Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

Best clear coat for kitchen cabinets

There is something about freshly painted kitchen cabinets that makes a home feel complete.

But after hours of hard work, it would be a shame to see it all go to waste simply because you did not apply the right topcoat.

If you want to provide lasting protection, you need to find the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets. Well, we’ve found them, you just need to choose the right one with the help of our buyer’s guide.

Our Top Picks

Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

Product Reviews

1. Minwax Polycrylic – Editor’s Pick

Sale
Minwax 233334444 Polycrylic Protective Wood Finish, Clear Satin, ½ Pint
19,175 Reviews
Minwax 233334444 Polycrylic Protective Wood Finish, Clear Satin, ½ Pint
  • PROTECT WOOD SURFACES – Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish protects and adds beauty to your interior wood projects, including woodwork, furniture, doors and cabinets. The clear top coat protects against scratches, spills, dirt and more.
  • CRYSTAL CLEAR FINISH THAT LASTS – The crystal clear finished offered in this protective coating is ideal for use over all Minwax Oil-Based and Water-Based Stains and colors, as well as all wood species including light woods like maple, ash and birch.
  • SATIN SHEEN – Give your wood projects a sleek finish with this satin clear varnish. It not only protects the natural beauty of the wood, but offers an attractive, classic sheen for a modern and subtle look. It’s non-yellowing, non-ambering and low odor.
  • ULTRA FAST DRYING – Get more done with this protective poly coating. It’s a fast-drying clear coat, which allows for quick recoats after 2 hours, letting you get projects done faster. Be sure to apply with a high-quality synthetic bristle brush.
  • EASY CLEAN UP – This water-based wood finish allows for easy soap and water clean-up, so you don’t have to stress about spills and big messes.

We start this list with a company that can seemingly do no wrong with its line of topcoats. The Minwax Polycrylic is the best-selling polyurethane on Amazon for a reason.

The first thing you’ll appreciate is the wide range of sizes, so it’s easy to find the correct quantity for your project.

The bucket sizes range from half-pint to gallon. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also an aerosol can for quick touch-ups.

The second thing that stands out is that this clear coat for kitchen cabinets has the broadest sheen.  You can buy this product in clear matte finish, clear satin, clear semi-gloss finish, clear gloss, and clear ultra-flat.

Beyond the substance’s aesthetic appeal, this polycrylic dries crystal clear, so it protects the natural beauty of the wooden kitchen cabinets.

This clear coat also dries quickly, with the second coat applicable in two hours. What is probably most impressive is that this can be applied to white-painted kitchen cabinets without yellowing.

This is rare for any type of polyurethane and requires a fair bit of patience. However, of all the polyurethanes we’ve reviewed, this one has the fastest drying time.

Sure, you can apply another coat in 2 hours like the others, but your kitchen cabinets will be ready for light use within three hours and regular use in one day.

The only major problem with this otherwise near-flawless clear coat for kitchen cabinets is that it doesn’t add any flair. But if your paint does its job, this won’t be a problem.

What We Liked More About This Cabinet Sealer

  • Very fast drying time
  • Available in five different sheen options, including semi-gloss, matte.
  • Available in a wide range of sizes
  • It can be used on white paint

What Could Be Improved

  • It can only be applied with a brush or the aerosol
  • The finish looks dull on unfinished wood



2. General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat – Most Durable Topcoat

General Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat, 1 Quart, Satin
5,418 Reviews
General Finishes High Performance Water Based Topcoat, 1 Quart, Satin
  • Do not apply clear topcoats over bright white paint, as yellowing may occur due to a reaction to the substrate. Light color paints may also experience yellowing due to topcoat application, but it will less noticeable.
  • The hardest, most durable consumer polyurethane top coat on the market today
  • Dry Time Between Coats is only 1 to 2 Hours
  • Interior use only

One quality you need in a clear coat is durability. Fine Woodworking’s ‘Best Overall Choice Award, voted this clear coat as the hardest topcoat.’ If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is!

General Finishes makes a complete line of woodworking products, and every single one has passed numerous tests by judges, critics, professional and amateur users alike.

That is why we had to include this clear coat in our list. The water-based polyurethane is made for interior wood surfaces like floors and wood doors.

Besides providing an exceptional protective layer, this durable finish also contains an ultraviolet (UV) stabilizer, which prevents UV rays from damaging the wood or causing it to change color.

This is very rare for an interior finish. As a result of that, you don’t have to be afraid of your cabinets being exposed to direct sunlight all day long, especially for people living in sunnier climates.

Another thing you’ll appreciate with this clear coat is the quick dry time. Within an hour or two, you can apply another coat of this polyurethane to your kitchen cabinets using a synthetic brush, a pad, or a sprayer.

This makes the General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Topcoat one of the easiest to apply.

Your cabinets will be ready for light use within seven days and will cure entirely in three weeks, provided the weather conditions are adequate.

What We Liked More About This Cabinet Sealer

  • Very durable
  • Contains UV stabilizer
  • Fast-drying coating
  • Tough and chip-resistant finish

What Could Be Improved

  • Slightly more expensive than the competition



3. Varathane polyurethane – Best Water-Based Topcoat for Kitchen Cabinets

Sale
Varathane 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, 8 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Gloss Finish
2,992 Reviews
Varathane 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, 8 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Gloss Finish
  • Protects indoor wood surfaces such as furniture, windows, cabinets, trim and more
  • Water based formula dries fast and cleans up with soap and water
  • Dries to the touch in 30 minutes with coverage up to 31.25 sq. ft., recoat after 2 hours
  • Durable formula provides outstanding stain and scratch resistance with excellent clarity
  • Gloss finish creates a polished and clean look

One of the most common frustrations with new DIYers is being lied to. For example, when the can says a coat is clear, they expect it to be clear. Sadly, not many clear coats stay true to their name, but this one does.

The Varathane Ultimate polyurethane is a highly durable finish that provides a protective layer to your kitchen cabinets against moisture, scratches, and stains.

When applied, it dries crystal clear, so you get to appreciate the grain pattern of your perfectly finished cabinets.

As you would expect from a water-based finish, this clear coat dries quickly. It is dry to the touch within half an hour, and you can apply a second coat in two hours. But keep going until you’ve put at least four coats for maximum protection.

In just 24 hours after the final coat, your cabinets will be ready for light use, which is three times quicker than most of the other water-based polys.

This crystal clear polyurethane can be applied on stained, bare, or painted wood surfaces. However, you should test it on white-painted kitchen cabinets before committing. In some cases, it might yellow.

It’s available in different sheen options such as semi-gloss finish, matte, satin and gloss.

But before you panic, this is a common problem with all water-based polyurethanes, not just this one. However, some users have had success applying this clear coat without discoloration.

What We Liked More About The Product

  • Very fast drying time
  • Low odor
  • You don’t need to sand between coats
  • It dries crystal clear

What Could Be Improved

  • You need at least four coats
  • It may cause yellowing on white paint



4. Watco Lacquer Clear Wood Finish – Best Lacquer Topcoat for Kitchen Cabinets

Watco 63041 Lacquer Clear Wood Finish, Quart, Clear Gloss
265 Reviews
Watco 63041 Lacquer Clear Wood Finish, Quart, Clear Gloss
  • Ideal for use on furniture, doors, cabinets and paneling; not recommended for floors or exterior surfaces
  • Formulated for a higher clarity finish than polyurethane
  • Dries to the touch in 1 hour and covers up to 290 sq ft
  • Eliminates the need for wood filler and protects against scratches; no need to sand between coats
  • Dries to a crystal-clear gloss with a lasting durable finish

For centuries, lacquer had been the go-to finish for woodwork in palaces. Now, you can give your kitchen cabinets the royal treatment with this absolute beauty.

Watco lacquer clear wood finish is a gorgeous clear coat that is both functional and fashionable. Unlike most other clear coats on this list, this is meant explicitly for doors, cabinets, paneling, and other aesthetic furniture.

One thing we love about this clear coat is the rich satin finish, which has a more pleasing look than polyurethane. Achieving this superior look is also simpler than you would expect.

Its extraordinary features also save a lot of time both during and after application. For example, each thin coat dries to the touch in just one hour, and you don’t need to sand between coats.

This lacquer also fills the pores of most wood types, so you won’t have to use wood filler or wood putty to get a smooth surface.

Another feature you’ll appreciate is that you can apply this lacquer topcoat with either a brush or sprayer.

As great as this is, you need to take special care when applying it on stained or painted surfaces, as it may cause discoloration. Test it out on a small portion of the cabinet first.

However, you can apply this easily to raw wood to get a beautiful appearance with little effort.

What We Liked More About This Cabinet Sealer

  • It dries quickly
  • You don’t need to sand between coats
  • It can be applied with a brush or sprayer
  • You don’t need wood filler

What Could Be Improved

  • It may cause discoloration on painted or stained surfaces
  • Emits high quantities of VOCs



5. Minwax Helmsman – Best Spar Urethane Topcoat for Kitchen Cabinets

Minwax 630500444 Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane, quart, Gloss
6,043 Reviews
Minwax 630500444 Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane, quart, Gloss
  • Contains UV blockers to reduce the sun's graying and fading effects
  • Forms a protective barrier against rain and moisture
  • Special oils allow the finish to expand and contract with the wood as seasons and temperatures change
  • Ideal for use on doors, windows, trim, bathroom cabinets, bar tops, kitchen countertops, outdoor furniture
  • Crystal clear finish is ideal for use over light-colored woods and stains. Dries quickly and cleans up easily with warm water

If you’re a fan of open windows and natural light beaming through, then you might need a topcoat that can weather any, well, weather.

Minwax Helmsman spar urethane is a versatile clear coat that can be used for interior and exterior use. Its unique properties make it more water-resistant than typical polyurethane and lacquer.

This water-based finish has UV protection or blockers, so you don’t have to worry about sunlight causing the wood to gray or decay quickly. This also means that you can use the clear coat for outdoor cabinets around a barbeque area or a patio.

As this is a crystal-clear finish, you can use it on stains, light-colored woods and can even be applied on latex paint, unlike some polyurethanes. In addition, it won’t amber after application or much later.

When it comes to application, you will appreciate the fact that it has a low odor. The crystal clear finish is also safe for you and the environment, as it emits a maximum VOC of 275 g/L.

It only takes two hours before you can apply a second coat. When you’re done, you can easily wash the clear coat off with warm water and dish soap.

As great as this crystal clear finish is, you knew there had to be a downside. However, it’s not a big one. Like every other product on this list, test it out before applying it on any white-painted cabinets.

What We Liked More About The Product

  • It has UV blockers
  • Fast-drying – in just 2 hours
  • It can be used both indoors and outdoors
  • Low VOC emissions

What Could Be Improved

  • Be careful when applying it on white paint
  • You might need four coats to get a durable finish



6. Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish – Best Sleeper Topcoat

Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish Gloss Brushing Lacquer, Quart
81 Reviews
Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish Gloss Brushing Lacquer, Quart
  • Dries Crystal Clear In 30 Minutes
  • Non-Yellowing
  • Dries Crystal Clear In 30 Minutes
  • This clear wood finish brushing lacquer is 100-Percent nitrocellulose brushing lacquer for most interior wood and metal surfaces
  • Easy to application provide professional results

In the world of wood finishes, Deft is one of the lesser-known manufacturers. This is surprising considering how good their products are, and this clear coat is no exception.

Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish is a brushing lacquer, so it is slightly thicker than regular lacquer. This makes it easier to apply, as you don’t need to buy or rent a sprayer.

This quality also makes it excellent for interior wood surfaces such as kitchen cabinets needing extra protection from scratches and moisture.

Despite being thicker than usual, this clear coat dries to the touch in just half an hour and is ready for a recoat in two.

As it is nitrocellulose lacquer, you don’t need to sand between coats, and you also don’t need wood filler or wood putty when working on open grains.

What makes this clear coat great for kitchen cabinets is that it is non-yellowing. This product has been applied on white painted cabinets successfully without yellowing. However, it is still advisable to test it out on a small portion.

One major downside about the appearance is that this clear coat is only available in crystal clear gloss. So, if you’re looking for a flatter finish, you might have to pass.

Another thing some users dislike is the smell, which can be overpowering if you’re not expecting it. Ensure you only apply this in a well-ventilated space. But as it dries quickly, the nightmare will be over quickly.

What We Liked More About This Cabinet Sealer

  • Easy to apply
  • It dries quickly
  • It can be applied on white paint
  • No sanding between coats

What Could Be Improved

  • Only available in gloss
  • Strong odor



7. Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane – Easiest Topcoat to Apply

Minwax 63010444 Fast Drying Polyurethane, 1 Quart, Satin
6,054 Reviews
Minwax 63010444 Fast Drying Polyurethane, 1 Quart, Satin
  • Provides long-lasting beauty and protection to any interior wood surface
  • Among the most durable coatings for wood protection
  • Ideal for woodworking, furniture, doors, cabinets and floors
  • Can be used on both finished and Unfinished wood
  • It provides long-lasting protection and beauty to interior wood surfaces such as furniture, floors, doors and cabinets

Next up, we have one of the cheapest clear coats here, but that’s only because it is the smallest. It is also the first oil-based polyurethane on our list.

While oil-based topcoats aren’t common for kitchen cabinets due to their amber hue, they pair perfectly with dark-colored paints, stained and unfinished wood surfaces.

Another reason they aren’t popular is the long drying time, especially if you’re eager to reopen your kitchen. That is why we are focusing on the aerosol version.

The spray version dries to the touch in half an hour and is ready for a second coat in two hours, which is half as long as you would spend on the brushed version.

You may also be surprised to know that this oil-based clear coat is just as tough and durable as the canned version.

Another advantage of the aerosol is that it is excellent for cabinets with tight nooks and crannies, where brushes can’t reach.

It also means that you don’t always have to take off the doors before applying this fast-drying polyurethane.

The downside of an oil-based protective finish is, of course, the smell. It also emits higher VOCs than water-based polyurethane, so it cannot be sprayed near children or pets.

What We Liked More About The Product

  • Very easy to apply
  • Dries quickly for an oil-based polyurethane
  • Durable, long-lasting finish
  • It can be used on cabinets with complex designs

What Could Be Improved

  • High VOC emissions
  • The can may sputter occasionally



8. Minwax Wipe-On Poly – Best Wipe-on Poly for Kitchen Cabinets

Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane 16fl oz
3,293 Reviews
Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane 16fl oz
  • Excellent Durability
  • Ultra Fast-Drying
  • Low Odor
  • Easy Water Clean-Up

Next up is another clear topcoat that is easy to apply, also from Minwax. Whenever you work on a large project such as flooring, massive doors, or dining cabinets, wipe-on poly can quickly come to the rescue when you make a mistake.

However, wipe on poly isn’t just for cleaning up messes. It can also be used to complete your kitchen renovation, especially if the kitchen cabinets have tight corners where a brush might be too slow, or a pad might be too big.

It also has the edge over other application methods because it doesn’t leave any streaks or brush marks.

Even though Minwax Wipe-On Poly is very easy to use, this clear coating is on this list because it also does an outstanding job of sealing painted cabinets.

This is a high-quality oil-based polyurethane that will protect your cabinets and other furniture from water, stains, household chemicals, scuffs, and scratches.

Another impressive feature is how quickly it dries. After 2-3 hours, you will be able to apply the next coat, making it just as quick as water-based polyurethanes.

Sadly, it does not dry clear for those who want the convenience of a wipe-on with the clarity of water-based. So, if you are working on light-colored woods or paint, opt for the water-based wipe-on poly instead.

What We Liked More About This Cabinet Sealer

  • Very easy to apply
  • It dries very quickly
  • Provides lasting protection
  • It can get into tight spaces

What Could Be Improved

  • It has an amber hue
  • Only suited for small cabinets



9. RUST-OLEUM 25008 – Easiest Spar Urethane to Apply

RUST-OLEUM 250081 12 oz Outdoor Clear Gloss Spray
790 Reviews
RUST-OLEUM 250081 12 oz Outdoor Clear Gloss Spray
  • Protects outdoor wood surfaces such as furniture, fences, boats, trim and more
  • Water based formula dries fast and cleans up with soap and water
  • Dries to the touch in 30 minutes with coverage up to 12 sq. ft. per can, recoat after 1 hour
  • Weather and UV resistant formula is non yellowing and protects the surface from sun damage
  • Gloss finish creates a polished and clean look

Finally, we come to another crystal clear finish that is easy to use, quick to apply and provides lasting protection, but I’m sure you didn’t expect anything less from Varathane.

From one of the most creative companies in the industry comes this aerosol spar urethane, perfect for kitchen cabinets and other furniture. In addition, this water-based clear topcoat has a fast drying time of just one hour between coats.

It also doesn’t have a strong odor, so you can safely apply it in the kitchen. But of course, you should observe all health and safety measures like proper ventilation.

Varathane Spar urethane contains UV absorbers, so it will protect your cabinets from the graying effects of UV rays if you tend to leave the windows open. Not only that, but it also provides exceptional water resistance.

As you would expect from one of the best clear coats, it is scratch-resistant and highly durable, without the need to retouch every year.

You will need at least four coats to build a protective cover, and you need to sand between each. However, as it dries quickly, it won’t cost you any extra time.

Of course, our favorite feature is that it comes in a can. Buy it, shake it, spray it! Then, when you are done, clean any spills with soap and water.

This unique clear coating is only meant for quick touch-ups or small cabinets, so it may seem a little pricey. However, for much larger projects, you can buy a quart or gallon.

What We Liked More About This Cabinet Sealer

  • Easy to apply
  • Fast-drying
  • Low-odor

What Could Be Improved

  • A little pricey for the quantity
  • Requires at least four coats



What You Need to Know Before Buying the Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

Now that the fun part is over, we leave you to pick just one topcoat from our list.

Bear in mind that the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets can work with various kitchen styles, including unfinished wood, stained and painted cabinets.

You would have noticed that the products here are either polyurethane-based or lacquer-based. They are the two most common and most versatile topcoats for kitchen cabinets due to their scratch and water-resistant qualities.

So, logically, the first step in choosing the right topcoat is to choose between lacquer and polyurethane.

Should I Use Lacquer or Polyurethane Cabinet Sealer?

Before deciding between these two beauties, it is important to understand what each cabinet sealer is and what makes it valuable.

Lacquer

Lacquer has been a fan-favorite of woodworkers for centuries. Initially derived from the secretions of the lac bug, lacquer remains a popular finish for cabinets and high-end furniture, even though its manufacture has changed.

Lacquer coat that comes in different sheens, ranging from flat to gloss. You can also mix in dye with a high-quality lacquer to give your cabinets a distinct look.

Despite being a very thin finish, it dries hard and is very durable. However, to get that finish, you require a fair bit of skill. The best way to apply lacquer is with a high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) spray gun.

Polyurethane 

Polyurethane is a durable, water-resistant finish that dries very hard. It can be used on a wide range of furniture but is mainly used on floors, cabinets, fences, and other surfaces that need protection from water and scratches.

Given how thick polyurethane can be, it is rarely used for high-end furniture. However, polyurethane is also stain-resistant and can protect your wooden surfaces for up to a decade.

The two main types of polyurethane are oil-based and water-based. They both function the same way, but oil-based has a strong smell and yellows the wood, while water-based is a crystal clear coat.

Polyurethane can be applied in different ways and also has a wide range of sheens.

Factors to Consider when Choosing Between Lacquer and Polyurethane

Ease of application

One of the determining factors when choosing the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets is how easy it is to apply. And how many layers you would need to avoid paint degradation.

In many ways, lacquer is easier to apply than polyurethane. Lacquer is light, thin, and dries quickly, so it is best applied with a high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) sprayer.

The only exception is when you are using brushing lacquer, like the options above. On the other hand, polyurethane is thick, so it is best to apply it with a brush.

Of course, you can also apply it with an HVLP spray gun, roller, or cloth, depending on the type of polyurethane and how it’s packaged.

When using a brush to apply polyurethane, you need to be mindful of brush streaks and loose hairs. That is why it is important to use a good quality brush and prepare it properly before application.

Other things to watch out for are bubbles, puddles, and dust nibs. As lacquer is thin and dries quickly, you rarely get these problems.

Another way polyurethane is more difficult to apply is the need to sand between coats. Poly won’t adhere properly if you don’t sand after each coat unless it’s water-based polyurethane meant for floors.

Lacquer doesn’t need to be sanded unless the coat is uneven or there are dust nibs. But even when you do, it is still a lot easier to abrade than polyurethane.

Toxicity

One thing we hear about constantly is the danger of household chemicals, and with good reason.

Lacquer and polyurethane emit high quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making them unsafe for people with breathing difficulties.

The bulk of the danger is during the application process. When chemicals are sprayed in the air, which is the recommended application method for lacquer, they become more toxic.

That is why you should always use a respirator when applying any chemicals. However, VOCs in lacquer and polyurethane are no longer dangerous when they dry.

To combat these problems, manufactures have developed water-based lacquer and water-based polyurethane that have low odor.

Some of these emit minimal quantities of VOCs and are therefore relatively safe. But, despite being easier to apply, the VOCs from lacquer are worth paying attention to.

If you are working on a kitchen in an active home with children or pets, either look for water-based lacquer or use water-based polyurethane instead.

Another safety concern when using these products is flammability. Lacquer is highly flammable. Therefore, you must never apply it near any open flame, and you should only use it in a well-ventilated area.

While polyurethane is also highly flammable, it is not as sensitive, thus making it the safer option.

Durability

The aim of a protective wood finish is not just to make furniture look more professional but also to protect the surface from scratches, stains, water, and everything in-between.

Both lacquer and polyurethane do this excellently, but there is a clear distinction. Lacquer is water-resistant, durable, and provides decent protection from scratches.

However, nitrocellulose lacquer, like the options above, does not handle scratches as well. Besides that, all lacquers offer little protection from heat and chemicals.

On the other hand, polyurethane is scratch and scuff-resistant, water-resistant, stain-resistant, and even heat-resistant. When it comes to spar urethane, you can also add UV-resistant to that list.

If lacquer is so bad, why consider it at all? Compared to polyurethane, nearly every other type of topcoat looks inept, but that’s just because of how good it is.

Lacquer is a good option for kitchen cabinets that won’t see a lot of use and will only be handled by adults. So, like an office kitchen.

If there is no physical or chemical damage, lacquer can last as long as or even longer than polyurethane. If this seems unlikely, stick with polyurethane.

Drying time

If you are in a hurry to get your kitchen up and running, then chances are you’re going to want to use lacquer.

Despite how durable, versatile, and rich polyurethane is, the one thing people can’t stand is the long drying time.

That is why many woodworkers now prefer to use water-based polyurethane, even though some still argue it is not as durable as oil-based.

Oil-based polyurethane dries to the touch in about 4 to 6 hours but isn’t ready for the next coat in 12 to 24 hours.

So given that you might need about three coats, it can take you up to three days just to apply polyurethane alone, then wait another thirty days for it to cure fully.

Water-based polyurethane does a much better job, as it can be recoated in as little as two hours. However, as impressive as this is, it is nowhere close to lacquer.

Lacquer dries to the touch in just ten minutes and is ready for another coat in half an hour or at most one hour.

So, you could apply 4 to five coats before you would’ve applied the second one of even the fastest drying polyurethane.

Yellowing

Oil-based finishes have a notorious habit of yellowing or ambering over time. While this can add a nice pop of color to oak and many other types of wood, it can drastically alter the look of light-colored woods.

When choosing between these two products, you need to first decide if you would like some ambering or not. Even though these brands say their lacquer is non-yellowing, it will eventually change color over time.

If you don’t want to risk any yellowing at all, then your best bet is to stick with water-based polyurethane.

These products dry crystal clear and remain that way until it’s time to refurbish your kitchen cabinets again.

The only condition under which water-based poly may cause yellowing is when you apply it on white paint. However, unlike oil-based poly, this yellowing is never uniform and looks more like a stain.

Fortunately, some of the products on our list have been applied to white paint without disastrous results, including Deft, Polycrylic, and Varathane Ultimate.

Sheen

Finally, the last factor you may choose to consider is the level of gloss you want. Gloss refers to how shiny the protective wood finish looks. Matte or flat is the least glossy, while semi-gloss or high-gloss is the shiniest.

Semi-glossy finish is created by adding “clear” particles, which can be mineral or natural oils, to the paint.

In general, lacquer and polyurethane come in all the important sheens. However, not every product comes in different sheens.

Therefore, you would need to look at individual products to determine if they have the right one. For example, a clear coat like Minwax Polycrylic has every possible sheen including semi-gloss, making it a lot easier to narrow down.

What it also means is that if you test out a clear topcoat and are dissatisfied with the look, you can change it for one with more or less sheen.

Watco lacquer is available in matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss, which is impressive for a lacquer.

Related: What is the hardest finish for a Kitchen table top?

Types of Sheen

The Gloss finish is a very shiny surface that is often used with lacquer or nitrocellulose-based finishes, but it can be done over any finish.

A high gloss finish provides the most protection from dust and water damage as well as being less affected by oils from hands. The downside to a high gloss finish is that it quickly shows fingerprints and other marks.

Semi-gloss is a good all-around option for most items that will not have oil on them such as furniture or decorative wood objects.

Semi-gloss is less shiny than the glossy sheen but more reflective than a matte or eggshell surface.

The satin finish provides less protection from dust and water damage while also allowing some objects to show through if resting lightly on the surface.

A matte finish is a very functional option for furniture and provides less protection from dust and is least affected by oils from hands or objects resting on it lightly. It’s also a good choice to use in high traffic areas such as where there will be lots of people touching surfaces constantly so that they don’t leave too much oil on the surface.

Solid Clear Coat

A thicker and more lasting finish can be achieved by utilizing a solid clear coat for wooden surfaces. This will assist with water resistance and the material’s lifespan. The finest clear coat for kitchen cabinets or wood furniture should be thick, self-leveling, low odor and chip-resistant to provide the best level of protection.

Other Factors to Consider when Buying a Clear Topcoat

When you have decided on polyurethane or lacquer, you can further narrow down your choices by evaluating:

Price

Always use high-quality materials when working on projects you expect to last.

For example, if you’re doing kitchen refurbishments for cabinets you don’t care about, then any clear coat should do.

But if you want the cabinets to look great for a long time, then quality is critical. That said, every clear coat on this list is exceptional, so you are free to choose the cheapest of the bunch if it fits your project.

Method of application

There are different ways to apply either product; you just have to find the one you prefer. That is why we have included simple options like aerosols and traditional ones like cans for brushing, as well as wipe-on poly.

While you won’t wipe on lacquer, it is fairly easy to apply with a brush or spray. You will need to buy lacquer thinner if you choose to spray it.

Benefits of Applying Topcoat on Painted Kitchen Cabinets

A fresh coat of paint looks beautiful on virtually every surface. But, unfortunately, the same can’t be said for topcoats.

As important as they are, topcoats sometimes have a plastic look, which some people consider tacky (the insult, not the texture).

However, there are some instances where a topcoat is absolutely necessary, and I would argue that’s the case for kitchen cabinets.

Here are some of the benefits of applying a topcoat:

  1. It makes the paint brighter – acrylic paint can dry dull, so applying a top coat makes it have a gorgeous, wet look.
  1. It protects the surface from dirt and dust – there are a lot of particles floating around your kitchen. A protective coat will prevent them from building on the paint.
  1. Topcoat is water-resistant – this is very important, especially in kitchens. Polyurethane and lacquer will protect your cabinets from both minor and intentional spills, just in case, your kitchen is the venue of a food fight.
  1. It is scratch and scuff resistant – If you live with kids, crazy teenagers, or playful pets, that fresh coat of paint is going to get banged up often and will soon start looking dirty. Sure, you can clean the paint or retouch it once in a while, but a topcoat will prevent the need for that.
  1. Topcoat is durable – polyurethane and lacquer can protect your kitchen cabinets for as long as a decade. You will probably want to repaint your cabinets before they wear out; that’s how good they are.

How to Apply Polyurethane Over Paint

Painting and coating kitchen cabinets can take a long time, so it is advisable to use products that will shorten that period.

That’s why most people prefer to use water-based polyurethane over paint. It will dry quicker and can cure in as little as three days.

So, here are the steps you need to take to apply polyurethane on paint.

Tools You’ll Need

  • Detergent or trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Water
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • Tack cloth
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Lint-free cloth
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Synthetic brush

Steps to Applying Polyurethane Over Paint

Step 1: Clean the Surface

Polyurethane does not adhere properly to greasy surfaces, so you must clean the painted surface thoroughly with detergent or TSP.

As you just painted these surfaces, detergent should be enough to get rid of the grease. However, if perchance you or someone has already spilled grease on the paint, then use TSP.

Step 2: Sand the Surface Along the Wood Grain

Since this is a fresh surface, don’t go too deep with sandpaper. A 220-grit sandpaper should be enough to scuff along the wood grain.

Sanding the wood surface helps polyurethane adhere to the surface better. If you don’t sand it, then polyurethane might peel off.

Step 3: Tack the Wood Surface

Clean the sanding residue using a vacuum cleaner or a tack cloth. Ensure no trace of dust is left, or it will ruin your polyurethane application.

You can dip a lint-free cloth in water and use it to clean the surface as well. This method gets rid of dust better, but you would need to let it dry afterward before the next step.

Step 4: Apply the First Coat of Polyurethane

Apply a thin coat of any polyurethane you want. The process for applying polyurethane is identical to applying paint – follow the grain, use a light touch and start high, then work your way down.

The best tool for applying water-based polyurethane is a synthetic brush, but you may also use a sprayer or roller.

Once you are done, leave the polyurethane finish to dry.

Step 5: Sand After Drying

Once the polyurethane is dry, use the same grade sandpaper as before to smoothen the surface. Again, remove any dust nibs, brush marks, or other imperfections such as deep scratches.

Step 6: Clean the Painted Surface Again

Follow the same routine as in step 3 to eradicate the sanding residue and small dust particles from the painted surface.

Step 7: Apply a Second Coat of Polyurethane

Just like with paint, you can’t apply just one coat of polyurethane.

Apply another thin coat of polyurethane, using the same process as before. Wait for it to dry, then repeat steps 5 to 7 until you achieve the desired level of smoothness.

As you’re working with new paint, you might not need more than two coats of water-based polyurethane.

Even though kitchens are used frequently, the wear and tear on kitchen cabinets are minimal compared to countertops, so two coats should suffice.

Read: What’s the best oil-based primer for cabinets?

Step 8: Leave it to cure

Water-based polyurethane will need just 24 hours to be dry enough for you to put the cabinet back together. If it isn’t dry by then, wait another two days.

After this time, you can restore the cabinets while you wait for them to cure fully. This should take anywhere from 7 days to 3 weeks.

You can use the kitchen cabinets for most functions during this time, but try not to slam the doors often or spill liquids.

Best clear coat for kitchen cabinets FAQs

How long does it take clear coats to dry?

It depends on the clear coat you are using. Lacquer is dry to the touch in just 10 minutes and ready for a second coat in 1 hour or less.

Water-based polyurethane needs 2 hours before you can apply a second coat, while oil-based polyurethane needs at least 4.

The curing times are much longer. Lacquer is fully cured in 7 – 10 days, water-based polyurethane in 21 days, and oil-based polyurethane in 30 days.

Can I apply clear coat on painted kitchen cabinet surface?

Yes, you can apply a clear coat on painted kitchen cabinets. Applying a top coat on the painted cabinets will protect them from water damage, scratches, scuffs, dents, and oil stains.

Use a crystal clear coat like lacquer or water-based polyurethane for sealing painted cabinets.

Should I use interior or exterior clear coat on kitchen cabinets?

Yes, if the cabinets are going to be inside the house, you can use either interior or exterior polyurethane, with the former being the better option.

However, if the cabinets are going on your deck or patio, you should only use exterior polyurethane. This is the only type of polyurethane that will protect your outdoor woodwork from rain, sun, snow, and constant temperature changes.

Can I apply a clear coat on unfinished kitchen cabinets?

Yes, you can apply a clear coat on kitchen cabinets that haven’t been painted or stained. If you want to maintain the natural beauty of wood color, you might choose not to stain it.

You would need to apply a clear coat to protect the painted surface from sun, water, and heat damage. Topcoats are also scratch and scuff-resistant.

Do I need to use protective equipment when applying a clear coat?

Yes, you should always use protective equipment when working with chemicals, including clear coats.

Lacquer, in particular, contains a lot of toxins and emits high quantities of VOCs. Therefore, you need to use a respirator and goggles.

You should also wear gloves when applying toxic chemicals and work in a well-ventilated area.

How many layers of clear coating should I apply on cabinets? 

Apply 2-3 layers of clear coating to protect your cabinets from exposure to water, oxygen, and prolonged exposure to UV light.

What do you Seal Painted Cabinets with?

Kitchen cabinets go through a lot of abuse, from smoke, water spills, oil, UV rays, and the occasional flying food.

That’s why you need to settle for more than average and opt instead for the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets. Now that you’ve seen our list, it’s time to award two winners.

The best polyurethane-based top coat for kitchen cabinets is the Minwax Polycrylic. It dries quickly, comes in different sizes and sheens, it can be applied in different ways, and it can be put on white paint.

The best lacquer-based top coat for kitchen cabinets is the Deft Clear Wood Finish. While this is identical to the Watco in almost every way, this can be applied on painted cabinets with good results.

Now that you have a winner, it would be helpful to learn how to prime and paint kitchen cabinet without leaving any brush strokes.

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