Choose the Right Top Coat for Painted Furniture

Jan 28, 2021 | 0 comments

There are so many finishes out there that it may seem daunting to choose the right one for your hand-painted furniture art but DON’T WORRY! I’ve broken down the top two finishes for chalk paint and clay paint so you can be sure to choose the right top coat every single time. 

Which Top Coat is Right For Painted Furniture?

There’s clear coat spray, some metallic waxes, and even some glazes! One thing I’ve found is that, when it comes to furniture, you need the durability and flexibility that only waxes and clear coats can offer. Most other finishes will leave your piece tacky, splotchy, or prone to getting dents and rings. Not only that, but most other finishes have tons of harsh chemicals that are terrible for you and the environment. I recommend sticking with a nontoxic, long-lasting paint and finish like DIY Paint. 

First, I’ll cover the different finishes you can achieve.


I’ll say it right off the bat: I’m a fan of wax! Not only does it protect your furniture and create a moisture barrier but it adds additional texture and, when you add colored wax, you get some delicious depth! 

Black Wax

furniture finished with black wax

If you use clear wax over a dark brown or black wax you’re going to get a layered look with the shadows that creates more interest to the eye and can turn a basic piece into a more dramatic piece. 

White Wax

painted furniture finished with white wax

I also prefer the finish of wax because it’s not as shiny. Shiny, to me, always seems new and modern but, as you know, I’m a big fan of that layered, chippy, old-world look which is why white wax is such a favorite! 

If you’re more of a sleek and modern person then you may want to try…

Clear Coat

painted furniture finished in big top clear coat

My favorite clear coat is Big Top from DIY Paint for a glossy finish. It goes on faster than wax and dries very quickly. Who doesn’t love that? If you prefer a metallic topcoat, you can use one by itself or mix it with clear wax or even mix it with the Big Top or another product called Liquid Patina from DIY. One thing to remember, no matter what topcoat you use, is not to mix a product like polyurethane with an all natural chalk-based or clay-based product. 

Below you’ll see where I used polyurethane on a piece that I had painted with latex paint. 

furniture painted with latex paint and finished with polyurethane

Polyurethane finishes will yellow overtime and can also pull up your chalk paint and make it appear splotchy. Stick to a water-based product when you need something to coordinate with your chalk paint or clay-based paint such as DIY. 

Two Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Top Coat

Before you use any finish, it’s important to asses how your furniture will be used.

Style and Usage

If you’re going for a sleek, glossy finish you’ll want to use a sleek, glossy top coat! Clear coat is perfect for high-traffic pieces like chairs and end tables because it’s durable and sleek while wax is better for statement pieces with a layered paint finish.

Paint Type

I’m going to say this part again: don’t mix your chalk paint with your polyurethane finish! Some products do NOT play well together and it’s incredibly important to read the notes before committing to a top coat. There is nothing worse than spending HOURS on a gorgeous armoire only to have it ruined by harsh chemicals that pull up the paint or fade to a splotchy, yellowed finish.

Applying Your Top Coat

Don’t forget to apply your top coat using the right brush! I recommend using a wax brush for your waxes. Big Top clear coat can be applied using a regular brush or sponge brush. Polyurethane works best when applied with a sponge.

Remember: all top coats need time to cure!

I hope this helps you choose your next top coat! Let me know in the comments if you have any more questions and maybe I’ll be able to do a follow-up post soon!

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