Flowcrete provides a quick primer on polyurethane and epoxy floors, the main differences between the two resin floors and how to make the right choice based on the environment.

Polyurethanes (PU) and epoxies are the two main types of resin floors with each flooring system having differing properties suited to particular uses; choosing the wrong solution can result in costly repairs or even complete floor failure down the line. 

While both are categorised as resins, and do share similarities, epoxy and PU floors are not the same. Both are two-component systems (a resin and a hardener) that when mixed together undergo a process of stoichiometric curing to form a solid layer. In both cases, this results in a seamless, impervious coating that can be applied quickly in large quantities. However, they are two very different types of materials with specific characteristics and uses.

The main difference between these two types of materials lies in the molecular structure, which affects how it fuses together during the curing process. There are multiple types of components that can be used and will impact the outcome, but essentially PUs have a higher cross-linked density than epoxies, making them the harder-wearing of the two.

Therefore, PU systems have long been associated with strength, durability and resilience when faced with a variety of testing conditions, such as heavy footfall, physical impacts, extreme temperatures and corrosive chemicals. 

PU systems come highly recommended for industrial facilities, where the floor is likely to face challenges on a daily basis. For example, a fully loaded hand pallet truck could weigh in excess of one tonne, which puts a vast amount of pressure into the floor through its wheels. With a robust PU system, the floor can survive the abuses of industrial operations for a very long period of time.

Epoxies, on the other hand, are much more rigid in terms of structure and cannot tolerate intense heat. To exemplify this, some epoxy coatings are heat resistant to temperatures up to 65°C, whereas PU systems can tolerate 120°C. 

The superior chemical resistance of PU floors has made them popular in the food and beverage industry, where corrosive acids and by-products are found in large quantities. This means that floors are required that can stand up to chemical attack from organic acids as well as sugar, malt, caustic substances and powerful cleaning agents. 

However, while PU floors are superior in environments that demand robustness and durability, they are unable to match the versatility and aesthetics of epoxy floors. Epoxies can be very easily adapted for a wide variety of environments and are available in a much wider range of colours, styles, effects and decorative options. 

Unless there is a specific challenge or requirement for a PU, there will more than likely be an epoxy floor that is up to the task at hand, and which can do so in bright and glossy tones, glittering light reflective surfaces or multi-toned swirling shades.

When executing an interior design scheme, designers are more likely to choose an epoxy floor as it gives them the creativity to install unique floors, especially when the brief calls for the floor to represent a brand identity, specific aesthetic or vibe. This has made epoxies a go-to floor for large-scale commercial venues such as shopping centres and airports as well as in less heavy-duty industrial spaces or for customer-facing processing zones that need to look good as well as be functional.   

PU systems also tend to be thicker and heavier than epoxy, which is great for absorbing impacts and thermal shock, but if weight and space are issues, then epoxies offer a thinner and lighter option. 

Polyurethanes come in different types including full PU ‘liquid vinyl’ type floors, which are great for creating soft surfaces underfoot due to the elastic nature; the more common PU deck coatings used for car parks; and PU concrete systems, which are the most failure resistant type of resin flooring available.

PU concrete is often applied in challenging industrial facilities as it can stand up to punishing impacts, extreme temperatures, heavy loads, harsh chemicals and similar pressures. It can also be customised with anti-slip aggregates and anti-bacterial additives and is highly adept at dealing with rising moisture. However, PU floors are low on visual appeal and aren’t particularly colour stable unless there is an aliphatic coating. 

At the end of the day, it’s not so much a case of which one is better, but more about which one is better for the building in question.

To find out more about what resin floors best suit a specific environment, get in touch with the resin flooring specialists Flowcrete today.