The Best Clear Coat for Painted Wood, 2023 (Tested & 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!

As someone with 15 years of experience in painting and refinishing furniture, I’ve learned that not all topcoats are created equal and that different surfaces need different protective finishes.

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.

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 equal, but after blind-testing 8 products, I’ll share with you the best waterproof sealer for painted wood.

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 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!

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 will go into detail at the end of the post.

Benefits of Using a Clear Coat on Furniture

Any furniture piece can benefit from 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 meals.

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

After testing and reviewing several sealers, here are our top picks for the best clear coat for painted wood furniture:

  • Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish
  • Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane
  • General Finishes Flat Out Flat Topcoat

These clear coats have been blind-tested and have proven to provide excellent protection for painted wood furniture. They are easy to apply, dry quickly, and provide a durable and waterproof finish.

The Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish is a popular choice for its ease of use, low odor, and excellent performance. It dries quickly and can be used on various wood surfaces.

The Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane is another great option with its scratch and stain resistance. It has a low odor and dries quickly, making it convenient for any furniture project.

The General Finishes Flat Out Flat Topcoat is known for its exceptional durability and matte finish. It provides a smooth and clear surface while protecting the painted wood furniture.

All three options are water-based, making them easy to clean up and suitable for a wide range of projects.


Choosing the right clear coat for painted wood furniture is crucial to ensure its protection and longevity. The Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish, Varathane Water-Based Polyurethane, and General Finishes Flat Out Flat Topcoat are all excellent options that have been blind-tested and proven to provide a durable and waterproof finish.

By protecting your painted wood furniture with these top-notch clear coats, you can enjoy your beautiful pieces for years to come without worrying about damage or wear and tear.

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