I often receive questions about refinishing furniture with Chalk Paint and how to seal it. What do I use? Do my kids destroy it? Does it really work? The two most common options for a protective layer? Soft Wax and Poly.
Soft Wax is eco-friendly and has the consistency of soft margerine, easy to apply, is completely colourless and has a little odour. It is water-repellent so can be used on dining room tables and kitchens. Contains a solvent but it’s fine to wax inside and you don’t need to worry about getting a raging headache.
Polyurethane is a varnish; a synthetic resin (plastic material) that is durable and flexible. Oil based and water-based oil-modified poly will yellow. Water-based poly is better for lighter painted/stained pieces. Look for names such as Polycrylic, Wipe-on Poly, Polyurethane, Polyshades, etc.
When I was refinishing my dining set with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint I had no idea what type of protective coating to use. I was nervous about using the Annie Sloan Soft Wax because I was a little skeptical that it wouldn’t work on such “high traffic” furniture. My dining table is wiped down at least 3-5 times per day, my children do crafts on it, they jump on top of it, we do homework on it and it just gets a ton of wear and tear. My dining chairs are constantly pushed up against the counter for my children to bake with me, they’re used for forts, they’re jumped on, tipped over, knawed on…they’re completely used and abused!
So I went with what I thought would work best and picked up a can of clear coat or “polyurethane”. I chose Minwax water-based Polycrylic in Satin because it doesn’t smell and I knew it wouldn’t turn my freshly painted grey furniture yellow. It’s not as durable as oil-based but oil-based WILL most definitely yellow your piece if it’s painted in a light shade. After two coats of Paris Grey Chalk Paint, I followed the directions my can of Polycrylic and gave my table and chairs 4 protective coats. Or was it 5? I lost track.
Once the polycrylic dried the chalk paint underneath started to separate or “crack” a little bit. I didn’t mind the the look since they were old chairs and it gave them a bit more character. But once I brought everything into the house and we starting using the furniture, the downside to water-based poly over chalk paint was that it actually didn’t seal or protect against stains. Greasy fingerprints would “sink” through the layer of polycrylic and set into the chalk paint beneath. My table and chairs were that were uniformly painted in a beautiful shade of grey were now splotchy with grease stains all over. It wasn’t pretty. Almost a year later I ended up having to repaint my entire dining set in chalk paint again because the stains looked awful. But the second time around I chose to seal everything with Soft Wax and it made a tremendous difference.
I left one chair as it was (chalk paint + polycrylic) so I could show the difference. The painted and waxed chair has been used for about 1 year and does have a few spots that need to be touched up but that’s the beauty of chalk paint. It’s just a quick fix that’s dry in a matter of minutes.
Check out the difference! The poly seems to really pull out the grain; something I suppose you’d want if you were sealing raw or stained wood. It almost went right through the chalk paint to the wood, leaving the chalk paint unprotected.
They are similar in sheen and the paint color is nearly identical, but again, the poly pulled out the grain and made the chalk paint crack.
Now there is a place for water-based poly (every floor board in my farmhouse has a coat of it) but for chalk paint? It’s not my favorite. I would never do a piece in poly again knowing now how perfect soft wax works with chalk paint. It’s part of the system for a reason! It’s actually must easier to apply wax than it is poly. To wax you simply rub on 1-2 coats, leave it to cure for a few hours or overnight then do a quick buff in the morning. With poly you end up worrying about bubbles, drips, and brush strokes and have to put on a ton of coats if you’re using water-based poly.
So that’s that! Hope that helps give you a better idea of how these two compare for a “high traffic” piece of furniture! I’ll be sharing a full before & after of my entire dining set shortly so if you’re curious about chalk paint and have questions please let me know below and I’ll be happy to answer them and include them in the next post.
And in case you missed it, here’s my latest gorgeous turquoise dresser before & after along with1