After extensive testing, I’m sharing the best topcoats for sealing white painted furniture along with tips for painting and sealing white furniture without yellowing.
If you’ve painted much furniture, there’s a good chance you’ve dealt with the dreaded yellowing of white paint before. You’ve given an old piece of furniture a completely new look with a beautiful coat of bright white paint. And then when you start to apply the topcoat, yellow spots start appearing.
It’s incredibly frustrating.
I always recommend using a good topcoat or sealer over painted furniture that will receive lots of daily use including tables, dressers, and bookcases. It protects your paint finish from chips, scratches, and stains and helps keep your painted furniture looking beautiful for much longer.
The problem is that if you don’t use the right sealer (or apply it the right way), you can end up with a dingy, yellowed paint finish that is definitely not what you were going for.
Using the right products to actually protect your white furniture can feel incredibly confusing. So even though I’ve previously shared all about my favorite furniture sealers, I decided it was time to do some more research and really get to the bottom of which sealers work best over white paint.
I tested six different water-based sealers over two different types of white paint to figure out which ones are easiest to use, give a durable finish, and most importantly, don’t cause the white paint to yellow!
And now I’m ready to share my recommendations for the best sealers to use on white furniture.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more. Click here to see my full disclosure policy.
What causes white paint to yellow
Before we get into the actual sealer results, I want to do a quick deep dive into what causes white paint to yellow in the first place. If you understand the factors that can lead to yellowing, it’s much easier to avoid it happening to you.
There are two main reasons white paint yellows.
The most common cause of bleed-through is wood tannins. When you paint wood furniture, the moisture in the paint can cause the wood grain to open and release wood tannins, or natural oils, within the wood. When you paint furniture white, these tannins will cause your beautiful paint finish to look yellow and splotchy.
There are also certain furniture finishes that used to be popular that are notorious for bleeding-through light paint colors and leaving yellow, brown, or even pink splotches.
2. Sealer Problems
The second thing that often causes white paint to yellow is the sealer. There are certain types of sealer like oil-based polyurethanes that naturally yellow over time and should never be used over light paint colors.
But sometimes even sealers that are supposed to be non-yellowing can cause problems over white paint.
You may notice yellowish spots appearing as soon as you start applying the sealer or you may not notice any change until days later. This can be caused by a build-up of extra thick sealer, by sealer that wasn’t stored properly, or by an unexpected reaction between the paint and sealer you chose.
To make matters even more confusing, even if yellowing doesn’t show up until you are applying sealer, there’s still a good chance that it is caused by bleed-through, not the sealer itself. Many times wood tannins may be activated by the water in your water-based sealer and start bleeding through even though everything seemed fine up until that point.
There are steps you can take to prevent both types of yellowing and it is really important that you follow them carefully any time you paint furniture white.
How to avoid yellowing when sealing white furniture
So how can you ensure that your white furniture doesn’t yellow? By using the right primer and sealer.
If you follow these steps to help prevent bleed-through and apply your sealer using best practices, you can eliminate almost all yellowing of your white painted furniture.
I have a whole post that walks you through the process of painting furniture white that you may want to read next, but I’m going to highlight the most important steps for preventing yellowing here.
Use the right primer
When it comes to preventing bleed-through, it’s all about the primer. The right primer will seal in wood tannins, stains, and old finishes that can lead to yellowing.
It’s best to apply two coats of whichever primer you choose. Once it is fully dry, you can then move on to your white paint. (And yes, it is totally fine to paint chalk paint or any other water-based paint over oil or shellac based primers).
Even if you are using chalk paint or another paint that says you don’t need to use primer, if you are planning to paint your furniture white, don’t skip this step.
Use the right sealer
I’m going to share all about the absolute best sealers to use below, but for now just know that you absolutely must use a water-based sealer. Oil-based sealers will yellow your finish every time.
Store your sealer properly
When not using your sealer, make sure that it is stored in a temperature-controlled area. Sealers and paints contain compounds that need to be kept at certain temperatures to remain stable.
It’s also important to make sure to reseal your sealer cans well between uses.
Apply your sealer under the best possible conditions
We often paint and seal furniture outdoors because it helps us avoid fumes in our homes. But when working outside, be sure to pay attention to the weather.
You’ll find that all paints and sealers have a recommended temperature range for application. It’s important to stay within this range, especially when applying sealer. It’s also a good idea to avoid applying sealer on especially humid days or in direct sunlight.
Stir your sealer well and apply thin coats
Before applying your sealer, make sure that you stir it well.
Then apply it in very thin coats. You want to keep your coats of sealer thin, because when you build up thick layers of sealer, it is much more likely to yellow.
You want just enough sealer on your brush or sponge that it glides on smoothly. It should leave your finish looking shiny and damp, but not thick, drippy, or bubbly.
You can apply sealer using a good paintbrush, a clean rag, or a sponge applicator. Personally, I’m a big fan of using a blue sponge applicator to apply sealer because it helps keep the coats quite thin and also gives a very smooth finish.
Mix in a bit of white paint
I don’t always do this, but if you are looking for a little extra security that your sealer won’t yellow, this is a great trick.
You can mix a small amount of your white paint into your sealer – aim for about 10% paint, 90% sealer. This will give your sealer a white tint that won’t show on your painted piece at all but helps guard against unexpected yellowing.
If you decide to try this, I recommend pouring a bit of sealer into a separate container before adding the paint so that you can use any extra sealer for future projects.
What makes a great sealer for white paint
Now that you know how to paint and seal your furniture for the best possible results, let’s talk about what sealers you should use.
These are the qualities I look for in a great sealer:
- Easy to apply. Some topcoats are definitely more finicky than others. A great sealer should be easy to apply over different types of paint and give a nice, smooth finish.
- Doesn’t yellow over white paint.
- Gives a durable finish that protects the paint and can resist scratches and chips. This is, after all, the whole point of applying a sealer to begin with.
- Protects the paint from water spots and stains.
- And ideally, the best sealer would also be affordable and widely available. Although I’m most interested in finding the sealers that work the best, it’s definitely better if they aren’t crazy expensive.
How I tested the furniture sealers
I chose six sealers to test on white paint. Each of these sealers is water-based and they claim to be non-yellowing. They are all sealers that either I have successfully used on white paint in the past or that have been recommended to me by other furniture painters.
The six sealers I tested are:
- Minwax Polycrylic
- CrystaLac Extreme Protection Polyurethane
- Dixie Belle Gator Hide
- Beyond Paint Multi-purpose Sealer
- Varathane Water-based Polyurethane
- General Finishes High Performance Topcoat
I decided the most fair way to test each sealer was to use them all on a single piece of furniture.
I started with this old wooden headboard I found on the side of the road a few years ago. It seemed like the perfect piece of furniture for this test because that dark wood finish is just the kind of finish that is likely to yellow white paint.
I started by cleaning my headboard well and then primed it with Zinsser oil-based cover stain primer.
After primer, I divided my headboard into two halves and painted white latex paint on one half (Valspar Signature Ultra White) and white chalk paint on the other half(Dixie Belle Cotton). I clearly couldn’t test each sealer over every white paint out there, but I wanted to test them over a couple of the most common types of paint.
Then I used painter’s tape to divide each half into six sections – one for each of the sealers. I labeled each section so I would know what was what and started applying my sealers.
As I applied each sealer, I was very careful to follow all the best practices I talked about earlier, stirring my sealers well and applying thin coats using my blue sponge. I applied three thin coats of each sealer, allowing plenty of time for each coat to dry in between.
I did five different tests on each sealer:
- A test to check for yellowing.
- A fingernail scratch test.
- A screwdriver scratch test.
- A water test.
- A stain test.
Testing for yellowing
Since yellowing is the biggest problem most people have with sealers on white furniture, this was the thing I was most interested to test.
Once the final coat of sealer was dry, I checked each section carefully for yellowing, but everything still looked nice and white. So I moved the painted headboard next to a window where it would receive plenty of sunlight since UV rays are sometimes named as a cause of yellowing.
After three full months, I did another check for yellowing. Surprisingly, there was still no yellowing on any of the sealers. The entire headboard still looked nice and white. All six sealers passed the yellowing test.
The Scratch Tests
Next I wanted to test the durability of the finish, so I did a scratch test. I started by simply scratching each sealer with my fingernail. When none of the finishes showed any effect from that, I moved on to scratching each finish with a screwdriver.
After the screwdriver test, the Beyond Paint Sealer did show a few faint scratch marks in the finish when the light hit it. The other sealers didn’t show any scratches at all.
The Water and Stain Tests
Finally I did a water and stain test. I wanted to see how well the paint finishes would hold up to water being left on them because I know we all hate water rings on our furniture. And I wanted to see if the sealers could protect the white paint from stains. For that test I used cranberry ginger ale because we all know red dye is the worst for staining.
I poured a little of both liquids onto each section and left them there for thirty minutes and then wiped them away.
Once again, I was surprised and pleased that both the water and red liquid wiped away easily from each sealer without leaving behind any water spots or stains.
The best sealers for white furniture
All six sealers I tested did very well and I would recommend any of them as a great choice over white painted furniture.
That being said, when I combine the test results with my own years of experience painting furniture, there are definitely some sealers that stand out above the others.
I’ll share my top picks here and then go into more detail about each sealer.
I have used General Finishes High Performance Top Coat to seal many pieces of painted furniture. I love using this sealer because it is incredibly easy to work with. It applies smoothly and gives a very durable finish. Some sealers I have tried can be very finicky, but I’ve found General Finishes to be very reliable time after time. It can be brushed on or sprayed with a paint sprayer for an extremely smooth finish.
General Finishes High Performance Top Coat comes in several sheens and most of them are great. However, I do want to warn you that the new dead flat finish isn’t my favorite. It is a lot more difficult to apply smoothly and tends to leave a streaky finish, particularly on darker colors.
General Finishes High Performance Top Coat
- Very easy to apply.
- Goes on smoothly and leaves minimal brushstrokes.
- Gives a very durable finish.
- Can be brushed or sprayed.
- Unlike the other sheens, the dead flat sheen is difficult to apply.
Varathane Water-based Ultimate Polyurethane
Price: $25 per quart. Also available in 8 oz. and gallon sizes as well as a spray version.
Where to Buy: Available from Amazon as well as Home Depot, Walmart, and Michaels.
Sheens: Gloss, Semi-Gloss, Satin, Matte
Varathane Water-based Polyurethane goes on smoothly with minimal brushstrokes and gives a durable finish. I have found that this sealer is more likely to leave small bubbles in the finish as you apply it. If you notice them immediately, you can brush them out. Otherwise, you have to wait for the sealer to completely dry and gently sand them.
Varathane Polyurethane is one of the cheapest sealers available and is easy to find at local stores including Home Depot. And it also comes in a spray can version if you want to achieve a perfectly smooth finish but don’t have your own paint sprayer.
Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane
- Goes on smoothly with minimal brushstrokes.
- One of the cheaper options.
- Readily available at local stores including Home Depot.
- Available in spray cans for easy sprayed finishes.
- Prone to bubbles in finish.
Price: $22-25 per quart. Also available in 8 oz. and gallon sizes.
Where to Buy: Available from Amazon as well as Lowes, Ace Hardware, and Walmart.
Sheens: Gloss, Semi-gloss, Satin, Matte, Ultra-Flat
Minwax Polycrylic was my sealer of choice when I first started painting furniture. It is readily available at most local stores where paint is sold and it’s one of the most inexpensive sealers available. And it’s also available in a spray can version if you prefer to spray on your finish.
This sealer did very well in these tests, but I have found in the past that it can be difficult to work with at times. I have also found that applying it just a bit too thickly can definitely lead to yellowing. This is a sealer that you absolutely must apply exactly right to get good results. But if you are looking for a good budget sealer or you need something you can pick up immediately from a local store, this is a good option.
- One of the cheapest options.
- Easy to find in local stores including Lowes.
- Available in a spray can for easy sprayed finishes.
- One of the less reliable sealers. Sometimes it is super easy to apply smoothly and other times it leaves bubbles and streaks.
- I have had issues with yellowing in the past if it is applied just a bit too thickly.
CrystaLac Extreme Protection Polyurethane
Price: $35 per quart. Also available in 8 oz, 16 oz, and gallon sizes.
Where to Buy: Available from Amazon.
Sheens: Gloss, Semi-Gloss, Satin, Matte
This was my first time working with CrystaLac polyurethane. This top coat has a lot of devoted fans in the furniture painting community so I was excited to give it a try. Unlike most of the other sealers I used, CrystaLac is clear in the can and stays clear. It has a reputation for being resistant to yellowing.
I found the CrysaLac sealer very easy to apply. It went on smoothy and the finish was very durable and stood up to all my tests. Overall, I was impressed with how this finish performed and look forward to using it on future furniture projects.
CrystaLac Extreme Protection Polyurethane
- Goes on smoothly.
- Can be brushed or sprayed.
- Low VOC.
- Has a reputation for being very resistant to yellowing.
- Must be ordered online.
Dixie Belle Gator Hide is a bit thicker straight out of the jar than some of the others. When I was applying the sealer for this test, the first coat did feel like it is dragging against the paint a bit. The second and third coats went on very smoothly though and the final finish was very smooth and even. It’s called ‘gator hide’ because it is supposed to have a super durable finish that’s extra tough and it did perform very well in all of my tests.
The biggest downside I see to Gator Hide is simply the cost. You can buy very small containers which is nice when you just need to do a small project, but the price per ounce is much more expensive than the other sealers I tried. Though it did work well, I don’t think it worked well enough to pay so much more.
Dixie Belle Gator Hide
- Goes on smoothly.
- Gives a durable finish.
- One of the most expensive options.
- Only available online or from select boutiques.
- Only available in one sheen.
Beyond Paint Multi Purpose Sealer
Price: $30-35 per pint (equals $60-$70 per quart)
Where to Buy: Available from Amazon as well as Ace Hardware and Home Depot (online only).
Sheens: High Satin (more shiny than most satin finishes)
Beyond Paint Multi Purpose Sealer goes on very differently from all of the other sealers I have used. It is very runny, almost like water. When you apply it, you only need to apply a very, very thin coat. When loading my sponge, I load a small amount of sealer onto the sponge and then scrape most of it back into the can so it was just barely damp. That tiny amount is all you need.
While it’s great that a little really goes a long way, the thin consistency does make this sealer harder to apply. I found it difficult at times to avoid getting bubbles and drips in the finish. If you do get bubbles or drips, you can easily wipe them away while they are still wet without affecting the finish. This sealer goes on white but dries clear.
The very thin coats give a satin finish that is pretty durable. I have sealed furniture with this sealer and it has lasted well, but this was the only sealer that showed scratches in the screwdriver test. This is also the most expensive of all the sealers I tested, but since a little goes such a long way, you should be able to seal quite a few furniture projects with one jar.
Beyond Paint Multi-Purpose Sealer
- One jar can cover a lot of projects.
- Super runny and more difficult to apply.
- One of the most expensive options.
- Only comes in one sheen – a fairly shiny satin.
- Not quite as durable as some of the other finishes.
So those are my picks for the best sealers for white furniture. If you use one of the recommended sealers and follow the painting tips in this post, I feel confident you can paint beautiful white furniture without having to worry about yellowing.
I’m currently working on a test to see which sealers work best on black furniture and I’ve been surprised to find that getting a good finish on black furniture is even more difficult than white furniture! So far, I’ve had some interesting results in that test and I’m excited to share them soon.
In the meantime, here are a few more furniture painting posts I think you’ll find helpful:
I’d love for you to pin this post on Pinterest!