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Protecting your Painted Furniture

Lets talk through everything you need to know about protecting painted furniture! This article will be a work in progress! (Find lots of tutorials in my Ultimate Guide to Furniture Painting!) As I work through the process of analysis I will update with my findings! Additionally I am not a representative of any paint company and can assure that anything found will be purely based on analysis results and in no way meant to leverage one brand over another, rather only to inform you the consumer on the products you use and invest in, and how to put them to the BEST use!

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Protecting Painted Furniture

Ok,.. so this is my thought process, I feel like so much gets lost when we apply rules and techniques to products that they just DONT apply to.

Some of this all began when chalk paint made it big and the wax finish was everything and “everyone knows” wax “lasts forever”, “always”, and “definitely”.

Another company creates a wax yet, less solvents,.. less hardening over the surface,.. more of an inside out, natural cure process,.. years later we become obsessed with these furniture oils, waxes, and salves,

Another company creates a line of paint and decide they want a different look so they add more resins, less minerals,…

Top coats are always a hot topic as many want a more durable finish on their pieces than a wax may offer…

When we are protecting our painted furniture, what do we use when?

I feel like we can begin to develop a thinking process that revolves around the porous nature (or lack of) that one paint has versus another. A process that would give us a slightly more concrete idea of what works rather than our, often less than scientifically analytical creative brain.
My hypothesis? (and yes I know there are going to be gaps but lets dig through this toward ANSWERS rather than getting hung up on variables.. )

Paints that have a higher mineral component in them such as lime and clay are KNOWN for their adhesion. This means the protective finish really needs to focus on sealing the paint. (and perhaps less focus on protecting the paint) With higher mineral content these paints will tend to be more porous, and therefore accept more in the way of oils, waxes, and salves,.. These sealers do their job seal sealing up those pores and curing from the inside out. In doing so they really become one with the paint. This is especially amazing when the piece is not sealed beforehand and the oil can penetrate into the wood as well! Additionally lets add into this that often times we never experience bleed until we top coat, these top coats are water based, not meant to penetrate, and generally “wick up” the tannins into the paint. This is generally not the experience with oils, waxes, and salves,.. things that make us think…

Now let’s look at paints that have less mineral additives. With less mineral additive these paints (in my hypothetical opinion) are likely the ones that we have to pay closer attention to prep work with. They may have a “top coat included” and are typically the ones that don’t alter in color as much from dry to sealed. The colors are more consistent. These guys are going to want to be Top Coated rather than sealed,.. Why? They arent porous. Using oils, waxes, or salves, isn’t going to do much good since there is so much less for them to be absorbed into. If they cant be absorbed then they cant cure from the inside out. Therefore, these paints will likely be most useful if extra prep is performed and a top coat is added over the surface!

So how do we know which paints are more porous than others?

This is where my work comes in. As I continue to review paints, I will perform what I feel like will be a rather accurate test showing us which paints are the most porous (and therefore better for use with oils, waxes, and salves) We will also see which paints are less porous and therefore likely benefit far less from these oils, waxes, and salves. This will tell us if they are better suited for protection by top coats instead. With this we can work with a little more confidence in our process!! We can skip some of the mistakes we make along the way and avoid those stressors!

Edited to Add on February 24, 2020

Which paints are most chalk like?

Ive begun testing and I am going to list the paints that I have tested and just how porous they are! Later we can use this information to identify how easy they are to blend, layer, distress, etc. This also helps us identify preferred ways to seal them or protect them! I will rate each brand 1-3. One will be most porous, 3 will be least porous, and of course two is right in the middle. Find them listed below!

Testing how porous each paint is

I wanted to see just how porous each paint is, since I feel like this tells us so much about what to expect from the product which in turn helps us decide which product we will likely like using the best! Below you will find a photo of each brand as I test them.

My process was this. Using a dry synthetic brush, I applied a 1 coat swatch of paint to a cleaned stainless steel surface. One that was allowed to dry for 1 day in a climate controlled setting, I dropped one measured drop of pure all natural hemp oil on each swatch. I feel like Dixie Belle was the most surprising.

The swatches were then left and analyzed over the next week. As of day one, the paints that would accept the hemp oil had accepted all they were able to. The swatches remained unchanged after day one, on into day 7. In the images you will see where some paints accepted all of the oil, some of the oil, and none of the oil at all!

1-Very Porous Paints

2-Moderately Porous Paints

3-Non-Porous Paints

Very Porous Furniture Paints

Furniture paints rated number 1 are VERY porous. These paints have a high mineral component to them and this likely means a few things.

  • They are VERY EASY to distress.
  • Furniture waxes/salves/oils will absorb into them deeply and need to cure from the inside out.
  • Salves/oils are more likely to need reapplication as well as waxes low in solvents/carnauba
  • When antiquing, a barrier (clear coat) is highly recommended
  • They are in least need of serious prep work.
  • They are more likely to give you issues with applying a clear top coat/varnish.
  • Protection priority is given to sealing above top coat preservation.
  • Top coat is DEFINITELY Recommended on surfaces. (Anywhere a drinking glass would set

These paints are great for layering, blending, textured, and rustic finishes. You may enjoy using these paints LESS if you want 100% coverage, modern, sleek, high gloss, “mod” looks. You also may like this less if you REALLY want to use top coats rather than waxes/oils/salves to protect.

Moderately Porous Furniture Paints

Furniture paints rated number 2 are not as porous but they ARE still porous. These paints have pores that are either smaller, closer together, or simply less over all. They have less of a mineral component to them than the previously mentioned paints. Here is what you can expect from them.

  • They are still very easy to distress, not likely to gum up or pull.
  • Furniture waxes/salves/oils will absorb into them to a certain point, and then accept no more.
  • They require less sealing (than number 1s) making wax/oil/salve reapplication less likely
  • When antiquing, a barrier (clear coat) is not necessarily recommended. Test your project to see if you feel like you want it.
  • They benefit from their mineral binders which means they are still very low prep paints.
  • They are top coat friendly as well as oil/salve/wax friendly.
  • There is no protection priority given really since its friendly to both however you likely want to at least seal with oil/salve/wax to seal up those little pores.
  • You may want to opt to use top coats on surfaces which is easy to apply to these paints.

These paints are great for layering, blending, textured, and rustic finishes. They will also be mod/solid finish friendly. These paints are considered the best of both worlds when it comes to their porous nature so more painters tend to like them.

Non-porous Furniture Paints

Furniture paints rated number 3 are not really porous. Not only do they NOT accept wax/salves/oils being absorbed into their pores but adding wax/salves/oils can actually suffocate them and cause the drying process to be stunted. This will happen when the wax/salve/oil is applied too soon. The paint then does not fully dry/cure and therefore does not adhere properly to the surface. There is no significant mineral component to them so prep is going to be more necessary than with heavy mineral paints listed as 1s & 2s since they don’t have that added binder.

  • Less distress friendly. You will need to be careful, likely start with a lower grit to break the surface, and not want to all the friction to “heat up” the paint
  • Wax/Oil/salves are not recommended to “seal” since they will not penetrate the paint. Some decorative waxes *may still be used successfully
  • When antiquing, a barrier (clear coat) is not necessarily recommended. Test yours but its likely you wont feel like you need one
  • Proper prep is going to be most important with these paints!!
  • They do not need to be sealed.
  • Protection priority is give to preservation by Top Coating. Clear coats applied over the surface that are not meant to be absorbed.
  • Top coats can often be skipped over or only used on Surfaces (where a drinking glass may set)




*Annie Sloan results are assumed according to personal past experience.

Have more questions? Leave them below! We would love to continue to add to areas covered here.

Ready to order your own paints? Check out my Product Buying Guide! Want to take a deeper look at the brands so many look to and trust? Check out my “Paint Reviews” at What kind of Paint to use on Wood Furniture!

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Tuesday 9th of March 2021

Thank you so much!!! You have really explained the whys behind paints and finishes working together or not working together. I’m so glad that I found your article. I’ve been overwhelmed and confused by all the choices. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, somebody reports that they did exactly that and it was a disaster. Thank you for your clear and thorough explanation. I think I finally understand. I’ll refer back to this article often!


Thursday 13th of February 2020

This was a very great article as I refinish furniture and kitchen cabinets on a daily.. this is always the big question!! And even after painting all these years I still think 🤔 there has to be a better paint out there everything you mentioned is so true

Thea Osborne

Thursday 13th of February 2020

Thank you so much Elizabeth! I feel like we can always stand to learn little something,.. so I will always venture out to do just that!

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