wood clear coat

Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets – Finding the Best Cabinet Sealer

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For most people, the kitchen is the heart of the home as this is where everyone gathers for mealtimes. Kitchen cabinets are important as they are not only your main source of storage in this room, but they are usually in full view whether your house is open plan, or you are entertaining. So, the aesthetics need to be enjoyable. By sealing painted cabinets, you can better protect them and add some shine to your wooden kitchen fittings simply by applying a cabinet sealer.



Guide to Buying Your Clear Coat for Cabinets

A topcoat can be used for many different projects as it can be applied alone or to an already painted surface. Stained or unfinished rougher wood is also not an issue as long your wood is properly prepared beforehand. Adding a clear coat will nourish and protect your wooden surface from any wear and tear and spills. Being in the kitchen, these cabinets are often exposed to moisture and heat regularly.  An important tip to remember when using clear topcoat products is that even the best polyurethane, lacquer, wood stains, or oils may yellow with age if applied over white paint. This yellowing process is dependent on various factors like the type of wood you are painting, color and dyes already in the wood, not using the correct product, or if the wood has been exposed to moisture, to name a few.

This aged outcome is not always the case though, as some users never experience it, while others do find yellowing of their white wood over time. It is not an exact science but learning more about the techniques and products available, can assist in preventing this from happening to yours. Below are some factors to consider before sealing your painted cabinets.

best clear coat for kitchen cabinets



Often the quality of a product and the price will go hand in hand. However, not everyone can afford top-notch products for every project. Thankfully, there are some brands that do offer quality and while still being budget-friendly.


Resistance to Scratching

Sharp objects are commonly stored in the kitchen, these can be harmful to your painted cabinets and leave marks from scratching the paint. Using a cabinet sealer that is resistant to scratching can be helpful with this concern. Another consideration is whether your cabinet sealer can withstand and protect against excessive heat and dampness that occur in the kitchen.


Type of Wood Finish

If your kitchen cupboards are unfinished or raw wood, it is beneficial to use an oil-based sealant for your cabinets. This will protect your wood and will also improve the unfinished look of your cabinets. If you would prefer to not use an oil-based option, the alternative would be to first stain your cabinets and then apply the clear finished coat on top once dry.


Clear-Coat Appearance

It is important to consider the finish you would like to get out of your clear coat as there are a few to choose from. These come in gloss, semi-gloss, and stains. High gloss finishes are easy to keep clean by just wiping them down, whereas a satin finish may be harder to properly clean.  Also, remember that the texture of your cabinet sealer must be suited to the surface you are using it for. For example, one would not use a high-gloss finish on the floor as it would making the surface too smooth would be dangerous. The benefits of using a semi-gloss finish would be a more subtle shine and your cabinets would retain their easy to clean benefits.

If in doubt, a solid clear topcoat is the way to go. These have a thicker consistency which adds to their durability and water-repelling effects. You will also save on money and your time, in the long run, having applied an effective and long-lasting kitchen cabinet sealer.

best lacquer for kitchen cabinets



Using a Clear-Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

The advantages to using a clear topcoat for painted cabinets are not only related to protecting your wood for years to come. But also from everyday use and damage from moisture, spills, and heat. The idea is to also bring out the beauty of your kitchen by accentuating one of its best features. Below, some more benefits to using a cabinet sealer have been outlined:



The most obvious benefit would be the shine or gloss factor achieved with the right product. Adding a clear topcoat to your painted cabinets will reflect any light they come into contact with.  This effect brings warmth and life to your wood.



In some cases, when using paint there is a residue left behind on your surface once it has dried. When using a clear coat for cabinets, this will be easily rectified. Paints do not always cover rough spots and edges very smoothly, using a clear coat will soften those edges and create a perfect glossy finish.


Avoid Degradation

Unless using paint for your kitchen that contains UV resistant elements, sun damage can be very harmful and degrade your painted cabinets. The great thing about clear coating is, when using over your painted area, it is naturally formulated to offer UV protection for your paint and cabinets.



Being prone to varying temperatures and moisture levels, sealing painted cabinets in your kitchen is key to prevent cracking and chipping of your cabinets. The problem with unvarnished or unsealed painted surfaces is that they naturally tend to chip as time goes by but applying a clear coat over the paint will prevent this from occurring.

clear coat for cabinets



The Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

There are many clear topcoat options which include stains, lacquers, polyurethanes, or oils. No matter what you are painting, the final finish is crucial. In order to achieve the best finish possible, you will need to have the right tools. If the topcoat product is not right for the job, then your final finish cannot be either.  For the best clear coat kitchen cabinet results, take a look at our recommended product below.


Best Polyurethane for Kitchen Cabinets: GENERAL FINISHES Topcoat

The General Finishes topcoat comes in three different sheens: semi-gloss, satin, and gloss. All of which can be used for kitchen cabinets and other wood applications. For added gloss or shine effect it is helpful to buff your surface beforehand to remove any residue or rough patches. Containing UV stabilizers adds to General Finishes Topcoat, making it the hardest and most durable polyurethane for kitchen cabinets and most other wood finishes. The UV factor is helpful in preventing sunlight and any other harsh lighting from ruining your wooden surfaces. This is very useful for those who have a light and sunny kitchen.

Most sealants that contain UV stabilizers are recommended for outdoor use. General Finishes was created solely for use indoors although it does deliver a highly durable, A-grade finish that will withstand any abrasions and temperature changes in the kitchen. This product takes a few hours to dry and will need a least a week to cure properly. Make sure to apply around three coats for a proper, long-lasting finish. The manufacturer’s goal when formulating this brand highlights durability as its top feature. So, if you are looking for high quality and a smooth finished result, then this product for you!

GENERAL FINISHES High Performance Water-Based Topcoat
  • The hardest, most durable consumer polyurethane top coat on the market
  • Dry Time Between Coats is only 1-2 Hours
  • For interior use only
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  • Durable and thick coating
  • Water based
  • Fast drying
  • Contains UV stabilizers
  • Comes in numerous sheens


  • Not for outdoor use
  • Pricey


Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets: MINWAX Polycrylic Finish

Minwax Polycrylic Finish is one of the leading brands in wood protection and long-term care, sealing products in the USA. Apart from being readily available, this clear coat can be used in the preparation, maintenance protection, cleaning, and even repair of wooden surfaces. Minwax Polycrylic Finish is known for maintaining the beauty and durability of your kitchen cabinets. It is also supplied in various sheens namely; semi-gloss, gloss, matte, and ultra-flat.

Minwax is not only used for the kitchen, this product is made for use on different wooden surfaces and indoor projects only. Being water-based, it produces a fast-drying, crystal clear finish that provides continued protection to your surfaces. Another benefit of using a water-based finish is the quick drying time and easy cleanup. This clear coat finish is ideal for use on lighter woods such as it will bring out the natural shades of your surface. Minwax topcoat works best when applied over water-based wood stained furniture or surfaces.  Although they are known for their fast-drying time, Minwax also takes a two-hour wait between coats. The low odor makes this cabinet sealer safe around children and pets and is easy to clean up with water.

MINWAX Polycrylic Protective Wood Finish
  • Protects and adds beauty to interior wood surfaces
  • Dries to a crystal clear finish that is perfect for light woods
  • Ultra fast-drying water-based formula
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  • Has a low odor safe to use where there are pets and kids
  • Good reputation
  • Various sheens available
  • Quick drying time
  • Easy to clean up
  • Provides excellent protection
  • Long lasting durability
  • The container has a good seal cap to protect the product during storage


  • Has no color is crystal clear
  • Thinner consistency


Best Polyurethane for Kitchen Cabinets: RUST-OLEUM Varathane

One of the most proven and trusted names in the paint industry is Rust-Oleum and for good reason. Their Varathane Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane was created specifically to bring out the natural beauty and shine of your wood because of its crystal clear, satin-smooth finish. This easy to use spray provides a highly durable finish and adds a protective layer over your painted kitchen cabinets. This protects them from damage and preserves your wooden surface. Before applying a top coat it is beneficial to stain lighter woods. Lightly staining your surface before starting with Rust-oleum or any other clear coat, will ensure you a smooth and time tested finish.

A noteworthy benefit to using this product is, it actually does have an ultra-fast drying time! Rust-oleum Varathane is water-based and takes just 30 minutes to be touch dry. It has the same easy to clean up advantages as other water-based products and one can go quite far covering an area of 125 feet. Rust-oleum offers the perfect shine finish for your kitchen cabinets and years of lasting protection.

RUST-OLEUM Varathane, Satin Finish
  • Formulated for protecting all kinds of outdoor wood surfaces
  • Water-based formula for fast drying and easy cleaning
  • Weather and UV-resistant formula for better protection
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  • 30 minute drying time
  • Reasonably priced
  • Trusted brand
  • Dries to a crystal-clear finish
  • Water-based
  • Safe and non-toxic


  • Thinner consistency
  • The crystal finish may not be right for unstained pieces

best polyurethane for kitchen cabinets



How to Apply Clear Coat Sealer to Your Kitchen Cabinets Using Brushes

It is well known that using spray equipment provides an unmatched, even coating and finish to your wooden surfaces. However, achieving the same even results with your kitchen cabinets using a paintbrush is possible! See the steps below so you can apply the best, crystal clear cabinet sealer.

  • Start by preparing your kitchen, empty the cupboards and move all loose items that could be damaged or get in the way
  • Tape the areas you do not want to get paint on and use newspaper, plastic, or an old sheet to protect your floors and any other area that would be exposed
  • Remove your cabinet doors, shelves, and screws to store in a safe spot
  • Wipe down your cabinets and other surfaces before starting
  • Next, using 100 grit sandpaper you need to sand down your cabinet doors and drawers
  • Wipe these down when done to remove any residue
  • If you find gaps and cracks that need filling, one can use a simple wood putty
  • Edges will need to be sanded till smooth
  • This step requires an oil-based primer to be applied, this will better prepare your wood to absorb its clear coat. Allow this 24 hours to dry proceeding to the next step
  • The next day, apply your clear coat with your paintbrush
  • For the best results, the painting should be done top to bottom and then finished in the same direction as your wood grain
  • Now, using 280-grit sandpaper sand down your surface after the first layer has been applied
  • Repeat this between every coat
  • Lastly, you will apply your finishing coat and allow at least 24 to 48 hours to dry before re hanging your kitchen cabinets



Best Lacquer for Kitchen Cabinets

Lacquer is another clear coat option used to seal kitchen cabinets and other wooden surfaces. Although it doesn’t provide the same durability as a polyurethane finish, its flexibility, sheen, and impact resistance far exceed other clear coat mediums on the market. Lacquer has a few benefits including a waterproof clear coat that is also breathable and chip resistant.

They also come in different sheen levels from high gloss to matte. Opting for a lacquer clear coat can mean daily wear and tear shows up easier and your cabinets may lose their luster. This is why it is crucial to sand each layer beforehand when applying this cabinet sealer.

sealing cabinets



Benefits of Using Lacquer on Your Kitchen Cabinets

It is always helpful to know the good, the bad, and the ugly before spending valuable time and money on a product. As with other cabinet sealers, lacquer can be a versatile medium for various wood projects around the home. The points below will outline the pros and cons of using lacquer for kitchen cabinets.


Lacquer Options

Just as with your other clear coat options, lacquer also comes in a matte finish, medium finish, and high gloss finish. The matte option gives you more of a dull finish and will not add much of a shine effect. The medium finish is better at accentuating the wood grains and natural shades is more widely used for resurfacing kitchen cabinets. Lastly, the high gloss finish provides a shiny surface, but it also shows up any dust more easily.


Quick Drying Time

This is a major advantage when compared to some other top coat options, which can take almost a full week to dry properly. Using lacquer at room temperature should ensure your surface drying within at little as 15 minutes. The next step would be to sand it down slightly before applying the next coat after an hour. This process can be repeated two or three times until you obtain your desired results.


Easy to Use

Lacquer is easy to use as it does not require mixing or thinning first. It is mostly used in the form of a spray gun which provides a seamless finish. Although the consistency of lacquer means it is also easily used with a paintbrush.


Long-Lasting Finish

Using a lacquer finish topcoat on your kitchen cabinets will outlast any of the other options available like varnish, polyurethane, stains, or shellac. It also does not age and peels like some other clear coat options.  For some, this option is better than using a normal topcoat as lacquer works by penetrating deep into the wood’s actual fibers and then sealing it from the inside. Generally, it only requires two layers and those can last for up to 10 years if done correctly.

top coat for painted cabinets



Disadvantages of Using Lacquer

Now that we understand the pros of this clear coat, we can take a look at the negatives. Each product you choose will have advantage and disadvantages which assists us in making the best possible decision. Take a look below to find out more.


Brittle Surfaces

Mainly due to the moisture and temperature components that cause your wood to expand and contract. This results in fine cracks in your lacquer coat causing it to become brittle. This issue is more prevalent in kitchens that are used more often than just the usual dinners. You will notice these fine cracks appearing on the doors and joints of your kitchen cabinets.


Blushing and Other Marks

Lacquer is not a sealant, what this means is If a lacquered surface is exposed to moisture, salt, water, or other chemical products, it will cause spots to form and change the color of your surface. It is also not heat resistant. Using an extra coat or two is beneficial for heat protection in the long term for your kitchen surfaces.

Blushing is a term used to describe the milky-white marks which appear on your wood if it has not been primed and buffed beforehand. You will notice them come up almost immediately once the lacquer dries. This is primarily due to any moisture or even humidity that was not dried prior to applying your topcoat. It is very important to make sure no water or moisture is present on your surface, or in your spray equipment. Everything should be clean and dry for best results.



Lacquer can be very sensitive to temperature and moisture changes in the environment. Problem areas in the kitchen would be around the sink and stove where steam and water are used often. This can cause your topcoat to break down, which will eventually affect the color and life span which can be reduced from 10 years to five. You will then need to start over, by sanding down the wood surface again and applying your lacquer.

Lacquer Does Not Keep for Long and has a limited shelf life of three to six months, so it is always best to know exactly how much you need before getting started. Using lacquer once expired will have very poor results. It is better to have too little and need to purchase extra than be sitting with a waste of expired products that cannot be used. With all the facts out of the way, if you would like to use lacquer, then take a look at the best lacquer to use for kitchen cabinets below.



Best Lacquer for Kitchen Cabinets: WATCO Lacquer

Watco Lacquer is not only suited to kitchen cabinets, it can also be used on furniture, doors, cabinets, and paneling. Although it is not made for outdoor projects or painting on floors. This manufacturer prides themselves in their formulation for a higher clarity finish than using polyurethane and this lacquer does not require sanding or buffing between coats. An added benefit is, it dries quickly being touch dry in just one hour, and is also self-leveling. This is helpful when using a paintbrush as your brush strokes will not show up.

Watco lacquer also eliminates the need to use any wood fillers in your application and it does a great job at protecting against scratches. Watco Lacquer is more durable than other cabinet sealers and it creates a long-lasting, harder finish that will be on display for years to come.

WATCO Lacquer Clear Wood Finish
  • A crystal clear lacquer wood finish
  • Ideal for a wide range of interior wood surfaces
  • Superior scratch protection and excellent clarity
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  • Forms a durable, hard finish better than many other surface coatings
  • Leaves you with a crystal clear finish
  • Self-leveling
  • Fills cracks and gaps without fillers
  • Covers a large area


  • Very thin and needs more coats
  • Has no UV resistance
  • Pricey
  • Not good with water resistance



How to Apply Lacquer to Your Kitchen Cabinets Using Spray Equipment

Lacquer can be applied by a paintbrush but is better applied with a spray gun. This can be harmful to breathe in as it contains noxious odors and is also highly flammable. So, it is best to wear a mask while working with lacquer or if possible, to work outdoors even. To ensure the best possible results, it is helpful to remove your cabinet doors before attempting the painting or topcoat.

  • Wear a mask or set up an area outside when working with harsh chemicals
  • Remove your cabinet doors, screws, and bolts before starting and put them aside
  • Next, using sandpaper, buff your surface area and finish it off with a 150 grit piece if possible
  • If you are working with a wood-like knotty pine or birch, use a paintbrush to apply a wood conditioner as a primer, before starting with any staining and ideally allow that to dry overnight. These specific wood materials are known to absorb your wood stain unevenly
  • It is helpful to use this time to apply your stain, while the wood grain is still open from sanding
  • Before spraying your wood, decide if your lacquer needs to be thinned. This will depend on your wood surface and your own preference
  • Add your lacquer into the spray gun holder do not add too much to start
  • Next, gently attach the air hose and turn on the compressor, once you are done applying the lacquer it will be dry in under 30 minutes
  • Using 220 grit sandpaper you will sand the surface again to remove any rough bumps
  • Use a cloth to wipe the area when this step is complete, and you are happy
  • Generally, three coats are sufficient in sealing your cabinets, make sure the last coat is thinner and just enough to finely spray over your last sanded layer

cabinet sealer



Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Use Polyurethane Over Paint?

Yes, this is a common variety of topcoats for wooden surfaces and furniture. The key is to properly clean your surface and make sure your clear coat is right for the project at hand.


Are Oil and Water-Based Paints Different?

Water-based paints dry faster and are safer to use. They are also easily cleaned up by having a water base. While oil-based paints are mostly chemical based in order to form a thick layer that is wear-resistant and can withstand more use. A downside is it does take longer to dry properly.


When Can You Wash a Painted Surface?

Much like thick paint, these surfaces will need at least two weeks to properly cure and dry. Wiping or applying any moisture before then could result in damaging your freshly coated surface.


Can a Clear Coat be Applied Over a Painted Kitchen Cabinet Surface?

The whole idea of a clear coat is to apply it to a painted surface to protect it and give it a varnished effect. Having paint underneath your clearcoat is better as it saves the surface from marks and abrasions. Not using a clear coating can result in your paint drying out, cracking, chipping away, and eventually peeling right off.


Is There a Specific Type of Finish for Kitchen Cabinets?

The best topcoats for kitchen cabinets are polyurethane semi-gloss. These finishes are made to seal in your paint underneath so that it does not affect the outcome of your clear coat. High gloss and medium gloss finishes are also widely used.


How Many Layers of Clear Sealer Can be Added to Kitchen Cabinets?

Most recommendations advise on using two coats, but some products will require three or more coats depending on their formula and consistency.


If you are installing or touching-up your kitchen cabinets, then you will need a great clear coat. The best clear coat for kitchen cabinets comes in various forms, and should be chosen depending on your specific needs. We hope that our guide above has taught you everything you nneded to know about cabinet sealers.


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