Wax or Polycrylic over chalk paint?

Wax or Polycrylic over chalk paint?

All your questions about using wax vs. polycrylic over chalk paint answered!

The response has been overwhelming to my post on using wax or polycrylic over chalk paint (you can read the original post here: To Wax or Not to Wax?)

So, I decided to post an update with answers to your most frequently asked questions on applying a finish over chalk paint and wax alternatives.

wax or polycrylic over chalk paint

Should I use a wax OR polycrylic over chalk paint? The answer really depends on how you will use the piece of furniture and how much time you are willing to invest in maintaining the finish.  As I explained in my original post To Wax or Not to Wax? while waxing over chalk paint (or any variation of chalk style paint such as clay paint, mineral paint, and even DIY chalk paint) gives you a gorgeous velvety luster, it is NOT A PERMANENT finish and must be reapplied frequently to maintain the look and the protection of the wax.  So if you absolutely must have the waxed finish, be prepared to also bust out a big can of elbow grease every few months!

That’s where water-based polyurethane finishes come in. Known as polycrylics, these finishes are an excellent alternative to use over chalk paint, for several reasons. Mostly they offer more of a permanent, durable finish that does not need to be reapplied. They are not heat sensitive like waxes are and they do not need to be completely removed should you chose to repaint. Oh, and they do not require any special courses in correct application techniques!

So for me personally, polycrylic wins the wax vs. poly challenge, hands down as my go-to finish of choice over chalk painted furniture.

What kind of wax would you use? Honestly, I rarely wax over chalk painted furniture anymore. But occasions do arise when I will use waxes. I love Minwax Paste Finishing Wax. It’s easy to work with and buffs out to a gorgeous finish! Another big plus is that it’s easy to find!! If I am going to be using a dark wax, I like the Annie Sloan Soft Wax.

What type of clear sealer do you use over chalk paint? There are several brands of water based polycrylics available. Admittedly, I have not tried them all, but I have tried several. I really like the Minwax Polycrylic, and I also love ease of the Minwax Wipe-On Poly for small projects. But, my all-time favorite is Varathane Crystal Clear Water-Based Polyurethane.

Poly over chalk paintVarathane Crystal Clear Poly  goes on a little milky, but dries clear and stays clear! I have NEVER had any issues with Varathane Crystal Clear yellowing, as some polycrylics can over white painted furniture. This is my go-to product when applying a polyurethane over WHITE chalk paint. It is getting harder to find this product. But depending on which state you live in, you can still order online from HomeDepot.com

In my area, the Crystal Clear formula has been replaced with a white labeled can that just reads: Varethane Polyurethane. I have been using this product for several months, and so far **knocking this wood buffet** I seem to have the same results as the Crystal Clear formula. UPDATE 9/15/14:  I contacted Rustoleum and have been told the white label can is NOT the beloved Crystal Clear Formula. So , while I have not experienced any yellowing, I just want to clarify, THIS IS NOT IS CRYSTAL CLEAR FORMULA.

varathane poly over chalk paint

I should point out that POLYCRYLIC generally refers to a water-based finish, and POLYURETHANE refers to an oil-based finish. Varathane calls both their water-based and oil-based formulas by the generic “Polyurethane” name. In this post, I am specifically referring to the water-based formula only. Oil-based polyurethanes WILL AMBER over time.

How do you apply the poly over chalk paint? Using a good quality synthetic brush (Purdy’s are my preference) apply the poly in the direction of the natural wood grain. Using long, even strokes, work in one direction only, and try not to “over work” it by going back and forth into the wet area. Allow it to dry a couple hours between coats. While it does not require sanding between coats, I will sometimes sand lightly with a brown paper bag (yes, the grocery / lunch sack kind) if I need to knock down any bumps or little ridges. This can also be done after to buff it out to a gorgeous shine.

I have already waxed over my chalk paint, can I just apply poly over the wax? No. If you have used wax, it must be completely removed prior to applying anything. You cannot apply polycrylic over a waxed surface. You see, as the wax dries it becomes a natural water repellant. WAX REPELS WATER. That’s what wax does. Therefore, the poly has nothing to adhere to, because the wax is busy doing its job of repelling… An easy rule of thumb to remember IF your are going to use wax: “WAX IS LAST”

“Wax is Last”

Now, I have read that Annie Sloan wax can be top-coated with a polycrylic. Besides ASCP, I have also heard other chalk style paint manufactures claiming that you can apply poly over wax. I personally will never recommend that, and neither do the polycrylic manufactures. The back of my can reads “surface must be free from wax before applying” in two different areas of the label.

What about painting over wax? Same concept as above applies. If you would like to repaint furniture that has already been chalk painted and waxed, you must remove the wax first. Paint will not adhere directly to the wax. Wax can be removed by wiping the surface down with mineral spirits. Once the wax has been removed, you can proceed with your project. (Now I personally, would still prime with Zinsser Cover Stain, but I’m old school that way.)

Again, I have heard Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and a few other chalk-style manufactures say you can apply chalk paint, clay paint, or mineral paint directly over wax. I personally, would never suggest this. My preferred method for painting over wax, is to remove the wax FIRST. (…annnnd I’d probably prime)

Can I apply wax over polycrylic? Yes, you can. If you want the durability of the poly, but the look of a wax, you can use them together AS LONG AS THE WAX IS THE FINAL COAT. Because of the nature of wax and the way it cures, I would suggest using a matte poly if you want a wax top coat. Allow it to dry completely before waxing.

Can I apply Dark Wax over poly? Yes. Remember the rule “Wax is Last” So if dark wax is going to be your last step, you can absolutely apply it over poly. If you have just painted furniture with chalk paint and you want to really bring out the details and give your piece some character, dark wax is a wonderful product. Apply the poly first, so the dark wax does not stain the porous chalk paint.

Can I glaze over the poly? Yes, you can. If you want to add a dark glaze over chalk paint, apply a light coat of poly so the glaze does not stain the porous chalk paint. You can then glaze on top, once the poly is dried. You’ll want to apply another coat or two of the poly after you’ve waited patiently for the glaze to completely dry- don’t rush the waiting part here… it’s important. Otherwise you’ll make a mess- just trust me…

Can I use Chalk Paint over the polycrylic? Yes, you can. That is one of the benefits of using a polycrylic vs wax. If you change your mind on the color, or simply want to repaint your furniture piece later on down the road, you can do that! The poly does not need to be removed.


poly over chalk painted cabinets

What kind of sealer do you recommend for Chalk Painted kitchen cabinets? A polycrylic would be my preference. I would not use a wax for a few reasons. If you’re like me, your cabinets will need to be wiped down almost daily. Splashes, spills and tons of chocolatey little fingerprints may need to be scrubbed. Lots of heat from all the cooking and baking that may (or may not) be going on… Wax will wear down very quickly under those conditions and will need to be re-applied more frequently.  Let’s face it, waxing kitchen cabinets is not high on my monthly to-do list of chores. If I am going to spend the time to redo kitchen cabinets, I only want to do it once, and forget it! I really don’t need frequent reminders of what hard work that can be!

What kind of sealer can I use on my kitchen table top? For the same reasons listed above, I would use a polycrylic. At least 4-6 coats would provide a gorgeous, durable finish that would hold up well under the use and abuse a kitchen / dining table may receive. If I really wanted a virtually indestructible finish, I’d go with the Varathane Floor Finish.

Disclaimer: Although I think I would be a heck of a great spokesperson… (are you listening @rustoleum??) I am not sponsored or compensated in any way by Varathane. I just love the brand and have used it for dozens of years, even back when it was called Diamond by Flecto.

I hope you will find my answers to these frequently asked questions helpful in your research about using wax or polycrylic over chalk paint. These are actual questions I have been asked by my readers, and the answers given are what I would do in a given situation, based on my personal experiences. If you’d like to read my original post, you can find it here:

wax over chalk paint





  1. Lee'zet

    Hi just wondering I know you recommend quit some coats of the polycrylic for some kitchen cabinets for durability but how much would you recommend for some bathroom cabinets? Asking because of the moisture. Or would you just use the val floor finish? And if so how many coats? Thank you!

  2. Colleen Cote

    I have painted my kitchen cupboards years ago with melamine oil based paint. Now its time to repaint. I cant even purchase melamine any more in Canada. What steps do you recommend to repaint them and what products? Thanks for your time.
    Colleen from Canada

    • Karol Zacharou

      Thanks a lot for that advice Sherri. I live in Greece and it’s not easy for me to get all these products. Anyway I did get some polycrylic matte from Amazon and I was wondering if I could wax over it. After so many searches I found your site!!!!! Thank you again.

    • HarrieLee

      Totally agree Michele! So happy to here Polycrylic is a solution to rubbing the wax.
      Getting too old for all the exertion it take to rub that wax on. Plan on doing kitchen cabinets now.

  3. Elisa

    I have a question. Maybe you can help? I chalk painted a small antique cabinet. Why after I applied it and it dried is there dark streaks or stains seeping through the cream colored paint.

    • Lisa Ingram

      Get mineral spirits from Home Depot or a hardware store lightly saturate a T-shirt or a cloth wipe the piece down don’t scrub it to remove the old wax let it dry and then put one coat of a poly acrylic sealer on top you can get it in a spray can or you can apply it with a brush

    • Carole Gernett

      If you are finishing an old piece you should rough up the surface so the paint will adhere. Remember even though it is old, it has still been sealed. Also many stains contain red. Red will bleed. So your best would have been to prime it first. I know, the chalk paint companies claim it is not necessary but in some instances it is. I’ve been painting furniture for quite awhile and this has been my experience. Hope this helps

    • Rossarmstrong89@sim.com

      It’s the stain of the piece being pulled up with the new paint. I would prime it with kilz and then continue with your chalk paint!

    • Craig Leslein

      Most likely this is the wood seeping through. Sometimes you need a primer before paint to seal that wood.

    • tracey

      I would be it’s a red wood – even with Chalk paint red stains / woods can bleed through. I learned this lesson the hard way and had to start over and apply 2 coats of primer to the entire dresser first.

    • Kathy Dean

      That happened to us when we were painting a set of kitchen cabinets white. We stopped and painted a coat of zinsser shellac and then continued with the chalk paint. I believe the tannens in the wood were coming through the chalk paint.

    • Kelly

      I did this also with a frame n it seemed like paint was coming The in. I had 3 of those exact same frames so 1)I I used a already made. Ball paint. 2) I made my home made chalk paint with Plaster of Paris and Satin White Paint and Water In a 3 to 1 ratio . And the homemade chalk paint covered the frame perfect no it covered it much more than perfect in 1 coat too. But the chalk paint I bought pre made from a hardware store took more than 4 coats. I’m really happy with my homemade chalk paint. Hope this helps you.

    • Alison DiLouie

      If it is cherry, mahogany, or similar wood, they are known to be notorious “bleeders.” You need to use a primer before painting. The primer will prevent the bleed-through.

    • Sharon

      It’s tannins seeping through from the old wood or wood stain.
      You will need to apply shellac to the stains to seal them in then repaint the areas

    • JIll

      There must have been some unfortunate stain way down in the wood. You would have to use a shellac to cover the stain and then repaint. I have had this happen many times. It is frustrating!

    • Sarah

      That sounds like the tannins from the wood underneath the paint began to show through when you painted/applied sealer… I suggest shellacking with Bulls Eye Shallac especially under white/light colored paint before painting. It works for me every time! :)

    • Gia Madonna

      Natural oils in the wood itself. I get rings if I don’t sand the area and add a light clear coat of poly first to seal in the oils.

    • Megan

      Apply some shellac – it dries fast which is nice, do two coats and then lightly sand the second coat before re-painting so that it does not crack, this will keep the original stain on the wood from coming through your paint :)

    • Erin

      Some woods have tannins in them that will deep through. Try using a lacquer first to seal it Then painting over the lacquer. I have had to do this and Annie Sloan Chalk Paint will paint directly on the lacquer, no problem.

  4. Moon Letchworth

    I have plaster painted an old picnic table for the kitchen. It is very weathered. If I apply the polyurethane you suggest…with all the fissures in the wood, would you apply till those are all filled in with the product? Or 2 or 3 coats and be done??? Totally new at this but not wanting to do it over and over. I am not wanting to use a plastic table cloth either. An advice would be appreciated. Moon

  5. Breni

    Have just completed quite a few chalk paint projects and left them unsealed because of the wax vs polycrylic dilemma now I know which to use. I often change my mind so I’m going with the poly. Excellent explanation. Those were my gut feelings about I and you just confirmed them. Thanks!

    • Michelle Longstreth

      Thank you very much for all of knowledge that you were so kind to share with us. It is very helpful.

  6. Sharon Nelson

    Thank you for this. It’s very informative. I have just been asked to refinish a lovely oak dining room set with a cream colored paint and a brown glaze. I did not know about applying poly before glazing so that is very helpful. And just to clarify….a Varathane floor finish for the table top? Is it more difficult to apply than the regular varathane or is it just the same? I’d appreciate any advice regarding this. Thank you.

  7. Sacha Althouse

    Question….we chalked painted (white linen) an entertainment armoire and we were going to use a brown wax to get that extra special look that we want….but if I want to poly the piece what should I do????

    • Sharon

      What did you end up doing? This is exactly the question I asked for my kitchen cabinets that I’m ready to do.

  8. Nora

    Thank you for this information. My question is if it’s truly necessary to use a protective coat at all? I was reading a Lowe’s article on DIY chalk paint and they stated the paint itself acts as an adequate seal for furniture. So I’m super confused on what is the best thing to do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  9. Monica

    I have tried a couple different waxes and I can never seem to buff them to a great finish. I have tried different drying times too, as well as methods of waxing. It just looks the same. What am I doing wrong?

  10. Nancy

    I need some help. I used maison blance chalk paint in black and used poly on it and on several areas it looks shadowy. Not sure if I am describing it right. I am nervous to keep going but don’t want to use wax because there chairs for kitchen table. Any advice.

    • Lisa Ingram

      I have been a Maison Blanche dealer for five years and yes sometimes that happens with black you needed to let the paint dry longer before you added the poly you can put one more coat of black paint over it let it dry for 3 to 4 days and then add another poly coat on top if you desire

  11. Marilyn

    I was thinking of chalk painting over outdoor wood furniture. #1 should I use chalk paint for outdoor use? #2 What is the best sealer to use for outdoor use?

  12. Jennifer Pretty-Beattie

    My first time using chalk paint. I just applied the polycrylic but notice the chalk paint came off in a couple places (on the corners). Did I do something wrong?


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