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Topcoats Updated


I wrote a post a long time ago about the topcoats I used and it’s been hanging out in the painting section on my side bar ever since.  A reader sent me an e-mail a couple of months ago asking me to update it.  I went back and read the post and she was right!  I hardly use any of the products anymore.  The main reason for that is soft wax.  I started using wax and I didn’t need to use other topcoats.  I occasionally use something else, but wax has stolen my furniture-refinishing heart.   

Here’s a breakdown of the topcoats I use now and how I feel about the ones I used to use…

Soft Wax –

How it’s applied: Apply the wax in a thin coat with a wax brush, bushy paint brush or soft cloth.  Work it into the surface until the wax is absorbed.  Allow it to dry for about five minutes and then buff it with a soft, clean cloth.  Apply additional coats for even more durability and shine.

What I like it for: Natural wood, porous painted surfaces (Milk Paint, Chalk Paint, flat latex, flat acrylic, etc.), especially when I want a soft luster to the finish, not a shine.  I also like that it provides a super smooth, hard finish and no brush strokes.

What I don’t like it for: I wouldn’t use it on a piece that has an existing intact finish and I don’t like it over non-porous surfaces like satin/semigloss paints.  It just sits on top of the surface instead of getting absorbed.

Pieces I used it on: Almost everything!  I used it on my dining table, kitchen table, all of the dressers I’ve done over the last year at least…

(Lest I look like I’m totally self-promoting, there are other great soft waxes out there.  Mine, of course, is my favorite, but I also like Annie Sloan’s Soft Wax and Fiddes & Sons.  Some others I’ve used that are okay, but very stinky, are Briwax and Mylands.  Use whatever you like.)






Hemp Oil – 

How it’s applied: Just wipe it on with a soft cloth.  It’s one of the easiest topcoats out there to apply.

What I like it for: It’s an all-natural, food-safe product, so I like that.  I mainly use it for raw, thirsty and tired wood, but I also like it over porous paint (Milk Paint, Chalk Paint, flat latex, flat acrylic, etc.)

What I don’t like it for: Pieces with a non-porous finish.  Again, it just sits on top and doesn’t work as well.

Creative Uses: It can be used to revive wood and even cast iron.

Pieces I used it on: My t-shirt counter…



… and a Milk Paint hutch I did for my mom (in a custom blue.)



Paste Wax –

How it’s applied: Wax on, wax off.  Rub the wax on with a soft/clean cloth.  Allow it to dry to a haze and then buff it off.

What I like it for: Natural wood, painted surfaces, especially when I want a soft luster to the finish, not a shine.  I also like that it provides a hard finish and no brush strokes.

What I don’t like it for: Pieces with a lot of texture or detail.  The wax gets clumped in the details and it’s a mess and a pain to get out.  I stick with smooth pieces.

Creative Uses: Dark Wax is a wonderful way to antique and provide protection all in one step.

One piece I used it on: My old dining room table top.

Why I don’t use it any more: Paste wax is a lot thicker and harder to work with than soft wax.  It’s sort of like the difference between chap stick and lip gloss.  Paste wax is a lot cheaper, but soft wax is so much easier to work with.

Polycrylic –

How it’s applied: This can be brushed or sprayed.  It’s water based, so it’s easy to wash out of brushes and equipment.

What I like it for: I use this most on chippy pieces that need to be sealed.  I can slather it on with a brush and it provides a hard, satin finish that protects my family from lead paint.  I also use my paint sprayer to apply this to painted furniture when I want a clean finish that isn’t distressed.

What I don’t like it for: Natural wood or pieces where the brush strokes are going to show.  This product leaves a lot of brush strokes, so I prefer to use it on pieces with texture (like chipping paint) or apply it with a sprayer.  Also, it does dry clear in most cases, but it can slightly yellow some whites or change the color of some paints.  You may want to test it on a small area before applying it to the entire piece.

Creative Uses: You can mix paint with it and use it as a glaze or extender.

One piece I used it on: My traditional hand painted dresser.

Why I don’t use it anymore: I always used the polycrylic as a topcoat over satin latex.  I’ve since learned that you don’t need a topcoat over satin latex.  That finish is hard enough on it’s own once cured.  If I did use it, I would only use it in a sprayer.



Wipe-On Poly –

How it’s applied: Wipe it on with a clean, soft cloth.  Lightly sand with a fine sand paper or steel wool between coats.

What I like it for: Natural wood and dark painted pieces.

What I don’t like it for: Light painted pieces, because this product will really yellow paint.

One piece I used it on: The top of my vanity.

Why I don’t use it anymore: Again, wax has bumped this one aside.  I found that I never got a buttery smooth finish with the Wipe-On Poly, but I still think it’s a good easy-to-use product.  I just prefer wax.

Spray Polyurethane –

How it’s applied: Self-explanatory, I think!  Remember to use long, even strokes and hold the paint can an even distance from the piece you’re painting.  It’s better to apply several thin coats, instead of one thick (and drippy) one.

What I like it for: Sealing rusty metal pieces or finishing smaller pieces like accessories, chandeliers, etc.

What I don’t like it for: Furniture (just a personal preference) and light painted pieces (again this product yellows.)

One piece I used it on: A rusty chicken feeder.

Why I don’t use this product anymore: Actually, I do!  I still use it exactly the way I did a couple of years ago, but I never, ever, EVER use it on furniture.  Never.

These are just my preferences, so I encourage you to try several different products to see what you like!
By the way, the winner of the Decor Steals antique bucket is Amanda Jasper and the winner of the herb crates is Ann Wilson.


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  1. Very, very interesting post! I’m drawn to hemp oil as it’s natural and a product that used to be produced in the area where I live. I’m wondering though, when you use it on paint, does it change the original colour?

  2. It doesn’t change the color, but makes it look richer, if that makes sense…

    • We just sanded and milk painted the kitchen cabinets in our apartment. They look so much better! My question is, would hemp oil be okay to seal these? Or soft wax? We used grain sack. ..will using hemp oil or poly turn it yellow?

  3. We just bought a house that has beautiful paneling in the basement…would you recommend Hemp Oil for that? It’s 44 years old and I’m sure has never had anything done to it. Thanks for the update on the finishes you use… it helps to know a bit about all the different products out there!

  4. Where can I purchase dark wax.? We refinished an antique vanity in white and would like to use dark wax on it. I live in a small central Texas town and either I dont know what I am looking for (probably the case ) or my local retailers don’t carry it. Love your blog. Thanks. Jan

  5. Hi great summary. Thanks! One question, so soft wax on dark stain works too in terms of finishing? Totally love hemp oil and soft wax on the painted surfaces but still a bit stymied as to whether they work on the stripped and stained table tops. I used dark soft wax on one dresser and it gave a nice matt finish, very uniform. On another set tables it looks greasy. I’m wondering if it depends on the wood and what it was treated with before stripping.

    • Yes, it does depend on the grain and hardness of the wood. I prefer to use a stain and then wax, instead of a dark wax. The key to getting a uniform matte finish is applying a thin coat and buffing it well. It can also show smudging, etc. on darker stains.

  6. I just used your milk paint for the first time, and LOVED it!! My piece came out awesome except for one minor problem. I redid an old antique desk, and after two coats of milk paint then applying your wax I realized the last drawer I painted is slightly lighter than the rest of the piece (I was almost out of the milk paint I mixed, and I guess I didn’t give the last drawer a proper second coat). I am going to repaint the drawer again, but can I do that since the wax is already on? Do I need to try and remove the wax first? Thanks!!

  7. jackie says:

    Such a great post!!! I am the one that put wax over satin/semi gloss paint and it does just sit on the top-I love the color, but do I have to sand down again or is there something you can suggest without ruining the paint? Thanks, Jackie

  8. Thank you for this post, Miss Mustard. Wonderful round-up.

    Question: when I use soft wax (or paste wax) on large surface areas, inevitably I end up with an uneven finish in terms of shine. I feel like wax is great on smaller surfacs: furniture frames, painted knobs, whathaveyou. But when I start waxing, say, painted tabletops, larger painted cabinet/hutch doors, etc., I end up with some areas that look shinier/duller than others. Regardless of amount of application, number of coats, amount of buffing, I have this issue.

    I love the type of finish wax gives, moreso than a wipe-on poly or Polycrilic, but I don’t like the inconsistency on larger areas. Any suggestions?

  9. HI! Just found your blog–love your paints, love your info! In this post you show a picture of a green dresser-is that one of your paints? Can you tell me the color?

    We are redoing a bathroom, we are making a chest into the sink. I wanted to paint it and then seal the top since the sink bowl will be added in. Will Milk paint be okay for this? What do you recommend sealing the top with so it doesn’t get damaged by water? Also, will the Milk paint work on a non-wood surface? We bought the piece at Homegoods and we don’t think it is actually wood???

  10. Does the hemp oil yellow paint at all? I know that milk and chalk paint cane sometimes be used outside — do you think wax, hemp oil, or water based poly would be the solution for a topcoat on chalk or milk painted Adirondack chairs?

  11. Lisa S says:

    I have used your milk paint and antiquing wax on a chair. I would like to go back and add another color to this piece. . Will the new paint adhere since the wax has already been applied? Thank you!

  12. What would you recommend using as a top coat for stools that will get a lot of use in our kitchen? We will be sitting directly on the painted surface. Thank you!

  13. Thanks for the great post on finishes. It’s illuminating to a learner like me and I appreciate you experience and expertise.

    I haven’t been able to find on your site any place to buy wax or oil. Do you sell your own products? Are they hidden for some reason? Where would one purchase them? Thanks.

  14. Carrie says:

    I know this is an older post and this may not get answered, but what are your thoughts on Tung Oil?

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  16. Marty says:

    Hey! I just got the Mustard Seed Yellow milk paint, and want to paint… kitchen cabinets with it!

    The store I bought it from had different finishes showed on a few cute pieces, and MMS Wax seemed smoothest. After I got it, I read wax may not be the best finish for the kitchen, tho. The cabinets will need to be wiped. Any suggestions on what to seal the paint with?

    Can I use wax, and put Polycrylic on top? If I just use Policrylic finish, will I get the color depth that come with wax?


    • Cecilia Lanier says:

      Did you ever get an answer to the question about putting poly over wax? I have the same question.
      Thank you!

  17. What about combining wax and polycrylic? I have a lot of clients who love the wax finish for high-traffic items like dining tables and desktops. They like the look but are not comfortable with just a wax finish. So is it possible to wax a surface and then cover it with a coat of poly??? I’ve searched the net and read this post a million times but I am still unsure as to combining wax and poly.

  18. kristi says:

    Awesome post! I was just wondering what would be the best finish if I want a high gloss finish over my milk paint?

    • marian says:

      I would suggest using a glossy polyurethane product, if that’s the look you’re going for.

  19. Elena says:

    I am all set to chalk paint my coffee table, except for a slight supply problem – I thought I had some polyacrylic spray but now that I look, it’s actually Mod Podge Clear Acrylic Sealer. Can I use this?

  20. Shalee says:

    I am looking to refinish a dresser to use as a bathroom vanity. What do you recommend as a sealer, considering I have 2 little boys that are not water conscious after washing hands! I am guessing that wax won’t be enough.

  21. Have you ever tried to wax a piece of aluminum? One that is serving as a tabletop? I currently in the redo process of a table with an aluminum top and can’t figure out what to use on it to get some of the metal shine out.

  22. Patricia says:

    I have a dresser that i have painted with 3 coats of latex furniture paint (namely a white primer, yellow base and turquoise top coat). I have sanded down the edges and a few spots here and there to give it a well loved old shabby chic look. From afar it is outstanding. But from up close, the sandpaper marks have dulled the paint (even though i softly sanded using 220 grit) around the area where i aged the piece. I am now very unsure on how to proceed as the rest of the furniture is sort of melamine shiny… Should i sand down the whole piece lightly then wax it? Or show i add a coat of clear poly? Any advice would be appreciated.

  23. we have recently been working on finishing a decorative table top. We have the top of the table stained and put a coat of polyurethane on it but we didn’t like the way the poly turned out , it looked a little streaky. So we sanded off most of the polyurethane and were thinking of using a white wax finish on the stain instead to give it a slightly washed looked. Does the wax work over the stain and if there is still some polyurethane left on the table will the was still stick and look like a nice finish?

  24. halnwheels says:

    What a great post. Your format is so useful = why i like it; don’t like it; don’t use it. Very helpful

    Thank you.

  25. Love this — especially the tip for the chicken feeder turned plate rack! 😉

  26. how could I antique a gloss new mirror to match my annie/miss mustard seed paint&wax……I can’t can I :>{

  27. Amanda says:

    How do you go about the challenge of a poly coat of wax on a light finished piece of furniture, after it’s turned it yellow? Please God tell me I don’t have to start all over repainting this chest that now looks yellow after I painted it with the antique white milk paint? I wish I had seen this post earlier before I did it! Beginner and Im learning as I go!

  28. Kristy Watson says:

    Hi Miss Mustard Seed…I’m new to viewing your site and I was looking for an answer to this question. Maybe you can help me. I am super new to refinishing furniture and recently did an old kitchen table in a chalk paint. Well I hated it. So I repainted it with a satin enamel paint. Well I hate that too. I bought some Annie Sloan chalk paint and was going to paint over top of those 2 coats of different paint. Will it work?? I plan on using the wax also. Will that be ok?
    Also, I sealed the stained wood too with polycrylic-someone told me to- and like you mentioned above I don’t like the brush strokes and it’s not shiny. I do have some protex by fiddes..can I use that on top of the polycrylic??
    Thank you and sorry for the novel I jus wrote😃

  29. Not sure if this thread is still open? Your dining table looks lovely. What steps did you take to achieve that look?

  30. Hello, I’m in the process of refinishing my kitchen table and really thinking about using Annie Sloan Dark Wax but afraid it won’t be durable enough with a couple of kids? How is your kitchen table holding up? Thank you!

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