Back to Top

Top Coat Protection Options for Chalky Painted Furniture

It's a new year, a new beginning and my fingers are itching to paint! Nope, not finger painting!! And today I'm sharing my favorite options to protect your newly painted furniture!

robins egg blue painted cabinet

My most popular posts, the ones that get pinned and shared and copied and commented on are the ones I've written about chalky-type paint. This includes Chalk Paint 101 for the chalky paint beginner and Chalk Paint 201, which includes user reviews of several specific chalky paint brands, both my own and by fellow bloggers. I also wrote a post about making your own DIY chalk paint using store sample paint awesome way to save a TON of money!

One thing quickly became clear...y'all love to read about chalky paint!

I think everyone has heard of chalky paint these days, and many, many of you have tried your hand at transforming your own furniture. It's an exciting hobby and can quickly become addictive because suddenly a whole world opens up!

Just think about it...Great Aunt Myrtle's dark and dated bedroom suite that has been languishing in your garage or basement for years can now be brought into the light with a chalky paint transformation! Or that piece you spotted in the thrift store that was a fabulous price but was covered in water rings and spots...not a problem when you cover it up with a couple coats of chalky paint!

You get the idea...chalky paint is a fun and budget-friendly way to transform old, dated (even damaged) pieces!

I get asked a lot of questions about different brands of chalky paint, how to use it properly, which one is my favorite, and so on.

But one of the most-asked questions I get asked is how do I protect my newly painted piece? 

I've mentioned various top coats that I've used on specific posts, but today I want to bring it all together into one easy-to-find, informative post to help you achieve the best results with your painted pieces!

I haven't tried every option that's out there (that goes for both chalky-type paints as well as top-coat options). I wish I could say I've tried them all, but as you know, paint supplies are expensive and I pride myself on being a budget-conscious shopper and blogger.

That said, I have tried several brands and I'm happy to share my experiences with you in this post. You might be surprised to find that there are many, many affordable options to protect your painted furniture!

I'll be sharing my favorites with you today, including why I like them, and the best use for them...because not all top coats are created equal, and different pieces require different protection.

Why Should I Protect My Furniture with a Top Coat?

Maybe you're asking yourself this question right about now, especially if you're a newbie to the chalk-paint world. It's a great question!

After all, one of the qualities that sets chalky paint apart is its matte, chalky finish. Why would you want to cover that up?

You're absolutely right...we don't want to cover up that great matte, chalky finish with something super-shiny and lacquer-like! However, depending on what the piece will be used for, it may very well benefit from some kind of top coat to protect it.

My rule of thumb is that if your chalky painted furniture will get daily wear and tear, it's best to protect it with a top coat!
Painting a piece of furniture is a time-consuming don't want to ruin all that hard work and have to re-do it because you didn't protect it! But be assured that none of the top coat options I'll be sharing will add a high shine to your freshly painted piece; rather they will enhance your piece and help it look its best!

Aside from protection, a top coat will further enhance the color of your chalky painted furniture. This is desirable for bright pieces or pieces with a lot of contrast.

Affiliate links are provided for your convenience. You can find my full disclosure policy here. 

Best Budget Top Coats for Quality Furniture Protection

Now that we know why certain pieces of painted furniture need the protection of a topcoat, let's take a look at some of my favorite budget brands. We'll start with the waxes.

1. Minwax Furniture Paste

Minwax paste wax

This is the product I used on every.single.piece when I first started painting furniture. It's inexpensive, easily found, and does a fantastic job of protecting your chalky painted furniture.

I used Minwax dark paste wax on this driftwood painted nightstand. The dark paste waxes are awesome when you want to age or antique a piece!

driftwood painted nightstand

This product is a solid wax, so you need to apply it with a rag. You wipe it on and then buff it off. Buffing works the wax into the furniture, and also gives the piece a beautiful sheen. Not shiny. Not highly polished. Not lacquered-looking. But a gentle, time-honored sheen.

NOTE: When using dark wax, always apply a layer of clear wax first. That waxy clear layer will allow you to manipulate the dark wax and remove some if it's too much, or add more! The only time I don't follow this step is if the piece I'm waxing is already dark, like the above nightstand.

For right around $10, Minwax Paste Wax is a great option for chalky-painted furniture!

Other popular paste waxes that have been around for decades include SC Johnson Paste Wax (I've used and like it, it is very inexpensive but it has a very strong odor), Briwax, Fiddes and Sons. Most chalky-paint companies offer a paste-type wax as well.

Bottom Line

I recommend a paste wax for items that will get minimal to moderate use. Chairs, benches, picture frames, lamps, decor that will hang on the wall, even cabinets. You absolutely can use wax on tabletops, but just keep in mind you will need to reapply it a couple times of year to achieve the best protection. As with all top coat options, a cure time of about two weeks is recommended for the ultimate protection (follow instructions on product).

Here are some other chalky painted furniture pieces that I finished with paste wax. You can click on the below links to read more about each project.

painted furniture with wax top coat protection

2. DecoArt Americana Decor Creme Wax

DecoArt Creme Wax

There are liquid waxes as well, like DecoArt Creme Wax. Rather than apply with a rag, you brush it on. It's a thick liquid that quickly dries, and then you buff it (just like with the paste wax) to work it into the painted furniture and bring out that delightful sheen.

It's easy to use and a little goes a long way. DecoArt also offers a range of dark waxes which I recommend for items that have lots of grooves and crevices (much easier to apply with a brush than a rag!) This stenciled coffee table was finished with creme wax.

stenciled coffee table

Bottom Line

Cream waxes are easy to apply with a brush, although waxed pieces will still need to be buffed. They are another great option for pieces that will get light to moderate use. As with all top coat options, a cure time of about 2 weeks is recommended for the ultimate protection (follow instructions included on product).

I've used cream wax on home decor projects as well, like this hand-painted laundry room definition sign.  Although this sign doesn't really get touched, the wax brightened and enhanced the paint, and provides a smooth finish, making it easy to dust!

laundry definition painted sign

We're leaving the waxes behind now and moving on to the top coats, also known as polyurethane. On the whole, they're a more durable product and able to withstand more wear and daily abuse. Sometimes you need the ultimate protection. I'm talking dining and kitchen table tops that are used multiple times a day. They get wet, food gets smooshed into the top and it simply needs to hold up to anything your kids can throw at it! That's when you want to use a poly top coat.

3. General Finishes High Performance Top Coat

General Finishes top coat

I love this top coat by General Finishes! It's available in multiple sheens, from flat to glossy, depending on your needs. I used it on the top of this painted cabinet and it has held up tremendously! In fact, a heavy mirror recently fell off the wall, and landed on this painted and stenciled piece and it barely left a scratch!

painted and stenciled dresser

This top coat works extremely well on home decor projects as well, like this wood slice clock.

wood slice clock

What is the difference between a wax and a poly top coat?

I figure you might be wondering this right about now. There are two main differences:

1. The first is durability. Poly top coats are hands down more durable and offer the ultimate protection for your painted furniture.

2. The second difference has to do with the application. Waxes are applied with a rag or brush and must be buffed; poly top coats are brushed on and allowed to dry and cure. No buffing!

To help you understand when to use a poly top coat, here's a general rule:

If your painted furniture will come into contact with water, food and grubby little hands on a daily basis, a poly top coat will give your piece the best protection!

4. Rustoleum Chalked Topcoat

Rustoleum Chalked topcoat

This product by Rustoleum is another durable poly top coat option that is easy to find, inexpensive and durable. I used Rustoleum Chalked paint on this painted cabinet but opted not to apply the topcoat because this piece is more decorative and doesn't get daily use; however, I'm planning to go back and brush on the top coat to the top of the piece, where I place decorative items. The top coat will protect it from scratches.

The tutorial for this cabinet is available here, I promise it's worth a click over to see the dark and dreary before! If you're still wondering if chalky paint is a good idea, this makeover will make you a believer!

blue painted armoire

The Rustoleum Chalked top coat product is also available in a spray, which I haven't used, but would love to try for smaller projects.

5. Minwax Wipe On Poly

Minwax wipe-on poly

Many of you have been refinishing and restaining furniture, specifically dining tables. I decided to include this product by Minwax that provides top coat protection for your stained pieces

I relied on Minwax Wipe-on Poly for my dining table makeover. This table was a real challenge, but in the end I love how it turned out.

This poly is applied with a soft, lint-free rag and multiple coats are recommended for the best protection. You must lightly sand between coats for the best possible outcome. This Minwax poly is available in both oil-based and water-based options.

refinished dining table

For those of you who are refinishing pieces with stain, this is the product I recommend. It promises hand-rubbed beauty and polyurethane protection.

Bottom line for poly top coats

Use a poly top coat when you need the ultimate protection. This includes pieces that will be heavily used and come into daily contact with liquids and other messes. Multiple coats will give you the best protection so your painted or stained piece will look great for years! Please follow the manufacturer's directions on the product you choose.

Whew, that was a lot of information!

It can be very overwhelming to find the right product to protect your piece because there are so many to choose from!

I trust this post has provided some useful information and tips for those of you who are considering how to best protect your chalky painted furniture pieces, and when to use a wax or a poly.

Go ahead and PIN THIS IMAGE so that you'll have it for easy reference in the future!

understanding wax and poly

As always, please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions.

I would love to hear about your painting projects in 2017 and what top coat protection you used!

bringing beauty to the ordinary,

Follow me here! PinterestFBG+TwitterInstagram

Don't miss these Popular Posts!




  1. Great post Cindy! Do you remember way back when I has asked you about Chalk Paint and you took the time to answer me? I'd like to think I've come a long way since then, but I am always eager to learn more. This is really great information on the differences between all these top coats.

    1. Thank you so much Mary! Yes, I do remember your question way back when...and yes, you have come a long way :) I'm so glad you found this information helpful! Have fun painting!

  2. I have used a few of these products but I always enjoy learning about more options. This is an excellent reference post. Pinned

    1. Thank you for the Pin Debra! I know there are many more options available, but these are a few tried and true favorites that are still very affordable.

  3. I love chalk paint and usually put a coat of wax on afterwards...Your chalky finish projects are beautiful, I love that wood slice clock especially! Thank you for stopping by to party at Sweet Inspiration this weekend!

    1. Thanks so much Katrin! I really love the way wax brings out a natural sheen in freshly painted pieces!

  4. Thank you so much Cindy. This post cleared up a whole bunch of questions for me. All your pieces are so beautiful and it's lovely having everything in one place for easier reference. Thanks again.

    1. Michelle, I'm so glad my top coat options post was helpful for you! Thank you for your sweet words!

  5. Cindy I have chosen this post as my feature this week at the Sweet Inspiration Link Party. Congrats!

  6. Great information! I'm the kind of person who learns as I go which isn't always the most successful way to go about things ;) So, this is something I will definitely refer back to! Pinning & sharing!

  7. I am interested in painting my bathroom vanity...I think poly is best as a finish coat...what would you suggest as antiquing?

    1. If you are going to poly your cabinets, do any antiquing before and apply the poly as a final coat to protect your hard work! You could apply a glaze (either purchased or mixed yourself by watering down dark brown paint and rubbing on and off with a rag).

  8. Love this post..thank you for the info..looking forward to chalk painting as a beginner and also making my own chalk paint.. You make it seem like it may be a breeze..lets hope so��

    1. Thank you! I won't lie...painting is hard work! But it's not overly complicated to make your own chalky type paint, and your wallet will definitely thank you! I happen to really enjoy the process of making something old and ugly 'new' again!! Good luck!

  9. Can I apply wax after poly? Do I need to apply wax after poly. Thanks

    1. Delisa,you apply wax OR poly, not both! Wax is rubbed on/buffed off, poly is brushed on. Hope that clears it up.

  10. I'd like to add that Minwax makes a matte polycrylic now and it is gorgeous! It's truly matte. I've used it on my DIY chalk painted pieces and I'd say it's pretty durable - want to go with those full three coats for something hardy. I'm going to try out the GF flat finish. :) Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for adding that, Zovesta! I'll have to check it out. You will really enjoy the GF product!

  11. I am fixing to do my first chalky paint project and this information was really helpful. I do have two questions though.....
    1. What's the deal with the different wax colors? I have heard dark wax, light wax, clear do you know what to use? (fyi I am going to be painting a dark wood twin bed white)
    2. Is there a certain type of brush I should use when painting? I have seen the little round brushes but didn't know if they were necessary or not (that stuff gets expensive!)


    1. These are great questions Amanda! Wax is used as a protective top coat, but depending on the color you use, you can change the look of your painted piece. For instance, dark wax is used when you want to antique and deepen the color, white wax softens the look and tones down the color and clear wax is just for doesn't alter the color at all. So for your painted bed, unless you want to antique it I would choose clear or white wax. Some clear waxes tend to turn your white painted furniture a dingy if you want it to be pure white, I'd use a white wax. As far as brushes go, it's a very personal thing. Some people swear by the rounded brushes, others like to use cheap chip brushes. I personally prefer the 2" short handled angled brush by Purdy. It is easy to find (check HD, Lowes or Amazon), fairly inexpensive, I can easily get into corners, and I like a flat surface for pulling my paint across a piece. That said, I have a couple rounded brushes that I am eager to try. But it's absolutely not necessary! Again, some people like to use special brushes for wax. I use a cheap rag that I can toss when I'm done! It's certainly all about budget (what you can afford and want to spend your money on) and preference!

      Hope this helps and happy painting!

  12. Great article for beginner. I'd like to add poly is essentially liquid plastic. Water based poly, such as polyacrylic, it's not the best option for anything left in direct sunlight (nor is any wax) or for items that will be subject to constant moisture, water or chemicals! That's for those of you repainting cabinets in bath or kitchen! You cannot clean these surfaces with household chemicals! Damp cloth only. You will need a kcma compliant top coat if you'd like them to stand up to years of wear and tear and look professional. Oil based poly is a bit more durable than water based but WILL YELLOW WITH TIME OVER LIGHT AND WHITE PAINTS. ALL OF THEM WILL! Just because the front label says crystal clear does not mean it will not yellow! Flip it over and read the fine print. Also water based poly is infamous for leaving streaks on a large surface(like a dining table top) and sheen will not be consistent. You should spray these painted surfaces with a top coat whether it be the spray cans or your own hvlp sprayer(please don't use an airless sprayer if your trying to get personal results(these are made for large areas outside such as fences and not for fine woodwork). Recommend professional line of general finishes, and Behrens which also comes in spray can. Hope this helps add to a great article

  13. I used Annie Sloan chalk paint on my kitchen cabinets a couple years ago. I finished them with light wax. Well they look horrible now. Chipped out and dull looking. I'm going to reapply the chalk paint and finish with a poly. Any recommendations for your favorite chalk paint and poly for kitchen cabinets? I'm thinking a bit of a sheen? What do you think?

    1. Oh no, so sorry you had that experience! My guess is that the light wax was not enough protection! I've heard very good things about DecoArt's new line of satin enamel paints...made specifically for cabinets! Here's what they say... "Americana Decor® Satin Enamels™ is a specially designed acrylic that gives a durable, satin finish to home decor projects. Works especially well in high-use areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. Its smooth brushability ensures fewer brushstrokes and minimal grain raising on wood. No need to sand or prime before using." Sounds like it might be the answer. You'll have to sand down the chips a little first so you have a smooth surface to paint! Good luck!

  14. Cindy, can the Wipe-on Poly be used as a top coat for chalk paint?

    1. I don't recommend it. It is meant to soak into wood. You'd be better off using the Top Coat made by General Finishes. You can brush it on. Hope that helps!

  15. Varathane Soft-Touch Poly in Matte is a great top coat for chalky paint. It gives a similar feel as wax and the sheen is easy to get even. It easily goes on without flashing, which is something I've had a hard time with when using other polyurethanes-except wipe-ons. It has a very gentle sheen like wax produces and is very protective. It's water based and I've had no yellowing with it like has occured with other water-based polys.Oh, I've also wiped it on with a soft rag and with staining pads without having any streaking. I assume that when I apply it that way that I need to apply a few more coats for extra durability like when using true Wipe-On Polyurethanes. I finally found a topcoat I love that is easy to use! The Minwax Matte Poly mentioned earlier had too much of a shine for me-it is closer to a semi-satin sheen and it had a tendency to streak the few times I used it.

  16. have you ever tried a brush-on top coat (like Rustoleum) over chalk painted fabric furniture? I have started painting 2 wingback chairs. I first painted the cushions and then waxed them. I'm not loving the look of the wax. Also, my cats love to sleep on these chairs and I am a little worried about the wax rubbing off on their fur over time.

    1. No I haven't, sorry. The wax gets buffed in to the paint, which I think helps the overall feel. I'm not sure what the results would be with a painted poly.

  17. I need your help!!!I am in the process of redoing my bedroom furniture ...very old cherry type traditional look to a more updated coastal style bedroom. I mixed annie sloan's empire gray and black pepper, turned out so pretty almost bluish looking (I'm obsessed) however then I used general finishes top coat with a foam brush and it left white streaks all over I tried to sand and made it worse I don't know what to do!! Can you suggest anything? should I sand down and repaint then wax or what??

    1. It sounds like you got too much poly on the piece, that's why I prefer a good paint or wax brush over foam. You might be able to lightly sand the poly off and then either re-apply with a lighter touch or use wax.

  18. Hi Cindy,

    I am hoping to start my first chalk paint project soon and I am glad I came across your article. I am hoping to work my way to a dining room table. I love the look with the dark wax but I am worried that's not the best finish option. What would you recommend to get the waxed look but also lasts?

    1. Lori, when you say you want to "get the waxed look", I'm not sure if you're talking about the antique finish that dark wax gives or the soft sheen of furniture wax. It also depends on where you plan to use it. I wrote a post about finishing my dining table top (plus 3 leaves), and I found a great product that protects my stained top and gives the look of a waxed piece. You can read that post here I'm also very fond of General Finishes Top Coat in Matte for painted pieces.

  19. Rhonda in Panama City Beach, FLAugust 11, 2017 at 11:17 AM

    Thank you so much for this!! We just bought a new home (we live in PCB, FL) and it came furnished. While I love some of the pieces, the dark colors need some happiness and love! I am so excited that I found your blog. You have really educated me on the options and the best products for the jobs! I can't wait to share some of my new updates with you in the future!
    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Rhonda, congrats on your new home! It sounds like you have some exciting projects ahead of you! I'm so glad you've found my posts beneficial, and hope you keep in touch and share some of your finished pieces!

  20. Hello, Your post was very helpful. I have a coffee table that I used wax on but my children have really scratched it (not in a pretty way). Can I use a poly on top of this or do I have to sand and start all over?
    Thanks for the advice!

    1. You need to sand the wax off before applying a poly.

  21. Such a helpful post for this beginner! Thank you! I'm curious if you have tried an aerosol spray top coat instead of brush on? Does it work as well? My Home Depot has the Rust-Oleum Chalked matte top coat only in aerosol spray can, not a brush on quart.


Your comments are like sunshine and chocolate! Thanks for taking the time to leave a nice one ;) I read all comments and love to respond if you leave your email! Otherwise, please look for my response under the post where you left it!

Copyright DIY beautify 2013. Powered by Blogger.


I love when you share! Just remember that all images and text on this site are property of DIY beautify. You are welcome to use one or two photos as long as a link back to my original post is included. Please do not remove any watermarks, crop or edit any of my images without first obtaining written permission from me. All free printables on my site are for personal use only, and not to be used to make money. Pinning is always welcome and appreciated. Please respect the effort I've put into my blog and I will do the same for you...Thank You!