Can You Varnish Over Chalk Paint

Chalk paint is popular for painting and upcycling furniture, and for good reason. It is great for creating a distressed, vintage look for your furniture pieces.

Moreover, chalk paint adheres well to most surfaces whether they’re wood, metal, or plastic. However, although chalk paint adheres extremely well, it requires a top coat to make it durable. Most often, people use clear wax to seal their chalk paint furniture. 

But can you varnish over chalk paint? 

Ultimately you can. Learn how to do it properly and what products to use in this post.


Yes, you can apply varnish over chalk paint. For best results, let the chalk paint cure fully before varnishing. Use a water-based varnish rather than an oil-based varnish since water-based varnishes are less prone to yellowing over time. Moreover, always use high-quality brushes to apply the varnish to minimize brush strokes and achieve a smooth finish. 

Can you varnish over chalk paint?

You can use varnish over chalk paint as long as the paint layer has fully cured (not just dried). If you use varnish on chalk paint that hasn’t fully cured, the top layer of paint might not look as smooth and seamless as it could. Wait at least 24 hours for the chalk paint to cure. 

Water-based varnishes are recommended for chalk paint, especially if the chalk paint is white or another light color. Water-based varnishes are less toxic and not prone to yellowing over time.

Related: How to Paint Over Chalk Paint (The Right Way)

Best Varnish for Chalk Paint

Some of the most popular varnishes for chalk paint are:

General Finish High-Performance Water-based Topcoat

This varnish once received the Fine Woodworking’s “Best Overall Choice Award.” It is a versatile topcoat that comes in cans or spray forms. You can choose between five sheens:

  • Dead Flat
  • Flat
  • Satin
  • Semi-gloss
  • Gloss

With a flat finish, you can preserve the chalk paint’s chalky matte look. Glossy finishes arguably defeat the purpose of using chalk paint. 

You only need 2-3 coats to fully protect your project. This product dries to the touch between 30 minutes to 1 hour after application, and it fully cures in 21 days.

You can purchase General Finish High-Performance Topcoat here on Amazon

Chalk Paint Lacquer by Annie Sloan 

Annie Sloan’s water-based polyacrylic varnish is perfect for indoor and outdoor use as it has built-in UV protection. It only has two available sheens: clear gloss and clear matte. The clear gloss option has a light sheen, but isn’t ultra glossy. 

Chalk Paint Lacquer is easy to apply, and there are even tutorials on Annie Sloan’s website to guide you. It is also perfect for light-colored paints as it doesn’t yellow over time.

You can purchase Chalk Paint Lacquer here on Annie Sloan’s Website

Rust-Oleum Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane

Varathane Ultimate is Rust-Oleum’s water-based polyurethane varnish product. It comes in quart and gallon cans and spray form and comes in four finishes:

  • Satin
  • Matte
  • Semi-gloss
  • Gloss

As a scratch and stain-resistant top coat, this product is very resilient to the usual wear and tear that life will throw at your furniture. However, like the other varnishes in this post, this product is designed for indoor wood surfaces only. 

You can purchase Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane here on Amazon

Chalk Paint Top Coat: Varnish or Wax?

Chalk paint is very susceptible to being scuffed or scratched without a protective finish. Both varnish and wax add the extra protection that chalk-painted surfaces need. But they differ in appearance, ease of use, maintenance, and even durability. Let’s look at these differences below.

Appearance: Wax has a very matte finish. In contrast, varnish comes in varied finishes, including matte, semi-gloss, and high gloss. Using varnish is the best way to achieve a high gloss finish with chalk paint.

Ease of application: Varnish is easier to use than wax. For varnishing, you’ll simply need to brush the product on your painted surface. Varnish also comes in a spray form as well. 

On the other hand, the wax comes in a paste that has to be rubbed onto the surface with a cloth or a brush in even layers. It is easy to get a wonky look when applying too much or too little product on the surface. Globs of wax here and there can make the surface look uneven. 

Maintenance: Wax needs to be touched up at least once a year. Depending on how much the furniture is used, you may need to touch it up every few months. On the other hand, varnished surfaces likely only need to be refinished every few years. 

Durability: Wax adds great protection to chalk-painted surfaces. However, wax can be rubbed or scratched off, exposing the underlying surface. Varnish is relatively more resilient. Once dried, a varnished surface becomes a tough top coat that is comparably more difficult to penetrate. 

Related: Can you use Chalk Paint Straight Over Varnish

How to apply varnish to chalk paint

Applying varnish on chalk paint is a straightforward but meticulous process. To help avoid problems with this top coat, continue reading below for best practices on using varnishes on chalk painted surfaces. 

Tools and supplies

Before applying varnish, we recommend preparing the following tools and supplies:

  • High-quality synthetic bristle brushes
  • High-quality varnish
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Water (for water-based varnish) or mineral spirits (for oil-based varnish) for thinning varnish
  • Stirrer
  • For covering floors: tarps or drop cloth

Step 1: Let the chalk paint cure

Check the paint label for the recommended curing time of the chalk paint. As a rule of thumb, wait at least 24 hours after painting and make sure your piece of furniture is in a well-ventilated area (ideally in a dust-free room). 

Step 2: Prep your area

Lay down your protective covering for your floor. A drop cloth or tarp can help to prevent the varnish from dripping on the bare floor. 

Step 3: Sand the chalk-painted surface (Optional)

This step is optional as most chalk paints dry smoothly and evenly. However, there may be some pesky brush marks that you want to eliminate. For best results, we recommend using fine-grit sandpaper on the furniture (400 grit). After some light sanding, wipe the dust with a clean, lint-free tack cloth.

Step 4: Apply the varnish

There are two ways to do this step, depending on what varnish you have.

For spraying, apply thin coats from a consistent distance to avoid dripping and uneven coverage. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the recommended number of coats. And make sure that each layer has fully dried before adding another coat.

For brush application, we recommend using high-quality synthetic bristles to minimize brush marks. Slowly apply thin, even coats. Be sure not to brush excessively to prevent streaks and bubbles.

Most brands recommend two to four coats for ultimate protection. Wait at least 12 hours between coats of varnish. For the smoothest possible finish, lightly sand with fine-grit sandpaper between coats. After sanding lightly, use a tack cloth to clean off the surface before applying the next coat. This way you won’t trap dust between layers of varnish. 

Step 5: Let the varnish cure

Each brand has a specific curing time, so it is best to check the label before varnishing. Generally, it may take two weeks to a month for the varnish to fully cure. Avoid using the furniture to prevent scratches and damages before the varnish cures.

Keep it in a well-ventilated, low-traffic, dust-free area until it has fully cured before putting it elsewhere in your home.

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