What’s the difference between epoxy and urethane?
Epoxy and urethane flooring can look similar, which adds to this common debate. Epoxy is a higher-strength material while urethane (also known as polyurethane or PU) has greater flexibility. Both materials have pros and cons that work for specific commercial uses and situations. The key differences between these two commercial flooring materials are preferences in chemical resistance, temperature resistance, moisture resistance, strength and flexibility, texture, UV sensitivity, and installation time and costs.
Selecting commercial flooring for your restaurant kitchen is an important decision.
The different types of epoxy flooring
There are different types of epoxy flooring, which adds to the confusion. Broadcast epoxy is a common, inexpensive flooring that you’ll typically see in a parking garage or on a loading dock. Epoxy floor paint is the gray paint you’ll often see in back-of-house areas in restaurants, hotels, and various commercial facilities. Metallic epoxy flooring is a variation that you may see in a hair salon, hotel lobby, or auto showroom for a decorative look. Whereas, silica epoxy enhances performance to increase impact strength. Finally, it is not uncommon to see flooring suppliers add polyurethane top coats to epoxy to give it more durability. All of these epoxy flooring types are multi-layer systems. While affordable at first, they take longer to install since each coat takes a day and they’re not as watertight or long-lasting as urethane flooring.
Read more in this Guide to Epoxy Flooring >
Pros & Cons of Epoxy vs. Urethane
To make an informed choice between these materials, it is important to understand the pros, cons, and differences between epoxy vs. urethane’s lifespan, thickness, installation time, and costs to determine which is the right fit for your commercial flooring needs.
Epoxy can be used commercially and withstands cleaners suitable for commercial kitchen flooring but is more limited in its chemical resistance. Urethane has greater chemical resistance and can withstand frequent, harsh cleaning making it a good choice for food and beverage manufacturers, production plants, healthcare facilities, medical labs, R&D labs, warehouses, loading docks, and breweries.
Epoxy has some temperature resistance to withstand hot liquids in commercial kitchens and dishrooms but when extreme temperature resistance is required urethane is often the better option. Urethane withstands extreme temperature changes, including thermal cycling from hot- and cold-water wash downs needed for brewery floors, pharmaceutical production, or industrial manufacturing.
Urethane concrete flooring can withstand thermal cycling or extreme temperatures.
An epoxy floor without seams can be moisture resistant, waterproof, and slip resistant when wet for use in commercial kitchens, dishrooms, cooler boxes, laundry facilities, and more. Urethane concrete is a sealed, watertight flooring with higher moisture resistance. Urethane flooring is hygienic and antimicrobial, which protects against bacterial and fungal growth, even after repeated washings, sanitizations, and decontaminations. Urethane is ideal over concrete, which is porous and can retain water vapor and moisture.
Strength and Flexibility
Epoxy is a higher strength material – and up to 2x stronger with an epoxy-quartz blend – but it can crack and scratch so it may not stand up well on commercial floors with heavy equipment and industrial use. Urethane retains more flexibility so it may be the best choice when you care about abrasion, impact, and thermal-shock resistance – making it well-suited for industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse floors.
Epoxy has a hand-troweled texture, which can become chalky or brittle as it ages. Urethane has a smooth texture that remains smooth over its life and often has a basic finish used for industrial floors, warehouses, loading docks, machine shops, and almost any back-of-house areas and high traffic areas for assisted living facilities and nursing homes, hospitals, hotels and casinos, schools and universities, correctional facilities, and more.
Finished Epoxy Floor
Epoxy flooring installed in a warehouse.
Finished Urethane Floor
Urethane concrete installed for a brewery floor.
Epoxy is UV sensitive and can fade or yellow over time so it is better suited for commercial floors that are not exposed to a lot of sunlight. Urethane has high UV resistance and stays the same color longer – making it a good option for flooring with exposure to direct sunlight. There are always UV-resistant top coats that can be added when UV resistance is a high priority.
Epoxy flooring can fade or turn yellow due to exposure to sunlight.
Installation Time and Costs
Is there a difference in installation time between epoxy and urethane?
The biggest drawback to epoxy flooring is the longer installation time where your facility may need to be closed for business multiple days whereas urethane flooring can often be installed quickly over a weekend. When speed really matters, an epoxy-quartz resinous blend, like JetRock, can be installed overnight.
Is there a difference in cost between epoxy and urethane?
There is not a lot of difference in price initially but commercial epoxy flooring typically needs to be replaced every 1.5 years compared to urethane concrete flooring, which often lasts 20-30 years. Urethane concrete is more durable and less expensive over time – typically, paying off in just 2 years.
What is urethane used for?
Urethane has strong chemical, temperature, moisture, thermal-shock, and UV resistance as well as durability and flexibility. Urethane is a commonly used commercial flooring option for airplane hangers, arenas and stadiums, brewery floors, catering facilities, correctional institutions, firehouses, food and beverage manufacturers, grocery stores, healthcare facilities, loading docks, machine shops, production plants, R&D labs, veterinary clinics, and warehouses.
Learn more in our Guide to Urethane Concrete >
Is epoxy stronger than urethane?
When it comes to hardness, epoxy is stronger and a variety of epoxy blends, such as an epoxy-quartz resinous blend are among the strongest, with a compressive strength of 12,000 psi. Urethane is more flexible and durable – doing a good job withstanding thermal shock, heavy machinery, high traffic, and scratch and chip resistant. Urethane remains a top choice for manufacturing and food processing plants due to its resistance to chemicals and extreme temperatures as well as auto mechanical shops due to its resistance to abrasion, oil, and heavy-duty equipment. However, if your work involves handling sulfuric acid, like battery factories, epoxy comes out on top.
Does epoxy scratch easily?
Yes, epoxy can scratch easily. Epoxy floors have a hand-troweled texture that is not as smooth as urethane and can crack, scratch, chip, or fade over time especially from industrial uses. Urethane is a flexible flooring – making it a good choice when abrasion and scratch resistance matter.
Should I use epoxy or polyurethane?
Deciding between epoxy or polyurethane (also known as urethane) is an important decision for your operations team to consider for your facility. As you can see from our comparison chart above, there are a number of pros and cons, features and benefits, as well as durability, cost, and installation differences between epoxy and urethane that you’ll want to carefully consider when selecting the best commercial flooring for your needs.
Many commercial facilities choose polyurethane or urethane concrete flooring since it is one of the most affordable and versatile commercial flooring options. It is durable and chemical, temperature, moisture, thermal shock, and UV resistant. Installation is quick in three days, and can be done over a weekend with practically no downtime. And urethane is customizable in endless amounts of colors.
Still not sure which commercial flooring material to choose for your facility?
Our flooring experts can help you make the right choice – weighing all the pros and cons to select the best flooring solution for your needs. Contact us today for a complimentary evaluation of your commercial flooring needs. We pride ourselves on providing unbiased advice and the fastest installations in the industry.