Sealing Painted Furniture 

It was summer 2014.  The year I painted my first piece of furniture. In awe of the transformation, I wanted to make sure my hard work lasted.  Sealing painted furniture was new to me but I knew it was the answer.

Turning to Google provided more questions than answers, so much of my experience over the years is based on trial and error and educating myself with how each type of sealer works with painted furniture.

Today’s post will cover everything you need to know about sealing painted furniture, including:

  • When painted furniture should be sealed 
  • What products work best with a painted wood surface
  • Clear coat sealer vs. Furniture wax and when to use each
  • Which sealers should be used for light/heavy
  • Sealer application tips 

Sealing Painted Furniture

**This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase using one of these links.  However, I only recommend items I personally love. Thank you for your support of my creative business!**

Chalk Painted Furniture 

Most of what will be covered today will be in relation to sealer for chalk painted furniture.

Chalk painted furniture means anything that is advertised as a “chalky finish”, “chalk based paint”, “mineral paint”, etc…

Chalky paint is often formulated to adhere to almost any surface. The main benefit of using chalky paint is minimal prep work.   

In other words, you often do not need to strip, sand, or prime the original surface. Yes, this even includes an existing varnish!  Talk about a time saver.

It’s important to note that chalky finish paint is not the same as chalkboard paint. If you are new to the world of chalk painted furniture, you may have had that question brewing in your mind.

Chalkboard paint is specifically used when you want to write on it with chalk or chalk markers. It is formulated differently than chalky paint that is used for painting furniture. 

Finishing Painted Furniture 

When using chalky paint, you will notice a very dull, matte-like finish when it dries.   

The matte finish is often due to the specific mineral-based ingredients added to chalky paint that gives it the adhesion power that we know and love.

When left unprotected,  the matte finish is vulnerable to everyday occurrences such as dust, fingerprints and water stains.

This is why using a sealer on painted furniture is important to ensure your hard work lasts for years to come.

When Should Painted Furniture be Sealed? 

The biggest question I get is when should painted furniture be sealed?

The answer is quite simple and it primarily depends on how the painted furniture piece will be used every day.

High-traffic surfaces such as dining room tables, kitchen cabinets and bookshelves that get used often require the ultimate protection. 

Nightstands in a guest room, bedroom furniture in a master bedroom and other pieces of furniture that do not see a lot of heavy everyday use do not require as much protection.

There are some times when it is not necessary to protect your painted treasure. These include painted pieces that will be hung on the wall such as frames and mirrors. 

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to take the extra step to use a sealer on your painted furniture. And if you want your painted finish to last, I highly encourage you to protect it and one of the ways mentioned below.

Sealing Painted Furniture
Photo source @the.rustic.rabbit.interiors

What are the Most Common Sealers for Painted Wood? 

The most common sealers for chalky paint are either furniture wax or a clear top coat sealer. 

Furniture wax is great to use on lower traffic surfaces and a clear top coat sealer is best for the ultimate durable protection.

Note that in most cases you do not want to use both furniture wax and a clear top coat. The ingredients often do not mesh with the two products, which may produce an undesirable result.

Simply decide if the piece you painted will receive high-traffic everyday use or low traffic everyday use.  

Remember the recommendation:

  • High traffic surface = clear top coat sealer
  • Low traffic surface = furniture wax sealer

When in doubt, I recommend sealing your painted furniture with a clear top coat sealer since it offers the most protection. 

Let’s dive into both products in more detail….

Painted Mason Jars with Chalky Paint

What is Furniture Wax? 

Furniture wax for painted furniture is a product with a base ingredient of wax.   Think beeswax, carnauba wax, etc…

While every brand has their own unique ingredients that make up their furniture wax, the core ingredient usually includes some type of wax.

The purpose of wax is to provide a protective barrier on top of painted furniture that will help protect against water rings, fingerprints and dust sticking to the painted surface. 

Furniture wax can also be used on raw wood to provide a rich and natural protective barrier. All natural waxes are often used to condition butcher block countertops and wood cutting boards.

How Does Furniture Wax Work?  

Furniture wax will either sit on top of the painted surface or may penetrate into the matte finish of chalk paint, providing general protection of general light use.

There are various styles and brands of furniture wax available. It’s important to use caution if you are sensitive to chemicals. Many brands of furniture wax contain harsh smelling chemicals. 

While these chemicals are usually safe to work around (per regulations), they can cause side effects, such as headaches, if you are sensitive to the smell. 

The safest way to avoid chemicals in furniture wax is to find an all natural wax, made only with ingredients you can actually pronounce and are familiar with. 

How Do You Apply Furniture Wax? 

If you’ve ever waxed a car before, sealing painted furniture with furniture wax is a very similar process. 

When applying wax to painted furniture, it is wise to use a furniture finishing wax brush. This makes the application quicker and easier.   When cared for properly, the best quality furniture wax brushes will last for many years.

Simply dab the furniture wax brush into the wax can then apply it in a circular motion onto the painted furniture surface.

It’s not important to rub it all the way into the painted surface, you will do that on the next step.

After the furniture wax is applied all around the surface of the painted furniture, take a lint free cloth and buff it into the painted surface.

When the buffing is complete, you should feel a smoother surface. If it feels sticky or wet, try buffing it a little bit more to see if that helps.

Using furniture wax as a sealer is typically used for general protection and will need reapplying throughout the life of the painted furniture.

Timing of reapplication will depend on the everyday use, but generally speaking anywhere from every six months to a year is a general timeline to go by.

You can always choose to not reapply the wax, but the wax will wear down overtime, eventually leaving your piece unprotected from everyday wear and tear.

Furniture wax application is often quicker and less detailed than working with a top coat sealer. This is often why some prefer furniture wax application over a top coat sealer. 

Best Wax Brush for Painted Furniture

Best Furniture Wax for Chalk Painted Furniture 

For the easiest application and the best natural ingredients, Vintage and Restore by K Furniture Wax is the way to go.

It contains only four ingredients: unrefined beeswax, carnauba wax, olive oil and essential oils, if you choose the scented version.

It’s great for furniture wax beginners and experts alike. It comes as a solid and applies silky smooth.  It is formulated to absorb into the matte finish of chalk paint.  

This means you will never have to worry about that wet or sticky feeling other brands may leave behind. 

You will also never have to worry about harsh chemical smells, since it is made with all natural ingredients. And if you don’t like the scent of lavender and orange, there is always an unscented version you can choose.

Grab a can of Vintage And Restore By K Furniture Wax here

All Natural Sealing Wax For Furniture

What is a Top Coat Sealer? 

Top coat protectants are usually a liquid based sealer that can be used on painted wood and other surfaces.

It typically offers more durable protection than furniture wax.

Kinds of Top Coat Sealer for Painted Furniture 

It seems there are more top coat sealer options than furniture wax options.

The choices can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re searching for.

When you hear of terms like clear coat, polyurethane, polycrylic, clear finish and top coat, they all have a similar product concept.

You will find clear coat protection products in oil-based or water-based and they are either in liquid form out of a can or in spray form (like a can of spray paint comes in).

They can also come in various finishes like matte, stain, semi-gloss, or gloss. To keep the matte finish from chalky finish paint, the most popular finish choices are matte or satin.

However, not all products have the same ingredients and not just any should be used on your painted furniture.

For instance, if the chalky finish paint you’re working with is water-based (most are),  you will want to use a water-based top coat sealer. 

 If you’re using paint that is oil-based, you will want to use an oil-based top coat sealer.

When Should You Polyurethane on Painted Furniture? 

Applying a top coat over painted furniture is recommended when you want ultimate protection.

Top coat sealers often provide scratch resistant and water resistant protection that will last for many years.

Unlike furniture wax, clear coat protectant may only need a refresh once every several years. 

So long as the painted furniture surface is treated with care, clear coat protectant can last 5+ years. 

How to Apply a Top Coat Sealer to Painted Furniture 

Top coat sealer application tends to be a bit more tedious than furniture wax application.

Most love the look of a silky smooth painted finish.  The best way to avoid brush strokes when applying  a top coat sealer is to either spray it on or to roll it on with a foam roller.

Even the highest end of paint brushes may still leave behind some brush marks. 

If you are not concerned with the minimal brushstroke lines, use a synthetic bristle brush as it ensures the smoothest brush finish.

And, you can always lightly sand out any brushstroke lines that may appear using a 220 (or higher) grit sandpaper.

For furniture application, one to two coats of a clear coat sealer is typically acceptable.

For surfaces that get higher everyday Use, like kitchen cabinets, three coats is usually recommended.

What is the Best Clear Coat for Painted Furniture? 

The key features you want to look for when buying a clear coat protectant for your painted furniture are:

  • Non-yellowing (stick with a water-based protectant)
  • Scratch resistant
  • Quick dry time

Most oil-based clear coat sealers will have a yellow tone to it and are not usually suited for light colored paints.

A scratch resistant sealer is important to ensure your painted finish lasts for years to come.  

Quick dry time helps minimize the energy spent protecting your painted surface. Most top coat sealers take one to three hours to dry.

Vintage And Restore By K Protective Finish is a durable top coat sealer that dries to a crystal clear matte finish. It is water-based and incredibly easy to work with. It fits the bill for all key features you should consider when protecting your painted furniture. 

Top Coat Sealer for Painted Wood

What is the Best Clear Coat for White Paint? 

Since most oil-based top coat sealers have a yellow tone, it’s best to avoid this kind of protectant when painting white furniture.

White furniture can often be a difficult color to seal when you are painting vintage furniture.

This is due to the everyday wear it has received throughout its lifetime. 

For example, if the piece of furniture was in a home that was around smoke, you may experience little orange/brown colored dots coming through the white paint and/or top coat sealer. This is often referred to as “bleed through”. 

It’s wise to thoroughly scrub any vintage piece of furniture (you can usually use TSP powder for a thorough cleaning) before painting it; especially when painting it white.  

Scrubbing it beforehand can help prevent bleed through.  Using a primer before painting can also help.

Generally speaking, going with a water-based top coat sealer, like Protective Finish,  is a safe bet when sealing white painted furniture.

Sealing White Painted Furniture

Sealing Painted Furniture Conclusion 

Sealing painted furniture is kind of like insurance.  It adds an extra layer of protection that will help keep your hard work safe.

Not all painted pieces need to be sealed but it is recommended to use a sealer on surfaces that will have light or heavy daily use.

For light use surfaces, sealing with an all natural furniture wax is a good choice.  Watch out for high chemical ingredients as they can be difficult to work with, if you are sensitive to smells.  Furniture wax sealer application is similar to waxing a car.  Be sure to reapply it as needed.

When looking for ultimate projection, grab a water-based top coat sealer that dries crystal clear and is scratch resistant.  While application of a top coat sealer may be a bit more detailed, it is worth the extra effort for the protection it brings. And, it will last (usually much) longer than a furniture wax sealer.

Either way you decide, remember that using both furniture wax sealer and a top coat sealer is usually not recommended. Choose one or the other, based on how the painted surface will be used.

Until next time!


Have a question or want to leave another tip?  Drop it in the comments section below! 

Sealing Painted Furniture

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  1. Hi Krista,
    Have a question. Just got a used Pottery Barn black paintedconsole cabinet and I want to seal or topcoat it.
    The top has multiple surface scratches from moving things around I’m assuming but otherwise just some tiny dings here and there which can be touched-up fairly easily.
    The piece is about 15 yrs old.
    What would you suggest to both help diminish the movement marks on the top as well as protect the piece from more marks from dishes etc.?
    Lots of info on chalk paints but I’m am not interested in refinishing this piece. Thanks so much.

    1. Hey there! Really glad you reached out with your question. It’s a bit of a tricky one to tackle without seeing the actual piece, but let me break it down how I would handle it…

      First things first, we need to figure out if the paint on your furniture is oil-based or water-based. This will help us decide what kind of touch up paint + protective finish to use.

      Here’s a little trick: grab a cotton ball, dip it in some rubbing alcohol, and gently rub it on the painted surface (preferably somewhere not too visible). If the paint easily transfers onto the cotton ball, it’s water-based. If the cotton ball comes away clean, the paint is oil-based. Keep this in mind, we’ll circle back to it shortly.

      Now, about those scratches. You can use any touch-up paint you have on hand, just make sure the color is a match + it matches the type of paint you identified earlier. Simply paint over the scratched areas where the original paint has worn off.

      After the touch-up paint has dried, you’ll want to lightly sand the entire top with a piece of fine sandpaper (320 grit or higher should do the trick). The aim here is to blend the new paint with the old, and create a slightly rough surface for the protective finish to adhere to. Be careful not to sand too hard though, you don’t want to remove any paint.

      Finally, it’s time for the protective finish. Based on your earlier test, choose either an oil-based or water-based product (like Rust-Oleum Clear Coat) and apply it over the top. Go for light, even coats – two or three should be enough.

      I hope that helps, and fingers crossed your furniture ends up looking as good as new. Best of luck!

      Cheers, Krista

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