits to using urethane cement-based flooring.

Thermal shock resistant

Thermal shock is usually caused by hot water washdowns or extreme temperature changes during the cleaning process. Urethane cements are the only coatings that are thermal shock resistant because they expand and contract with the concrete substrate as the temperature changes. Typical areas urethanes are used include agricultural facilities, food processing plants and chemical plants.

Coatings and Common Use Cases

The benefits of epoxy, polyurethane, polyaspartic, MMAs and urethane cement coatings determine common environments where each will be used. These include: 

Food & Beverage Facilities

  • Urethane cement
  • Polyurethane 

Labs

  • Polyurethane
  • Epoxy
  • Vinyl ester
  • ESD epoxy

Industrial 

  • Epoxy mortar
  • Epoxy 
  • Polyurethane

Outdoor Businesses 

  • Polyurethane

The Right Floor for Your Needs

Epoxy, polyurethane, and urethane are all great options for durable and long-lasting floors. All three options have different levels of flexibility, chemical resistance, water protection, longevity, and other benefits to fit your company’s unique needs.

Here at Painters USA, we will install an epoxy floor that is the perfect fit for your commercial, industrial, or food processing business. Contact us today for an estimate!