I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. First, because I get a lot of questions about it. And secondly, because I think many people assume that wax is the only option for sealing chalk painted furniture.
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Before I get into it, I do want to say there’s nothing wrong with sealing furniture with wax. If you’re a fan of a waxed finish, you should go with it. Seriously, I’m all for everyone choosing whatever products work best for them. I simply think many new painters don’t realize they have a choice when it comes to deciding what works best for them when sealing chalk paint. I know I didn’t when I first started. When I bought my first can of chalk paint the lady selling it said I needed wax too. So I bought a can of wax and used it to seal every piece I painted. I didn’t know I had options.
After a while, I started getting really frustrated with the low durability of a waxed finish. I was worried I was selling furniture with a subpar finish, and I certainly didn’t like how easily the pieces I painted for my own home were getting marked up. I started testing different top coats and found a couple really great options that are much stronger than wax and they’re now my go-to choices for sealing furniture.
Here are the reasons why I rarely use wax to seal furniture
It’s not permanent
Honestly, I could just stop right here because this is enough for me to not use it. Raise your hand if you want to finish a piece of furniture then have to go back every few months or even once a year to apply another coat of wax. Anyone? No? Yeah, me neither. Once I’m done with a piece I want to be DONE. I don’t have the time or desire to re-wax it. Not to mention the pieces we sell. I don’t want to sell furniture to a customer who has no idea they will need to occasionally re-wax it.
It’s not strong enough
Wax is what I would consider a low durability finish. It’s perfectly fine for a decorative piece that will get little to no traffic. It is absolutely not strong enough for dining tables, kitchen cabinets, or any other surface that will see frequent use. I see so many people who sell a chalk paint and wax line say that wax is perfect for sealing kitchen cabinets and it drives me batty. I will bet my left foot if you paint your cabinets, or anything else in your kitchen for that matter, and seal it with wax you’ll end up regretting it. So I’m saying it again: wax is not a good choice for sealing cabinets. Need proof? Read this.
It can be hard to apply
Applying wax correctly takes practice. And a lot of elbow grease. And a special brush. (Ok, technically you don’t have to have a special brush. But it’s even harder to apply correctly without one). Most people put it on too thick when they’re first starting out. And until you’ve done it a few times it can be really hard to know if you’re doing it right.
You can’t apply anything over top of it
Did you seal a piece of furniture with wax a few years ago and now you want to repaint it? Oh, sorry, you have to remove all the wax first. Change your mind about the waxed finish and want to seal it with something stronger? Sorry again. You have to remove the wax first. There is an exception to this rule: some chalk paint manufacturers say their paint will adhere to wax once it’s cured. Annie Sloan is one brand who claims their chalk paint can be used over their own brand of wax, and I have done this myself with success. Unless you’re using a brand that specifically states you can paint over their wax, you cannot apply any other product over a waxed surface and expect lasting results. In general, wax is not a stable enough base for other paints and sealers to adhere to.
So is there anything good about a waxed finish?
Of course! It has a beautiful, soft matte look that’s really pretty. It will not yellow and provides minor protection for painted furniture. You can also use dark or colored waxes to create depth and detail on your pieces (see the update below for more info on this!).
Have I got you thinking about experimenting with other sealers? Good!
There are a ton of different options out there and I haven’t tried even a fraction of them. My go-to favorite is General Finishes High Performance Water Based Top Coat . I’ve also used Rust-Oleum Varathane Crystal Clear Water-Based Polyurethane with success. Both are easy to use, easy cleanup, non-yellowing, and in my opinion, provide a more durable, longer lasting finish than wax. (Update: One top coat that’s been mentioned many times in the comments is Artisan Enhancements. I haven’t used this product myself but it’s got a 5-star rating from everyone who’s mentioned it).
Is there any downside to using a poly?
There is a potential downside to a poly finish that isn’t an issue with wax. Poly topcoats can sometimes pull tannins from the wood through the porous chalk paint, creating yellowish (or sometimes pink) spots. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s almost always with white or very light paint. There’s a short article with more info on this issue here. To prevent this, I always use a primer under white/light paint. Wax doesn’t react with the wood the same way a poly does, which is why this doesn’t happen with wax.
No one product is perfect, and you really just have to weigh the pros and cons and pick the products that work best for you and your project.
Now I want to hear from you!
What are your thoughts on a waxed finish? Do you have a favorite product for sealing chalk paint that I didn’t mention? Leave your experience in the comment section below. I want readers who find this article to have multiple points of view, not just mine. Hopefully, we can all learn from each other and find new products to experiment with.
Side note: This is not a sponsored post. I received no compensation or incentive to write this or to mention any specific products. I’m simply sharing my personal thoughts and some of the products I purchase and use myself. My goal is to create a space for fellow painters to share info and experiences, and feel comfortable sharing what works for them and what doesn’t.
UPDATE 1/11/18: I get a lot of questions about creating a look similar to what you would get with dark wax without using wax. I use two alternate methods to create an aged look without wax. The first is to use a glaze. You can purchase premixed dark glaze from several different paint manufacturers. (Here’s a link to Fusion Mineral Paint dark glaze. There’s a video included if you’d like to get an idea what a dark glaze looks like over white paint). Or, you can purchase a can of clear, tintable glaze at almost any hardware store. Mix any color of paint or stain in to create your own custom glaze color. I always poly over the glaze, and you can also opt to poly under the glaze as well to have greater control over the glaze and keep it from staining the porous chalk paint as easily. (More articles/details on glazing furniture are coming soon!) The second method is to do a paint wash, as explained in this article. Whether you decide to use one of these methods or something else entirely, I always suggest practicing on a piece of scrap wood before painting an entire piece of furniture so you know exactly how the products will work together.
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