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Best Finish for Handrails | Top 5 Picks Revealed in 2024

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A staircase or deck’s handrail is an indispensable component, and it must be durable and attractive. Wooden handrails offer both functionality and beauty, providing safety and aesthetic appeal to wooden stairs. But if they are not properly finished, they can appear dull and lifeless.

Having your handrails finished adequately will enhance the wood’s natural color and grain and protect it from dirt and moisture. As a safety precaution and to maintain their appearance, handrails should be finished with the best finish for handrails.

You can provide your handrail’s natural appearance and feel with a wood finish. You can choose from various types of finishes. To help you decide what is optimal for your home or the deck, we have compiled a list of the top 5 preferred finishes for wooden banister rails.

Varathane Polyurethane Water-Based Satin (200061H)

Minwax Polyurethane Clear Semi Gloss (‎71029000)

General Finishes High Performance Polyurethane Water Based Topcoat

Top 5 Choices for the Best Finish for Handrails

A finish can provide UV protection or waterproof it. Some finishes are better than others at repelling water or withstanding harsh sunlight. Others might be more chip-resistant. The best finish for wooden outdoor hand rails also needs to enhance the grain and color of the wood so that it pops.

Here are the top 5 choices for the most suitable finish for handrails, in no particular order:

01. Varathane Polyurethane Water-Based Satin (200061H)

Varathane 200061H is the perfect choice for your finishing needs. This water-based product comes in a gloss finish, and it provides ultimate protection for your surfaces.

Key Features:

  • 33% more durable for longer-lasting protection
  • Dries fast in just 30 minutes
  • Provides coverage up to 31.25 sq ft. 
  • Can be Recoated After Just Two Hours
  • Soap and water can be used to clean

This water-based satin offers 33% more durability than other products. It is used to protect indoor furniture, cabinetry, and trim made of wood indoors.

These satins dry quickly and clean up with soap and water, making them an excellent choice for an easy-to-use product.

It is a fast-drying touch in 30 minutes, satin finish that provides coverage up to 31.25 sq. ft. It can be recoated after just two hours, making it an excellent choice for quick projects.

This is a crystal clear finish for interior projects such as furniture, doors, cabinets, and trim. It has a glossy finish that is ideal and will never be yellow.

It is low odor, scratch, and stain-resistant, plus it can be easily cleaned with soap and water. This makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking for an easy-to-use and safe product.


  • Crystal Clear Finish 
  • Low Odor 
  • Scratch Resistant 
  • Dries Quickly
  • Satin Finish


  • Not well suited for dry climates


For those searching for a product that is easy to use, durable, and provides a high-quality finish, Varathane polyurethane water-based satin (200061H) is a perfect choice.

02. Minwax Polyurethane Clear Semi Gloss (‎71029000)

The Minwax polyurethane is a protective wood finish that dries quickly and provides a semi-gloss finish. This product is ideal for furniture, trim, and other wood surfaces.

Key Features:

  • Provides a semi-gloss finish
  • Protects wood surfaces from scratches and spills
  • Oil-based clear finish
  • Recoats in 4 to 6 hours

It is a clear coat that protects wood surfaces from scratches, spills, etc. Plus, it is durable and long-lasting, making it the perfect choice for furniture, floors, woodwork, and cabinets.

This finish is an oil-based clear finish that provides long-lasting protection and warm beauty to wood projects, whether they are finished or unfinished.

It is a clear semi-gloss varnish used to protect the wood and give it a sleek finish. It has a semi-gloss sheen which provides projects with a modern look.

This fast-drying clear coat allows quick reapplication within 4-6 hours. It is a protective poly coating that is sure to apply with a high-quality natural or foam brush.


  • Semi-gloss sheen
  • Fast drying
  • Durable
  • Long-lasting
  • Sleek finish


  • It will turn yellow when it dries.


If you are looking for a quick-drying and durable wood finish, the Minwax polyurethane clear semi gloss ((‎71029000)) is a perfect choice. The finish can go on the floor and furniture trim.

03. General Finishes High Performance Polyurethane Water Based Topcoat

General Finishes water-based topcoat is an excellent product for any surface. It provides a durable, satin finish that protects against scuffs and scratches.

Key Features:

  • Dries to a hard, glossy finish
  • Resistant to fading and staining
  • It contains a UV stabilizer
  • Quick and easy to use

This high-performance topcoat is the perfect solution for protecting your wood projects from scratches, water, and UV damage. It dries to a hard, glossy surface finish that is resistant to fading and staining.

These water-based topcoats are consumer-friendly and contain all the polyacrylic blend characteristics. Additionally, it produces a long-lasting finish that can stand up to wear and tear.

The product also contains a UV stabilizer to prevent it from deteriorating in sunlight and prevent fading of the underlying stains.

This durable pure polyurethane topcoat can be used on various surfaces, including floors, and provides a high level of protection against scratches and other damage.

It dries in 1 to 2 hours, making it a quick and easy way to get a high-quality finish on your project. It is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, making it a safe choice for any project.


  • Dries in 1 to 2 hours
  • Glossy finish
  • Resistant to fading
  • UV stabilizer


  • A yellowing effect may occur after dry


If you’re looking for a durable, high-quality finish for furniture or floors, General Finishes high performance polyurethane water based topcoat is a great choice.

04. Minwax One Coat Polyurethane (‎356050000)

Minwax (356050000) one-coat polyurethane is a quick and easy way to add protection to your wood surfaces. This product comes in a quart size and has a satin finish, perfect for general use.

Key Features:

  • Dries in just two hours
  • Cleans up easily with soap and water
  • Same durability in one coat as conventional polyurethane
  • Non-ambering finish

This product dries in just two hours so that you can complete your project 3x faster with ease. Plus, it cleans up easily with soap and water, so you won’t have any trouble keeping your work area clean.

It provides the same level of durability in one coat as three coats of conventional polyurethane. It is easy to use and protects wood projects from scratches, fading, and other damage.

This is an easy-to-use, satin finish varnish that will protect your wood project while giving it a sleek look. It is perfect for cozy, modern, and on-trend projects. Advanced formulation produces a beautiful finish in just one coat.

It dries quickly to a clear, non-ambering finish and cleans up easily with just soap and water. This product is perfect for finishing wood projects quickly and easily.


  • 3x faster work
  • Dries in just two hours
  • Non-ambering finish
  • Cleans up with soap and water


  • Not recommended for high traffic areas


So if you are seeking a polyurethane that will give your project a long-lasting, sleek, satin finish, this Minwax One Coat Polyurethane (‎356050000) is the product for you. It’s perfect for modern and on-trend projects.

05. TotalBoat Wood Sealer

TotalBoat spar varnish is a polyurethane finish used on wood, boats, and exterior wood handrails. This gleam marine varnish comes in a satin low-sheen gallon size. 

Key Features:

  • Forms a self-leveling finish
  • Protects your wood from moisture and UV damage
  • It will not turn yellow over time
  • Can be used indoors and outdoors
  • Withstands extreme weather conditions

It is a highly durable flagship product that can withstand extreme weather conditions. It also has a high-gloss finish that gives wooden surfaces a beautiful shine.

The tung oil marine spar wood sealer is a fantastic option for looking for a durable and radiant finish. It is easy to apply and creates a beautiful finish that will last longer.

It dries quickly at 72°F in just 1 hour and forms a self-leveling finish protecting your wood from moisture and UV damage. The waterproof formula will not turn yellow over time, so you can be sure your surfaces will always look their best.

This easy-to-apply sealant can be used indoors and on exterior wood handrail; it’s perfect for use above the waterline and provides a protective barrier against the elements.

Depending on how you plan to apply it, it can be thinned with either brushing thinner or xylene. It’s also available in a spray gun form, making it easy to coat large surfaces.


  • Dries quickly
  • High-gloss finish
  • Waterproof
  • Self-leveling finish


  • Overpriced compared to similar products


This TotalBoat wood sealer is a top-quality product that offers a durable and beautiful finish. It’s easy to apply and dries quickly, making it an excellent option for protecting wood surfaces.

So, there is a list of the perfect wood finishes you can buy to protect your wooden handrails. Choose the one that properly suits your needs and budget. But before purchasing one, there are some things you need to consider.

Ideal Finish for Stair Handrail – Thing to Consider

Wood stain

Handrails are one of the first places that people will place their hands when they enter your home. It is crucial to choose a durable and easy to clean finish. You will also want to consider the overall look of the handrail and how it will complement the rest of your décor.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the best finish for your handrails:

01. Type of Finish:

There are many different types of finishes available on the market. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. You will need to decide what kind of finish you want based on the look you are going for, the level of protection you need, and the amount of maintenance you are willing to do.

Some of the most popular types of finishes include:

Oil-based polyurethanes: This type of finish is very durable and provides a high level of protection. It is also easy to apply and can be cleaned with soap and water. The downside to this type of finish is that it can yellow over time and is not as resistant to scratches as some of the other options.

Water-based polyurethanes: This type of finish is also very durable and provides a high level of protection. It is non-yellowing and resistant to scratches. The downside to this type of finish is that it can be challenging to apply and is not as resistant to heat as some of the other options.

2. Level of Protection:

You will also need to decide how much protection you need for your handrails. If you have young children or pets, you will want to choose a more resistant finish to scratches and the stain. If you live in an area with high humidity, you will want to select a finish that is more resistant to moisture.

3. Maintenance:

Metal railings

You will also need to decide how much maintenance you are willing to do. Some finishes require more work than others. If you are not willing to do a lot of work, you will want to choose a finish that is easy to maintain.

4. Level of Traffic:

When it comes to choosing a finish for your handrails, you’ll want to consider the level of traffic. For example, if your handrails see a lot of use, you’ll want to choose a finish that is easy to clean and maintain.

A high-gloss finish may show fingerprints and smudges more quickly, but it will be easier to wipe clean than a matte finish. On the other hand, if your handrails don’t see a lot of use, you may be able to get away with a more delicate finish.

In general, it’s best to err on the side of durability when choosing a finish for your handrails.

05. The Climate:

Many people only think about the appearance of handrails when choosing a finish, but it’s essential to consider the climate as well. For example, if you live in an area with high humidity, you’ll want to choose a finish that won’t rust or corrode.

If you live in a cold climate, you’ll want to choose a finish that won’t crack or chip in the freezing temperatures. And if you live in an area with lots of suns, you’ll want to choose a finish that won’t fade or distort in the heat.

By taking the climate into account, you can ensure that your handrails will look great and last for years to come.

06. Durability:

Paint brush

A handrail is only as strong as its weakest link, and that link is often the finish. That’s why it’s important to consider durability when choosing a finish for your handrails. Even the occasional beer spill won’t hurt this high-quality finish. It will also maintain its good looks for years to come.

So when you’re choosing a finish for your handrails, don’t just go for the prettiest option. Go for the one that will stand up to whatever life throws its way. Your handrails will thank you for it.

07. Resistance:

Resistance is the ability of a material to withstand wear and tear. And when it comes to handrails, you want a finish that will resist scratches, fingerprints, UV rays, waterproofing, and other signs of wear and tear.

So when you’re choosing a finish for your handrails, be sure to consider the resistance of the material. There are a lot of finishes to choose from, but not all of them are equally resistant.

Some materials, like glass or stain-less steel, are more resistant than others. So if resistance is important to you, be sure to choose a finish that will stand up to the wear and tear of everyday life.

08. Cost:

Of course, you’ll also want to consider cost when choosing a finish for your handrails. Some finishes are more expensive than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. In general, you get what you pay for when it comes to finishing.

But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to get a good finish. There are plenty of high-quality, low-cost options out there. So don’t let cost be the only factor in your decision. Consider all of the factors listed above to find the best finish for your handrails.

By keeping these factors in mind, you can narrow down your choices and find the best finish for your handrails. It can be tough to know where to start with so many options to choose from.

But if you take the time to consider your needs and wants, you’ll be sure to find the perfect finish for your handrails.


Take a look at some frequently asked questions about handrail finishes:

01. Should You Polyurethane a Handrail?

Yes, polyurethane is a clear finish often used on wood handrails. It is durable and resistant to wear and tear. Polyurethane can significantly extend the life of the paint stair railing by protecting them from dirt, humidity, and abrasion.

02. What Kind of Polyurethane Do You Use on a Handrail?

There are many types of polyurethane, but for handrails, you want to use a clear water-based polyurethane. This will protect the wood without changing its color.

03. Can You Paint Stair Banisters & Railings?

Yes, you can paint the stair banister and railing. But before you do, be sure to sand the surface and remove any dirt or debris. You’ll also want to choose high-quality paint designed for use on wood stairs.

04. How Do You Protect Painted Stair Railings?

To protect the painted stair railing, you can apply two clear polyurethane or varnish coats. This will create a barrier between the paint and the elements, helping to extend the paint job’s life.

In Conclusion

Handrails are an important part of any staircase. They provide stability and support, and they can also be a decorative element in your home. Several finishes are available for handrails, but not all are equal.

When it comes to choosing the best finish for handrails for your handrails, there are a lot of factors to consider. But by keeping the following factors in mind, you can make an informed decision and find the appropriate finish for your needs.

After reading this article, we hope you feel confident in choosing the best finish for your handrails. Try to find something that is durable and perfectly matches the aesthetic of your home.

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