When I first started painting furniture, the thing that confused me the most was when to use a topcoat or sealer and which one to use.
I very quickly learned that not all sealers are created equal. Some work on stained furniture but cause paint to yellow. Some leave a milky film when applied over dark paint colors. Some need to be reapplied regularly. And some work like a dream.
Since then, I’ve painted dozens of pieces of furniture and I’ve learned a ton about how to protect painted furniture so it continues to look beautiful for years to come.
And I’ve learned that the topcoat or sealer you choose to use on your painted furniture can affect the final outcome as much as your choice of paint, if not more.
I’ve shared tons of painted furniture makeovers here over the years as well as a step-by-step guide to painting furniture that walks you through all of the decisions related to painting your specific piece of furniture. And I figured it is definitely time to share all I’ve learned about choosing the perfect sealer to finish off your painted furniture.
In this post, I am answering the questions I am asked most frequently about sealing painted furniture and also sharing reviews of the most popular sealers available to make it easier to choose the perfect sealer for your next project.
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 does a sealer even do?
A sealer, which may also be called a topcoat, simply protects your beautiful paint finish from stains, scratches, chips, and scuffs.
Topcoats dry to a much harder finish than most paints and therefore are much harder to damage. Sealers also help protect your painted furniture from water and create a surface that can be easily cleaned without damaging the paint underneath.
When I first started painting furniture, I didn’t really understand why you would need to put sealer over the paint. I had painted walls plenty of time and they certainly didn’t need any sealer afterwards.
Of course, painting furniture and painting walls is very different. Drywall is extremely porous and absorbs paint easily; if you scratch your walls with a fingernail, you aren’t likely to be able to scratch the paint off because it adheres so firmly.
Painting furniture is an entirely different matter. Paint doesn’t permeate the hard woods furniture is made of as easily. It also doesn’t bond as firmly to the old finishes we are typically trying to paint over. Which means painted furniture is often vulnerable to being easily scratched and chipped.
On top of that some paints stain and scuff very easily and can be difficult to clean. Sealing your painted furniture protects it from all of these potential issues.
When do you need to seal painted furniture?
It can be confusing knowing when you have to seal painted furniture and when you do not. There are a few basic rules to keep in mind.
Chalk Paint – Any time you paint furniture with chalk paint, you need to protect the finish with a sealer or topcoat. Every single time.
Latex Paint – Most times you paint furniture with latex paint, you need to protect the finish with a sealer or topcoat. If you are painting a piece of furniture that will not be heavily used, you may be able to skip the sealer. If you do, be sure to be extra gentle with your furniture for the first month of use. Even though the paint may feel dry to the touch, it can take up to 30 days for it to fully harden.
High Traffic Surfaces – There are some other paints that do not require a sealer including General Finishes Milk Paint and Fusion Mineral Paint. These paints have some self-sealing properties and do not require a topcoat, but I have learned the hard way that even these paints can become worn and scratched when used on high traffic surfaces like tabletops, shelves, and kitchen cabinets. In those cases, using a topcoat will help ensure your paint job lasts longer.
How to seal painted furniture
There are several different ways you can apply furniture sealer: with a paint sprayer, with a paintbrush, with a wax brush, with a rag, or with an applicator sponge. The specific method you use will depend on which sealer you are using.
Be sure to carefully read the instructions on your specific sealer for recommended application methods. Also, pay close attention to the temperature recommendations on your sealer; working in conditions that are too cool or too warm can make it impossible to get an even finish.
Before applying your sealer, make sure to stir it thoroughly; do not shake topcoats to mix them as this can cause air bubbles to form,
In general, you want to apply furniture sealer using multiple thin, even coats. At least two thin coats of sealer is recommended but I usually apply 3-4 coats of sealer on high-traffic pieces.
If you are using a brush to apply furniture sealer, brush it on in long, even strokes. Try to work from one side of your piece to the other so that as you are overlapping your brushstrokes and your paintbrush never touches areas that have already begun to dry. Also, resist the urge to touch up your finish before it has completely dried.
A paint sprayer is a great way to get a flawless finish on your painted furniture, but I have also had great luck getting a very smooth finish using this $3 applicator sponge.
(This is the paint sprayer I use; it’s easy to use and doesn’t require an air compressor.)
Which furniture sealers are the best?
There are a lot of furniture sealers out there these days. Each new line of furniture paint that debuts also has its own sealer or topcoat.
I certainly have not tried every topcoat from every paint line, but I have tried the most widely available sealers as well as those that have the strongest reputation.
Each sealer has strengths and weaknesses and I have tried to be as objective as possible in my assessment of them.
Price: $13-$20 per quart
Availability: Available on Amazon or at your local home improvement store.
Formula: Water-based, non-yellowing
Finishes: Comes in Matte, Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss finishes. This polycrylic comes in a spray version as well as a brush-on version.
Application: Can be applied with a brush or sprayed. This sealer is not always the easiest to work with. When applied with a brush, it is more difficult to avoid brushstrokes and get a nice smooth finish. I have also found that it tends to leave a milky white finish over dark paint colors and can appear yellow if applied too thickly over white paint. But if you use a quality paintbrush and apply thin, even coats, it can work well.
Verdict: In my opinion this sealer isn’t nearly as easy to work with as the General Finishes sealers. However, it is cheaper and can easily be found at your local home improvement store so it wins as far as convenience. And though it can be more difficult to work with, it does give a very durable finish.
Pieces I have used this sealer on:
Price: $10-$20 per quart
Availability: Available on Amazon or at your local home improvement store.
Finishes: Comes in Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss finishes. This polyurethane comes in a spray version as well though I have never tried it.
Application: Can be applied with a brush, a foam brush, or wiped on with a rag. Polyurethane is generally easy to apply but it isn’t quite as forgiving as General Finishes High Performance Top Coat. If conditions aren’t completely optimal, you may be left with a streaky or bubbly finish.
Verdict: I often use Minwax polyurethane to seal stained wood furniture because it is inexpensive and is conveniently available locally. It is not a good topcoat for painted furniture because it yellows and will affect the appearance of the paint color.
Pieces I have used this sealer on:
Price: $8-$25 per pint (Note, this is the price per pint, while the other sealers have the price per quart listed. Even thought the quantity is different, the square footage covered by this amount of wax is comparable to the coverage from a quart of liquid sealer so this is a fair price comparison.)
Availability: There are many different brands of furniture wax. Personally I have tried Annie Sloan wax, Johnson paste wax, and Americana Decor Creme Wax. Some are definitely better than others, but I am listing them all together here because they all work essentially the same way. Many waxes are available on Amazon and Etsy, but Annie Sloan wax is only available from Annie Sloan Chalk Paint retailers.
Formula: Typically available in clear, white, or dark wax colors. Dark wax is a wonderful way to add a bit of antiquing to the details of a piece.
Finishes: Most wax dries to a more matte finish and can be buffed until the desired sheen is reached.
Application: Wax can be applied with a rag or a wax brush and then buffed with a clean cloth.
Verdict: I personally find it difficult to apply wax well. It is very easy to apply way too much wax and a bit of a pain to remove the excess. Wax is also generally not as water-resistant or as tough as other sealers. It needs to be reapplied regularly in order to continue to effectively protect the paint underneath. I know that some furniture painters love wax, but I am not a fan. It is more difficult to apply than other sealers, yet it isn’t as long-lasting and durable. Of the furniture waxes I have used, Annie Sloan was by far my favorite.
Pieces I have used this sealer on:
General Finishes Flat out Flat
Price: $25-$30 per quart (You may notice a pint costs nearly as much as a quart in many stores. It is definitely worth going for the quart.)
Availability: Available on Amazon or look for a local store here.
Formula: Water-based, non-yellowing
Finishes: This is a completely matte finish which is ideal for pieces that you want to have a more vintage, aged look. Flat out flat is advertised as a more durable alternative to furniture wax.
Application: Goes on easily with a smooth paintbrush, a foam brush or sprayed with a paint sprayer.
Verdict: This is my favorite sealer for distressed furniture or any furniture you want to have a vintage feel. This is also my favorite sealer to use over chalk paint for a completely matte finish. It is extremely easy to apply and gives a beautiful flat finish that protects well.
Pieces I have used this sealer on:
- The painted frame on my Reupholstered Vintage Sofa
- Chippy Farmhouse Blue Dresser
- DIY Apothecary Cabinet
General Finishes High Performance Top Coat
Price: $25-$30 per quart (Again, buying a quart is much more cost effective than buying a pint.)
Availability: Available on Amazon or look for a local store here.
Formula: Water-based, non-yellowing
Finishes: Comes in Flat, Satin, Semi-Gloss, and Gloss (It’s important to know that the matte finish is not truly flat and still has a slight sheen.)
Application: Goes on easily with a smooth paintbrush, a foam brush or sprayed with a paint sprayer. Can also be used over stained wood or other oil-based products. Just make sure the stain is completely dried first – you need to wait at least 24 hours.
Verdict: This is my number one pick for a great all-around sealer. It is easy to apply, holds up well, and works well over all kinds of paint and stain. I have never had a problem when using this sealer.
Pieces I have used this sealer on:
- Neutral dresser
- Black kitchen chairs (painted with paint sprayer)
- Gray and White Ombre Dresser
- Color-dipped IKEA stepstool
Dixie Belle Gator Hide
Price: $25-$32 per quart
Availability: Available on Amazon and Etsy or look for a local retailer here.
Formula: Water-based, non-yellowing
Finish: Gator Hide has a very low sheen, close to a matte finish.
Application: Can be applied with a brush but you will get the smoothest finish using Dixie Belle’s popular blue sponge applicator. Gator Hide is formulated to provide a very durable finish for tabletops, counters, outdoor furniture, and other pieces that get a lot of wear and tear.
Verdict: I haven’t personally had a chance to try Gator Hide yet, but I had to include it because it comes so highly recommended by other bloggers and furniture painters. If you have used it, I would love to know what you think.
Those are my picks for the best and worst furniture sealers. What would you add to the list? Do you have a favorite that I need to add to my list of products to try?
Here are a few more furniture painting posts I think you’ll find helpful:
Yvonne V. says
Thank you do much for this valuable info on sealers and top coats. I have done several projects in the past year and have used only one one sealer…Minwax Helmsman water based poluurethane. I have used it over Waverly white chalk paint and Benjamin Moore white latex paint. After reading your post, I am worried that it will yellow over time. Wht is your opinion on my choice of dealer? I greatly value your input
Hi Yvonne, As long as it is water-based you should be safe from it yellowing. Usually a sealer will either cause the paint to look yellowed immediately or it will yellow over time because it is an oil-based product. You should be in the clear!
I’m so at a loss and thankful for you expertise! I recently painted my cabinets a beautiful latex pencil sketch grey, but the “crystal coat” lacquer I tested turned the color yellow. (Ugghhhh!) Any suggestions on which sealer to use?
Liz, I am so sorry that happened! What a pain. My top pick is General Finishes High Performance top coat. It goes on well and I’ve never had it yellow any colors. Satin or semigloss could work, depending on how shiny you want your cabinets. Good luck!
Jeanne H Monte says
I went to amazon to get that water based top coat and it says at the beginning that if you use it over a white it will yellow it…?
General Finishes does warn about their topcoat possibly yellowing white furniture. Their statement basically says that professionals have used it for years without problem but when DIYers started using it, they encountered a lot of issues. This leads me to think that many of the issues were probably caused by a lack of knowledge of correct painting techniques – like always using a primer that will block tannins first and applying topcoat in very thin layers. Also, after talking to some master woodworkers, I learned a tip to mix a bit of white paint into your topcoat before putting it over white paint. This helps prevent any yellowing that may have happened even with proper prep. I have used General Finishes Topcoats over white furniture many times without yellowing but I definitely understand being nervous about the warning. Dixie Belle Gator Hide would be another good choice for using over white. I have a post all about painting furniture white that talks more about how to prevent yellowing too if you are interested – https://www.lovelyetc.com/painting-furniture-white-tips-and-tricks/
K Harris says
Thank you for the great article! I recently painted a bedroom set with ‘homemade’ chalk paint. (paint, calcium carbonate and water) I sprayed the paint on all 5 pieces. They were BEAUTIFUL! Then I bought a quart of Minwax Polycrylic and sprayed 3 coats on each piece. Still BEAUTIFUL! After sitting in my garage for a week I finally got my boys to come help me move it into the bedroom. DISASTER! Just brush up against it and it rubs off. Lean the headboard against the wall- paint gone! Set the boxspring on the dresser- paint gone!
What did I do wrong? I’ve painted a few pieces with this chalk paint formula and had great success. The only difference is that I waxed it. I was just doing so many that I didn’t want to take the whole summer to do it! Any suggestions?
Oh no! I hate that happened to your beautiful work! I haven’t had this exact situation before but I have had other really disappointing results from painted furniture. My guess is that since the paint is rubbing off, the problem is where the paint initially adhered to the furniture. It is totally fine to use polycrylic with chalk paint instead of wax. In fact, as I said in the post, I prefer it because it is more durable. Even though you can use chalk paint without primer, there are certain finishes it doesn’t stick to as well. Maybe the furniture had a slicker finish or had grease on it or something of the sort. Honestly, I think your best bet is to remove any paint that is loose, not adhering, rubbing off, and them using primer and repainting. If it is only rubbing off in a few areas, you could try lightly sanding those areas with high grit sandpaper (220 or higher) and then just prime, paint, and seal those areas. That isn’t the ‘correct’ way to do it but might save you a lot of work. Good luck!
Hi, thanks for sharing your knowledge about the various topcoats on the market that today’s DIY’ers can use and get a pretty good finish. There are so many brands of topcoats it can be confusing to those that do not paint often, but would like to refinish a few pieces they may have around the house. I have a paint store that stock most of the brands you mention and I get asked, “which Is your favorite topcoat” My answer is I don’t really have one because they all work pretty much the same. My advice to them, just follow the Manufacturer’s instructions. Most of the time their projects turns out fabulous.
Christina Biggs says
I am very new to the furniture painting game. I decided to start refinishing my end tables. Got them prepped, painted, and the guy at Lowe’s told me to buy the miniwax finishing wax. I’m debating if that’s the right choice. I have two boys, 4 and 2. I predict spilled beverages and hotwheels jammed into the finish in the near future. What’s the most durable, easiest to apply, finish I should use? I painted the tables black.
Personally, I am not a fan of wax. It doesn’t give as durable a finish as other sealers. I have three little boys myself and definitely wouldn’t trust wax to protect my furniture. My favorite is definitely the general finishes high performance top coat. It isn’t available at Lowes but you can buy it online or at woodworking stores like WoodCraft.
Thank you for your article. I have used General Finishes for years and love it. I’m wondering on the General Finished High Performance Top Coat if it is water repellent/moisture proof as well as Gator HIde. Been reading up on that one, too, and getting ready to put on another layer of the General Finishes. There is a bit of MDF (strong solid mdf) on the table I’m redoing but I definitely want it to be unable to absorb water so want to make sure the last layer is with the best stuff… Thanks for any advice :)
Yes, both the General Finishes High Performance Top Coat and Gator Hide are water resistant. I would trust either over mdf. Good luck with your table!
Thank you so much for this great information.
My favorite top coats are:
General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Flat finish and
Varathane Crystal Clear Water-Based Polyurethane in Matte finish.
Both give durable finishes.
Varathane is a very good product and I find it easier to work with, but it just can’t match the finish I get with GF.
Thanks for your recommendations! I have used Varathane Crystal Clear Water-Based Poly on painted floors and it worked beautifully. I haven’t tried it on furniture yet, but I think I need to give it a try!
Maranatha Yoder says
I am very new at redoing furniture.Anyways i decided that i wanted to paint my bedroom furniture white.The guy at lowes said the best sealer would be the Minwax polyurethane clear satin.Anyways i put it on today and right away i could tell that it was making it very yellow and i was very disappointed.So i came online to get tips an i found your website. I was just wondering what would be the best sealer for white furniture that doesnt make it yellow.
Painting furniture white can be very tricky. Most of the time if white furniture is turning yellow, it isn’t actually because of the sealer. Most wood furniture has tannins in it. When you seal a piece of white furniture and it begins to yellow, it is usually because the tannins are bleeding through the paint. The water in the sealer will actually activate the tannins and pull them through. So this can happen even if the paint looked perfect before sealing. Certain woods are especially prone to this – cherry, mahogany, pine. Unfortunately, those are also the woods that furniture is typically made with. It is really important to seal furniture well before painting, especially when painting white to prevent this. I prefer to use Zinnser oil based primer, but you can also use Bin Shellac before painting. When this has happened to me in the past, to fix the problem I have used the oil primer right over the paint I already did. And then paint another coat of paint and then seal. It is possible that the sealer could be yellowing as well if it was put on thickly, but most likely it’s a tannins issue. Good luck!
Denise Price says
I have been using a lot of the Miss Mustard Seed farmhouse white milk paint with good results. I have used her waxes and tough coat sealers and the hemp oil. Love the chippy results.
I have done all these white pieces in the past 2 months. I just have painted another piece this week and after reading everything I’m panicked that my efforts may go yellow.
Should I use the general finish flat out flat top coat over my Miss Mustard Seed milk paint for better results?
Should I use it over the wax I have currently applied?
Hi Denise, I think that hopefully you don’t have anything to worry about. Most of the time, white furniture yellows right away when you apply the topcoat if it is going to at all. The top coat pulls the wood tanins through the paint, causing the yellow color. It is possible to have yellowing later on, but mainly only if you use an oil-based topcoat. I wouldn’t worry about redoing pieces you have already finished unless there is an actual problem. If you do decide to redo your pieces with a General finishes or a similar topcoat, you will need to remove the wax with mineral spirits first. But again, I wouldn’t go to all of that trouble unless there is an actual problem. Also, I have to note that I love General Finishes top coats but if you are happy with the results you are getting with Miss Mustard Seed’s products, by all means continue using them! Good luck with your future projects!
Barbara Verser says
If you look on General Finishes website, they say DO NOT use the water based sealers over white chalk paint because it WILL YELLOW. Rustoleum customer service says the same and Minwax reviews say matte is NOT matte. I am still searching for a finish that works and doesn’t make a mess of all my hard work!
Hi Barbara, you are right General Finishes does say that. Personally, I have used it over quite a few different brands of white furniture paint with no problem but the warning does make it seem likely it won’t work on all paints. One tip I have been given by several professionals is to mix a bit of your white paint with your water based top coat to help prevent yellowing. I have tried this with good results – After painting, I did one coat of 50-50 paint and sealer followed by one coat with just a small amount of white paint added. Another suggestion is to look at some of the non-wax topcoats made by chalk paint brands like Dixie Belle or even Miss Mustard Seed. They are supposed to be non-yellowing and should certainly work on chalk paint. Good luck!
Karen Baldry says
Thankyou so much for explaining the difference between sealer/ topcoats, it has really helped a lot. I’m in the process of up cycling my first project (a chest of pine drawers). I already have Annie Sloan wax, but have been very confused and unsure about it being the best option for sealing them. I’ve read other articles on line that say pretty much what you have said about wax. You have laid it out so beautifully so my head feels clearer now. General Finishes does seem to keep coming up so I am definitely going to give it a try. I’m really excited because Dixie Bell has just come to England, literally, this week, and I’ve just placed an order for gator hide and top coat. I must admit it is rather expensive, but, if it is as good as lots of upcyclers say it is I can’t wait to try it. There’s no point putting your heart and soul into a piece then using rubbish cheap products. Thanks again for your great advice.
Thanks Karen, You are so right that a lot of paints and sealers made just for furniture cost significantly more than the products at big box stores. I used to avoid buying the specialty products because I wanted to save money but I quickly learned that I was just making things much harder for myself and messing up all of my hard work. I am glad my post was helpful and I wish you luck with your project and future projects!
I painted my dining room chairs (all 8 of them) with a Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane trim Enamel as suggested by the guy at the store. The guy also said I wouldn’t need a clear coat but they feel very rough to the touch. I did have to thin the paint so I could use my sprayer so I’m thinking maybe that’s why? Because of the roughness I thought I’d put on the Minwax Polycrilic with a brush for a top coat. Problem is, it crackled the paint! Thankfully I only tested the clear coat on two chairs. But now I’m at a standstill be I don’t know what to do on the others or how to fix the 2 chairs!
Oh no, that’s terrible! I have had furniture ruined right when I thought I was almost finished and it was so disheartening. I am not sure why the paint crackled – that is very strange! As far as the two chairs you have already sealed, I think the best option is to lightly sand them to smooth the rough texture and then prime and repaint them. I know that is not what you want to hear, but it sounds like the paint itself is messed up so I think you will basically need to start over. As for the other chairs, have you tried lightly sanding the paint to smooth the roughness? I know that Sherwin Williams Emerald Enamel is often used for trim and cabinets and isn’t supposed to need a topcoat. So the chairs will probably be fine without a topcoat if you are able to smooth them. Good luck!
Have you ever used Waverley Matte Varnish? I want to put it into of a washed latex paint sideboard. Thank you
I haven’t tried that one yet. Sorry!
Hi there, I enjoyed reading your article on topcoats. Thank you for your time in putting it together. It’s very informative. I’m researching what to use for my stained wood countertops I’m currently working on. I have two pieces of furniture grade plywood that I’m going to stain and then seal. One section will have a utility sink and the other section is for folding laundry on. I’d rather use one very durable top coat over both sections since one will be exposed to water. I have Dixie belle gator hide and would prefer to use that since I wouldn’t have to purchase anything else. But, I want something that will truly be durable. Any thoughts? Have you tried the Dixie belle since writing this article? Thanks so much.
Hi Carrie, I haven’t tried Dixie Belle Gator Hide yet but tons of people swear by it. Another option you might consider is Waterlox. It is meant to be used in areas that might receive moisture like kitchen counters. Many people use it to seal their butcher block counters. Good luck!
Hi! Did you use the satin or flat finish top coat on the kids’ chairs that you painted black?
Hi! I used the flat finish.
What a wonderful article!
Thank you for sharing your knowledge on all the different topcoats you gave worked with. I have refinished several pieces over the years, but only little projects around my house. I’m now starting to look for pieces to work on as a hobby and possibly sell.
I do not like using wax, since it takes longer to cure and need to be reapplied a few years down the road, so that’s never an option for me.
About 4 years ago, I did two dark antique wood dressers that I painted with homemade white chalk style paint (the same formula in a comment above) that yellowed. It was before I knew about bleed through and should have sprayed them with shellac first. I used the brush on Minwax Polycrylic Satin topcoat. I feel pretty comfortable with a brush in my hand, so I didn’t feel it was too difficult to apply, but now that I’ve been doing more research on other products, perhaps it is. As far as brush strokes, I’m not certain if I can tell the difference between the topcoat strokes since the chalk style I used has a lot of textured strokes. After it dried, I buffed it to a silky smooth finish with 0000 steel wool. They are holding up great against water rings, makeup stains and anything else so far.
I have also come across information on Gator Hide recently and I’m going to try it out on the top section of the piece I’m currently working on.
I would really like to know if you or any of your readers have tried sealing with Hemp Oil? I would like to use it on the sides of this cabinet, but I’m wondering how it will hold up.
I haven’t tried hemp oil but maybe someone else will jump in with an answer. And I get what you are saying about brush strokes when you are using a highly textured paint like chalk paint. When the piece has a great hand-painted look, brushstrokes really aren’t a big deal – they are just evidence it really was painted by hand! But sometimes I want a really smooth finish and then I try to avoid them.
Cathy Hensley says
Hi Carrie, I recently calk painted and distressed kitchen table and chairs, looks great then tried to seal with miniwax ploycrylic and it has brush streaks all over it, I am wondering if I second coat it with foam roller would that help? I wish I had seen this website first, you are fabulous.
Hi Cathy! If I were you, I would very lightly sand the finish where the brushstrokes are most obvious with a high grit sandpaper (300 or 400). Just use a light touch so you don’t sand off the paint as well. This will help you start off with a smooth surface. You can apply polycrylic with a foam roller, but you have to be careful. Roll it on very lightly or it will leave little air bubbles. If you do see air bubbles, lightly smooth them with a brush immediately after using the roller. Another option is to buy a brush specifically made for applying finishes like this – I have used a Purdy Nylox brush with good results. It gives an extra smooth finish. Also, on the chairs you might want to consider just using the spray polycrylic. Each spray can doesn’t go super far but it might be worth it just for the chairs since painting chairs is such a pain. Good luck!
Maria Campos says
Have painted many pieces with Annie Sloan chalk paint and love the results. However, I would like to use a more durable sealer such as the ones you recommended. I follow the chalk paint application with the clear wax to seal it but often times I like to apply the dark wax over the project to add dimension and a little antiquing in the crevices. Can I use the sealers you are recommending over the application of the dark wax ?
Great question! You can’t use these types of sealers over dark wax. You can, however, use a clear sealer and then dark wax over it. Another option would be to use a dark glaze over the sealer. You might need to experiment a little to see which you prefer. Good luck!
Hi! This was a very informative post. Thank you!
I am wondering if you can offer me any advice with a piece I am working on. It’s an old wooden toolbox, with dilapidated chipping paint, and rusted metal handles and hinges… but it all works well, and it’s a solid piece! I want to freeze it in it’s current state of decay. I think it has aged so beautifully!
My plan is to attach some legs to it, to raise it up to a suitable coffee table/end table height. But this is where I’m hoping you can help me: I have been trying to figure out the best way to seal and protect the piece. It’s old, and the paint is chipping, which makes me feel like there could be lead present – so I also want to protect anyone who comes near it! But it might be old milk paint, as the chipping seems different from the way lead chips, but I’m not sure. The outside is painted mostly white and yellow, but the bottom is a dark reddish brown. It’s chipping off, scuffed up and dirty in a way that makes it really unique, and I’d like to maintain and highlight this aspect! The inside seems to be mostly raw, unfinished wood, though some of the reddish brown paint is present, too. I’d like to have this as a functional piece, and be able to store things inside of it – maybe throw blankets, or something. I’d also like it to be water tight, at least on the top.
All of that being said, and after reading your article, I’m thinking about the General Finishes Flat Out Flat. Is that what you would you recommend?
This sounds like an incredible project! I would definitely use General Finishes Flat out Flat if it were me. The finish is completely matte so it won’t take away from the authentic look and I have found it to be quite durable. Good luck with your project!
Will the Flat Out Flat also be water-tight?
Thanks to your guidance, I think it will turn out nicely! :)
I don’t know if it is completely water-proof, but it should be water-resistant. I would just try to wipe up any spills pretty quickly like with other furniture sealers. Good luck!
I have wooden counter stools that I have painted with acrylic craft style paint on the seats. I am wondering what I can seal them with to protect them and make them durable. I sanded them well before painting. Painted them with a “chalk type” paint, per the can label before applying my decorative paint.
Thanks so much
Hi Robin, You can seal them with any non-yellowing water-based sealer. Acrylic craft paints actually work really well for painting almost anything – they just aren’t usually practical for painting furniture because of the small size. General Finishes top coat would work well but minwax polycrylic will also work. Good luck!
Debby Gaston says
About 5 years ago I stained an antique oak dining table top with white milk paint and applied a topcoat of Minwax furniture wax. BIG MISTAKE! I love the look of white stain rather than a fully painted white top and would like to repeat that but first have to sand the top to remove all the rings and water spots left by the non-protective wax. My first question—I will not be using milk paint to re-stain the table top, can I use a diluted latex paint? Recommendations on another type of paint? Question 2–what finish should I use to protect this table? It will be used in a breakfast room and get daily heavy use.
Thanks so much, love the Q & A!
Hi Debby, I love your idea of a white-washed table top! There are some white stains out there but I have not used them so I can’t vouch for them. I have done a very simple whitewash with watered down latex paint though and it worked well. I like to apply the paint with a rag so you can rub it into the wood more easily. As far as sealer, I would use General Finishes High Performance top coat. It is very durable and I have used it over both stained and painted furniture with great results. Good luck!
Hi! I just bought a refinished kitchen table and chairs. The paint is not adhering, and I found out it was painted with interior paint meant for walls.
I would love to fix this as affordably as possible. Should I just do touch up paint for the parts that have already fallen off and then seal it with polycrylic? Or is the table past the point of no return? Is there a way to seal paint that was meant for walls on high traffic furniture?
Hi Carol, Latex wall paint can definitely be used on furniture if the right process is followed. Using a sealer over it is best, but even without a sealer, the paint shouldn’t be coming off so easily. Scratches and dings are normal with no sealer, but bits of paint just falling off sounds like it may be potentially a bigger problem. If the table and chairs were just painted within the past few days, it may just be that the paint hasn’t fully hardened yet. Painted furniture needs to be treated very gently for the first few weeks. Another possibility is that the table and chairs weren’t prepped properly before they were painted – for example, no primer or improper cleaning. If that’s the case, it is going to be hard to fix the situation without totally redoing the chairs. I’m guessing you don’t want to do that since they were just purchased. If it were me, I would first contact the person who sold them to you. If they were just recently purchased, hopefully they will help come up with a solution. If they cannot help, it’s worth trying some touch up paint and a coat of sealer to see if it helps. Good luck!
Kathy Aspden says
Hello! Love this post. Great advice on so many levels. I have a question about using topcoat or wax over floor and porch paint. I accidentally discovered how great floor an porch paint is on furniture. Now all I use is ben moore low sheen f and p paint. I recently refinished a rocker with it, was thinking about how much use it would get And started considering a topcoat. But then I got nervous about putting a topcoat over floor paint. Any thoughts on that? Thank you so much.
Hmm, that’s a good question. I haven’t painted furniture with porch and floor paint yet but I have painted furniture with exterior paint. Both types of paint say they don’t need to be clear coated (and some say you definitely should NOT clear coat them.) I did paint a plywood floor with porch and floor paint several years ago and used a water-based clear coat on top of it and it worked beautifully and lasted really well. This is a tough one because I know the paint manufacturers would say don’t do it but I find their advice isn’t always completely applicable in real life. I think if your other furniture has held up well without a sealer, I would probably skip it in this case. If they are showing wear at all, I would test a bit of clear coat in an inconspicuous spot and if it seems fine, go from there. Good luck!
Debbie Donohue says
I painted an exterior wooden Adirondack Chair with exterior latex paint. I need to seal or top coat it but am unsure which product is best for exterior painted projects?
Great question. Outdoor furniture is a little different from regular furniture. I always use sealer on my indoor furniture, but if you use exterior paint on outdoor furniture, you should be safe to skip the sealer. Exterior paint is made to hold up to moisture and sun and weather without needing a separate sealer. But if you didn’t use exterior paint or if you really want to add some extra protection, I found two products that should work. I haven’t used either of these but they are both rated for exterior use and are water-based and non-yellowing. One is General Finishes Exterior 450: https://amzn.to/34VYkPa. And the other is Varathane Water-based Spar Urethane: https://amzn.to/2yCGLra
Thanks for all the tips. Definitely helps to narrow the decision on what to do with newly painted furniture. Quick question. I recently had my dining table and chairs redone with a walnut stain and white paint two-tone finish. It’s beautiful and we love it. However, the white is extremely bright and really stands out against the white trim and doors in my house. I’m assuming because over time those things have yellowed slightly. Is there a product I can apply to the white paint on the table and chairs to tone down the white before I apply a sealer?
Ok first, I would live with the table as is for a couple of days. I think it’s definitely okay to mix wood tones and white paint colors within a room. Everything doesn’t need to match exactly. I you look at some of the all-white rooms that are super popular on Instagram, most of them involve layers of a bunch of different white tones. But if you really don’t like how bright the table is, I think the best thing to do would be to paint one coat of paint in a more subdued cream color over the white. Since the colors will be so similar, one coat of paint will probably do it. Good luck!
What is your favorite stain to work with. I have a beautify table I garbage picked and I stripped the top because there was allot of damages to the finish. But, I am now paralyzed with fear to stain the top. Not sure for a beginner what to use. Gel or water based stain and what brand ?
I get it – staining can be scary. With paint you can just paint over it if you don’t like it, but redoing stain is a much more labor-intensive process. I really like to use Minwax penetrating stains. They are oil-based and come in a ton of colors and are pretty easy to apply. It’s always a good idea to apply a wood conditioner first to help the wood accept the stain more evenly. Then I prefer to apply stain by wiping it on in the direction of the wood grain with a clean lint-free rag. (Old tshirts work well).
Ann Forbes says
I love Hemp Oil all the time
, I use it on the top of sanded tables, cutting boards, cast Iron and painted furniture, apply and wipe off excess, you will know how many coats you need by seeing how it soaks into the piece. I use and sell a lot of Hemp Oil (and it is pure Hemp seed oil) love love it
I definitely need to give hemp oil a try – thanks for the recommendation!
Karen Logan says
Hi Carrie, I have a project that I will be using all General Finishes products. I think I understand the steps except
I am unclear about one thing. After I paint my dresser with the milk paint, I plan to put their glaze on it, but I first want to put one coat of High Performance on it. Do I scuff sand my last coat of paint with 400 grit sandpaper, then apply the top coat, or after my last coat of paint has dried do I then just put the top coat on? Then the same question after the glaze, do I scuff sand it before I apply the next coat of top coat or go directly from the glaze to the top coat? I’m new at this, and I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
Okay, so first I know that General Finishes recommends lightly sanding your project before applying the top coat and between coats of it, but I never do. In the past, no matter how careful I am, I have had trouble with the finish becoming marred with sanding. And I haven’t had any problems with skipping the sanding. So personally, I don’t do any sanding after painting (unless I am distressing). I’m not saying that is necessarily the best way but I have found it to be the easiest and most full-proof. I have only used their glaze a couple of times, so I don’t have a lot of experience with it, but again, if it were me, I would skip the sanding. Good luck!
Chris McInnis says
Thanks for the roundup. Have you ever used a sealer over latex paint that is “blocking”? (failing to cure and staying tacky)
I have not, but I have read some things that say you can try using a paste wax over latex paint that stays tacky. It may be worth trying in a small area to see if it solves the problem. Alternatively, you can put an oil based primer over the sticky paint and then repaint but that is a lot of work. Good luck!
Carrie I painted wrought iron outdoor chairs with a spray paint with a primer in it. What would be the beat sealer to use?
Sealing outdoor furniture can be a bit more tricky because you need to use something that can withstand the elements and the temperature fluctuations of the outdoors. Sometimes you can get away with not using a separate sealer after using spray paint on metal. But for more protection, I would try Varathane water-based spar urethane. Link: https://amzn.to/3fo7ZBM It comes in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss, is non-yellowing, and is formulated for outdoor use.
Kristina N Nemetz says
Thanks for this article! But please help- I am first time furniture painter. I painted a table and chair set for my son’s college apartment with navy rustoleum milk paint. I put one coat of the rustoleum chalk paint top coat sealer on after reading another article that said they used that on their dining room table. I only got one coat on and left if to dry in the driveway. A few hours later it looked like rain and there were a couple, literally only 5-6 drops on two of the chairs but it left a mark now. Not enough coats of sealer, too freshly sealed- I am not sure? But what am I sure of is that I am scared silly to continue if that will not seal it properly and wondered if I can change to a polyurethane sealer now over the one coat of other sealer? Or will just a few more layers of the chalk paint sealer work? I reached out to rustoleum and they were not any help unfortunately…
Oh no, that stinks! Applying the top coat really is the hardest part of painting furniture a lot of times and I definitely had several top coat disasters of my own when I started painting furniture. I have never used the rustoleum chalked topcoat and when I looked it up online, I didn’t see much information about what type of sealer it actually is. It’s possible that the water spots appeared because the piece wasn’t fully sealed yet. Chalk paint alone will definitely show water spots which is why a good sealer is needed. If I were you, I would apply a second coat of sealer to the piece. Once it is fully dry, test it to see it if it is water-resistant. If it seems okay, do at least 1 or 2 more coats for full protection. If it seems like the top coat just isn’t going to work, you can apply a different top coat. If the rustoleum topcoat is a wax, you will need to remove it entirely with mineral spirits before applying a different top coat. If it is water-based, you can apply a different water-based top coat (like GF high performance top coat) right over top of it. Good luck!
I’m in the middle of painting a bedroom set for my daughter it’s a vintage Thomasville set was originally off white the owners recently painted it white. I bought it and sanded it the applied Valspar Interior/Exterior Furniture paint (color called caviar) I love the first piece I’ve finished which is the nightstand but I want a glass/high gloss finish. Looking at your recommendations I wasnt sure if I should use a polycrylic or topcoat. Any advice is appreciated I dont want to do all this hard work only to have peeling or cracking lol. Thanks!
Hi Courtney, I just looked up the caviar color and it looks beautiful! For a high gloss finish, you can use Minwax polycrylic in gloss or General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in gloss. Either will work, but I find General Finishes easier to use and less likely to cause problems. I have had issues in the past with minwax polycrylic looking a bit milkly against dark paint colors, but then other times it has worked just fine. Just make sure whichever top coat you use, you use something water-based and apply a few thin coats to help reduce potential problems. Good luck!
Omg your a life saver Carrie lol I was waiting on thos response before I bought anything because it’s been a lot of work refinishong this furniture, hearing all the horror stories I wanted to ask a pro. Thanks so much headed to the store now!
Glad I could help! I hope it turns out great!
Dina O'Hare says
I have a 33 year old Henredon bedroom set that is painted in their “Goatskin” finish. It’s held up beautifully but I’d like to update it by painting it white. It has a satin/semi-gloss finish with a raised design that would be difficult to sand. The website below shows an example of a similar piece.
Here are my questions-
Do I need to sand it before painting? If so, how to sand the raised design?
If not, what type of paint would you recommend? Can I spray paint it?
Should I seal it?
Thanks so much,
Great questions! You definitely don’t need to sand it before painting, but I would recommend starting with a good bonding primer, especially if the current finish is a bit slick/shiny. I like to use Zinsser oil based primer for this but any gripping primer will also work. I wouldn’t recommend using spray paint to paint wood furniture. Some people do but in general it’s almost impossible to get an even finish and also each can of spray paint doesn’t go far so it gets really expensive. You can use regular latex paint, but there are also a lot of great furniture apints out there that will generally give a better finish. Some of my favorites are General Finishes Milk paint and fusion mineral paint. Both are easy to work with. Both of these paints don’t have to be sealed, but it will give a more durable finish. If you decide to use latex paint, it will definitely need to be sealed. I know that’s a lot of info! You might also find this post helpful, it’s a step-by-step guide to painting furniture: https://www.lovelyetc.com/how-to-paint-furniture/
Hi! Thank you so much for this post, it was very informative! I recently painted an old set of bedroom furniture a beautiful navy for my guest room and love the way it came out! I have been doing research on sealers and think the General Finish High Performance would be best. I am trying to decide between satin and flat. Is there a big difference? Do you have any suggestions?
I am so glad the post is helpful! I have used both flat and satin and really the only difference is the amount of shine. The flat finish is not truly flat, it still has a very light sheen and the satin has a bit more of a sheen. I like the flat for a more vintage look and satin for a more modern look.
Nia (Eureka Girl) says
Hi Carrie! I have always loved your guide, and this might be my favourite one yet! I featured this post in my post on the ‘Best Clear Coat for Wood & Painted Furniture’, with you as one of the DIY experts featured! I really value your inputs and opinions when it comes to the furniture flipping game.
Have you tried Wise Owl Paint Varnish though? In my survey, this brand came up soooo many times! I can’t get my hands on it from where i live, but hopefully you can do a review on it one day! I would love to hear your thoughts on it in comparison with these other clear coats.
Thanks for including me! I love the graphs and charts on your post. I haven’t tried Wise Owl yet but I’ll have to put on my list to try on a future project!
Hi Carrie! I read your post where it says you painted your table and chairs in black than top coat it with HPTC. Did you ever have problems with the top coat streaking? I’m reading more and more post ( on the GF site) where people are having problems with the top coat streaking, especially on black painted surfaces. I black chalked painted my armoire and I’m almost afraid to top coat it, thinking it might ruin the whole thing. I really like the flat look of chalk paint so I purchased HPTC in Flat, but I’m a little weary in using it. Any tips?
Thanks so much!
I did not have any problems with streaking – I used General Finishes milk paint in lamp black and General Finishes High Performance top coat in satin and it worked beautifully. I have had streaking issues in the past with Minwax polycrylic over dark colors, but not General Finishes. Since you’ve already bought the GF, maybe you could try it on a small inconspicuous area and see how it looks?
Lauren B says
Hi, I recently painted a wooden dresser in acrylic enamel paint. Can I still use the General Finishes High performance satin? Thanks!
It’s probably find to use the General Finishes since it is water-based. But I would double check the instructions of the specific paint you used first to see what it recommends as far as topcoats.
Love this article and so happy I found this blog! What do you think is best sealer for high moisture areas like bathrooms? I have a furniture piece in my bathroom that I painted with Annie Sloan. It needs to resist water pretty well. Thank you.
Hi Christina, I recently pained my bathroom cabinets and used General Finishes High Performance top coat to seal them. I’ve been really happy with the results so far. It has only been about a month, but it hasn’t had a single scratch or chip and has handled moisture well.
Hi, I just painted a table with General Finishes coastal blue milk paint. I loved the finish! Then I used a satin topcoat and I HATE it. I loved the smooth flat finish I had with the milk paint, but thought I should protect it from my children. If I put general finishes flat out flat over the satin will it work to remove the unexpected shine I got with the satin? Or, do I need to sand and try again? Thanks so much!
I totally understand what you are talking about. The level of shine on a piece of furniture affects how it looks so much! You should be find to put flat out flat right over the satin finish to bring it back to matte. I have done this on a few different projects when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted and it worked well. Good luck!
Excellent post! I just painted my first pieces today and am planning to seal it tomorrow. I painted 2 nightstands bright blue (and left the top brown veneer for durability and a current look). I was thinking of using the Minwax wipe on polycrilic. Any thoughts on if it will be milky? How do I know when a sealer will be milky?
It has been a few days since you commented so I know you may have already finished your project. Minwax polycrylic will probably work fine. The thing I don’t love about it is that it can be hard to know when it will be milky or have other problems. It’s just a bit finicky to work with. If you do use it, just be sure to stir it very well beforehand and use it indoors to keep it to the recommended temperature. Good luck!
Paulette Herbert says
I was gifted a large outside piece for my garden from Mexico. I don’t know what kind of paint or wood was used but want to protect it from the elements and UV rays. What are your thoughts on the best mat, non yellowing sealer? Thank you!
That is a tough one. I haven’t used it personally yet, but it looks like Varathane Water-based Spar Urethane would work well for this. It works well for exterior projects and is non-yellowing.
So glad to have found this site. Thanks for your expertise. About 30 days ago I painted my dining room table in Valspar cabinet & furniture oil enriched enamel in burnt tile. The piece came out great. There was no mention of putting on a protective coat in the instructions. It is a matte finish but I’m not opposed to a bit more shine. I also bought Varathane oil based spray polyurethane but am afraid to apply for fear of ruining the piece. Any recommendations. TY
Hi Jackie, I haven’t used Valspar oil enriched enamel but I did a little research and it seems like a common complaint is that it is scratched very easily. If your table is holding up really well after several weeks, you may be able to get by without a topcoat. But if it is already showing scratches at all, I would add two coats of sealer. It was hard to find a lot of info on what exactly is in the paint, but since it is oil-enriched, I think you are on the right track with an oil-based polyurethane. The biggest worry with an oil-based poly is that it will yellow white and light colors over time but that shouldn’t be a problem since it sounds like you used a darker color. Good luck!
Thank you so much! I’ve been trying to find the quickest, most durable way to paint and seal my antique treadle sewing machine cabinet so I can start using her. Everyone else posts about chalk paint and wax and repurposing them as a show pieces. But since I plan on actually using my machine, I want to use chalk paint because it’s less work, but wax sounds like an awful option to be constantly rubbing fabric across and then the upkeep on top of that. Thanks to your post, now I have the confidence to move forward with restoring my machine and her cabinet
I’m so happy to hear that. And I love that you are redoing your antique sewing machine cabinet to actually use!
Jeanine C Whitaker says
Thanks for all of the great info. Question, I have just Annie Sloan Chalk painted my dining room set. The table is finished but wanted to know if you think I can poly acrylic over the wax? Not crazy about rewaxing every 6 months.
Unfortunately, you actually can’t use polycrylic or any other sealers over wax. The wax will cause the water-based sealer not to stick so you would have to remove the wax to seal with a different topcoat. There’s some good info on that in this article from general finishes – https://generalfinishes.com/faq/how-do-i-remove-wax-existing-finish. But since you just finished your table, you probably don’t want to do all that. I’d say the best bet now is just to take care of it as well as you can and rewax as needed.
Jeanine C Whitaker says
Thx Carrie! Since I’ve already waxed the table, I’ll stick with it. Haven’t done the china cabinet yet, so I will seal that differently. You were so helpful. Thx again!
I have just finished painting a piece using fusion mineral paint (not impressed) and I cannot get a smooth finish with now brush marks. I brushed to very thin coats then tried using a foam roller, not great, then I sanded and tried the brush again. I still have an uneven looking surface particularly on the top. Is there a sealer option that would help to smooth the appearance? I used picket fence, a true white. I have had a lot of success in the past with distressed pieces but this solid one is not good. Help!
Ugh, I am sorry that happened! Some furniture pieces really makes things extra difficult. First, is the color even? One of the issues with a true white is it can take extra coats of paint to get good coverage since there isn’t a lot of pigment. If the color isn’t even, I would add another coat of paint until the color looks good. Just use long even strokes of the paintbrush to get the smoothest possible finish. If the color is good and the problem is the texture, I would sand it lightly with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper until it feels smooth to the touch. Then you can seal it. Sealing it won’t smooth the texture – you’ll need to get it smooth before sealing. Then apply your sealer in long even strokes as well to keep the smooth finish. Good luck!
Thank you so much for this info! We are re-doing our kitchen cabinets, which are composite melamine. We already primed and painted, and did the handles with a metallic paint – just trying to figure out how to seal the metallic paint has been so difficult! After reading your reviews, we are going with the General Finishes in semi-gloss to retain some of the shine/color, and protect it from all the touching that cabinet handles endure.
So glad to help – good luck with your cabinets! Sounds like a great makeover!
MEREDITH McNAY says
Wow so glad I came across this site, thank you.
I painted my kitchen countertops some years ago with White Knight paint and put 2 coats of a floor varnish on top. It has done extremely well and looks like new in the areas that don’t get used much. But has worn where we work most. It has also yellowed.
I want to repaint it and assume that I can clean, sand and paint. BUT the top coat is causing me the heart ache. I have thought about Gator Hide and doing about 6 coats, do you have any advice?
I also painted my countertops! I used a pourable resin topcoat which has held up really well but has yellowed a tiny bit. I have a post about how I did it here – https://www.lovelyetc.com/painted-countertops/ and one on how it has held up here – https://www.lovelyetc.com/how-my-painted-countertops-look-after-3-years-of-use/ I think the Gator Hide could also work really well but haven’t tried it myself.
I recently bought an ebony stained birch slab for a bench. As I was putting legs on it I realized the black is rubbing off on my hands when I picked it up. I’m guessing it should be sealed? Any recommendations for a stained bench that will have lots of sitting and using?
Yes, it definitely sounds like a sealer would help. It’s strange that it was rubbing off on your hands – maybe it hadn’t had time to fully dry yet. I like to use General Finishes High Performance Top Coat over stained wood – it can go over even oil-based stains as long as the stain has at least 72 hours to dry. Regular minwax polyurethane can also work well – just be sure to follow the instructions as far as temperatures exactly. Good luck!
If the table I’m looking to seal has a decorative piece of metal also on it (but mainly wood) do I put the sealer over the metal too or do i put painters tape over the metal?
You are probably safe to seal right over the metal but you might want to test a small spot to be sure before you do the whole thing.
Kate Barton says
Hi Carrie. I recently repainted my barstools with AS Athenian Black. After waxing them, I decided it might be best to put a top coat on for better protection. Can I apply the GF High Performance topcoat over the wax?
Unfortunately, you can’t apply other topcoats over wax. You would have to remove the wax with mineral spirits first. You could remove the wax and re-topcoat with General Finishes now. Or you could just wait until they start to show a bit of wear and do it then. Good luck!