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The Best Clear Coat for Painted Wood Furniture, 2022 (Easiest Chalk Paint Sealer)

best chalk paint top coat
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The Best Paint Sealers for Wood (Blind-Tested and Reviewed)

After blind-testing 8 top products, I’ve found the best clear coat for furniture (and the best chalk paint sealer) – and it’s not wax!


Don’t allow your project to be ruined by using the wrong sealer!  Instead, protect it by applying the absolute best clear coat for painted wood furniture!

I’ve tested 8 of the most popular topcoats and compared reviews to find the best protective finish for your next furniture project and also the easiest chalk paint sealer and wax alternative!

cans of clear coats for furniture
How To Find The Right Waterproof Sealer for Painted Wood

As someone who has painted dozens of different furniture pieces, I’ve learned that not all topcoats are created equal and that different surfaces need different protective finishes.

In this post, I’ll help you find the right sealer for your DIY project that not only provides a protective finish but also makes your furniture piece look amazing!

LET ME SHOW YOU:

  • What I did to test and review several sealers to find the best clear coat for painted wood
  • The overall best topcoat for various wood finishes including chalk painted furniture
  • My best tips and a step-by-step guide on how to apply a clear coat to painted or stained wood 
  • How to seal chalk paint without the hassle of wax but with the same farmhouse finish
  • The absolute best clear paint sealer for wood and why wax is not the best top coat for chalk paint
 

What is the Best Sealer for Wood Projects?


Have you ever spent hours refinishing a piece of furniture only to have the top ruined by a drinking glass ring or even a scratch? 

And even worse, have you added a protective finish to painted wood that left streaks or haziness on your beautiful finish?

If you have, you know how incredibly frustrating that can be.  I get it!  Depending on the finish, sometimes the only solution is to completely refinish the whole surface.  But fortunately, if you apply a clear coat, your flawless finish will be preserved and protected for years to come!

Would you own a home without insuring it?  In the same way, a topcoat (or clear coat) acts as an insurance policy against the potential damage caused by the daily use of everyday life. 

Especially if you have young kids, your tabletop, desk, or other small projects can be easily ruined with an accidental scratch or water damage from a drinking glass left on it for too long – not to mention spills!

I don’t know about you but when it comes to furniture pieces that get a lot of use, I want them to be protected against the potential damage and unexpected spills of everyday life.

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chalk paint top coat

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The Best Sealer for Wood Furniture

☑️ If you are curious or in a hurry, here is my top pick for the best clear coat for painted wood furniture (CLICK HERE FOR THE CURRENT PRICE)

 

What is a clear coat?

A clear coat (often referred to as a poly finish or topcoat) is basically a clear protective layer that you brush on your painted or stained furniture piece after it has dried.  This clear acrylic layer gives the piece a shield against scratches, water rings from drinking glasses, and just dirt in general.

Choosing the Right Clear Coat for Painted Wood

The protective coating makes cleaning furniture pieces easier because dirt can’t penetrate into the paint surface.  Instead, it wipes cleanly and easily from the topcoat! There are so many options when it comes to clear coats. Not only can you pick from any sheen (flat, satin, semi-gloss, and glossy finish) but there are oil-based clear coats and water-based.

Some wood sealants might be harder but can also leave a yellow haze on white pieces. Also, some can have a tendency to leave hazy streaks which can be obvious on dark furniture pieces. That’s why selecting the right clear coat for your painted wood furniture is so important. The best top coat is the one that you can’t tell is there.

What furniture pieces need a clear coat?

Why should I protect my painted furniture with a topcoat?  Any hard furniture that gets a decent amount of regular use needs protection.  I recommend using a clear coat on “high-traffic” furniture pieces like dining tables, coffee tables, desks, end tables, or entry tables as these are all used daily and subject to wear and tear.

Dark paint colors are especially susceptible to showing smudges and dust so I use a clear coat on those to provide protection.  Also, it’s a good idea to use a top coat on any furniture pieces exposed to regular humidity like kitchen or bathroom cabinets.  Whether you are looking for the best top coat for chalk paint or even for latex paint or stain, this is a good general rule of thumb:

BOTTOM LINE: If your painted wooden furniture piece will come into regular contact with water, food, or little fingerprints, you need a topcoat for the ultimate protection! Not all top coats are created equally but after blind-tested 8 products, I’ll share with you the best waterproof sealer for painted wood.

 

Do You Need a Clear Coat For Painted Wood?

This even goes for latex-painted furniture pieces.  Although regular paint is very durable, it still benefits from an extra coating of protection.  The top coat makes the surface harder and therefore more durable. Also, clear coats are much more waterproof than latex as latex paints can bubble up if a little water penetrates the paint or wood surface.

Related: The Best Paint for Furniture (24 Brands Blind-Tested & Reviewed) | The 33 Most Popular Paint Colors for Kitchen Cabinets

To save you time, you can always just clear coat the top portion of your table as the tabletop gets considerably more wear and tear. However, if you use chalky paint, it will need a sealer over the entire surface of the piece.

best clear coat for furniture

DOES Chalk Paint NEed to Be Sealed?

Chalk paint does a decent job at sticking to surfaces. That chalky, matte texture has more gripping ability than a few other paints. (See how chalk paint did in my testing: The Best Paint for Furniture (24 Brands Blind-Tested and Reviewed)

BUT, the same properties that help paint adhere to things make them horrible at protecting the wood’s surface. Chalk paint is not known for its durability and it is not waterproof, so it needs some kind of coating to provide a harder surface and to seal in the paint.

 

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What Happens if You Don’t Wax Chalk Paint?

Unlike latex-painted or stained projects, chalk-painted furniture needs a protective finish unless you know a drinking glass will never be set on it.  If a chalk-painted piece without wax or a top coat comes into contact with water, the paint can actually re-liquefy!

So if a cold drink is placed on unsealed chalk paint, you could be left with a puddle of paint on your now-ruined furniture piece not to mention the potential of wet paint on your rug or clothing.

What Do You Seal Chalk Paint With?

Clear wax is not the only option for sealing chalk-painted pieces of furniture. Furniture wax can be a beast. Not only is there a learning curve but it is time-consuming to apply the wax. Then, it can be hard to get a consistent finish, not to mention the wax and the brush are expensive. Also, it does not make the painted surface harder (because it’s wax) and it has to be reapplied every 6 months. – I wish I was joking but to maintain that wax finish you have to reapply the wax every so often.

Can You Use a Clear Coat on Chalk Paint?

The good news is that there are some great alternatives to wax on chalk-painted furniture. I’ve used the same product I recommend below on dozens of pieces and have had excellent results. And to save you some time, my favorite clear coat for any kind of paint is Varathane Water-based Polyurethane (See reviews here.) It also comes in a satin and matte finish so you get the same sheen as furniture wax.

What About A Top Coat for Chalk Painted Pieces That Are Seldom Used?

All chalk-painted pieces need some kind of sealant. The chalk paint itself isn’t durable enough and you will need that protection to ensure your furniture piece continues to look good.

How to Seal Chalk Paint EASILY

“How do you seal chalk paint without having to use wax?” I get that question a lot. Perhaps you are familiar with using wax as a protective coating on chalk paint but did you know you can more easily apply a top coat and your surface will be better protected from water?

While sealing wax can waterproof a surface, there is a definite learning curve with applying wax properly.  If not enough wax is not properly buffed onto the surface, it can be easily penetrated with water and the surface will be ruined if a cold drink is left on the surface. Also, wax has to be reapplied every 6 months to a year to be effective!  Later, we’ll discuss the best chalk paint top coat as opposed to waxing!

By applying a clear coat to unsealed chalk paint, you can get a more durable, waterproof finish, but without the time, effort, and extra expense of wax!

best clear coat for furniture

Two Types of Clear Coats for Furniture

There are two basic types of topcoats for furniture: water-based and oil-based.  Traditionally, oil-based polyurethanes were the main clear coats used on furniture but now more water-based formulas are on the market.  Here’s a little about the pros and cons of each:

1. Water-Based Clear Coats

It used to be that all clear polyurethanes were oil-based but now you are seeing several polyurethanes that are water-based and just as durable!  Minwax polycrylic sealer is a popular choice as a water-based version of polyurethane and one of the topcoats we tested.  Water-based clear coats are easy to clean up, are low odor and the finish is much less likely to change over time.

Water-based top coats also dry quickly and can be used on a bare, stained, or painted wood surface.

Clean-up is easy with water-based clear coats as you can rinse your paintbrush with warm water.

2. Oil-Based Clear Coats

Oil-based polyurethanes were always the more durable choice but now they have a lot of competition as water-based formulas have improved.  Oil-based products have a strong odor and can take longer to dry.  However, the longer drying time can mean fewer brush strokes.

Oil-based topcoats can have an ambering effect, which means that over time the clear coat can cause the surface of the furniture piece to yellow.  If you have a dark-stained piece of furniture, this won’t be detectable and can even warm up the color of the wood slightly over time.  But if you have a white-painted furniture piece, you can see how yellowing would be problematic!

Also, oil-based clear coats require cleaning your brushes with mineral spirits.

Oil-based polys are very water-resistant but are not recommended for outdoor use as they may crack or yellow when exposed to UV light.

Fortunately, I have found a great water-based exterior sealant and to into detail at the end of the post.

best chalk paint top coat

Benefits of Using a Clear Coat on Furniture

Any furniture piece can benefit from a protective finish but especially those that get a lot of use on a daily basis will be better safeguarded from damage, fingerprints, water stains, and smudges. A good sealant is an insurance policy to keep a furniture piece in good condition.

Often, the oils from your hands can react with the not-so-smooth surface of chalk paint or matte latex.  Over time, those fingerprints and smudges will make your piece look dingy – and not in a rustic farmhouse way.

Those dreaded water rings from drinking glasses can easily ruin a furniture piece but with the right amount of clear coat, you can leave glasses on your coffee table overnight with no damage to the surface!

Applying a good chalk paint clear coat is a great way to make horizontal surfaces so much easier to wipe.  I can’t imagine having a tabletop without a clear coat for easy clean-up after means.

Many faux finishes use glaze and special techniques to highlight different features of the furniture.  Sometimes those glazes are not waterproof so you can easily seal in those details for good with a top coat!

Also, a clear coat will save you time on touching up furniture pieces later.  It will also allow you to scrub furniture without ruining the paint finish.

Our Candidates for the Best Clear Coat for Painted Wood Furniture (in no particular order)

There are other great topcoat options like tung oil and linseed oil. These are natural top coat alternatives to poly topcoats but I wanted to test products that are not only protective against damage but water infiltration. Clear liquid oils made from natural chemicals aren’t as effective as other clear sealers but there are still several winners on the list with low VOCs.

best chalk paint top coat

 

The Best Top Coat for Painted Furniture: How We Chose Our Best Picks

We did a blind test on 8 of the most popular choices of clear coats for furniture.   I found these by going to 4 different Facebook furniture groups I am part of.  Each group consists of hundreds of professional furniture painters.  After finding out their favorite clear coats, I narrowed down their favorites to the top 8.

best chalk paint top coat

Testing to Find the Best Clear Coat for Wood

Using painter’s tape, I made seven different sections on each of two pieces of wood.  One was painted and one was stained.  On each section, I put a total of three layers of topcoat with very light sanding in between.  I used an inexpensive foam brush to apply the protective finish. (You can also use a foam roller.)

best chalk paint top coat

 

The Cold Drink Test

After letting the last coat dry, I let the two wood planks cure for two weeks to reach maximum hardness and water impermeability for each sample.  Then, I put glasses of ice water on each sample for 24 hours to see which samples allowed a ring to appear.

best chalk paint top coat

Criteria for the Best Top Coat For Furniture Projects:

  1.  Easy of Application
  2.  Surface Smoothness
  3. Expense
  4. Durability
  5. Water Permeability
  6. Sheen
  7. Clarity
  8. No or Low VOC’s

The All-Around Best Clear Coat For Painted Wood Furniture: Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane, Satin

After testing seven different products, Varathane’s Water-Based Polyurethane was the clear winner!   This clear coat is great for interior products including furniture, cabinets, trim, or any other pieces of wood. 

Varathane states it has the best scratch and stain resistance available and based on our findings, I believe them!  It has a low odor, with easy soap and water clean-up.  It also dries quickly once applied. You can click here to see more reviews and the current price: Where to Buy Varathane Water-based Polyurethane

2 YEAR UPDATE:

After a couple of years of using Varathane’s Waterbased Polyurethane on several furniture projects including my dining room table, coffee table, and breakfast table, I’ve been really impressed with the long-term results.

On each project, I put at least 4 coats of clear sealer and I’ve been so happy with how well they have held up to condensation from drinks and everyday use. The best part is how smooth this product goes on any surface. I’ve never had any trouble with haziness or streaks – the surface is always completely transparent no matter how many additional coats.

IMPORTANT NOTE: With certain colors, this clear coat will have a blue or purple tint when you first put it on. It actually made my coffee table top an eggplant color. But No Worries! This is temporary and it will dry to a clear finish in a few minutes.

What Reviewers Have to Say:

Many reviewers have used it in a paint sprayer with no problem and have even used it without sanding between coats.  Just be sure to not shake the can (only stir) to reduce air bubbles.  One reviewer found that when they brushed it on there were several bubbles in the finish but those bubbles popped during the drying time to leave a smooth coat with no brush marks!  Click here for more reviews.

Why I Love It:

Varathane’s Water-based Polyurethane is a fabulous product that was easy to apply.  Some bubbles were left in the finish but they quickly popped upon drying leaving a super smooth finish with no brush marks. 

After three coats, the finish was still very clear and not hazy at all, even on the stained sample.  The satin varnish is very nice and not too glossy!  Also, this formula was the best performing water-based clear coat when it came to water rings as no ring was left after 24 hours.

best chalk paint top coat

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE CURRENT PRICE FOR THE BEST CLEAR COAT FOR PAINTED WOOD FURNITURE

 

Best Finish for a Dining Table Top:

This topcoat was also the best clear coat for tabletops because it’s resistant to scratches, stains, and water.  One common concern for a kitchen table is the clear coat’s ability to protect against condensation from glasses and this top coat performed best!

Best Budget-Friendly Top Coat:

To my surprise, Varathane’s Water-Based Top Coat was also the best affordable option for furniture.  Crystalac’s Water-based topcoat was a close second but the price is almost twice as much.  See the current price here.

You can see how I used Varathane’s Water-Based Polyurethane on the coffee table we built over the faux wood stain:  DIY Farmhouse Coffee Table with Turned Legs

Easy DIY Farmhouse Coffee Table With Turned Legs

Best Top Coat for Chalk Paint – General Finishes High-Performance Top Coat in Flat (UPDATE: And Varathane Water-Based Poly)

The best sealer for chalk paint is General Finishes Top Coat which does an outstanding job of preserving the look, feel, and color of chalk paint.  Their Flat High-Performance Top Coat is a clear, flat, water-based topcoat and excels at making chalk-painted or milk-painted projects much more durable. 2022 UPDATE: At the time I wrote this post, Varathane Waterbased Polyurethane did not have a flat (matte finish) but now they do. Because it is a cheaper option, it would probably be my personal preference, but GF Flat High Performance Finish was just as effective.

These two clear coats were the only ones that didn’t leave any evidence of drink rings, even after the drinks were left on sealed wood overnight.

Does chalk paint need a topcoat?

The very ingredient that gives chalk and milk paints their velvety look and powdery feel works against them in the durability department.  This is especially the case with chalk paint that can even come off on your hands or if you rub up against it.   For that reason, chalk paint always needs some sort of sealant on top.

The Best Sealer for Chalk Paint

Although wax can be used to increase chalk paint’s durability, it requires frequent reapplication so you will have to reapply a coat of wax every six months or so for full protection. However, General Finish’s High-Performance Top Coat in Flat Finish (click here for the current price) was picked as the best chalk paint topcoat and sealer because it preserves the look, feel and color while increasing the durability of milk paint and chalk paint even with one coat.  It dries quickly and can be easily cleaned up with soap and water.

(The Best Sealer for Chalk Paint if you want a lower-cost version(and who doesn’t!): Varathane Waterbased Polyurethane in Matte  This is also an amazing clear sealant for chalk-painted furniture! It is also well-priced and you can get it with next day delivery in the link above or check your local Home Depot here: Chalk Paint Sealer at Home Depot

What is the difference between wax and a chalk paint clear coat?

Wax usually comes in a can and comes in a paste consistency.  It has to be buffed on the surface with a special brush or rag and not too much can be used.  There is definitely a learning curve as far as technique and the wax has to be reapplied regularly to maintain the durability of the finish.

Clearcoat is a clear liquid that can be brushed on the surface with a good brush.  Application is easy and it’s a once-for-all protective finish that is much more budget-friendly than wax.

Time-Saving Tip: How To Make Furniture Look Chalk Painted

Chalk-painted furniture always has a soft matte look that is so popular in farmhouse decor. But you can give any furniture piece the same sheen with a coat of clear coat. You can go from a gloss to matte in just one coat of a seal coat in matte or satin without repainting your furniture piece.

The Easiest Chalk Paint Sealer to Apply

The best sealer for chalk paint should not only be durable but easy to apply.  Fortunately, there are lots of good alternatives to wax on the market.  Any traditional sealer that you can brush on a foam brush takes a lot less time and skill than waxing.  Also, the wax and special bush are another cost consideration when picking the best chalk paint clear coat

What Reviewers Have to Say About Sealing Chalk Paint with This Product:

Several reviews said that the topcoat looks milky and opaque when applied but that it because completely clear once it dried.  I love that this sealer has  almost no odor making it perfect to use indoors when refinishing furniture projects making it a great chalk paint clear coat  (Click here for more reviews on the best sealer for chalk paint).

The Best Chalk Paint Protective Top Coat: Why I Love It:  

We love that it has a very consistent, velvety matte finish that had no streaks or bubbles.  The finish and feel of this chalk paint clear coat are very reminiscent of wax without the cost and hassle.  It stood up well to the water test but not quite as well as the Varathane Water-Based, although the results were outstanding, especially for a matte finish which is inherently not as water-proof.  There were also no brush strokes in the finish!

Can you put polyurethane over chalk paint?

Any type of polyurethane can be used over chalk paint.  Some are just better options for others but water-based and oil-based polyurethane can go over chalk paint just like latex paint.  Any of the brands listed in this post, including our top choice, can be used if you want to use poly over chalk paint.

GF High-Performance Top Coat in Flat is the Best Top Coat for Milk Paint Also

Any of the top three choices would work beautifully on milk paint but if you like a super matte finish, this one is your best bet for use on milk paint whether it is General Finishes Milk Paint or Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint!

CLICK HERE FOR THE CURRENT PRICE & REVIEWS

Best Sealer for Chalk Paint: 2022 UPDATE

Since writing this post, Varathane’s Waterbased Polyurethane came in a satin sheen but not in a flat/matte finish.  Fortunately, there is now a flat sheen available here making it another great option as a chalk paint clear coat: Varathane’s Waterbased Polyurethane in Flat

Best Clear Coat for White Paint: CrystaLac Super Premium Clear Top Coat

When it comes to the best clear oat for white paint, CrystaLac Premium Clear Top Coat is an exceptional environmentally safe resin for interior use.  It provides superior hardness, clarity, and durability.  It is especially recommended for “top” surfaces such as tables, bar tops, cabinetry, and furniture.
Many clear coats can yellow over time.  Oil-based clear coats are especially susceptible to this and less common with water-based polyurethanes.  However, because of CrystaLac’s chemical makeup, it will never yellow, making it a GREAT option for white furniture!

 

It also works really well as a sealant for chalk or milk paint as it won’t yellow over time and is easy to use.  This clear coat is highly resistant to moisture and alcohol so it is great for use on any surface that demands a hard, tough, protective finish. The CrystaLac topcoat can also be sprayed onto any surface, even metal, and dries quickly. Click here for the current price and reviews.

What Reviews Have To Say:

One reviewer said she used it as a clear coat on white-painted wood salad bowls and after ten years, there was no yellowing.  Several said that it didn’t need sanding in between coats!  

What We Love:

This has a gorgeous matte finish but also comes in other sheens.  It goes on easily with no streaks or brush strokes and it will never yellow, making it perfect for white and light-painted pieces if you are concerned about that. The only reason it was not the best chalk paint topcoat is because the price is higher than our top pick but it’s by far our best choice as the best clear coat for white paint.   Click here for the current price.

best chalk paint top coat

 

CLICK HERE FOR THE CURRENT PRICE & REVIEWS

Most Water-Resistant Clear Coat

All of the clear coats tested did really in terms of water resistance.  Both the General Finishes High-Performance Top Coat and Varathane’s Water-based  Polyurethane had absolutely no drinking glass rings.  Others left a very faint ring but these two were definitely the most impermeable to water.

Overall Best Paint Sealer for Wood

The Varathane Water-based Topcoat was the best option for latex-painted furniture as it settles well and protects latex furniture from water which could cause bubbling or peeling on unprotected latex surfaces.  Our top three clear coats would all do well on painted furniture – CLICK HERE TO COMPARE THE TOP THREE.

Best Sealer for Wood (Raw or Stained)

Sometimes you want to seal bare wood to preserve the look of the natural wood but also to provide it with a protective finish. As the vintage look of bare wood has become more and more popular so has the need to protect its finish without hiding the wood’s natural color.

Especially on projects using new wood, the wood color can look pretty muted but added even a single coat of sealer can give you a little bit more contrast to better see the natural grain of the wood. While wood treatments like… will also bring out the wood’s natural color, they don’t provide any protection. I”m feeling like a broken record again but I love how Varathane’s Waterbased Polyurethane brings out the details of wood grain without making raw wood too dark. (For a faux raw wood stain that looks great on natural materials and also laminate, click here: Raw Wood FInish with Latex Paint)

Certain types of wood species are softer than others and ironically some of these are actually hardwoods but a few coats of a good sealer can go a long way in protecting wooden surfaces.

Other times you might want to preserve the old finish which was the case on these end tables of my mother-in-law’s. These old wood drawers were worn and cloudy but adding a clear coat really brightened up the natural color of the wood grain.

The Best Green Wood Sealer

You might have heard of some products having low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). It can be tricky to find a sealer with absolutely no toxic fumes but you will always find fewer VOCs with water-based polyurethanes like Varathane’s Waterbased Polyurathane’s or General Finishes Water-based Sealers.

The Best Sealer for Outdoor Furniture

The best outdoor sealers have always been oil-based but fortunately, water-based outdoor sealants have come a long way lately. They can be used to provide a hard finish on tabletops, exterior walls, and even wood decks.

Applying an outdoor paint sealer for wood is important to prevent wood rot, especially in soft woods like southern yellow paint. Outdoor paints are always a must to withstand extreme weather conditions but for extra protection on an outdoor surface, use a good exterior topcoat is helpful.

Exterior wood surfaces are obviously exposed to hard conditions such as rain, humidity, and high temperatures. Most good exterior sealants will provide protection from extreme heat and cold. Also, their fast cure time makes application easier in areas where it rains often.

Any exterior wood surface that is not covered with exterior paints needs a coat of clear coat. The best outdoor wood sealer is Varathane’s Water-Based Spar Urethane (Exterior Sealant). I used it to seal the metal door on our back porch that I painted to look like hardwood: How to Paint a Door To Look Like Wood. I like how well it has protected the door from fading in its full sun exposure.

UPDATE ON THE BEST EXTERIOR CLEAR COAT: One year after painting my metal door and sealing it with Varathane’s Water-Based Spar Varnish, it still looks exactly the same even after being pressure washed and the extremes of Texas weather.

The best outdoor sealers not only hold up to environmental conditions but also provide the best protection against the UV rays of the sun. Interior sealants don’t have UV protection but it is a must for outdoor furniture.

AN IMPORTANT TIP ON HOW TO SEAL PAINTED WOOD FOR OUTDOOR USE:

When applying Varathane’s Spar Urethane, make sure to keep a wet edge so it doesn’t dry up on you too fast. In other words, work in a smaller section at a time, and don’t go over the previous section with your brush once you are done. It doesn’t give you quite as much time as its interior polyurethane version. Be sure to apply it within temperatures of 65 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Best Deck Stain and Sealer

Another product line worth mentioning is Behr’s Transparent and Semi-Transparent Deck Stains, which features a stain and sealer combo containing a stain that penetrates the wood fibers while protecting the top surface of the wood. It’s great for wood decks and any other exterior surface.

You can pick between transparent, semi-solid (semi-transparent) stains, and solid stains so that you can cover up any blemishes in the wood while still having some of the wood grain show through. My favorite type of sealer for decks without a stain is Thompson’s Water Seal which is not only water-repellant but is durable for high-traffic areas.


The Best Paint Top Coat, YouTube Video

You can find the rest of my furniture refinishing and DIY videos by clicking here: Renovated Faith, YouTube

How To Seal Chalk Paint or Latex Paint Easily

It’s easy to clear coat over latex or chalk-painted furniture with a few simple tips!  After painting your furniture piece, let the final coat of paint dry for a couple of days. It’s up to you whether you want to apply a top coat to the entire piece or just the top surface.

Use a lint-free cloth to remove any dust on the surface of the wood. Apply a light coat of clear coat in a covered location where leaves can’t fall on the surface. Also, make sure you are out of direct sunlight

Brush on the first coat of top coat in long strokes in one direction with an inexpensive foam brush (like this one).  When you are finished with your first thin coat over the entire surface, don’t touch it and let it dry according to the directions on the can.

The back of the can might say to sand between coats with a high grit sandpaper. I have had a bad experience with scratching the surface so I don’t recommend sanding in between coats.

Usually, I can apply the second coat within 30 minutes to an hour. You want to apply several light coats to get the most durable finish.

I usually add a third coat and let it dry 24 hours after that. When you’re done, just throw away the foam brush.

IMPORTANT TIP: The fine print on your can might call for a light sanding between coats of clear coat. When I was learning how to seal painted wood furniture, I sanded between coats and it completely ruined the finish. Sometimes when you sand, it can leave scratch marks on the top layer of paint so I’ve found it’s best not to sand between coats. If you have a really high-gloss surface, wipe it down with a Magic Eraser Scrubber or paper bag.

best chalk paint top coat

My Best Tip: How to Protect Painted Furniture and Stained Pieces-

To give painted furniture maximum protection, top coat paint with 3 coats of clear coat.  This will give your piece maximum hardness and durability.  This sounds excessive but our top three clear coats all have very fast dry times, which will cut down on the time to finish your project.  Sand very lightly in between and follow the dry time recommended on the can.

Best Protective Finish for Stained Wood

For the best protective finish for stained wood, I’d pick General Finishes High-Performance Top CoatThis General Finishes Top Coat provides maximum durability and is very waterproof.  One reviewer complained about slight yellowing on a white piece of furniture but that’s actually a plus for stained furniture as it warms up the tone slightly making it the best clear coat for wood.  After sanding lightly, all three top clear coats would be a great choice for stained furniture.

How to Clear Coat Stained Furniture

Just like clear coating painted furniture, be sure to let the stain dry for at least 48 hours and sand very lightly.  For stained finishes, I recommend “sanding” with a paper bag so you don’t mar or scratch the stained finish.  The paper bag is enough to rough up the surface so the clear coat sticks to the stain but it doesn’t leave any scratches in the stain.

To provide a thick clear coat for wood, add three thin layers of clear coat for maximum durability.  Use an inexpensive foam brush (like this) and brush in one direction for each coat.  Allow each coat to dry according to the instructions on the can.



best furniture painting tips

How The Other Contenders Performed:

Polycrylic Top Coat: How to Apply Polycrylic without Streaks

Minwax’s Water-based Polycrylic Top Coat is a commonly used clear coat for furniture refinishing.  All seven topcoats are good products but I found our top three clear coats all performed with better results than Polycrylic in terms of durability and water permeability.  The biggest downside to polycrylic was the pretty obvious water ring left on the sample but it provided a very smooth finish.

Several furniture painters have trouble with polycrylic streaking or forming stripes on the surface.  I’ve seen this problem as well but what helps is to add a little extra product per coat on your surface.  By adding extra polyacrylic, it seemed to minimize streaking significantly!

Oil-Based Polyurethanes: Minwax’s Oil-Based Polyurethane and Varathane’s Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethanes are great when it comes to having a waterproof surface as they both left no glass rings on the surface of each sample.  HOWEVER, there were several bubbles in the Minwax surface and both caused pretty severe ambering of the painted surface.

The Minwax polyurethane separated so it took me a while to stir the product so it was once again consistent.  If you don’t stir in the solids, your finish will be a high gloss finish.

So, while they could both be used for stained surfaces, they would not be a good choice for painted furniture, especially light or white paint colors.   If you want to use an oil-based polyurethane, Varathane’s had the best results by far – click here for the current price. 

best chalk paint top coat

CLICK HERE TO COMPARE THE TOP THREE Paint Sealers for Wood

What Sheen Should I Use on Furniture?

Sheen refers to the amount of shine on a piece of furniture ranging from high gloss, gloss, semigloss, satin, and then matte for the least shine.  Matte is the most popular now as you will see it often on farmhouse style or chalk-painted furniture.

The shinier the piece the more durable and easy the surface is to wipe off.  So, if you need a more durable finish, satin is often a good option because it’s not very shiny so you still have the chalk paint finish, but is a hard, waterproof surface.

The more gloss a surface has the more it will show imperfections in the surface so a matte sheen is much more forgiving than a semi-gloss.  The clear coats I experimented with were all matte and satin finishes:

Best Matte Clear Coat – Click here for reviews and the current price.

Best Satin Clear Coat – Click here for reviews and the current price.

☑️ My All-Time Best Furniture Painting Tips & Tricks (FREE PRINTABLE)

Don’t forget to download the FREE step-by-step printable checklist that shows you the exact process I’ve used on dozens of furniture pieces while saving you time and money!

FAQ’s – Best Clear Coat For Painted Wood:

Can I Paint Over Polyurethane without Sanding?

Someone asked me how to refinish a piece of furniture that had been clear coated with an oil-based polyurethane.  I would not attempt to refinish this surface without at least sanding and adding a primer and I describe it in this post here: How to Paint Furniture the Easy Way.   Remember, you are not sanding to remove the surface you are just barely roughing up the surface to accept primer or paint (How to Stand Furniture in 5 Minutes).

Can You Put Polyurethane Over Wax?

A good rule of thumb is that nothing will stick to wax except primer.  So, don’t put any clear coat over wax including polyurethane.  You can however wax over polyurethane if you like the buffed look of wax but a much easier option is using our pick for the best chalk paint topcoat.

Do you Have to Seal Chalk Paint?

If your chalk-painted piece will not come into contact with any spills, or drinking glasses and you aren’t worried about the finish rubbing off on your hands, you don’t have to seal it.  But most of the time, you’ll want to be able to set a drink on a piece of furniture.  Also, you don’t want to worry about the color rubbing off on clothing.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to seal all chalk-painted furniture. See the best chalk paint topcoat here.

What is the Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets?

If you are wondering how to seal chalk-painted kitchen cabinets, your best bet is Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane. Although it’s water-based, it is the most durable top coat that I have come across that won’t yellow. I have applied it on 5 high-use pieces of painted furniture and they all look as good as the first day I applied the clear coat.

I wouldn’t recommend painting kitchen cabinets with chalk paint as I discuss in my post: A Better Alternative to Chalk Paint.  If you are wondering what clear coat to put on latex-painted cabinets, I would consider going without one.  If you use a good paint made for cabinets, it should be durable and water-resistant enough without the trouble of a topcoat.  However, if you have chalk-painted cabinets, you will need some sort of protective finish to make them durable enough for high-traffic areas.

IMPORTANT TIP: If you are thinking about using chalk paint on kitchen cabinets, best sure to check out this post: The Ultimate Guide to Painting Cabinets Like A Pro

Should I Use a Spray Clear Coat for Wood?  

Spray clear coats seem like they are incredibly convenient and if you are working on a craft project, they are.  Although they are a popular option for furniture, spray clear coats are generally a bad idea as they are notorious for leaving stripes on your furniture piece.  Trust me; opt for the brush-on topcoats to get a uniform look! (If you are already painting a picture frame or small project with spray paint, then spray topcoats are a great option).

UPDATE: Since writing this post, Varathane has come out with a water-based wood paint sealer spray. I haven’t used it personally but the reviews are actually pretty great. Also, you can use it as a chal paint sealer spray. See the reviews and the current price here: Varathane Water-Based Spray Clear Coat for Wood

After Staining Wood, Do You Have to Seal It?

A stain is a product that penetrates wood pores instead of covering them.  Therefore, the surface can still be easily scratched as there is no protective finish for a typical stain.  For that reason, it is best to seal all stained wood to prevent scratches from ruining the finish.  Gel stains are thicker and more protective so you can get away without a clear coat for lightly used pieces.  Just lightly sand with a paper bag before sealing with a clear coat.

What Kind of Paints Can Be Clear Coated?

Clear coats can work on several paint options including mineral paints, media paints, decorative paints, chalk paint and latex. When sealing chalk paint with one of the sealer products, in this post, you don’t have to invest in a wax brush.

How Long Should Chalk Paint Dry Before Sealing?

Be sure to wait between 24-72 hours before applying a sealant to chalk-painted furniture pieces. Giving the surface a longer dry time will ensure even better results for the final finish. Be sure to always check the instructions from the chalk paint manufacturer.

What is the Best Acrylic Paint Sealer for Wood?

In my post on How To Stencil on Wood Without Bleeding, I used the Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane and had excellent results! I love that it seals acrylic paint just as well as it seals chalk paint or latex.

seal chalk paint on metal –  subsequent paint layers

What is the best paint sealer for wood crafts?

On most wood items, you can use a decoupage medium like mod podge on wood crafts or home decor items like coasters or wooden trays. But I prefer using a wood sealant like Varathane Waterbased Polyurethane because it goes on smoother, never yellows like a polyacrylic varnish and is much more durable. It also never leaves watermarks. Mod podge will degrade over time if it is in contact with water on a regular basis. Always use a true wood sealer on wood materials like beadboard wood panels, or wooden paneling on furniture or wainscoting.

Want To See More Furniture Makeovers?

To see my best furniture reveals click here:  15 Stunning Painted Furniture (Before and After Reveals)

Posts Related to the Best Top Coat for Paint:

The Ultimate Guide to The Best Furniture Paint, 2022

Milk Paint vs. Chalk Paint vs. Latex

Best Tips for Painting Furniture

A Better Alternative to Chalk Paint for Furniture (Get the Aged Look of Dark Wax Easily)

How to Paint Furniture Legs Quickly & Easily

The Best Way to Stencil (Without Paint Bleed!)

Faux Stain with Latex Paint (7 Different Color Options)

The Absolute Best Paint for Cabinets – 24 Brands Blind-Tested & Reviewed

General Finishes Milk Paint Review

Faux Driftwood Finish for a Weathered Wood Look

How to Make IKEA Furniture Look Expensive with Paint

How to Turn Acrylic Paint into Fabric Paint

How to Sand Furniture in Less Than 5 Minutes

How to Fix Damaged Wood: Caulk, Wood Filler, or Epoxy?

Milk Paint Vs. Chalk Paint Vs. Latex: What’s the Best Type of Paint for Your Project?

 

Applying the Right Top Coat to Wood Furniture: Final Thoughts

Refinishing furniture can be a great way to get the look you want without paying a lot. It is also so rewarding if you know the right way to seal and protect your finish.  There are several different ways to seal a piece of wood furniture and several products in the marketplace. Hopefully, this blog post will help you find the right product for your Project.  In terms of smoothness, clarity, durability, and protection from water, I’ve reviewed our best picks above.  You can now finish your next project with confidence knowing it will be protected and look gorgeous for a long time with the absolute best paint sealer for wood.

best chalk paint top coat

Good luck with your furniture painting project and I’d love to answer any questions you have in the comment section below.

Blessings,

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Reviews for the Best Paint Sealer for Wood (Best Sealer for Chalk Paint)

75 Comments

  1. I have a question about steps in fixing a table I cleaned with Clorax wipes. I bought a white table for my kids for when they do their homework and I didn’t look at how to clean it per the instruction manual and used Clorax wipes which it looks like it damaged the protectant coating. The table is harder to wipe clean and lost its shine. Am I able to add a sealant or does it now need to be sanded first (I know nothing about painting furniture 😬)? I don’t feel the table is worth the time or energy to sand it, so if there’s no “easy” fix, I may just buy a new one. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hey Stacey, Great question. Go ahead and get a small can of Varathane water-based top coat and try it on an inconspicuous area of the table. I think it would be fine to put over the surface as is but test it first. Another alternative to sanding is using one of those magic eraser scrubbers and going offer the surface just to remove the sheen. Hope this helps!

  2. Hi, Love the article, LOTS of great information that I need since I’m working on a project that is taking me into way deeper into the world of paint and coatings than I ever imagined. Building a pine/oak item for my grandkids to use in the kitchen and my daughter wants it painted, but safe and very durable (will have food/drink on it, so lots of clean-up). I’ve already primed with a water-based latex and am leaning towards adding a clear coat on top of whatever water-based semi-gloss or matte latex paint she chooses and am wondering what’s the difference between your top choice Varathane Water-based Polyurethane and their Water-based Topcoat? Does the polyurethane not work as well on paint? Does the Topcoat resist moisture comparable to the polyurethane? etc, etc…
    Thank you!

    Lou S.

    1. Hey Lou, Thank you for your comment? What is the other water-based product you are referring to if you don’t mind me asking? If you mean the polyacrylic, the Varathane water-based polyurethane didn’t leave any streaks, had a clearer finish and left no water marks after the drinking glass test. I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions!

      1. Karin, thank you for your lightning quick reply!! I’m so impressed!
        I’m referring to the Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane mentioned in your “The All-Around Best Clear Coat for Painted Wood Furniture” section vs. the Varathane Water-Based Topcoat identified in the “Overall Best Paint Sealer for Wood” paragraph.

        1. Hey Lou, Thank you so much for catching that. They are the same product. I’m just calling them but a different name but I need to update them. The official name is “Varathane Water-based Polyurethane.” Let me know if I can answer any other questions Lou!

  3. Hi Karen,
    I am happy to find your website and blog. My husband has been redoing some of our antique furniture using Fusion Paint. I was the one who found Fusion Paint and he said he would try it. I wish I had seen your website prior to that as you have so much useful information and the Fusion Paint doesn’t seem to rate very well on your testing. We have a matching dining table, Buffett and China hutch that he refinished 40 years ago. He gave them a face lift by painting parts with Coal Black Fusion Paint and he also refreshed the parts we left natural by sanding lightly and coating with Minwax oil based poly. They did turn out lovely. We did not do a topcoat over the painted areas. However now he has painted (with Fusion again) an antique dresser and wardrobe. I had him paint most of each piece but left the drawers natural. I told him I think it needs some kind of a topcoat as although the coverage looks really good I just don’t care for the overall finish. It’s too dull and matte. He is concerned about what to use as he has put a lot of work into these pieces already. Am I right that you suggest Verathane water based polyurethane as a good top coat over a mineral paint like Fusion? We of course want a topcoat that won’t yellow over time as these are very light paint colors. Thanks in advance for your assistance.

    1. Hi Marla, The Varathane Waterbased Poly is the best way to go and you can pick from different sheen colors. I have not seen it yellow on any of my furniture pieces. Hope this helps!

  4. Based on this article I bought and used the Crystalac
    Top Coat over white. All three pieces yellowed over
    the past year. Any thoughts?

    1. Donna, I am SO sorry to hear this. Based on your experience, I changed the review above but I know that isn’t a big help to you. So sorry again that this happened. I am going to ask Crystalac about this.

  5. Hi there, great article but now I’m lost with many different tabs up one which product to choose. I am refinishing my dinning room table and chairs. The base is white using chalk paint.

    What is the best cover I should use on the base so it protects, doesn’t yellow, and is not shiny like the top would be?

    For the table top, I am staining dark brown.

    What is the best cover for this?

    Thank you!

  6. Hi, thanks for guidance. I am painting my 45 year old wood furniture white. I had purchased the varythane top coat. I think I’m going to do an additional (4) cost of white before I do the top coat. After reading this article do you think I would be better off using the CrystaLac as a top coat? It’s only my second paint project and I’m still so worried about ruing my furniture. I’m doing only a couple pieces at a time, as I can’t paint all pieces at once. I feel like I’m second guessing everything.

    1. Hey Margaret! I totally understand and the more painting you do, the more confident you will get. The varathane clear coat will be just fine! It’s a great product. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  7. Hi Karin , I’m truly amazed with all the useful information here !! You have thoroughly nailed it on sooo many questions I have for painting my table , chairs , and hutch .. I want to use latex paint , glaze and top coat . When I’m ready to do kitchen cabinets ,I will use Ben Moore advance alkyd paint , there’s a lot of steps and long curing time so I wanted something a little simpler for table and hutch . So glad you tested the top coats , it helped me make my choice !! I’m so greatful for All the information here , keep up all the amazing work !!!!!!😊😊😊

  8. Hi Karen!
    Thanks for the great review…
    I have a question: What do you think about painting indoor wood steps (our staircase) in black chalkpaint and then using polycrylic (maybe satin finish) as a sealer? I am looking to solve the problem of our bare/raw wood steps that we uncovered when we removed the carpet. I am looking for a super inexpensive solution that looks nice and that I can do myself. If we were to just stain the steps (which would be nice) there is alot of sanding that needs to be done…Alot! I thought if I used chalkpaint then it may eliminate most of the sanding. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

    1. Hey Alexandra, Unfortunately, chalk paint is one of the least durable options. I would use Benjamin Moore Advance and the top pick for clear coat in this post – the Varathane Water-based Polyurethane. I have found the matte sheen (if you are interested) at Home Depot. Hope this helps! – Karin

  9. Hello! I used your guide to repaint some furniture white & used the water based poly coat. What is your recommendation for cleaning those pieces? What should I use? Thank you!

    1. Great question! I put a few drops of 7th generation dish soap (from Target) with water in a spray bottle and that’s my cleaner for furniture I have painted. But honestly, over the years, I have gotten lazy and just clean them with whatever I was using on the countertops and haven’t had any issues. I hope this help! Thank you and let me know if you have any more questions Carrie! Blessings, Karin

  10. Would you varnish an armoire-turned-coffee-bar on the surfaces that would only be used frequently? Or just do the whole thing?

    1. Great question Stephanie! I would personally just clear coat the surfaces that get used a lot. Also, for max protection, use 3 coats of clear coat. The instructions on the can say to sand in between but don’t do that. Let me know if you have any other questions. Blessings, Karin

  11. Hi Karin,
    I love how in depth your articles are. And I fully agree about sanding. There is no real way around it – you have to sand. If you want a quality finish you need to do the prep.

    One thing you may want to mention in future articles is wax is almost impossible to remove if you want to change your piece at a later date. Even primer will have difficulty sticking to it. When you sand it seems to push into the wood. You will read that Mineral Spirits will remove it but I have not found that to be the case.

    Thank you for all the trial and error you have done so the rest of us can get it right!

    1. Wow, that’s really good information. I didn’t know that. Thank you so much for sharing! I need to redo a piece that has been waxed (or try to) and do a post on it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge Nancy! – Karin

  12. Karin, I totally enjoyed finding your blog while google searching what to do about my table. I have a Pottery Barn stained dining table that through the years has been well used. I am wanting to apply a new clear coat. The top has child and cat scratches but none through to the stain. What is the best advice you can give for a beautiful “new” finish? I guess my most important question is can I use the water based products over the finish after lightly sanding out the wear marks?

    1. So if your table isn’t super glossy, you can put the water-based poly over it without any sanding. I have done it on a side table that had tons of TINY scratches and the Varathane Waterbased Poly made it look like a whole new table. You might test an inconspicuous part of the table to see how it looks before doing the whole thing. Thanks Karen! -Karin

    2. Hi Karen thank you so much for the wonderful blog. We have a chest that has been sanded and stained but we are unclear as to how we should finish it. This chest will be heavily used by children and need the ultimate protection. We have used the varathane Nano varnish in matte on our stairs and unfortunately with every scratch it turned white (looks awful 😕) so we are hoping to avoid such experience again. In your experience does the varathane water based polyurethane hold up to test to scratches on dark stain?
      Thank you

      1. Hi there, so sorry to hear that about your chest! The Varathane water-based poly is on my breakfast table over a dark stain. It has been stained for almost a year and I haven’t had any problems with scratches looking lighter. I hope this helps! Thanks!!! – Karin

  13. Hi Karen, I’m making wall decorations out of pine wood.will the knots come through on my pieces whether I stain,chalk paint or use acrylic paint over time?

    1. Great question. There’s a product called Zinnser BIN and it’s the only thing that I have found that prevents knot holes from coming through over time. It’s pretty smelly so a lot of times I will just dab some over the knot holes (not the whole piece). It dries really fast so do two quick “coats” on just the knot holes and then paint as normal. Let me know if you have anymore questions.

  14. Hi Karin,

    So I painted a piece of furniture(night stand for bedroom set) I wanted to top coat it with a chalk paint top coat.(just the top of it) Is that ok? Trying to find the answer, but nowhere to be found.

    1. Hey Alice, That’s a great question. If your piece is white or cream, use the product I recommend for white furniture. For any other color, just make sure the topcoat sheen matches the sheen of the latex. Thanks for commenting! – Karin

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