Adhesives: Urethane vs. non-urethane products

HomeNewsAdhesives: Urethane vs. non-urethane products

Life’s most pressing arguments often pit extremes against one another in a black-and-white format to determine a victor: republican vs. democrat, sunlight vs. moonlight, land vs. sea, right vs. wrong.

Of special importance to the floor covering professional, the adhesive argument, urethane vs. non-urethane, should not be overlooked. Urethane adhesives have been around for decades, and installers are comfortable with the long-standing properties: ease of use, high-strength, fast curing speed, and absence of water and solvents.

“Urethanes are also 100% solids, meaning they do not to evaporate in order to cure,” said Jeff Johnson, business manager, Floor Covering Installation Systems, Mapei. “Instead, they react with moisture in the atmosphere, subfloor and wood flooring itself to form a solid block of rubber. This characteristic enables urethane adhesives to bridge most sub- floor defects and still provide a solid bond to the wood flooring product.”

As recently as 15 years ago, there was some concern over the safety of urethane glues due to the presence of trichlorethane that facilitated an absence of water in its makeup. “They were far from being an environmentally safe product,” said Jack Raidy, president and CEO, W.F. Taylor. “Those urethanes were difficult to spread, had a strong odor and contained known respiratory irritant isocyanates.”

Because components of urethane glues have largely been refined, products that are now green are growing rapidly. “Advanced versions of environmentally friendly urethane adhesive technologies have become the latest and most innovative solutions available to contractors and installers,” said Larry Scott, technical director, DriTac. “One component, multi-functional environmentally friendly urethane products that encompass several solutions in one pail, are beginning to capture significant market share.” Third party certifications for indoor air quality are also gaining favor with recognition from the GreenGuard Environmental Institute and Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus program for indoor air quality.


This type of adhesive is typically available in three forms: water-based, solvent- based and hybrid polymer based. Water-based glues are typically used for engineered wood since they have water in the formula.

“Water-based adhesives are generally easier to install and much easier to clean up than other adhesives,” Mapei’s Johnson said. “From an environmental standpoint, water-based products are developed from petrochemical byproducts but they are typically low in VOCs, making them relatively environmentally safer to use.”

Tony Buckhardt, technical director at Carpet Cushions & Supplies; secretary of the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI); and master installer in carpet, resilient, wood and laminate, also found the clean-up with non-urethanes to be an improvement over its counterpart. “Installers struggle with [switching between compositions] because non-urethane clean-up is easier. If they clean up as they go it is OK, but if they have glue on their hands and touch the wood during the job it will burn the finish.”

Many manufacturers tout improved environmental benefits here as well. W.F. Taylor claims to have pioneered the green movement in adhesives with its Meta-Tec chemistry. “In addition, these products are based in part on renewable resource raw materials, lessening the dependence on petroleum-based feedstocks,” Raidy said. “These products are also certified by the GreenGuard Environmental Institute for low VOCs to ensure excellent air quality, an achievement beyond the capability of [traditional] urethane adhesives.”

Apples to oranges

When it comes time to determine which composition is better, there remains a lot of personal leeway on the part of installers. “What I look for in a glue is grabbing power and when it sets, it should give me a little movement so I can get the boards together,” said Roland Thompson, CFI master installer and founder of Thompson Associates. “Moisture-cured urethane seems to move and grab a little better for me when working with hardwood, where I need something with good tack but also gives me working time to get the boards together.” He is excited to try a new urethane product from Mapei that features sound barrier and moisture retardant capabilities.

At its 19 Midwestern branches, Carpet Cushion & Supplies has switched to urethane adhesives because of problems with non-urethanes. “This is mostly because installers aren’t doing moisture checks in concrete with wood,” Buckhardt said. “Even with engineered and solid constructions, they are not checking moisture emissions compared to the wood at the time. Installers check in a dry warehouse but not in the humid home and are therefore having problems.”

Manufacturers continue to facilitate options for the installation professional to meet the needs of each job. “We are one of the very few adhesive companies that have offered both technologies to our loyal and valued customer base for many years now,” DriTac’s Scott said. “It comes down to the type of flooring product installed and the installer and end-user technology preference.”

Mapei has developed its program on similar principles including:

  • Installer preference and experience
  • Customer requirements
  • Type of flooring selected
  • Level of warranty protection desired.

“Whatever the end user’s perspective or requirements might be for wood flooring installation, Mapei has a suitable wood floor covering installation system,” Johnson said.

-Emily Hooper

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