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The Best Ways to Seal Chalk Paint

We all love chalk paint, there is no denying it. When it comes to finishing that DIY project, chances are, you have grabbed a can to get that vintage, aged look for your project piece. But now that you are finished, are you wondering how to go about protecting your hard work from wear and tear?

As chalk paint continues to grow even more popular, more and more people have been asking how to seal chalk paint, so you are not alone. Our article is going to cover everything from Top Coat 101 to the best types of sealant for your project.

We’re also going to address the even bigger question: Do you even need to seal chalk paint? So, get your brushes, sand paper, and Annie Sloan paint ready. By the end of this article you are going to be a chalk paint sealing master!  

sealant and brush

What Is A Seal Coat / Top Coat?

So, what exactly is a top coat/seal coat, and why do I need it?

A top coat is applied, as the name would suggest, on top of the painted surface. Top coats are typically made out of resinous polymers such as polyurethane. They can also be made out of shellac or even beeswax.

The job of a top coat is to protect the painted surface by creating a seal between it and environmental elements. Simply put, our top coat is going to protect the chalk paint from being damaged over time.

It can also protect the wood from staining by things like coffee rings, dirt, grime, and all the other things that happen in life (I’m thinking kids right now). Depending on the type of topcoat you pick, this sealing coat can also add some weather protection.

Why Should I Seal My Chalk Paint?

There are two reasons why you would want to seal your chalk paint.

First, it will offer some protection. One of the drawbacks to chalk paint is that it tends to flake and chip very easily. This is especially problematic on surfaces like tables and chairs that are high contact pieces. Applying a sealer to your painted furniture is going to help it stand up to the wear and tear of constant use.

And Second, you want to apply a top coat because it’s going to save you time. If you don’t seal your chalk paint, you’re going to wind up repainting those high traffic pieces after the paint has chipped. You’re also going to spend more time sweeping up flecks of chalk paint that fall off of your painted surfaces. And who really wants to be sweeping more than we have to?

Are There Reasons to not Seal Chalk Paint?

That’s an excellent. I’m so glad you asked. Overall, it is recommended, and even encouraged, for you to seal chalk paint in some fashion, whether that be with wax, poly, or a high performance top coat. This is due to the first reason we mentioned above – chalk paint is known to chip easily over time on high contact pieces.

HOWEVER, you need to do research before applying certain sealants to your project. Depending on what type of top coat you have in mind, there are some things to consider before applying one to your project.

For instance, poly, while a standard in sealant, may not always be the best choice for all chalk paint projects. Here’s a few things to consider before you run out to the store to buy some polyurethane.

The biggest reason to skip sealing is that chalk paint is very porous. The top coat that you apply can leach tannins out of the wood. This leads to light discolored spots appearing on your painted surface. This typically only happens with polyurethane paints and is fairly rare, but worth mentioning. You don’t want to have to remove your chalk paint in order to fix a color problem after applying a top coat. 

Okay, so what about wax? I’m supposed to use wax, right?

Well, there are also some drawbacks to using a wax finish as well. Wax takes the longest to cure of all the finishes (more about that below). And it tends to be the least durable on some high traffic pieces. You’ll find you may need to re-wax parts of your project from time to time.

Another drawback to wax, and what seems like an oxymoron after our last statement, is that it is harder to remove than chalk paint. If you later decide that you want to stain or repaint that piece of furniture, you’re going to have some work ahead of you to remove all the wax from your project piece before you can redo it.

Top coats also tend to spoil some of the charm of chalk paint. One of the big draws of chalk paint is the matte finish and color. If you are wanting to retain that matte finish, a top coat can add an undesirable shine and spoil some of that tactile sensation. 

Consider all of these things before you choose your top coat.

chalk paint, brushes, rollers, and sealants

The Best Top Coats To Use On Your Project

The best chalk paint top coat is the one that’s going to help you best finish your project. Half of the fun of thinking up a new DIY chalk paint project is creating something completely original. Here’s a quick rundown of the best decorative paint top coats for every situation and every project.

  • No Top Coat  – Chalk paint projects can go without a top coat. In fact, many DIYers think of the matte color and textured feel as one of the reasons why you should use chalk paint. Just be aware that this males your project more vulnerable to chips and flaking.
  • Polyurethane – This is the strongest top coat out there. It’s also fairly easy to use. Just keep in mind that there is a risk that your final project can start to yellow in the years to come
  • Polycrylic –  Polycrylic is very similar to polyurethane. It does require that you sand in between coats. It also doesn’t have the risk of yellowing that comes with polyurethane
  • Wax –  Wax is perhaps the most popular way to seal a chalk paint project. Wax is strong and offers protection from water, but you might need to touch up your coat as the wax wears off over time 
  • Glaze –  Glaze will provide some unique coloring as well as a little bit of protection. However, glaze is best reserved for decorative pieces that won’t be seeing much action 
  • Varnish –  This is the oldest and most time-tested way of sealing furniture. If you’re up for learning some new skills and putting in some work, varnish really can’t be beat when it comes to chalk paint

Different Methods for Sealing Chalk Paint

As we mentioned above, there are a few different ways you can seal chalk paint. We’ll walk you through each of those so you can make the best choice possible.

Polyurethane

Polyurethane is one of the best options for coating your chalk paint projects. This is because it’s very easy to use and it provides an incredibly durable cover. Oil-based polyurethane is a great choice for indoor and outdoor projects as well as furniture and tables. We did mention that there can be some drawbacks to using polyurethane, so I always recommend doing a test sample before applying any finishing coat to a project.

You’re going to want to apply three coats of polyurethane sealer. You should allow 2 hours in between each coat to dry. There is no need to sand in between coats for polyurethane.

Remember to use slow and smooth brush strokes to avoid bubbles in your polyurethane coat. It takes polyurethane about 2 hours to dry, but a full 72 hours to cure. This means you can move it back into your room in just 2 hours, but you should avoid using it for 72 hours so the top coat can fully cure. 

Polycrylic

A polycrylic top coat is a lot like polyurethane. In fact, many people still refer to polycrylic as  “new polyurethane.” (Confession: I prefer Polycrylic to wax.)

The big difference is that polycrylic is water-based. Many people also find polycrylic sealers to be a little easier to use. The steps for applying them are essentially the same. However, there are two big differences you need to be aware of.

First, you will need to sand in between additional coats. This means buying a 220 grit sandpaper as well as a tack cloth to clean up afterwards. Sanding in between polycrylic coats helps to make sure that the next coat has some bite in the surface to grab onto.

The other big difference is in drying and curing times. Polycrylic can cure in as little as 24 hours, unlike the 72 needed for polyurethane. This makes it much faster for achieving a durable finish. 

There’s no risk of yellowing when you use a polycrylic to seal chalk paint. You still have to deal with the same problem of accidentally adding a shine to your nice matte chalk paint. You can always minimize this risk by using a matte top coat. 

Wax

Wax has become the gold standard for most people when they want to seal chalk paint. If you’re looking for the top chalk paint finish, wax is easily the most popular choice. This is in part because it matches the rustic charm of using chalk paint.

Wax works a little differently than polycrylic or polyurethane sealers. And using wax will teach you some old school methods for finishing your furniture. You’re going to want to apply your wax either with a wax brush or a lint-free cloth. And make sure to use a lint-free cloth to clean up any access as you go.

Your wax finish will dry to the touch quickly. However, wax top coats don’t fully cure for up to two weeks. This means you should treat your furniture as gently as possible for the full two weeks that it takes the wax to cure. This is especially true for a dining table, kitchen table, or another high-traffic area. 

And, as we mentioned before, if you use wax on a high contact surface, you can expect to need to reapply it from time to time. This is especially the case for surfaces like table tops and chairs. So keep this in mind before choosing wax seal chalk paint projects.

Glaze

Glaze is an interesting option for applying a top coat to a chalk paint project. We aren’t saying it is the best, but we have been known to hear of people using it with some success, so we wanted to include it.

Yes, technically, you can use glaze as a top coat to seal chalk paint. However, most people who apply glaze to furniture also add an additional top coat in the form of polycrylic or polyurethane. The truth is, glaze doesn’t provide nearly as much protection as any of the other top coats in this article.

But . . . glaze also might be the easiest thing to apply. All you need to do is apply glaze to the desired surface and then wipe off any excess. The glaze will dry and add a unique coloring in addition to some mild protection. Glaze typically dries overnight, making it one of the faster sealant methods. 

This top coat should be reserved for decorative pieces or other chalk paint projects that aren’t going to be seeing much, if any, wear and tear. Otherwise, you will be having to reapply your glaze periodically.

Varnish (For Outdoor Projects)

Varnish is also another possible option to seal chalk paint. It is a little more challenging than other top coats on this list.

First, you will need to dilute your varnish using mineral spirits or other methods. Then you will need to apply your varnish in coats, allowing your wood to dry in between each coat. You will need to sand in between each coat, using fine grit sandpaper. Do not dilute your varnish in between coats.

One thing to keep in mind is that varnish is known for adding a little color and shine to chalk-style paint projects. This can either be highly desirable, or a drawback, depending on what you want for the final product. But if you are wanting to seal chalk paint on an outdoor project, varnish may be the best route to go.

There’s a reason why varnish has been a favorite of woodworkers for a long time. The best thing about varnish is that it’s time tested and incredibly durable. We’re talking pretty much permanently durable. That varnished project you finish this week could easily be something that your great-grandkids still have to enjoy.

applying varnish to a wood project with a brush

Chalk Paint FAQs

Can I Use Modge Podge To Seal Chalk Paint?

Technically, yes. You can use Modge Podge to seal chalk paint. However, this might not give you the results you’re looking for. Unless you are using the chalk paint on a crafting project or decorative piece, you could be better off just choosing one of the other top coats on our list.

How Do I Weatherproof Chalk Paint?

The best way to weatherproof chalk paint is to find a sealant specifically designed to be used outdoors. These will be formulated to stand up to not just the rain, but extreme temperatures and continuous exposure to sunlight. You can use outdoor polyurethane, varnish, or even an outdoor wax.

Can I Leave Chalk Paint Unsealed?

The short answer is yes. You can leave chalk paint unsealed. The long answer is yes, but you need to consider what you want your final piece to look like. Many people choose to leave their chalk paint projects unsealed in order to preserve the color and chalky matte finish. But there will eventually be flaking and chipping of paint when left unfinished. The flaking style of chalk paint has also become popular amongst DIY furniture flippers. So if this is your desired look, then throw caution to the wind and leave that project unfinished.

Do I Sand Chalk Paint Before Sealing?

Yes and no. You can sand chalk paint before sealing, but it isn’t always necessary. It all depends on the sealer you choose and the method you’re using. Chalk paint will be able to stand up to the light sanding required by some types of top coat, but we don’t recommend over-sanding.

unsealed chalk painted table

Final Thoughts On Sealing Chalk Paint Projects

As you can see, you have many different options on ways to seal chalk paint projects. It all comes down to what you want your finalized project to look like. There is no one way to seal chalk paint, so we always recommend trying several different methods until you find the one you like the most. And if you have a favorite method, be sure to comment below about which one you use for your chalk paint projects. 

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