IF YOU’RE WONDERING WHETHER TO WAX OR POLY YOUR FURNITURE, THIS POST WILL HELP YOU DECIDE WHICH IS THE BEST CHOICE FOR YOU!
Hello, my friends! A common question I get asked is Should I wax or poly? The conversations sound something like this: I’ve painted and/or stained a piece of furniture and it looks amazing… now what? How do I protect my restyled piece? What’s the most durable topcoat? Will wax hold up under heavy-duty use or extreme weather conditions?
Joni recently asked –
“I just love seeing how beautifully you work! I haven’t gone through all the pages on your website yet, so you may have already covered this, but if not, I would be terribly interested in different ways of *finishing* a project. Sometimes I see you use wax, sometimes a clear coat, sometimes you mention a sealer … and I’m completely ignorant about ALL of those different options. I’m getting the painting part down – it’s the finishing that has me stumped!”
Here’s an email I recently received from Lisa –
“Thanks for all you do. I would love to paint this table and chairs, and I’ve been reading on your blog different ways to go about it. I have 3 small boys and there is no point in buying a nice table because they will destroy it.
I have painted dressers with chalk paint before so I’m leaning towards spraying the table and chairs with that. But I feel like the wax will not give enough protection. This kitchen table will be spilled on, banged on, and sprayed and wiped with Lysol at least once a day.
Is there a top coat that will give it the protection it needs from every single day big family use? Or is this wishful thinking? Any help is MUCH appreciated.
Hi there Lisa! For high-traffic tables and chairs, I like to use a non-yellowing Polycrylic topcoat. Many water-based brands are easy to work with and environmentally friendly.
A few of my favorites are Dixie Belle Water-Based Topcoats, Gator Hide, Varathane, Minwax, and General Finishes. All of these brands come in flat, semi, or gloss sheen.
Poly sealer/topcoat will ensure your high-traffic furniture is protected because it cures to a super hard finish. Seals to prevent dirt, grease, scratches, stains etc. It’s also easier to clean… great for your boys. 😉
Have fun with your project and enjoy your week.
Don’t let this email to Lisa give you the impression that I don’t use wax. I DO! And I use A LOT of IT – on MANY if not the majority of my chalk-painted and milk-painted pieces!
Here’s MY take on using wax or poly:
With the popularity of chalk and milk-painted furniture, wax has become a SUPER POPULAR topcoat. Why? Because both chalk and milk-painted furniture is porous in nature – wax easily absorbs into the surface. When the wax hardens, it seals the painted surface with a lovely natural-looking soft sheen. The sheen can then be controlled by additional buffing. And some gorgeous effects can be created by using dark wax, white wax, or metallic wax finishes!
Having said this, my preference for HIGH TRAFFIC items such as dining sets, children’s furniture, or even kitchen/bathroom cabinets is a water-based POLYACRYLIC TOPCOAT.
I also prefer using poly products to seal latex/acrylic or enamel-painted pieces because they are NOT porous in nature!
The brand I use most often use is Gator Hide and this Satin Clear Coat because they are super durable and easy to use. But other brands that are easily found in HomeDepot and other hardware stores are Varathane Diamond Finish, Minwax Wipe-On Poly, and General Finishes High Performance Topcoat.
These polyacrylics and polyurethanes cure to a super hard finish and protect against grease, dirt, and stains. Also, a poly topcoat has a more forgiving cleaning process. Once fully cured, ‘regular’ cleaning products can be used, unlike waxed surfaces. For waxed pieces, a slightly damp cloth is recommended for cleaning – and depending on use, reapplication of the wax may be required a few years down the road.
With all the different brands and various opinions on wax and poly, it can be confusing on which topcoat to use on painted furniture. To keep things simple, I use wax on chalk-painted and milk-painted pieces (unless they are high-traffic items!) and poly products on everything else!
6 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WAX AND POLY
- Natural vs Synthetic – Many furniture waxes are often made of more natural ingredients whereas oil base OR water-based polycrylics are made of synthetic materials.
- Application – Wax is rubbed on and then rubbed off with a soft lint-free cloth while poly is either brushed, rolled, sponged, or sprayed on.
- Finish – Wax gives a softer more subtle organic-looking sheen whereas poly looks more like a factory finish in flat, satin, or gloss.
- Protection – Wax is better suited for furniture that is NOT high traffic and poly topcoat is super durable and easy to clean. Great for dining and kitchen tables, nightstands, and coffee tables that will get a lot of use.
- Maintenance – Wax will need to be reapplied every year or so to keep looking good and protect your furniture. The benefits of poly last for years and years without reapplying.
- Touch Ups – It’s easier to touch up wax as a little bit of wax can be buffed into the affected area. Poly usually requires sanding down and reapplying to the entire surface.
10 BENEFITS TO USING A WAX TOPCOAT
- Wax enhances a wood’s natural finish if used on raw or stained wood.
- Wax helps prevent scratches, wear and tear, and sun damage.
- Wax creates a barrier that repels water and humidity on lower-traffic furniture.
- Dark wax or tinted wax can help cover up imperfections on your furniture.
- Wax requires less effort than say a varnish or shellac and rejuvenates with reapplication.
- Bee’s wax, carnauba wax, and water-based waxes are non-toxic and environmentally friendly.
- Wax can be used on painted, raw, and stained wood furniture.
- Wax can be stripped off and reapplied when your furniture needs a refresh.
- Once cured, wax is easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
- Any imperfections on furniture (such as water stains) can be ‘erased’ or touched up by applying more wax.
10 BENEFITS TO USING A WATER-BASED POLY
- Water-based polys are non-toxic and have low VOCs with little to no odor.
- Water-based polys are easy to apply and clean up.
- Water-based polys are non-yellowing unlike oil based that do amber over time.
- Easy to apply with a smooth consistency that reduces brush marks.
- Excellent durability for high-traffic furniture protecting from spills, scratches, stains, and everyday wear and tear.
- Can be applied with a brush, roller, sponge, or sprayer.
- Fast recoat time as it dries fast and can be layered quickly.
- Regular dusting and cleaning with a wet or soapy rag keep the furniture protected and clean.
- UV protection for furniture that is by a window or outdoors which reduces fading.
- Once the topcoat has cured, poly provides amazing protection on high-traffic furniture and is super easy to keep clean.
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below! And please chime in with YOUR opinion(s) on using wax or poly. When you wax. When you poly. And why! As always, I love hearing from you and learn so much from your comments!