Best Clear Coats for Kitchen Cabinets – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Important! Read this if you’re going to use clear coat over white paint!

Before we proceed to the best clear coat products I have to warn you that any of the products listed below may turn yellow over white paint. Yellowing depends on so many things: type of wood, existing undercoat, stains, dyes, moisture in wood, non-compliance with instructions and so on. White paint may yellow over time too. You may use a clear coat over white paint and be happy with the results but somebody else may get yellowing instantly or over a couple of years. You just can’t predict that. There is actually no product that guarantees that it won’t yellow over white.

Top pick


General Finishes Top Coat


Best Clear Coat For Kitchen Cabinets


There is no way you didn’t know of General Finishes. It’s one of the most trusted brands in wood finishing industry. General Finishes Top Coat is the most durable clear coat for your kitchen cabinets, period.

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When it comes to a nice decorative piece of furniture, the finish is everything. Even if you select the best wood with the prettiest grain and the perfect thickness, a bad finish can still ruin the look of the finished product and make all your efforts into waste.

Without a doubt, General Finishes Water Based Topcoat is №1 clear coat you can possibly get. While there are many other options such as oils or stains,  polyurethanes and lacquers are great clear finishes for kitchen cabinets. There is virtually no purpose for which they are not sufficient. The following types of clear coatings are judged to be the best clear coats for kitchen cabinets on the market. So, without any further delay, let’s take a look.

Best Clear Coats for Kitchen Cabinets in September, 2021

 Clear coatCovers (quart)Recoat dry (hours)Sheen 
1General Finishes Topcoat
Editor's Choice
125-150 sq.ft.2flat, satin, semi-gloss, gloss Check Price
2Rust-Oleum Polyurethane100-125 sq.ft.2 satin, semi-gloss, gloss Check Price
3Minwax Polycrylic 125 sq.ft.2flat, satin, semi-gloss, gloss Check Price
4Minwax Helmsman 125 sq.ft.4 satin, semi-gloss, gloss Check Price
5Minwax Poly125 sq.ft.2-3 satin, gloss Check Price
6Watco Lacquerup to 290 sq. ft.1 satin, semi-gloss, gloss Check Price
7Deft Clear Wood Finish100 sq.ft.2gloss Check Price
8Minwax Brushing Lacquer125 sq. ft.2gloss Check Price
9Deft Interior Waterborne125 sq. ft.2semi-gloss Check Price
10Deft Polyurethane125 sq. ft.2semi-gloss Check Price
11Varathane Diamond Poly125 sq. ft.1semi-gloss Check Price

1. General Finishes Top Coat – The High-End Option

General Finishes is one of the most trusted and well-known brands on the market of wood finishes. This topcoat has many sheens including satin, gloss, and semi-gloss which are desirable for a lot of applications including kitchen cabinets of course. When you really want a high level of shine, a gloss will do the job. You could even use a buffer and obtain a higher shine, but that’s a lot of unnecessary work.

One thing I like about this coating is that it contains a UV stabilizer that keeps the suns’ ultraviolet rays from breaking it down. This is very good quality for outdoor furniture pieces such as deck chairs or patio tables. For anything made of wood that is intended to be kept outside, this would be a decent option. But it’s intended only for interior use and the durability of this clear coat is very useful while finishing kitchen cabinets: it delivers a tough, high-grade finish that can withstand harsh conditions and scratches for a long time.

I can say that this finish focuses on durability more than any other single feature. In fact, it is quite obvious that protective applications were the top priority when this product was invented.

My advice for this clear coat is to use it for applications that require strong protection of clear finish.

  • Water-based for faster drying
  • Nice thick coating, very hard
  • UV stabilizer
  • Has diverse sheens
  • A little on the expensive side

2. Rust-Oleum – A Trusted Name And A Well-Rounded Product

Rust-Oleum is one of the most trusted names in paint, and it shows when we look at this product. This is a crystal clear gloss, making it perfect for those applications that require perfect shine and maximum glossiness. This makes it a great choice for a nice piece of high-quality wood furniture.

When it comes to cabinets, this is a great choice because its crystal-clear nature will bring out the natural beauty of the wood. That being said, you should probably stain the wood first before applying this clear coat. It is so clear that it may look too plain and unfinished after coating. By combining a light stain with this clear coat, you can obtain maximum beauty and a finish that will last a long time.

This finish is water-based rather than oil-based, which means that it will dry both faster and harder.

Some people prefer an oil stain because it will darken the wood and bring out its natural tones a little more. However, that harder coating will be much better for surfaces like hardwood floors that take a lot of scuffing. In terms of price, this is the cheapest coating in this top five. The only thing I don’t like about this one is its thin consistency, which makes it a little harder to apply multiple coats.

  • Inexpensive
  • Crystal clear
  • Water-based
  • Trusted brand
  • May be too clear for some applications
  • Very thin, making it hard to apply in some instances

3. Minwax Polycrylic – The Old Standard That Doesn’t Fail

This is a very common product that most home improvement professionals will be familiar with. One of the best things about this one is the fact that virtually everyone has used it at some point or another. It is available in a spray-on version, which is a favorite version of a couple of friends of mine, but a spray can just doesn’t allow for the same precise control.

This clear coat is formulated for fast drying, and it delivers in that department. A second coat can be applied within only a few hours of application. As this finish is pretty thin, it can be a little hard to apply to some surfaces. You may have to apply thin coats to keep it from running. It has about the consistency of maple syrup, and so it is best to apply it with a few used dryer sheets. Make sure that you shake out the dust and debris before use.

This is another water-based finish. That is a good thing because water-based coatings produce a harder surface and a much faster drying time. This coating is also formulated for low odor. It’s great when you happen to be working in a tight space. All those properties make this poly a great option for your kitchen cabinets. As a final bonus, this clear coat is really easy to clean up with warm water if you happen to spill it or get it on your hands.

  • Trusted product with a long history
  • Fast drying formula
  • Very low odor
  • Available in several versions
  • Kind of thin
  • Adds no tone or color- crystal clear

4. Minwax Helmsman – Maximum Durability At A Decent Price

If you are looking for something nice to finish your cabinets, this is a clear coat that is designed for maximum durability. Like our first choice, this one is well-suited for outdoor use. It has UV blockers in the mixture, much like our first choice. This keeps the suns’ natural rays from breaking down the polyurethane and making it peel away. But unlike our first choice, this finish goes a little further.

The Helmsman product is a little cheaper than the General Finishes, but it is actually more durable. Not only is it meant to resist UV rays, but it is also formulated to resist a wide variety of weather conditions. If you live in an area that experiences extreme heat or extreme cold, this is a good choice because it does a good job of resisting both. It’s a nice clear coat for kitchen cabinets if you want to get decent durability and protection.

Although this is not an oil-based coating, it does contain special oils. Trey allow the entire finish to expand and contract just as the wood itself expands and contracts. This is the main reason that this coating is so superior for extreme heat and cold. Wood will naturally flex with the temperature, and if the paint and coatings do not flex along with it, they are likely to flake off over time.

  • Meant to flex with the wood
  • Meant to resist UV degradation
  • Fairly cheap
  • Great protection for indoor/outdoor applications
  • Emphasis on durability over beauty

5. Minwax Wipe-On – An Oil-based Alternative Of The First Rank

This finish is the odd duck on our list, mostly because it is meant to be wiped on with a cloth rather than being painted on with a brush. This makes a little bit of a difference in the look of the final product. One thing I really like about this coat is the fact that it is available in either full gloss or clear satin. This means that if you want to variate the textures of your finish, you have more than one choice.

Products like this exist because some people really like that hand-rubbed look and this appearance only comes from the wipe-on products. One little issue is that a wipe-on poly will never be applied quite as thickly as a paint-on finish. However, for some purposes, a thin finish is just what you want.

Shows the beauty of the wood

I have found that this kind of polyurethane is optimal for porches, railings and cabinets. There are certain instances where you want to preserve the natural grain of the wood. For instance, a handrail next to the stairs will need to have a good texture so as to provide a good grip. A one hundred percent smooth staircase railing would be pointless, as it would be rather difficult to get the traction needed.

This is an oil-based coating, which makes it different from the others on the list. It will definitely take a lot longer to dry, so make sure you plan for the extra time. Also, an oil-based coating will form a slightly softer surface. This also makes it ideal for surfaces that will regularly be gripped such as kitchen cabinets handles. All in all, this one would definitely be the best choice for safety applications. Of course, there is another thing to consider about an oil-based clear coat.

An oil-based clear coat will slightly darken the wood when it is applied. While most of our choices on this list are water-based and thus crystal clear, this one almost functions as a stain on top of its normal protective function. If you have a surface that requires a little bit of darkening, this one would be a great choice for your kitchen cabinets.

  • Darkens and protects at the same time
  • Ideal for applications that require traction
  • Easy to use
  • Takes much longer to dry
  • A softer surface may not be ideal for some surfaces
  • Better for thin finishes

6. Watco Lacquer Clear Wood Finish – The Choice For Convenience

This is a classic example of a high-quality lacquer. Although it is one of the more expensive coats on our list, lacquer has certain inherent advantages. One of the best things about this lacquer (and most lacquers, for that matter) is the fact that it can be used to fill in small gaps and cracks. This means that you won’t have to fool around with wood putty.

Lacquer gives a very clear finish, adding almost no color when properly applied.

This particular product has a self-leveling formula that helps it to be applied properly. If you don’t know anything about “self-leveling” finishes, you have been missing out. Although (as we can see) this kind of finish tends to be more expensive, it is much easier to apply.

Self-Leveling? What Does That Mean?

A self-leveling finish has a tendency to spread out on a flat surface, maintaining even coverage throughout. This kind of topcoat is great for those who use a spray gun, but it’s well-suited for application with a brush as well. The leveling feature will help prevent the brush strokes from showing, so it’s a good choice for very visible pieces of furniture such as your kitchen cabinets.

When it comes to coverage, that factor isn’t so bad either. For a one-quart can, you get 290 square feet of coverage. This helps a lot to offset the higher price point associated with this product since you can do a big job with fewer cans.

It’s worth mentioning that this product produces a strong, hard finish that can withstand normal wear and tear for a much greater time than most others. Kitchen cabinets will see a lot of wear and tear so this product will be a good choice.

  • Takes the place of wood putty by filling in cracks
  • Creates a durable finish when compared to polyurethane
  • Self-leveling
  • Crystal clear, even when using multiple coats
  • Slightly expensive
  • Has to be cut with thinner for use in a spray gun
  • No UV resistance
  • Water resistance isn’t particularly good

7. Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish – Great Value Overall

This is another type of clear lacquer, but it’s quite a bit different from our previous choice. Deft CWF is made from 100% nitrocellulose, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. These types of lacquers have been in use for a long time, and are still very popular for the finishing of musical instruments. They are used for musical instruments because these lacquers do not deaden the acoustical properties as some clear coats might do.

What Is Nitrocellulose?

Nitrocellulose is the same substance that can be found inside of a modern bullet. However, gunpowder is made from tri-nitrocellulose, while lacquers and old-style ping-pong balls (as well as old film reels) are made of di-nitrocellulose. What is the difference, you ask? Di-nitrocellulose is nowhere near as flammable, so you can’t really use it in a bullet. However, it is still flammable enough to warrant special precautions.

It is not recommended to store large amounts of this finish for any longer than necessary. Also, it is made from some noxious chemicals that are harsh on the nose and even harsher on the environment. If you are living in a relatively clean and natural area, you might want to pass on this one. That being said, the noxious smell will go away when the coating dries.

What’s great about this product

This is a glossy finish, so it’s great for those who want their kitchen cabinets to shine and glisten in the sunlight. Because of its unique properties, this type of lacquer dries pretty quick, requiring only 30 minutes to achieve full dryness.

Finally, it should be noted that this product is a great budget option. For one gallon, you will get about 400 feet of coverage. Although this only comes out to 100 square feet per can, this lacquer is by far the cheapest option on our list. By the time you factor in the cost reduction, this paint becomes a very economical choice.

  • Very glossy; provides a shiny surface that impresses
  • Very economical in terms of both price and coverage
  • Dries in touch in only 30 minutes
  • Very resistant to scratching
  • Each coat blends together smoothly, saving you some work on sanding
  • Highly flammable
  • Some chemical components are not environmentally friendly
  • Cannot be used in a spray gun
  • Smells terrible until it dries

8. Minwax Brushing Lacquer – Tried And True

This is another example of a nitrocellulose lacquer. It is meant to be brushed on, and is not suitable for use in a spray gun unless you water it down with lacquer thinner or denatured alcohol. As you might imagine, it shares more than a few common qualities with the Deft coating that we looked at earlier.

A Word About The Hazards

Like before, you need to be aware of the safety hazards that are inherent to this type of lacquer. Never smoke around this finish, even if the lid seems to be tightly applied. In most cases, nitrocellulose lacquer is suspended in a solution of Acetone or Toluene. Acetone is the main component of nail polish remover, and Toluene is a popular paint thinning agent. Both of these substances are toxic and have a tendency to produce flammable vapors.

I and most of the customers are happy with the coverage factor, so it gets a pass in this department. 125 sq. ft. per quart is a pretty good performance.

Drying Time

Like most of these kinds of lacquers, the Minwax lacquer dries in touch within 30 minutes, but it takes an additional 2 hours before you can apply another coat. For the extra money, one would expect better, but the drying delay isn’t all that bad.

The good news is that, when the time comes to apply that next layer, you won’t need to worry about sanding the surface.

Nitrocellulose lacquers consist of a filler and a solvent, and the solvent melts the filler. This means that two layers will basically melt each other and blend seamlessly to create a crystal-clear finish.

  • Dries to the touch within 30 minutes, and completely cures within two hours
  • Layers are meant to blend together so that sanding isn’t needed
  • Provides a strong finish that won’t crack or peel
  • Much more expensive than some others on our list
  • Can only be applied with a brush
  • Finished surface feels a little rubbery
  • Strong odor until it dries

9. Deft Interior Waterborne Clear Wood Finish – The Pure Water-Based Option

This is a water-based acrylic, which means that we have gotten away from harsh chemical odors, risk of fire, and any toxicity concerns. As a semi-gloss coat, it is good for those who want a little shine to their cabinets without creating a glare. This kind of finish is especially good for darker types of wood that don’t require a high level of sheen in order to look good.

The Benefits of A Low-Odor Paint

In many ways, this product is a cousin to the nitrocellulose-based finish that we examined from this same company. However, its components are different, and its performance will vary accordingly. I recommend this kind of water-based acrylic for any situation that requires coating in a confined space.

For instance, let’s say you are refinishing your bathroom, and you want to put some lacquer on the bathroom cabinets. Chances are, that bathroom does not have a window, and if it does, it is likely to be a small one. In this situation, you could put a fan in that tiny window, or the doorway of the bathroom, but it would be much easier to go ahead and use water-based finish in the first place. But of course we’re talking about kitchen cabinets in the first place, I just gave you an example.

A Few Little Issues

One little problem with water-based paint is the fact that its layers do not blend in the same way that a chemical-based coating would do. This means that you will have to give each layer a light sanding before you apply the next layer. Depending on how many layers you want to use, this can add a lot of time to the application process.

Some customers have made complaints about this product. For instance, some have claimed that it tends to turn yellow after applied and that it doesn’t even take very long. However, these reviews are not consistent enough to make a conclusive judgment. I haven’t had such a problem.
  • Easy to apply on most surfaces
  • Can be used with a gun or a brush
  • Resistant to common household chemicals
  • Dries pretty quickly
  • Low odor
  • Totally non-toxic
  • Thin consistency makes it harder to apply vertically
  • Requires a little bit of sanding between coats
  • Some reviewers say that this lacquer will turn yellow before long
  • Not suitable for outdoor use
  • Most expensive paint on our list

10. Deft Interior Exterior Water-Based Polyurethane – The Hybrid Option

This is a very durable and multi-functional kind of coating. Although it is also one of the more expensive finishes on our list, the price is at least somewhat justified by the wide range of uses to which this paint can be put. You can use it indoors, outdoors, or for marine purposes. It is supposedly able to adhere to any material, so this is the catch-all option.

Who Would Most Likely Prefer This Product?

An option like this can be very nice for those times when you aren’t entirely sure what you are going to do. Many of us prefer to make detailed plans before starting a new job, but some of us prefer to wing it, and this product would be a good fit for those kinds of people.

Not only does this polyurethane do a good job of resisting the weather throughout the year, but it also resists UV rays. UV (ultraviolet) rays can, unfortunately, have a very negative impact on paint and coatings like these. Although the effects will not be seen for a long time (possibly several years) a paint that is not UV-protected will eventually be broken down the sun’s rays and this will be followed by a lot of cracking and peeling. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about that when you buy this coating.

This Is Both A Water and Oil Based

Although this is a water-based finish, it is not entirely made of water. It also contains a small amount of oil base, so that this polyurethane has some of the qualities of both water-based ones and an oil poly. Like most water-based finishes, it is easily applied and provides a very hard coating. This kind of topcoat would be an ideal choice for kitchen cabinets or any other piece of wood that is used on an everyday basis.

Like oil-based finishes, this product tends to soak into the wood and provide a very slick-looking finish. Although it is only semi-gloss, the oil component gives it a little something extra in the shine department.
  • Can be used outdoors or indoors
  • Resistant to UV degradation
  • Base is a blend of water and oil, but mostly water
  • Provides a rock-hard surface that resists weathering, scuffing, and impact
  • Fairly expensive
  • Doesn’t blend its layers like a chemical-based paint

11. Varathane Diamond Polyurethane Finish – Scratch-Resistant Finish

This is a classic water-based polyurethane, and it has all the benefits that come with such. First, you won’t be dealing with harsh chemical odors, so you probably won’t need a mask. If you (or anyone in your home) has breathing problems, this feature is worth its weight in gold.

Durable, Safe, And Easy

Water-based mixtures are also a lot easier to clean. You won’t have to buy paint thinner or any other chemical solvents, although you should still try your best to avoid getting this stuff on your hands. In most cases, you can clean up a spill with warm water and a stiff-bristled brush. In extreme cases, you might have to use a little acetone.

This one also provides a strong coating, as we would expect. You can’t make a mark in the finish with your fingernail, and that’s how you know it is strong enough to do the job. I also like the fact that it dries within one hour, as this can help to cut some time off those home improvement projects.

The Problems

This one isn’t too harsh on the price, but I do wish its consistency was a bit thicker. It’s a little bit hard to apply this stuff to a vertical surface, as it keeps running and creating drip marks. You can get around this problem by using many thin coats, but that adds more time and effort to the job.

  • Made to be scratch/stain resistant
  • Easy cleanup
  • No harsh chemical odors
  • Dries pretty fast
  • Can be used in a paint sprayer
  • A little bit runny

Buyer’s Guide

For the purposes of this article, we didn’t attempt to look at every single kind of finish that you could use for your kitchen cabinets. To do that would be a very large endeavor, and would be outside the scope of this article. Instead, we’ve focused on polyurethane-based finishes. I have chosen to do this because polyurethane is probably the best choice for general use.

Whenever you are trying to choose the best clear coat for your kitchen cabinets, you need to carefully consider your needs and expectations. Think about exactly what you want your final result to look like. It would be virtually impossible to judge any one of these products as being “the best.” This is because all of these coats are meant for slightly different applications and situations. This means that I cannot make your decision for you.

However, I am willing to unequivocally assert that choice number one, the General Finishes, is better than choice number four, which is the Helmsman. This is because both products are similar in terms of their function and strong protection, but the first one is much more time-tested. The General Finishes coating is able to withstand a wider variety of conditions and temperatures but at a slightly higher price. Any time you have a product that does more job (and better job) even though with more cost, it is sure to be a superior choice.

Factors to consider

For a set of kitchen cabinets, you need to think about what they already look like. For instance, if your kitchen cabinets are totally unfinished you should probably opt for an oil-based finish just so you can get rid of that “raw” look and protect it from weathering at the same time. If you don’t choose an oil-based coating, you will need to stain your wood before applying the clear coat, which means more time and trouble to get the job done.

You should also consider the method by which the coating will be applied. Extremely thin coatings can be a slight problem to apply with a brush. This is because they have a tendency to run off the brush and drip from the surface as you are trying to apply the coat. This forces the user to use thin coats, and this, in turn, forces the user to do more coats. In short, it means a lot more time and a lot more work.

Do not forget that considering the texture (sheen) is quite important. Gloss, semi-gloss, and satin are the three most common choices, and each one has a different level of smoothness. In general, rougher textures are better-suited for any surface that will regularly be in contact with hands or feet. A hardwood floor should definitely not be treated with a full gloss, as this will make it easier for a person to slip and fall. As we already mentioned, handrails (and all things that are meant to be gripped) also need a rougher surface for maximum safety.

Frequently Asked Questions

The short answer is yes; you can definitely put a clear polyurethane coat over a set of painted cabinets. In fact, this kind of coating is essential for painted cabinets. When it isn’t coated with something like this, paint can easily be scratched and scraped away. Before long, exposure to the air will cause it to dry, crack, and (eventually) chip away. Even a tiny scratch will eventually start to peel away. In the old days, there was no solution except to repaint the cabinet. However, modern polyurethane coatings allow us to protect things for much longer.

Of course, a plasticized coating like this can still be dented or scratched (if enough force is applied). However, because it is clear, these flaws will not be noticeable unless inspected very closely. So, to recap the answer to this question: You should always use a clear coat on painted cabinets unless you feel like doing a lot of repainting.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

As I explained before, polyurethane does a pretty good job in this department. It will prevent the natural chipping process that paint would normally show. You see, a large part of this chipping is caused by contact with the elements. Virtually all free-floating air contains some tiny amount of water vapor. Temperatures will cause all paints and finishes to expand and contract. We are talking about a very tiny movement here, but it’s enough to create cracks over a long period.

As if that weren’t bad enough, sunlight will also cause a certain amount of paint degradation. To be more specific, the sun’s UV rays are actually a form of low-level radiation that can do unseen damage to your paint job. For cabinets that are located in very sunny kitchens, it is essential to choose a product that contains UV blockers of some type. These are chemicals that are added to clear coat products. They are designed to reflect UV light, keeping the paint underneath from being damaged.

Polyurethane will prevent all of these problems, at least until the clear coat itself is worn away. For cabinets, a piece of furniture that is not generally exposed to harsh conditions, a good clear coat job should last for years. Depending on how many coats you used, you can expect your work to last for 10-20 years. Again, oil-based finishes tend to be on the higher end of that spectrum. You can get around this problem by simply using more coats.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

For this kind of job, I would say that two coats are the bare minimum, and three would be ideal. The main purpose of a polyurethane coating is to seal out moisture and protect your cabinets from moisture damage. Of course, your cabinets are unlikely to see rain or other heavy water exposure, but you shouldn’t underestimate the destructive effects of humidity.

The first coat of polyurethane will act as a sealer that keeps all moisture away. The second coat might be described as a sealer for the sealer. In other words, it sandwiches the first layer in place so that it cannot be chipped or peeled away. Subsequent layers will only add more protection. Of course, this kind of finish will eventually wear away, but its longevity will depend mainly on how many coats you apply. At the same time, any more than four coats would be a little excessive. Your cabinets probably aren’t going to be seeing serious abuse, so there is certainly no need to go crazy here.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

Most polyurethane coatings that you might use on your cabinets fall into one of two categories: Oil-based or water-based. Water-based coatings tend to be a little harder, and they also don’t turn yellow over time, as many oil-based coatings will do. Water-based coatings are the most popular choice for most people, and it’s easy to see why that is so. Unlike oil-based finishes, they will dry crystal clear and will add nothing but the water resistance you are looking for…and also a little bit of shine.

An oil-based coating, on the other hand, offers a unique kind of beauty. Wood that has been treated with an oil-based polyurethane will be much glossier than any water-based equivalent. Not only that, but oil finishes tend to last a little bit longer. Some people really love the look of an oil-based finish, but they do alter the color of the wood somewhat. Oils will usually darken the wood and will also acquire a yellowish shade as they age.

While water-based coatings are the better choice for most applications, you should also consider the color of the wood that you are coating. If your cabinets have a very pale color that reminds you of fresh-sawn lumber, you might want to use an oil-based coating to add some color.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?

This really is a matter of personal preference combined with your wood type. You should consider the color of your cabinets’ wood and think about the results that each type of coating would offer. Some woods tend to look better with a flat finish that preserves every bit of their natural beauty. On the other hand, many kinds of wood can have their color and beauty enhanced by the right level of shine.

A full-gloss polyurethane or an oil-based product will offer the highest levels of sheen, while flat coatings have little to no sheen. Satin or semi-gloss coatings give you plenty of middle-ground options for those who want to keep it somewhere in between. This is a matter of appearance, so it’s all about your wishes. However, I should mention that glossy surfaces are a little easier to clean. These surfaces are shinier because their surfaces are smoother, and that makes the cleaning rag glide nicely while leaving no pores or gaps to trap the dirt.

Did you find this FAQ helpful?


In conclusion, it is very important to choose the right coating for the right job. This is one of those products for which every type seems alike…until you look more closely and realize that there is a high level of planning and intelligence that goes into the design of these products.

Remember, every paint company has at least one person who is paid to come up with scientifically formulated recipes. As such, every finish is different. I hope that this article has been both informative and interesting and that you are able to find the best clear coat for your kitchen remodeling needs.

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Varsha nagewadia
Varsha nagewadia
1 month ago

Hi William, I have accidentally used nail polish to remove a mark on my gloss kitchen cupboard which is not wood. It has removed the varnish, How can I fix this please. Thanx varsha

Ron Laverdiere
Ron Laverdiere
11 months ago

Why do you list ‘Great protection for indoor/outdoor applications’ as a Con for the Helmsman poly? That sounds like a Pro to me.

Lesley N Wright
Lesley N Wright
1 year ago

I bought and installed used kitchen cabinets. They are a kind of whitewash (stain?)colour and the woodgrain shows through. I like the colour and do not want to paint the cabinets. The problem is that since these were used cabinets, some of the cabinets were really dirty. So I used a strong degreaser and a brush to clean them. I think I might have taken the protective finish off in some places, although the colour hasn’t changed. Also, some of the pieces didn’t seem to have any protective finish on at all, they aren’t as smooth as the rest of the cabinets. I am thinking that I probably need to apply a sealer of some kind to all of the cabinets. I don’t want to sand and remove the current colouring, and I don’t really want it to be glossy or shiny. What should I use and how should I do it?

1 year ago

Hi William,
Would you recommend a lacquer over new kitchen cabinets painted in a high gloss Behr paint? I want the hardest finish possible to make painted cabinets last through high usage. Which clear coat product would you recommend?

1 year ago

I painted my kitchen at the beach with Oxford Navy. I used Annie Sloan Water Base Lacquer and it all all turned Smokey.
I repainted the entire project but am now petrified to use any product. HELP!

1 year ago


I am trying to repaint/polish(Not sure correct word) my oak cabinets same to oak color only. I am looking for basic steps which pre/post things i should use to get a glossy oak color look.

Cindy Kelly
Cindy Kelly
1 year ago

Hi William,

I am in the process of refinishing our kitchen cabinets, I sprayed two coats of Zinsser All-Purpose Primer and two coats of Benjamin Moore Advance in black. Can you please tell me what grit of sandpaper I should use between Advance and the first coat of General Finishes High-Performance Topcoat and also the grit between coats of the General Finishes.

Linda Drouin
Linda Drouin
1 year ago

Hello William,
I read your article on finishes.
I am restoring my medium oak stained kitchen cabinets.
I spent many hours, I should say days scrapping and stripping the old finish. My objective is to get a cerused finish on the cabinets. I did a lot of research and came up with a formula that I like. I bleached the wood a few times to get rid of the honey oak color. I mixed 4 part minwax pickled oak penetrating stain with one part simply white stain. Before applying the mix with a cheese cloth, with a wire Bruce I brushed the wood along the pattern of the grain. I let it dry about 8 hours and brushed with 000 steel wool. I the applied a second coat of the stain mixture. I really like the finished look, light wood with very sad light grey.
Now I must choose polyurethane coating. After all that work I do not want to spoil the job. I would like a satin finish. There is no worry for UV Rays in that part of the house. You seem to recommend General Finishes. Waiting for your recommendation.

I have read many sights over the years. This is the best one. Thank you for your help and dedication.

John Williams
1 year ago

Hi Mr. Stewart
Great article but I have a question
First I am a professional woodworker but that does not make me a professional painter. I love using water-based products on unstained natural wood. My problem has been that when I use a water-based product on stained wood, the wood grain is raised by the first coat as it always does when wood comes in contact with water, and when the in-between-coats sanding takes place some of the stain is removed and bare wood is exposed as small specks or lines no matter how careful I am. Am I doing something wrong.

1 year ago

I am purchasing a bathroom vanity made of MDF with a veneer. I’m considering adding a poly finish before installing to add protection from water and humidity. There are some intricate wood designs, so I am considering a spray application of Minwax Polycrylic – Water Based. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this approach.

1 year ago

I have stained wood kitchen cabinets, that look a little worn around where the handles are. Looks a little dull. What do you recommend?

1 year ago


I recently had my kitchen cabinets painted white. The painters used a oil based paint with a satin finish. I would like to put a clear top coat on them so they’re a little more glossy and not as flat. What would you recommend for that project?

Kimberly Whitt
Kimberly Whitt
1 year ago

Hi William. Thank you so much for taking your time to post all this great information and the research that went into each product.

I have higher end maple cabinets some existing and some just installed all with a factory paint finish. Houses these cabinets are installed get rented out at times and can endure heavy use. I also added a Pinstripe glaze to only the detailed edges on some of them and needed do a clear coat to the cabinets to better protect them for both the heavy use and the added detail. The cabinets were flawlessly finished and beautiful not a single brush mark. Based on recommendation from local home improvement store which Im strongly regretting now, i used Minwax Polycrylic which is listed 3rd on your list. I’m no armature when comes to painting have 20+ years and have done more then a few wood floor finishes all with professional grade oil urethane but furniture/ cabinet clear coats is new to me. After using the minwax (applied in 3 thin coats with a professional brush i use on all trim work and sanded with an extra fine grit in between coats) there are brush marks left on the cabinets from this product that are awful! It has completely ruined these high end cabinets.

To completely strip to bare wood and refinish is not an option. What would you recommend to get rid of brush marks and what clear coat product would you recommend for painted cabinets that won’t leave brush marks?
Thank you so much in advance.

1 year ago

Hi William,
I just finished painting my kitchen cupboards ..I used 2 coats of Little Greene Intelligent ASP – All Surface Primer (water-based) Primer and then a Little Greene eggshell paint again two coats.
Now reading up I think i should of chosen a glossy paint so its more durable but I have done all four coats now and I cant turn back! I do think it needs some sort of topcoat as protection though.
What would you advise?
Thanks for your help.

1 year ago

I would like to try the japanese shou sugi ban technique to restore and give a new look to my old kitcchen cabinets.
Do you know which clear coat would be better to protect them?
Like this:comment image

1 year ago

Our 22-year-old white-paint-stained-oak kitchen cabinets are funky around the knobs. Believe me, that is impossible to remove with ANY cleaning product or appliance. However! I applied nail polish remover (Don’t faint.) to that section and hard scraped it down to the white stain. A gutsy move, for sure. No damage at all and it looks just like new! But now I need to coat those small vulnerable areas. I am confident I can deftly apply a protector and smooth it out to the end of the cupboard door. I understand the no-guarantee re yellowing, which is really important to me, but what product would be best for this project?

p.s. is there al alternative to polyethylene?

1 year ago

I just finished painting my kitchen cabinets with SW emerald urethane trim enamel and I would like to top coat them with General that a good idea and if so, should just coat the doors or the entire cabinets

2 years ago

Hi William,

I have Melamine kitchen cupboards and I used a melamine primer for two coats then an oil based cupboard paint in satin for two coats and it is chipping terribly all 4 coats back down to the melamine, a slight scratch from dropping a utensil and it wipes the paint clean off. I am desperate to know what top coat I can apply that is clear that can go over this satin oil based paint? I can only see lacquers and varnishes for wood, does that matter? What happens if I use a water based over the paint? Many thanks, Jessica

2 years ago

with my experience in painting kitchen cabinets from wood to white is most popular now ….after a few years your #1 pick( general finishes ) will yellow and turn the cabinets a different color .. We also tried (Polycrylic Protective Finish Water Based) do you have any suggestions on a brand that will not do that? its turning out to be a lot of work to repaint the kitchens due to them turning colors over time .. thank you trisha

Erica Albair
2 years ago

Hi there,

Im painting my kitchen cabinets a dark gray. Ive tried several types of topcoats. Polyurethane yellowed it, then polycrylic scratches easy, someone at lowes gave me a floor finish but the brush strokes are visible. HELP!

2 years ago

Hi William,

I recently had my kitchen cabinet bottoms painted a dark blue/grey and they are chipping terribly. can I apply one of these clear coats on top of the paint to protect them and minimize chipping? If so, which do you recommend?

Lisa Davis
Lisa Davis
2 years ago

Hi Mr. Stewart,
I enjoyed reading your article. Based on what I read, I think a polyurethane product will be best for my needs. However, I still have questions for which I can’t seem to find answers.

When a finishing product has UV protection, will it retard the natural color change occurring within the (natural maple) wood over time?

Also, I have raw maple moulding to be affixed on top of my nicely-aged natural maple Wood-Mode, Brookhaven cabinets. They are a ~1997 install.
I don’t think I want to match the moulding to the current cabinet color, since I think the moulding would eventually become darker than the cabinets. I have no way of knowing the clear finish type applied to the cabinets in 1997.

How does one then determine which product to use if one wants the raw wood to eventually blend with the older wood? Thanks for any knowledge that you might share with me.

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