Wondering what top coat to put over paint? Specifically what kind of top coat for painted furniture? Consider this guide the holy grail for just that. It will walk you through all the different types of top coats and when to use each.
The first few pieces of painted furniture I did, I had no idea what a topcoat was or that I was supposed to use them to seal and protect furniture.
I quickly learned that if you paint a piece with a flat sheen of paint, you will eventually wind up with a bruised and scratched up piece of furniture – that ain’t pretty.
You live. You learn.
And then get Luvs.
Not really, those diapers were never great for us.
It took a few more tries, but I finally realized the benefit of a topcoat and when to use one.
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Topcoats and When to Use Them
Polyurethane is most typically used on stained wood and gives a very durable finish. I don’t recommend polyurethane for painted furniture, because it tends to yellow the paint over time. Its also oil based, which works best on top of stained wood and other oil based paints. I do use Minwax Polyurethane to protect stained pieces like the inside of my front door. I typically brush on a light coat with a high quality paintbrush, followed by a light sanding, another light coat, light sanding, then a final light coat. I haven’t tried the wipe-on poly, but I have heard good things about it. I usually go with a satin polyurethane because the gloss is pretty glossy. If you don’t use the fast drying version, it usually takes a few days for your piece to fully cure.
Velvet Finishes Protect
Its no secret that my new favorite furniture paint is Velvet Finishes. Velvet Finishes paint already has a topcoat built into the paint. However, if you are painting something that will get a lot of use, like a tabletop, dresser, end table, etc., you should still use a topcoat on it. Velvet Finishes topcoat is called Protect. Its a polyurethane, but unlike Minwax, it is non-yellowing and water based, which is why I love it. Its gives great protection, without the yellowing. With this one, I brush on one light coat and let it dry- that’s it.
The vintage radio turned drink bar got a coat of Velvet Finishes Protect after it was painted.
There are many people that are crazy about furniture wax. I am not one of those people. In fact, this is my least favorite way to protect furniture, but I still do it on occasion when necessary. Wax gives furniture more of a flat finish, but still protects the piece. Most people will rub it on with a cloth, let it sit and then buff it. However, I have a much easier method to waxing furniture when I have to. Anytime I have waxed a piece, I have used Minwax Paste Finishing Wax.
When I made our laminate counters look like stone, I used wax to finish them because it gave the flat stone like finish I was looking for.
Where many polyurethanes (except Protect) are oil based and go on stained wood and oil painted furniture, polycrylic is water based and can go on wood or paint. It can be applied the same as polyurethane – brush on, light sanding, brush on, light sanding, brush on. However, polycrylic can also be sprayed on with a paint sprayer. This is what I typically do, because it takes a lot less time and I usually only need one coat with my sprayer. I use my HomeRight Finish Max to do this.
I used polycrylic on this DIY Industrial coffee table over the stained wood.
Clear Topcoat Spray
I only recommend using spray topcoats over spray painted pieces. Most of the time, spray painted pieces don’t need any extra protection. If you are spraying something that is decorative and not going to get a lot of hands-on action, then I wouldn’t worry with top coating it. That being said, if you spray paint something and want to make it really glossy, you can spray a clear gloss topcoat on it to achieve the look. Spray a gloss topcoat or any other spray topcoat on in light coats. Fair warning – it can be tough to get semi-gloss and gloss spray topcoats even on large pieces. This is why you do multiple light coats, otherwise you could end up with streaks. I have always used Rust-Oleum spray topcoats when I needed a spray topcoat.
After I spray painted my barstools, I knew they would be getting a lot of use, so I gave them a couple coats of clear spray topcoat.
This is a new one to me. When I found Velvet Finishes, I learned that their glazes also function as topcoats for added protection to your furniture – which is pretty sweet. They have two glazes, a dark and clear. The dark is great for aging furniture and you can make any color of glaze you want with the clear glaze. I actually have a post on that coming up soon. To apply the glaze, you brush on a small amount and then wipe off any excess. You can see how-to photos of this from this recent dresser makeover.
I used a dark glaze on this IKEA Tarva Dresser turned Drink Bar.
There are some cases in which you may not need a topcoat, like:
•Pieces painted with high-gloss or semi-gloss paint. These sheens are pretty durable and are easily wiped clean.
•Spray painted pieces such as lamps, photo frames, wall decor (things that don’t see a lot of hands-on use)
•Accent chairs / tables that don’t get a whole lot of use.
Do you have any tips or tricks about topcoats and when to use them?
Looking for more painting help?
What kind of paint do I use on that? – A guide to different types of paint and what kinds of surfaces each can be used on.
Why is my paint peeling? – Tips & Tricks to Keep Your Paint from Peeling & Scratching Off Your Furniture.
Prepping Furniture to Paint – when to sand, when to prime, when to degloss and when you can skip it.
How to Paint Walls – how to do it in less time with less mess.
And here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about painting just about anything.
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