Which topcoat do you choose for your chalk painted furniture? When there is so much debate among furniture painters about which topcoat is best, it is difficult to know what to choose! And, the truth is that there are several product categories that provide good qualities for “sealing” and protecting your newly painted furniture. But the two most widely debated chalk paint topcoats are the waxes and the water-based poly-acrylics.
When you work so hard to paint furniture and make it look the way you want, protecting the finish is therefore quite important! While you don’t absolutely have to add a topcoat to chalk painted furniture, it will certainly improve durability. A topcoat also provides a layer of protection from chipping, scratches, and other surface damage.
While many painters will always argue that wax is best, others will argue that poly-acrylics, also called polys for short, are optimal. However, I propose that both offer good qualities and both products have their pros and cons.
Next, we’ll cover how to decide which topcoat to choose for your project. And if you’d like a helpful Topcoat Cheat Sheet – Wax or Poly? checklist I have a handy printable for you. See the bottom of this post for info.
How to Choose – Wax or Poly?
Answering a few questions about your project can help determine which of the chalk paint topcoats to choose.
- How much will this furniture be used? Is it a piece of furniture that will be in a high-traffic area?
- What is the purpose of the furniture? Is exposure to water a possibility? Is it a tabletop?
- Will you add other decorative finishes after the sealer, such as glazes, gilding waxes, colored waxes, or etc?
- What do you want your final finish to look like? Do you want a glossy or matte finish?
- Do you want the topcoat to deepen or enrich the paint color?
- What is the likelihood that you will repaint this furniture piece in the near future?
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Chalk Paint Topcoats: Wax and Poly Basics
Waxes are very popular! When I first started using chalk paint, I was only familiar with using a clear wax to seal and protect the finish. Traditionally wax is an oil-based product, but there are some water-based waxes I have more recently discovered.
What You Need To Know About Waxes
- Apply with a lint-free cloth like these here or a wax brush.
- Buff the wax into the chalk paint finish.
- For a nice sheen or luster use wax.
- It will deepen the paint color just a bit, making it a bit richer.
- Wax comes in clear and colors to give you more finish options. You can mix wax colors to make your own uniquely colored wax.
- They are fairly durable but over time may wear off.
- Provides some protection from water and scratches, but it is likely not the best option for a high-use surface, such as a tabletop.
- The wax finish will “cure” over time, increasing adhesion to the surface. It’s best to wait this “cure” time before using the item heavily.
A Little More About Waxes
On my very first chalk-painted furniture pieces I used Annie Sloan Clear Wax. Annie Sloan makes a traditional oil-based wax. These waxes come in colors also, including white, black, and dark. They have a mild odor, but not overwhelming.
Dixie Belle makes water-based waxes, a line called Best Dang Wax. I haven’t tested their durability compared to an oil-based wax. If you suspect you will repaint the furniture soon or if you plan to apply glazes, powders, or other water-based chalk paint products to your piece, a water-based wax is likely a better choice. Most Dixie Belle products are water-based, meaning they all work together seamlessly! These Best Dang Waxes come in clear, black, brown, grunge gray and white. Check out Dixie Belle Best Dang Wax here in clear and colors on Amazon.
Wax Application Tips
It is best to apply wax with a wax brush or a lint free soft cloth. I have an Annie Sloan wax brush that I have used, but I tend to reach for the soft cloths as my preferred applicator. Use a small amount of wax at a time, working the wax into your furniture in a circular fashion in small sections. You can buff with a soft cloth to get a nice shine and luster which makes your finished product feel very smooth and buttery. If your furniture feels tacky or “thick” after your are done, you probably got a little heavy handed with the wax. Buffing that extra wax off will fix the problem. Applying wax really isn’t hard, but it does take a little elbow grease and some practice to get a feel for it, but you can do it!
If you plan to paint over a waxed finish and an oil-based wax was used previously then you can repaint with chalk paint, but you may need to remove as much of the old wax as possible first. Otherwise your new paint may not stick as well. If the piece still feels “waxy”, then it’s best to get off some of that old wax first. This can be done most easily by giving the piece a light sanding. You can also use some odorless mineral spirits to remove the wax, but I haven’t tried this.
Now that we’ve talked about wax products let’s discuss poly-acrylics, “polys”. Polys are a great topcoat, and if you google the debate of wax versus polyurethanes or poly-acrylics for chalk paint, you’ll see many proponents of polys. The poly topcoats I am discussing in this post are water-based polys. Oil-based polys tend to be thicker and can cause yellowing over time. They aren’t typically aren’t your best choice for sealing chalk paint.
What You Need To Know About Poly Topcoats
- Easy to use and super quick to apply.
- Usually dry quickly. Can be applied with a paintbrush, foam brush, sponge or topcoat application pad.
- Typically do not change the color of the chalk-painted finish.
- Polys typically require more than one coat, usually 2 to 3 coats.
- Provide great protection from stains, fingerprints, water drops and rings, and scratches.
- The furniture can easily be repainted without removing the old finish.
- Polys can be combined easily with other finishes such as glazes and additional coats of paint.
- Are available in various sheens.
A Little More About Polys
There are several poly topcoats that I have tried and can recommend when you are looking for a product to provide excellent protection for your chalk-painted furniture. I especially recommend applying a poly topcoat to tabletops and other surfaces that will see high use.
Most brands of water-based poly-acrylic topcoats offer options in flat, satin, and gloss. Dixie Belle Clear Coats are the bomb and are clearly my favorites! They are low odor and go on so easily. The Clear Coat in Satin is the main one I reach for. Gloss is a good choice if you are looking for a super shiny finish with a high sheen. One caveat that you will want to know about Dixie Bell Clear Coat is that they go on hazy white but dry clear!
A few other good quality chalk paint poly topcoats are made by General Finishes. One that provides nice durable finish is the General Finishes High Performance Topcoat in satin. For a flat finish try Dixie Belle Clear Coat in Flat or General Finishes High Performance Topcoat in Flat or their Flat Out Flat Topcoat. A flat finish will give no shine, therefore totally keeping that chalky finish look but providing some protection.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the ultimate papa bear of water-based chalk paint topcoats. . . drum roll please . . . it’s Dixie Belle’s Gator Hide. Optimally use Gator Hide for heavily used furniture exposed to lots of traffic, water or scratches. This product is water repellent and really tough, and don’t you just love that name! It gives a slight satin finish as well. Gator Hide can be a bit tricky to apply without streaks. One idea is that if you are planning to apply the Gator Hide to a dark painted piece, you can mix just a little of the dark paint into the Gator Hide before applying. To find Dixie Belle products, go here to find your local retailer https://dixiebellepaint.com/find-a-dixie-belle-paint-retailer/. You can also order online!
The choices of topcoats, even when it comes to choosing a poly type of topcoat can be a bit confusing, but most people try a few and find their favorites. I created a printable Topcoat Cheat Sheet – Wax or Poly?. See the bottom of this post for more info.
Poly Application Tips
The topcoats mentioned above are low odor. They are super easy to apply and quick! And no buffing! For these reasons I love a poly topcoat and will often choose them over wax. I like to apply topcoats using a foam brush or a topcoat application sponge. Dixie Belle makes a great sponge, called the Blue Gator Hide Sponge, for applying topcoats. And with water-based products, clean up of brushes and sponges is so easy with just soap and water! Here is the Dixie Belle Gator Hide Blue Sponge:
When you apply your poly topcoat, I recommend that you apply in a single layer, one section at a time, keeping a wet edge. I like to apply in small sections usually running horizontally or vertically along the area I am working. Avoid going back over a section already done as these topcoats dry quickly and if you try to go back over areas with your sponge or brush, you can cause bumps, streaks, and smears. It’s also important to apply a thin layer, not too thick. This allows each layer or coat to dry thoroughly. You can add more coats to increase protection, but allowing each coat to fully dry.
Check the instructions on the product you are using for dry times,. That way you will know how long to let it dry before applying your next coat. Also you will want to avoid applying topcoats in the extremes of temperature or humidity. I learned this the hard way! The product labeling or website also typically offers recommendations on how many coats to apply, usually 2-3 coats.
Final Thoughts On Chalk Paint Topcoats
So, now with some basic knowledge on wax and water-based poly topcoats, it just comes down to making the decision for the piece of furniture you are working on. I love both waxes and poly-acrylics and honestly use them both, depending on what furniture I’m painting. Three questions can help sort out which topcoat to reach for.
1. Is the furniture more decorative or more functional?
2. What finish is desired, glossy, buttery with minimal shine, or completely flat?
3. Will the furniture come in contact with water, such as in a kitchen or serving area?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite topcoats for chalk painted furniture! P. S. Subscribe to my list to get updates on tips and tricks for getting fun finishes with chalk paint!
One tip: If you are planning to apply a transfer, such as the gorgeous Redesign with Prima transfers, it is best to wait and apply the topcoat after you apply the transfer. For tips on how to apply a transfer check out this post: https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-use-redesign-with-prima-transfers-on-furniture-and-decor/
Other Related Posts
Another helpful post: If you are looking on information on how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint, check out this post: https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-get-a-smoother-finish-with-chalk-paint/
Get My Topcoat Cheat Sheet – Wax or Poly?
This printable cheat sheet is available in my resource library along with other fun and helpful chalk painting and DIY tips and updates. Get access to this cheat sheet and my free resource library here by filling out the form below.