7 Disadvantages of Wax Finish on Wood

Wax is a budget-friendly, non-toxic, environmentally-friendly finish that accentuates the natural color of wood. Moreover, wax helps to restore wood furniture, making it look fresh and new. It is also less prone to yellowing over time compared to oil-based polyurethanes.  

However, while it has its advantages, like any other finish, it also has some drawbacks.

In this post, we’ll share 7 disadvantages of wax finish on wood.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Wax finishes have several disadvantages including: 

  • Wax lacks the durability of polyurethane (and other finishes)
  • Applying wax can be laborious and difficult
  • Wax is high-maintenance
  • Grease and grime are particularly noticeable on wax finishes
  • Cleaning waxed surfaces is difficult
  • Wax is not heat-resistant 
  • Completely removing wax is very difficult  

Wax lacks durability

Wax is often the recommended topcoat for chalk paints because it dries with a matte sheen that complements chalk paint’s matte sheen. However, while it certainly makes the surface more durable, wax is relatively less durable than other finishes such as polyurethane and polyacrylic. Polyurethane and polyacrylic tend to dry harder than wax and are more resilient to wear and tear as a result. 

Even when wax dries completely, it’s still relatively easier to scuff the wax simply by bumping into your waxed furniture. 

As you regularly use your waxed furniture, the resilience of your wax finish diminishes, but the same can’t be said about polyacrylic, polyurethane, and other varnishes. 

Related: Applying Polyurethane on White Paint (Without Yellowing)

Wax can be labor-intensive and difficult to apply

Wax is a semi-solid material, so it also does not self-level or flow like a liquid. It has the consistency of a thick paste. Naturally, there is a learning curve to wax application to ensure it is smooth and even on the surface. A certain amount of skill and dexterity is needed to apply it well. 

Moreover, wax is temperamental and needs normal room temperature during application. It will not spread well if it is too cold or too warm. If it is too warm, the wax will also harden more quickly, making it harder to distribute evenly on the surface.

Finally, wax needs to be buffed to get a desirable sheen. And this has to be done without overworking or damaging it. Buffing can be time-consuming in and of itself, and this step isn’t required with varnishes. 

Wax is high-maintenance

One of the major disadvantages of wax finish on wood is its maintenance. It’s best practice to reapply wax every few months. In contrast, polyurethanes offer protection for a much longer time and reapplication isn’t as important. 

Wax finishes wear off and become less durable over time as temperature and humidity fluctuate. 

It will also wear out faster if applied on furniture in high-traffic areas. Brushing against or touching furniture through regular use naturally degrades the finish. 

The good news is it is easier to reapply than to apply it the first time around. However, over time the wax will start to appear dull on the wood due to wax buildup after frequent reapplications.

Grease and grime are particularly noticeable on wax

As you use your furniture, naturally it will accumulate grease and grime. Oils from cooking or simply natural oils from your skin can accumulate on your waxed furniture surface. 

Unfortunately, grease and grime can look particularly noticeable on waxed surfaces. Grime and dust can seep into wax, giving it a cloudy appearance. Unfortunately, once grime has settled into the finish, it can be very difficult to remove. 

Fingerprints, in particular, are very noticeable on wax finishes. Even once the wax has fully cured, it’s still easy to leave fingerprints. 

Wax is hard to clean

Unlike varnishes, wax is particularly hard to clean.

Generally, it’s best practice to clean wax furniture lightly with a lint-free cloth. This is great for giving your furniture a light dusting, but if you have spilled something on your furniture, left a makeup stain, or if it’s just plain dirty, it won’t be so easy to clean. 

Relatively more vigorous cleaning with soap and water is necessary in these cases. However, by cleaning your furniture this way, you will likely rub off the top layer of wax, and you will have to reapply your wax once again. 

Wax has low heat resistance

Wax has a low melting point, so it is highly heat-sensitive. Once exposed to high temperatures, it will soften and sometimes melt.

Putting hot objects like hot mugs, pans, pots, and dishes on top of wax-coated surfaces also leaves indentations or marks that can only be fixed by reapplying wax. In some cases, these hot objects may even completely melt the wax.

Because wax has low heat resistance, it is not recommended in kitchens and near fireplaces. Always use coasters and hot pads to prevent wax from melting if you need to place a hot object on the surface.

Wax is extremely hard to remove

While wax is soft and generally easier to scratch off than synthetic finishes, it is harder to completely remove from wood. Wax adheres well to practically any surface you apply it to, making it difficult to completely lift off a surface. And the more layers of wax on the surface, the more stubborn it will be to remove.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to completely remove wax and its residue first if you need to refinish or repaint your wood furniture. To do so, it’s best to use abrasive solutions such as mineral spirits to break down the wax before scraping it off, which can be messy, and time-consuming

You’ll also need to remove wax when restoring old furniture or repairing major wood damage.

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