To Wax or Not To Wax?

To wax or not to wax?

Ah… The age old question: “To wax or not to wax over chalk paint?”

OK, so maybe it isn’t the question that’s been around for as long as chalk paint itself, but it is definitely a dilemma I’ve been facing more and more…

Nothing compares to the soft luster and rich glow of a freshly waxed piece of reLoved furniture!! However, applying wax over chalk paint is the most challenging, labor intensive and time consuming aspect of painting furniture with chalk and chalk-style paint.

Wax over chalk paint

Granted, not all waxes are created equal. Some waxes are downright difficult to work with and even require you to take a special class on proper application techniques.

Then there’s the durability issue.

Yes, I have an issue… Wax only offers minimal protection and wax is NOT permanent. Nor is it even semi-permanent. In fact, if it was a hair dye, it would be temporary!!

You see, wax wears off over time with use, leaving your beautiful chalk painted furniture all porous and exposed; a magnet for chocolaty little fingers and cheese puff smudges!

In order to maintain continued protection, wax needs to be reapplied every few months!

Re-apply paste wax every few months?? Ain't nobody got time for that!!

Re-apply paste wax over chalk paint every few months??


But wax isn’t THE ONLY option!

Why not go with a water-based polyurethane sealer, such as Varethane or Polycrylic over chalk paint?

These products are an excellent alternative, and offer far superior protection than a wax. A few coats of polycrylic will last YEARS beyond a few coats of wax, and can be much easier to work with.

Plus, polycrylics are more chemical resistant and are not heat sensitive like wax.

And unlike wax, if you ever chose to repaint your furniture, the polycrylic does not need to be 100% completely removed.

Waterbased polycrylic over chalk paint

Don’t get me wrong, polycrylics are not without drawbacks.

Although they can have a yellowing effect over white and light colors, I personally have had good success with Varethane staying clear. Some waxes will yellow also, so that can still be an issue if you went that route. (I have also used clear spray-on sealers for smaller projects, with no issues what-so-ever!)

With the ease of application, I am finding water-based polyurethanes to be my go-to finish of choice over chalk painted furniture.

I’d love to hear your feedback! What is your sealer of choice over chalk paint and chalk-style paint on your reLoved furniture, and what, if any, challenges do you face?



  1. Jeremiah

    My wife and I just purchased that Minwax water based poly you have pictured there, hoping it won’t yellow our newly painted old-white chairs! This article comforts our thoughts of trying poly, a more permanent finish solution…so thank you! I DO have a question. Do you know if we can spray (HVLP gun connected to an air compressor) on that minxwax water based poly??

    • Sherri

      Hi Jeremiah! Yes, you can most definitely use an HVLP to spray the Polycrylic. I have a Graco HVLP and just finished spraying a set of cabinets with the Polycrylic in Satin. The finish came out very smooth, and looks gorgeous!

  2. Thank you for speaking the truth! I have tried to tell this to people for a while now. Not to mention if your piece sits where it can be warmed by the sun, you get a mess! I love the look of a waxed piece, but I glaze and seal pieces that get a lot of wear and tear!

  3. I tend to use water based poly poly a lot over chalk paint because I’m kind of lazy when it comes to waxing. It is a lot of work putting two to three coats of wax hard on the arms! I have had some problems with it yellowing over light colors…
    I have never tried varethane do you like it a lot? Traci

    • Sherri

      Yes, I love it, Traci! I have used that product for years (even back when it was Flecto Varathane Diamond Wood Finish) and in my opinion, it’s one of the best.

  4. Dawn

    I have been rethinking chalk paint lately myself. I’m still a beginner, so I don’t have a lot of experience. By the time I put several on coats of chalk paint, then wax and wax, I probably could have primed, painted & sealed the furniture. I have wondered how the wax would hold up on a piece of furniture that gets a lot of use. I am thinking my next project will be a latex with primer in it.

    • Sherri

      Hi Dawn, I agree. It is a lot of work. I often lean towards my old school ways and go straight to priming and painting with high quality latex finishes! :)

  5. I love the look of wax however, have had some experiences that have caused me to shy away from them. Luckily it was on my own pieces and not those of a customers.

    I too have even steered away from the minwax poly too. Just discovered General Finishes High Performance water based poly. Cures out to a very hard finish. If I had the space my top choice would be an oil poly. or even a lacquer. But because I paint in my house this is the best top coat that provides a durable finish thus far.
    Thank you for posting

    • Sherri

      Hi Donna, I recently read about a new acrylic-lacquer that is supposed to be a awesome product. I can’t remember who the manufacturer was… I’ll have to look in to that.

  6. Wax v. Poly the age old question. I LOVE the look and feel of wax. I use American Paint Company Clear Top Coat. I brush it or wipe it on. It dries in 20 minutes, then I buff it gently using 1000 grit paper or even brown paper bag from the grocery store. It leaves a beautiful durable finish. Oh, and the poly and waxes you pictured here are down right lethal. I’m chemical and odor sensitive. The APC products are all natural.

    • Sherri

      I ordered some of APC’s Clear Top Coat and I can’t wait to try it out. I have also heard good feedback on their Vintage Antiquing Wax / Dark Wax…

      Luckily, I’m not sensitive to odor or chemicals, but this is good information for those who are! Thanks :)

  7. Nancy

    I’d like to know if you’ve applied the wax and don’t like the end results and want to repaint the whole piece. What do you do to get wax off?

    • Sherri

      Hi Nancy, you can remove the wax with Mineral Spirits (Paint Thinner) and rags. Just make sure you get all of it off before repainting or applying another finish.

  8. Kelley

    I just did my first piece in CeCe’s Caldwell vintage white chalk paint…Loved how it went on…Next day distressed it and started to use CeCe’s clear wax in a little spot..turned brown…so I switched to Polycrylic clear satin finish and it turned into a tinted yellow once it dried…..but it looks antique…hoping it doesn’t keep getting more yellow as it sets….or I will be doing it all over again in a latex paint!

  9. kristi bennett


    Thanks for all the information you’ve posted on waxes vs. poly. I’ve used both and like the look of each. Question: can you poly over a waxed finish?


    • Sherri

      Hi Kristi- To answer your question, you cannot apply a poly over a wax. If you are going to be using a wax, that needs to be the final coat.
      But you can go the other way and wax over a poly.

  10. Shiloh

    Please help if you can…I am getting ready to pull the laminate off of my cupboards and paint them. The chalk paint seems great for ease of use and some are not toxic and since I am going to paint the insides as well…that is a huge plus. But part of the reason for going through all of this is because the white laminate is cold looking and I wanted to use a warmer white and then some aging around the bevels. Can I use chalk paint, a tinted glaze that I wipe most of it off and just leave in the creases and then a poly? I only heard about chalk paint yesterday and I was sold…until I learned about the waxing. I have little experience in painting but this kitchen is making me sick! Lol thanks in advance for your help.

    • Hi Shiloh,
      I am not a huge fan of Chalk Painted cabinets, but I know many who have done this with great success and are thrilled with the outcome.
      Yes, you can. The procedure you outlined will definitely work! However, I’d suggest a couple (or several) coats of the poly after. Also, I’d recommend painting a couple scraps of wood with the chalk paint to use as testers for your glaze. Make sure you have the color and technique of the glazing down before you apply to your freshly painted cabinets.
      Good luck on your project! It’s going to be a lot of work, but so worth it in the end! I’d love to hear how it turns out :)

  11. Annmarie

    Hi, I’m new to using chalk paint. There’s so much information out there I think I’m getting overwhelmed! Eventually I want to do my kitchen cabinets but I’m leary about only having the dark wax as the final finish. I want to be able to wipe the cabinets with a damp rag when needed and not have to reapply wax periodically. If I use Annie Sloan chalk paint & dark wax can I still wipe on or spray on some kind of sealer? Which sealer is the easiest to use and doesn’t require a mask? Thanks!

    • Hi Annemarie- you cannot apply anything over the wax. The wax has to be the final finish. You could achieve a similar effect by using a glaze over the chalk paint and then a poly over the glaze.

  12. Vicky

    Can the other types of seals and finishes go directly over the chalk paint, or do they need to be waxed, then sealed?

    • Hi Vicky, yes, you can use other sealers directly over chalk paint… But if you wax, you cannot put anything over the wax. You can do the reverse however and apply a sealer and then wax over that. Just remember, if you wax, it MUST be the last step!

  13. I’ve painted hundreds of pieces of furniture over the years. Typically I use wax for pieces that won’t get tons of use, like a bedroom side table, or small surface. If it’s a kitchen table, dresser top, etc. I usually use water based poly. However, there is a product that is a sealer/clear topcoat that can be used over wax. Artisan Enhancements by Aloha Coatings has “Clear Topcoat” which is non-yellowing, and can be used over or under wax, can be buffed to a higher sheen and more. Check it out.

  14. Staci

    Hi! I have been wondering about this for a while now!!! I have furniture that is sealed with wax so can I paint a finish over the wax??

    • Hi Staci- unfortunately, you cannot apply anything over wax. The wax would need to be completely removed (you can do this with mineral spirits/paint thinner and rags) before you apply any other type of finish.

  15. Maria

    I’m new to chalk painting and I’m already over the wax finish as it’s too time consuming to apply (not using brand name chalk paint or wax). I’m going to look into water based poly clear coat as I think that will be much easier to apply.

  16. Renee

    Question.. I have painted my cabinets with annie Sloan old white… Sealed them with polycrylic clear today… As I watch them dry they are having a crackled look they did NOT have before…. Can I just paint over with latex and seal them and be done…. I don’t see me reprinting with more annie Sloan and then trying to reseal them again hoping they want crack?? Help?!?

  17. SA Royal


    I have just installed a plywood plank floor in the re-made attic space in my house. I am white-washing it white (just paint and water applied with a rag). I chose a paint that was pure white so it would not yellow but when applying the poly sealer, I noticed that the test patch yellowed some. The Artisian Enhancement top coat mentioned in your thread is not available in my town. I wonder if you can recommend another (more common?) non-yellowing water based top-coat (preferably one that could be painted over if need be, like the AE top coat)? Thank you for all of the information you broker here.

  18. Robyn

    I just learned how to use dark wax for an antique look. I’m going to be trying to out on my new kitchen buffet I found but I want to make sure it’s SEALED. I have a toddler that loves to touch. I was curious if I could either poly my work and then use dark wax or if I can dark wax and then poly. If I dark wax and then poly will it still be the same affect or will the poly not hold because of the wax?

  19. Emily

    I just finished a dresser with chalk paint. I usually do clear wax and then dark wax. I want to try to do a dark glaze instead of dark wax this time. What order should I do now? Should I poly, glaze, and then poly again? Can I go straight to glazing and then poly, or can I only glaze and be done? Thanks!

  20. Linda Philbin

    Hello .. I have a question on applying the Polycrylic, if I am using a glaze over my chalk paint ,can that be done straight over the paint or do I have to poly it first?

  21. WHEW! I just bought an EXPENSIVE little test pot of Annie Sloan to see what the big deal was, and was really NOT in the mood to buy an EXPENSIVE thing of wax. I’ve got the Minwax finish already at the house – yay! Thanks for the reassurance that it might be a great low-cost alternative!


  22. Hi Sherri –
    Thanks so much for the great info. We’re painting our kitchen cabinets with ASCP and wanted to go with the poly. I am concerned about the yellowing effect and wanted to see if you’d confirm I’ve got the right product that you have had good success with. The only Varathane product I can find at Lowes is the Varathane Gloss Porch and Floor Clear Water-Base Paint. Am I on the same page as you with this product?

    Thanks so much!!!

  23. Bethany Sullivan

    Hi Sherri,
    I’m doing research about available products to paint over my early 1990′s kitchen cupboards. You mention above that you’re not a fan of Chalk-Painted Cabinets. Can you please explain why. My cupboards are your basic oak with a poly applied over it. I’m looking to paint them a warm cream or white and plan to do the work myself. I’ve read to get the most professional look possible, I should spray the doors rather than brush them. I’ve reads lots of articles on latex, oil-based and chalk paint. Thanks for your insight.

  24. Hi! I am new to the Annie Sloan phenomenon and I was wondering… if I use polycrylic on top of the Annie Sloan paint instead of wax, do I need to sand it at all?

    • Hi Roxy, I usually sand lightly between clear coats. But if the finish feels smooth enough, and you are happy with it, you don’t need to do any extra sanding.

  25. Abby

    Hi There, i recently painted a few items in my home with a homemade chalk paint…behr flat latex with unsanded grout. I do want to put a glaze, or something, to antique it a little more. Is it best to do a darker wax and then cover the whole area with the clear poly? Do i need to do any sanding between coats?

    • Hi Abby,
      I personally like glazing followed by a clear polyurethane. I sand lightly between coats with a fine sandpaper.
      But you can also use a darker wax. If you decide to go this route, use a clear wax prior to the dark wax, so the dark wax does not stain the chalk paint.

  26. Lolagail

    Hello, I’ve just done a bedside cabinet with homemade chalk paint and am very pleased with it. I was trying to decide how to finish it, when I stumbled across this thread. I have some satin finish yatch varnish and some beeswax in the house. I’ve no idea if the varnish is water based, but I suspect not. Why does it have to be water based please?

  27. Amber

    Hi Sherri,

    I just finished chalk painting my son’s dresser black, which poly do you think would be best for a first timer?


    • Hi Amber,
      I would definitely try Rust-Oleum’s Varathane!! Its easy to apply, dries quickly to a durable finish and I have never had any issues with yellowing or ambering.

      • Lisa

        Dear Sherri,
        Does the Varathane by Rust Oleum come in something other then the Gallon size? I have my husband asking for it at Loewes and it is in the gallon only. I have Minwax polycrylic spray at home but do not want to use it for fear of the Yellowing of my,” Ce Ce Caldwell ” Chalk painted tables in the Young Kansas Wheat color. It’s really pretty so I want no yellowing to interfere with my hard work. Please help. Thank you Lisa

  28. Dee

    What about something to use as a final coat for a bottle( glass)? I want to maintain the chalk appearance but still want the surface protected.

  29. Rachel

    I found Varathane Diamond Wood Finish at my building store – is that what I am supposed to get? Also do you have to sand between coats with the Varathane? Or just the polycrylic?

  30. Kelly

    HELP!! I have been using two types of poly over chalk paint and they work wonderful until I paint a piece in cream or white which show tiny pices of black “hairs” or fibers. I have returned the poly and purchased a bend new brush I’m which I vacuum prior to using and make certain the cats inter that I pour into is lint and dust free! The fibers are still there and they show terribly on the finished white surface. This is extremely frustrating, I wouldn’t care so much if the piece was mine but in paint for paying customers and the perfectionist side of me can’t bear to deliver a finished piece with tiney black specs all over it! And advice or solution would be greatly appreciated!

  31. sue

    I was told today, by a Annie Sloan distributor, that if you use chalk paint, you can paint over the waxed finish.

  32. Siobhan

    Thank you so much for all this great info! Just painted my kitchen cabs in Annie Sloan’s Graphite and really didn’t want to use the wax. I think I will use the varathane.


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