Wax VS Polyurethane

Are you looking to paint your furniture but don’t know which topcoat to use? Wax vs polyurethane is a common debate among DIYers, and it can be difficult to decide between the two if you don’t understand each product. In this blog post, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of each topcoat so that you can make an informed decision about which one is best for your needs.

We’ll discuss how they are applied, their durability, maintenance requirements, appearance, and cost. By the end of this review post, you will have all the information you need to choose the right topcoat for painting furniture!

different brands and kinds of wax and polyurethane

By the end of this review post, you will have all the information you need to choose the right topcoat for your project! You won’t have to worry about making a mistake or wasting time with trial-and-error.

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Just keep reading our comprehensive guide on wax vs polyurethane topcoats and get started on your painting project today!

A topcoat is a vital part of protecting and finishing furniture. It helps to seal the surface, and prevent staining or discoloration caused by dirt, dust, and other environmental elements.

A topcoat also enhances the appearance of the piece by creating a sheen that accentuates any design details.

In addition to providing protection and adding visual appeal, topcoats can also help extend the life of your furniture as they provide an extra layer of protection for wear and tear over time.

Now let’s dive into what you can expect from a wax topcoat and from a polyurethane topcoat on your painted (or stained) furniture.

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Wax Topcoat

Wax topcoats are a great choice for protecting and finishing furniture, as they provide a more durable finish than no topcoat.

Wax is available in both oil-based and water-based versions, and it dries to a matte sheen that can be buffed or rubbed to achieve a shinier finish.

different brands and types of wax stacked

It also has the added benefit of deepening the color of painted or stained furniture.

While wax may not be as durable as polyurethane, it is easy to apply and can provide some protection from wear and tear.


  • Seals porous paint to create a more durable finish
  • Dries to a matte sheen, but can be rubbed or buffed to make a shinier finish
  • Deepens the color of the paint or wood
  • Available in oil based and waterbased versions
  • Easy to apply
  • Easy to find in a variety of stores or online
  • Provides some protection from wear and tear


  • Takes longer to dry to a non-tacky state
  • Not as durable as polyurethane
  • For best results, you have to apply more wax every 6 months
  • Can look streaky over dark paints

How to Apply Wax to Painted Furniture

Applying wax to painted furniture is a great way to protect and enhance the finish. However, it’s essential to know the correct method to apply wax to get the best results.

First, it’s important to allow the painted furniture to dry thoroughly for at least 24 hours before applying wax so that the paint can start to get more durable. With all the rubbing you’ll do to apply the wax, you can easily rub off paint if it hasn’t started to stick well.

Then use a lint-free rag, old sock, or wax brush to apply a thin and even layer of wax to the furniture’s surface.

Leave it to sit for a few minutes, then use a clean lint-free rag or sock to remove any excess wax. For dark finishes, you can use a dark sock to avoid any white fuzzies on your furniture and vice versa!

applying wax onto furniture with an old sock

If you want a shinier finish, gently buff the wax with a clean, lint-free cloth.

Allow the wax to dry and cure for a couple of days before using the furniture.

Keep the can of wax around, so when you start to see the wax finish wearing down, you can reapply another coat of wax.

For best results, apply a new coat of wax every 6-12 months.

Reapplying wax helps to maintain the finished consistency and prevents patchiness or dull spots. This is especially important for high-traffic areas or if the furniture is placed near windows or direct sunlight.

Regular wax reapplication helps ensure that painted furniture is well-protected and looks beautiful. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the furniture’s quality and helps extend its life, making it an extra step that is worth it in the end.

By following these steps, your painted furniture will have excellent protection and enhanced visual appeal from the wax topcoat.

Painted Furniture with Wax Topcoat

Looking for some inspiration to know if wax is the right topcoat for your furniture? Here are some of our furniture makeovers that we used a wax topcoat on.

Where to Buy Wax Topcoat

You can purchase wax topcoats for furniture from a variety of retailers, including home improvement stores, craft stores, and online marketplaces.

Here are some of the best brands of wax topcoats and where you can purchase them:

  • Waverly Clear Wax: You can buy Waverly chalk paint wax at Walmart, as well as online retailers such as Amazon and Target. Here’s our Waverly Clear wax review learn more about the pros and cons of this product.
  • Real Milk Paint Soft Wax: You can purchase Real Milk Paint wax from their website, as well as on online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon.
  • Fusion Mineral Beeswax: Fusion Mineral beeswax can be purchased from their website or from online retailers such as Amazon and Etsy.

Waverly Clear WaxCheck PriceReal Milk Paint, Soft Wood Wax Seal for Wood Finishing and Refinishing, Sealer Coat for Cabinets, Wood Countertops, Furniture Paint, Beeswax, Satin, Clear, 4 oz.Check PriceFusion Mineral BeeswaxCheck Price


Other options for buying wax topcoats include popular retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Michaels, and Joann.

It’s also worth noting that there are many other great brands of wax topcoat available on the market, so be sure to shop around and compare product features and prices to find the best one for your needs.

Learn more about the pros and cons of Wax For Chalk Paint here.

Polyurethane Topcoat

Polyurethane topcoat is a popular choice for protecting furniture, as it provides major protection and creates a very durable finish. It comes in a variety of sheens and in oil-based or water-based varieties.

With its easy application process and quick drying time, polyurethane topcoat is an ideal choice for DIYers looking to protect their painted or stained furniture.

different brands and types of polyurethane

However, there are some drawbacks such as the potential for streakiness over dark paints if brushed on with a water-based product and the yellow tint that can come from oil based products.

Nevertheless, if you follow proper maintenance techniques, your furniture will have excellent protection from this type of topcoat for years to come!


  • Seals porous paint to create a very durable finish
  • Comes in matte, satin, semi-gloss or gloss sheens
  • Deepens the color of the paint or wood
  • Available in oil based and waterbased versions
  • Easy to apply with a brush, sponge or sprayer
  • Easy to find in a variety of stores or online
  • Dries quickly within 2 hours and can be lightly used after 24 hours
  • Provides major protection to painted or stained furniture
  • Does not need to be reapplied


  • Waterbased polyurethane can look streaky over dark paints if brushed on
  • Oil-based polyurethane has a yellow tint, so use waterbased polyurethane on light paints
  • Needs 3 coats for best durability

How to Apply Polyurethane to Painted Furniture

Applying a polyurethane topcoat to your painted furniture is an easy and effective way to protect it from wear and tear. But if you don’t know the tricks that professionals use, it might not look the best.

Polyurethane comes in both oil-based and water-based varieties, with the latter being easier to use for DIYers. Oil based polyurethane should only be used on stained wood or dark paint colors.

Applying polyurethane can be done by brush, sponge or sprayer, depending on the size of the project.

Here’s my comparison so you can decide whether to spray polyurethane vs brush on polyurethane.

You can also opt for poly that comes in a spray can, here are the best spray polyurethane options. Here’s a dedicated post for the best clear polyurethane spray for wood.

Check out the best paint brushes for polyurethane here. We’ve also listed the best sprayers for polyurethane here.

If you’re looking for a foolproof method that will make your furniture look like it was professionally painted, then spraying is definitely the way to go.

applying polyurethane onto furniture with a sponge

To learn more about how to apply polyurethane topcoat with a sprayer, check out our post how to spray polyurethane.

Alternatively, if you want to know the tricks to get an even finish without using a spray gun then take a look at our post on how to apply polycrylic to painted furniture (polycrylic is waterbased polyurethane by the way.)

Both posts provide detailed instructions on how to get professional results when applying these types of finishes! We also have a comparison of polyurethane vs polycrylic for dining table here if you’re painting your dining table.

Painted Furniture with Polyurethane Topcoat

Still not sure if using polyurethane on your painted or stained furniture is the right choice for you? Check out these painted furniture makeovers where we used polyurethane as the topcoat.

Just so you know, we use polyurethane for the majority of our furniture makeovers that need a topcoat.

Where to Buy Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a popular protective finish for painted furniture, and it’s available from various retailers, including home improvement stores, craft stores, and online marketplaces. Here are some popular brands of polyurethane and where you can purchase them:

Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Satin FinishCheck PriceGeneral Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat, 1 Quart, SatinCheck Price


Almost every brand of boutique paint has their own topcoats available as well. I haven’t tested many of them, but I know for sure that these 2 brands mentioned are the best of the best.

It’s important to be aware the type of polyurethane you’re purchasing, the size of the can, and pricing before making a purchase.

There are many great brands of polyurethane available on the market, so it’s best to do some research to find the best one for your specific needs.

Learn more about the Best Polyurethane for Furniture here.

Wax VS Polyurethane

Wax and polyurethane are two of the most popular topcoats. But which one should you use? To make an informed decision, it’s important to understand how each topcoat performs in terms of durability, maintenance, appearance, and cost.

Durability: Polyurethane is a hard, durable finish that will protect your furniture from wear and tear. The wax on the other hand, offers less protection as it wears off over time.

Maintenance: Wax requires regular upkeep as it requires reapplication every few months. Polyurethane however, does not require frequent reapplication and is less time consuming.

Appearance: Wax offers a more natural, matte finish whereas Polyurethane provides any finish from a matte look to a glossy look.

Cost: Polyurethane is generally cheaper than wax but it does depend on the brand. Keep in mind that wax does require more upkeep which can add up over time.

Ultimately, the decision between wax and polyurethane will depend on the furniture you are protecting, your desired finish look, and how much time and money you’d like to invest in maintaining it.

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  1. Deborah Morand says:

    What about Odie’s Oil, do you recommend it?

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