Painted furniture can last a lifetime when you seal it with a topcoat, but what topcoats and sealers work the best for painted furniture?
I recently finished one of the last two DIY projects in my master bedroom makeover. It has been a while since I last shared any of the updates in the room with you. A question from a reader, Kim, asked Could she use wax on top of a clear coat poly product to seal painted furniture? That made me realize I had not shared how I painted the desk in the office side of the room with you yet.
Kim was unhappy with how the clear coat poly she used looked on her newly painted piece of furniture. I thought the question was very timely since for the desk I painted recently, I tried a “new-to-me” poly to seal the painted finish. I didn’t like how it looked on the top of the desk, so much so that I wasn’t going to even post the desk makeover.
Kim’s question made me realize that mistakes are part of the DIY process and I should share my painted desk sealing mistake with you.
I painted Ed’s desk with Fusion Mineral Paint in the color Liberty Blue. I used the same paint/color to stencil the walls in my guest bath which turned out amazingly well and hid lots of imperfections on the walls.
I also used it to paint faux French enameled door signs for the hallway of darkness in my house. I like this paint and will use it again. I love the color – clear, vivid, not a dull blue and it has a nice consistency.
When using Fusion Mineral Paint on furniture, they state that a topcoat is not needed, but is recommended for tabletops for added durability. They have a few topcoats and sealers in their product line if you wish to seal your piece. I like to add a wax topcoat to provide durability and add a subtle sheen.
(I still have to attach the one side of the top to the base of the desk. In the photo you can see it is popped up).
What I didn’t like after painting the desk was the “Tough Coat wipe-on poly” that I used to seal and protect the top of the desk. In fact, it looked awful – streaky and uneven. :-(
I was upset with myself for not testing a “new-to-me” product out first on a piece of scrap wood before using it on a big piece of furniture. Lesson learned :-)
Notice I said “looked” as in the past tense.
The photo above shows how the top of the desk looks now… after I ended up sanding the poly off and repainting it. I then sealed the desk with my “go-to” sealing method on painted furniture which is soft wax that is buffed with a soft cloth to a subtle sheen.
To do this, I used another of the Fusion Mineral Paint waxes called, Furniture Wax. It is soft and smooth. Easy to apply and provides a durable finish with a beautiful luster. I liked this product.
Once I had the desk waxed and buffed I was very happy with the results and promised myself to always TEST! “new-to-me” products on scrap pieces of wood first to not only see how they look, but to figure out the right application method. Sometimes it takes a new skill that takes time to learn.
Why I Didn’t Like the Matte Tough Coat Wipe-On Poly
The Matte Tough Coat wipe-on poly was hard to apply evenly over the large flat surface which made it look streaky when dry. My mistake was not reading all the directions or watching the video about it on the Fusion Mineral Paint website before I began using the product.
What I learned too late was that they don’t recommend using the wipe-on poly over medium to dark paint colors due to water vapor being trapped which could cause streaking. I can attest to this… it does. Note to self… read the labels!
My Recommended Way to Topcoat or Seal Painted Furniture If Using Polyurethane
For 98% of my painted furniture makeovers, I like the smooth clear finish soft/paste wax gives a painted finish, but I don’t use it for everything. When I made over this bathroom cabinet with DIY chalk paint in my previous house, I sealed it with brush-on Minwax Polycrylic in a satin finish. It came out beautifully and was easy to achieve.
I think adding wax to protect a painted finish seems scary to some people. Poly seems like the easier method, but once you get the hang of using wax – you realize it is so easy to apply and buff.
The other reason I like using clear wax to protect painted furniture is that another layer can be reapplied at any time and will blend right in. You can’t do this with poly when you need to fix a scratch or mark that gets on the wood. You have to sand the area and then repaint and re-poly. This will create layers on top of the finish. You will see the fix. When you use wax – the fix will blend right in.
The Right Way to Apply Furniture Wax to Painted Furniture
Another thing many think you need when you are waxing to seal a piece of painted furniture is a lot of wax to create a durable finish. This is a mistake. Less wax is better.
With wax, one light thin coat applied with a soft lint-free rag or shop towel and then buffed with another clean towel will provide a smooth, even finish that has a subtle sheen. If you want more protection, simply add another light layer of wax over the surface and buff again. Buffing is simply the process of taking a clean, soft lint-free rag over the surface in a circular motion with some muscle behind it until the cloth slides across the surface.
On my kitchen table which gets a lot of use, I add a new layer of wax once a year. Applying a new layer takes 1o minutes. For every other piece of chalk painted furniture on which I have used wax to seal the surface, I haven’t had to add new wax. Some are going on 8 years. So the fear that you will have to keep waxing the furniture every few months is not valid.
My Favorite Painted Furniture Sealing Products
Painting furniture is all about adding your style to the piece. Everyone that has painted furniture will have their own preferences. We all have a different skill set and use different brushes, rollers and rags to makeover furniture. All of these factor into how a painted piece will turn out.
When I paint furniture, I like the look of clear wax over the paint. I know that many prefer the look of colored or dark waxes over the paint to make the finish look antiqued or to add depth. Most brands of waxes make colored waxes also. I have used these on a few pieces.
Both clear soft (or paste) wax and water-based poly products like Polycrylic seal and protect the painted finish in an invisible way and do not change the color of the wax. They may deepen the color a bit and add a subtle sheen, but they don’t change the color.
I liked the Fusion Mineral Paint Furniture Wax I used on the desk, but I also like the furniture waxes pictured below. I have used and recommend all of them. The least expensive being – Johnson’s Paste Wax to the priciest – Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Wax.
2. Annie Sloan Clear Wax – You can’t go wrong with this wax. It goes on very smoothly and is easier to buff than any of the other waxes I have used. It runs around $25.
3. Miss Mustard Seed Clear Wax – A nice soft wax that is easy to buff. I also use her “white” colored wax on my kitchen table – which gives the unstained wood a whitewashed look. $16
4. Johnson’s Paste Wax – Is a bargain at around $7 a can and works great. The only downside is the smell as you apply it. Once dry it has no smell, but until it does, the smell can be overwhelming. I only use this when I can work outside or in my garage.
5. Fiddes and Sons Supreme Clear Wax – This is a medium priced wax. It sells for about $22 a can. I have used this brand more than any of the others. It has a slight smell, but not as bad as the Johnson’s. It buffs easily. I used in on the sideboard I painted turquoise.
6. Minwax Polycrylic – Is the best water-based poly to use to seal painted furniture. It is inexpensive and works great. You can’t go wrong applying it when you use a quality brush and/or a foam flocked roller with rounded ends. Apply in light coats, letting each coat dry before applying another light coat. 2- 3 coats will create a durable finish. It is sold in 1/2 pints and quarts ranging in price from $11 – $18.
Polycrylic also comes in a spray can. I prefer using a spray on certain pieces that have a lot of detail. When I see a can of it, I buy it immediately as it can be hard to find.
What Furniture Paint Topcoats and Sealers I Do Not Recommend
I am not a fan of sealers called clear coats, tough coats, wipe-on poly, soft varnish, or cream wax products. The reason is that they are hard to rub onto large flat surfaces, like a desk top, in a uniform way. They also have to be applied with a light hand and recoated to fill in missed spots and ensure even coverage. This causes streakiness.
If not applied correctly, they tend to dry improperly and become tacky. You need to have special skills to get it just right.If I can’t get it right after making over dozens of pieces of furniture, then someone newer to the furniture makeover process may really find it challenging. I would hate for someone to think they are a failure at furniture painting and sealing when the problem is just a challenging product.
The problem is simply a finicky product that takes skill to master. There are so many better sealers on the market that will give great results with less effort.
When is a Sealer or Topcoat Not Needed Over Painted Furniture?
If you use gloss paint, you do not have to use a sealer. In fact if you do, you will alter the sheen. The gloss finish is tough, wipeable and acts as a sealer all on its own.