how to seal white furniture

How to Seal White Painted Furniture?

In Tips by Jamie P.

Painting a piece of furniture white is the most difficult color option in my opinion. There are a few critical steps that you need to follow to ensure you do not see bleeds in your paint and to make sure the white paint does not yellow over a period of time. In this article, I am going through the best clear coat options for white painted furniture and also the worst clear coats.

The best way to seal white painted furniture to avoid yellowing in color is to use Minwax Polycrylic water-based protective finish. Keep in mind, the type of wood and the type of paint you are dealing with can cause the yellowing in color, it’s not always the finish used.

There are more options than just Minwax Polycrylic, but this is a super popular option that many people have had success with over white paint. I would use this finish over white-painted tables and also chairs for extra durability, it holds up against use very well. Chalk paints typically recommend using a wax finish, so avoid using poly products over them. Lets get into what clear coat sealers you shouldn’t use over white paint first.

What Clear Coats NOT to Use Over White Paint

Polyurethane

When it comes to white paint and Polyurethane, STAY CLEAR! Polyurethane is a finish that is designed to seal the wood as a protective topcoat, it is typically used over natural wood colors or stains that slight yellowing is unnoticeable and doesn’t impact the overall look of the piece. Polyurethane is a great finish for wood furniture, but it is not great to apply over white or bright colored paints.

I recommend polyurethane for refinishing tables and furniture to natural, or close to natural, wood colors.

Lacquer and Varnish

Both lacquer and varnish should be avoided when it comes to painting furniture white. I use lacquer all the time over painted surfaces, but I will avoid it when using white paint or super bright colors. It’s likely that lacquer and varnish will turn yellow, these finishes are also designed for natural wood colors and have been used on old styles of furniture for many years.

However, Watco has created a new product that is a tintable lacquer paint. I used the product before in a white creme color, it was quite durable and seemed to remain white in color. This could be an option if you haven’t started a project and wanted to try this product out. It feels different than ordinary paint, I personally didn’t love it, but the concept was pretty cool.

Best Clear Coat Sealers for White Paint

Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish

The best option for a durable clear coat sealer over white paint is Minwax’s Polycrylic Protective Finish. After using this product on a recent whitewashing table project I really came to love it. I applied this product directly over the white paint and it stayed clear with no yellowing.

However, in one area it formed a bubble and dried in a thick amount, this area had a slight tint of yellow. This may have happened because I stained the tabletop and the polycrylic absorbed some stain then dripped/ran down the table edge. But this also means if you apply this product in thin coats you will get that crystal clear finish.

Overall, if you used regular white or white chalk paint you can apply a water-based polycrylic finish and not have to worry about yellowing like a normal polyurethane would do.

How to Seal White Painted Furniture Using Polycrylic:
  1. Apply a first thin coat to the dry painted surface (use a foam brush or a synthetic paintbrush)
  2. Wait until dry, lightly sand between coats using 220 grit sanding sponge
  3. Apply the second coat and repeat steps until 3-5 coats.
  4. Final coat does not need sanding.

Finishing Wax

white wax

Chalk paints typically recommend that you finish them with a finishing wax. There are many finishing waxes that you can choose from. The most common finishing wax for all wood finishing projects is Minwax paste finishing wax, I have used this on white paint, but I also applied a white finishing wax over the top for an ultra white look. The Minwax has a slight yellow tint, but the white wax I mixed kept everything pure white!

This can be found in my Painting Furniture White video on Youtube here. This video shows the entire process of me painting furniture white and shows the before and after results.

Most larger companies that focus primarily on chalk paints and furniture painting provide better wax options for white paints.

Best Wax Sealers for White Painted Furniture are:
How to Apply Finishing Wax to White Painted Furniture:
  1. When the paint is dry grab a wax brush and begin brushing wax over the surface
  2. Once finished, wait product recommended time and begin buffing wax
  3. Apply more coats if necessary

I like to apply my wax and wipe it off almost right away. If I wait I find buffing is very difficult and if its not clear or white it is super noticeable.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy is a great option to apply over white painted surfaces. If kept inside and limited sun exposure you can expect your epoxy finish to remain clear. however, if you leave your epoxy finished furniture in the sun it will naturally turn yellow from the UV exposure. This can happen to paint itself, UV damages wood and paint to change its color. That’s why exterior woods use a different sealer, it includes UV and water-resistant characteristics.

Finding the best epoxy resin for white paint is possible. There are and have been tests on epoxy and its color change. After some research, I found that a great option for furniture projects is Dr. Crafty Epoxy Resin Crystal Clear. It has great UV resistant characteristics and its an affordable option for epoxy.

 

When it comes to deciding which option makes the most sense on white painted surfaces, I choose Minwax Polycrylic or wax on chalk paint. Epoxy is expensive and quite labor-intensive, I wouldn’t choose it for a small project.

Oil-Based VS Water-Based White Painting Tips

There are a few tips when it comes to oil-based and water-based products. Lets first look at the paint itself then we will look at finishes.

Oil-based VS Water-Based White Paint

When choosing white paint for furniture avoid using oil-based paint. Although oil-based paints are stronger against scuffs and dents, they are known to yellow over time. Water-based white paints are known to keep tehre white color but may not be as durable. This is where using a polycrylic comes in hand, it keeps the color and provides durability.

Oil-Based VS Water-Based Clear Coats

First of all, the only poly option I listed above for the best clear coats for white paint is water-based, which is Minwax Polycrylic. The reason we use this water-based formula is that it doesn’t yellow. Being water-based is a good reason to believe it remains clear too since we know oil-based products have great odds of turning yellow. Just avoid the oil-based products when dealing with white painted furniture.

Properly Prime White Painted Furniture To Prevent Yellowing

Not entirely off-topic, but away from sealers and clear coat finishes, white painted furniture may yellow even if you apply the correct sealer. Furniture is known to yellow, especially when you apply white paints. Why though?

Wood bleeds through paint, there are natural chemicals in wood that release through the wood pores that need to become blocked before we apply our white paint. This is through the proper process of priming furniture, in simple words apply a good quality primer before you get started. Shellac based is best on wood that is likely to bleed, which is darker colored redwoods, but any type of wood can bleed!

Read our “How to Properly Prime Furniture for Painting” article for a more detailed furniture priming guide.

Final Thoughts

Before I let you go, I just wanted to remind you to be aware of the steps that painting furniture white takes. Since I think its the most difficult color to paint furniture, keep in mind that you should prime with a good primer, and use a good quality water-based white paint, I like Rust-Oleum Linen White for quick and simple white jobs.

Also, use one of the best sealers for white paint form our list and keep away from those yellowing products.

I wish you luck in your next white painted furniture project!