Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets – Complete Guide

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The kitchen is always one of the busiest areas of the house. And within the kitchen, the cabinets are one of the most important features. Kitchen cabinets are there for storage, as well as for adding an aesthetic appeal to the overall look of the kitchen. Sealing painted cabinets helps to maintain and protect the cabinets for long-lasting use and resistance to everyday wear and tear. Let’s explore the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets, and what to consider when choosing these products.



The Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

Whenever you paint over any surfaces, it is the final coat that really shines through and matters. It doesn’t matter what tools or paints you are using, if the final coat is not done well then the end results will not look great. For this reason, it is important to have the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets that you can get your hands on. We will take a look at the top products below.


Overall Best: GENERAL FINISHES Water Based Topcoat

While there are loads of different products and variations available as a cabinet sealer, this option by General Finishes always comes out as a top choice. This water-based topcoat is widely received as being the best polyurethane for kitchen cabinets. The finish works with a wide range of woods and finishes.

GENERAL FINISHES High Performance Water Based Topcoat
  • A seriously hard and durable polyurethane topcoat
  • Dry Time Between Coats is only 1 to 2 hours
  • Best suited for interior use
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The clear top coat for painted cabinets is available in three different sheens. These include gloss, semi-gloss, and satin. This can work with various wood finishes. Those that require an enhanced sheen can also buff the surface of the finished topcoat for increased shine. The General Finishes topcoat is UV stabilized to help protect it from the sun.

This top coat has been specifically formulated for indoor use. It is highly durable, scratch-resistant, and offers a long-lasting clear coat.


  • UV resistant
  • Fast drying and water-based
  • Available in different sheen options
  • Thick coating
  • Clear and durable


  • A more expensive topcoat
  • Only suitable for indoor use

The major focus of this finish is on durability. This is its standout feature and is what the topcoat was particularly formulated around. Anyone looking for a clear finish that is highly durable will therefore love using this product. This is possibly the best polyurethane for kitchen cabinets, but it can also provide an excellent solution for sealing floors.


A Great Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets: MINWAX Polycrylic Protective Finish

When looking for a sealing product for use in the kitchen, Minwax is always a great brand to consider. This protective finish can be used to protect and maintain the structure and integrity of the wooden surface. This water-based finished dries to a super clear form and can be used on all kinds of wooden surfaces. The water-based aspect means that it dries faster to a harder finish.

MINWAX Polycrylic Protective Finish Water Based
  • Protects and adds beauty to interior wood surfaces including woodwork
  • Ultra fast-drying formula allows for quick recoats in 2 hours
  • Low odor, non-yellowing
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While you can use the Minwax polyacrylic protective finish over a wide variety of woods, it is best suited towards lighter woods. This includes birch, maple, and ash. The incredibly clear finish helps to enhance the natural beauty of the underlying wood.


  • Safe to use with a low odor
  • A widely used and highly regarded brand
  • Available in a range of different sheens
  • Fast drying
  • Easy to clean
  • Durable and resistant
  • Easy to store
  • Offers superior protection to the wood


  • Completely clear – offers no color
  • A thinner coating option

When using this topcoat by Minwax, you get a very fast drying time. This makes it easier to apply the second coat quickly. The formula is non-yellowing, completely safe to use, and easy to clean up with water. It is also available in a range of different sheen options.


Best Value for Money: VARATHANE Ultimate Polyurethane

The Varanthe ultimate polyurethane topcoat is a water-based product that has been specially formulated to make the most out of your wooden surfaces. This is one of the best polyurethane for kitchen cabinets thanks to its clear finish, durable qualities, and excellent value.

VARATHANE Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane
  • Protects indoor wood surfaces such as furniture, windows, cabinets, trim and more
  • Water based formula dries fast and cleans up with soap and water
  • Durable formula provides outstanding stain and scratch resistance with excellent clarity
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The topcoat will prevent scratching and stain damage against the wood. This will help to preserve the natural beauty of the wood in busy kitchen environments. Being water-based, this finish is very fast to dry. This makes it easier to apply a second coat fairly soon after. The water-based formula is also more practical to wipe up and clean after use.


  • Super clear finish when dry
  • Offers excellent value
  • A well-respected brand
  • Water-based for added convenience


  • A much thinner topcoat which makes it tricky to add additional coats
  • The very clear finish doesn’t work for all applications

If you are after a gloss finish that offers amazing clarity and shine, then this product would be a top pick. This is one of the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets thanks to its great value and clear finish. It is probably best to add a layer of wood stain before applying this topcoat. This will allow for a longer-lasting finish.



Cabinet Sealer Buying Guide

A clear coat for cabinets can be used over all kinds of different wooden surfaces. This includes cabinets that are painted, stained, or unfinished. Using the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets will help to add a protective layer on the wood against stains, spills, scratches, and on. This will help to maintain the look of the cabinets.


Clear Coat for Cabinets Yellowing

If the clear coat for cabinets is applied over white painted wood, then there is always the possibility of it yellowing over time. This includes a range of finishes – like polyurethane, oils, stains, or lacquers. Whether the clear coat yellows depends on the type of wood, the dyes used, the moisture content in the cabinets, and if the coating was applied correctly. Knowing whether the coating will yellow or not is difficult, but it is always best to take every precaution to avoid this when working with a cabinet sealer.

clear coat for cabinets


Scratch Resistance

Kitchen cupboards see plenty of action. Sharp knives and metal objects are stored in kitchen cabinets, and so scratching is a common occurrence. When sealing painted cabinets, make sure that the cabinet sealer is durable enough to withstand scratches. Also, try to choose a clear coat that can withstand a certain degree of heat.


A Solid Clear Coat

Using a solid clear coat for cabinets will result in a thicker and more durable finish. This will help with water resistance and will be longer-lasting. The best clear coat for kitchen cabinets should be thick for the best protection.



Like most things in life, the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets is also the most expensive. However, we always need to stick to our budgets and are not always able to go for the most expensive products. If opting for a cheaper cabinet sealer, make sure that it has good reviews and is suitable for your job requirements.


The Wood Finish

The cabinet sealer you choose should depend on the type of wood finish you will be covering over. If the cabinets are unfished wood, then using an oil-based sealer is best. This will add a layer of protection while getting rid of the completely raw wooden look. If the cabinet sealer you choose is not oil-based, it is best to stain the wood first before adding the finishing coat.


The Look and Feel

Different clear coat options offer different types of finishes. These include satin, gloss, and semi-gloss. Each one refers to the smoothness of the coating. High-gloss finishes are easier to clean than satin finishes. Just remember to use a finish that works with the types of surfaces that you are covering. This needs to be something that will offer a practical solution to the cabinets, as well as suit the rest of the kitchen.

cabinet sealer



Benefits of the Best Clear Coat for Kitchen Cabinets

Applying a top coat for painted cabinets offers a couple of different benefits. Not only does it help to enhance the appearance of the wooden cabinets, but it also adds an important layer of protection against damage. Some of the key benefits to using a cabinet sealer are listed below:


Smooth Shine

Cabinet sealers create a beautiful clear shine over the surface of the wood. This helps to really bring your kitchen to life and stops it from looking dull and monotonous.


No Residue

Painting kitchen cabinets often result in a certain amount of residue being left behind. Using a clear top coat for painted cabinets prevents this from happening. A clear coat will easily cover any sharp or rough edges, providing a smooth seal across the cabinets.


Kitchen Cabinet Degradation

If the paint does not contain UV resistance, then there is the chance that it could degrade through exposure to the sun. The best clear coat for kitchen cabinets offers UV resistance. This has been specially designed to help protect the underlying paint from any degradation.


Prevent Chipping

When you paint wood, it will likely start to chip and peel off over time. Applying a clear coat for cabinets will help to prevent this by keeping the paint intact. Paint chipping is especially prominent in the kitchen where temperatures are constantly changing.



Using the Best Lacquer for Kitchen Cabinets

Lacquer is often chosen for finishing kitchen cabinets. It is important to note that lacquer is not as durable or resistant as a polyurethane finish. However, it offers excellent impact resistance and flexibility. The clear coat shine is also superior in lacquer. So, using this approach offers a finish that is clear and shiny, water-resistant, breathable, and chip-resistant. However, it can lose its general shine quite easily through daily use.

best lacquer for kitchen cabinets

Before choosing lacquer over polyurethane coating, it is important to understand the unique benefits of each product. Let’s go through some of the advantages that you get from the best lacquer for kitchen cabinets below.


Fast Drying

One of the big advantages of using lacquer on kitchen cabinets is that it is very fast drying. When used at room temperature, lacquer should only take about 15 minutes to dry. This makes it easy to apply a second coat within an hour and stops you from having to wait around while using lacquer.


Easy to Use

Unlike a resin finish, lacquer requires no mixing or preparation. It is easy to use and can be used straight away from the tin without having to thin it or measure out ratios. Applying lacquer also doesn’t require any special tools or techniques. You can simply brush it on, or use a paint sprayer. Both will cure perfectly and provide an attractive finish.



Compared to other coatings, lacquer offers a significantly long-lasting solution. In this regard, lacquer is the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets, as it will outlast polyurethane, varnish, shellac, or stains. This doesn’t mean that it is as durable or tough as these other options, but it does penetrate deeper into the wood for a longer lifespan.


Resurfacing Cabinets with Lacquer

Before you decide to use lacquer for resurfacing kitchen cabinets, you need to make sure that the surface is appropriate. Do not apply lacquer to any areas that have been yellowed, scratched, stained, or damaged. This will leave an unwanted grey color that will become permanently fixed to the surface. Issues like this can be extremely difficult to remove, so it is important to make sure that this is done correctly from the start.

best clear coat for kitchen cabinets


The Different Finish Options

When using lacquer, you can choose between three different finish options. These need to be chosen depending on the look of your kitchen and the wooden surfaces used. You can choose between a matte finish, a medium finish (which brings out the natural look of the wood a bit better), and a high gloss finish for better shine.



Drawbacks of Using Lacquer


You Get a 10 Year Lifespan

Under regular conditions, using lacquer on your kitchen cabinets gives them 10 years of life. If the kitchen is very busy though, this lifespan can be decreased. Renewing the lacquer will have to involve sanding down the wood surface completely before reapplying the lacquer. In areas where there is a lot of heat or moisture, the lacquer can quite easily change color.


Lacquer Can Become Brittle

If you use lacquer to coat surfaces in a busy kitchen, they will very likely become brittle over time. This can be seen through cracks appearing around joints and sensitive areas. This occurs from the wood expanding and contracting in changing temperatures.


Blushing Could be an Issue

Blushing is a problem that can often occur when applying lacquer to kitchen surfaces. This happens when the lacquer is applied incorrectly, and it results in white marks appearing on the surface when the lacquer dries. The happens from moisture becoming trapped underneath the surface of the lacquer. Always make sure that the equipment and surfaces are completely clean and dry. It can also happen quite easily in very humid conditions.


Chemical and Heat Resistance

Lacquer is durable, but it is not chemical resistant. If the surface comes into contact with chemicals, salt, or water, it can form spots on the surface of the lacquer. Lacquer is also not heat resistant – something that is quite an important consideration in the kitchen.


Shelf Life

Lacquer does not have a very long shelf life compared to their products. It will only last for about 3 – 6 months. Using lacquer after this time will result in a poor finish. It is important to only buy the amount of lacquer that you need for a specific job.


Now you can compare the various pros and cons of different options for a clear coat for cabinets. With these different points in mind, it’s important to choose a product that will work best with your specific requirements.


Best Lacquer for Kitchen Cabinets: WATCO Clear Wood Finish Lacquer

This high-quality offering from Watco has got to be the best lacquer for kitchen cabinets. One of its standout features is that it can be used for filling in cracks and gaps – something that most lacquers aren’t able to accomplish. This saves time and additional resources.

WATCO Lacquer Clear Wood Finish
  • Ideal for use on furniture, doors, cabinets and paneling
  • 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
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The lacquer is self-leveling and will dry to a hard clear finish in 30 minutes. The consistency of the lacquer also hides any brushstrokes and is easy to get a consistent, smooth finish.


  • Self-leveling
  • Can fill in cracks and gaps
  • Forms a very hard, durable surface
  • Crystal clear finish


  • Not UV resistant
  • A more expensive lacquer option
  • A very thin lacquer
  • Not very water-resistant

Although this lacquer is slightly pricier, it does provide you with plenty of use. You can cover a 290 square foot area with a single can. The lacquer is also particularly durable and dries to a smooth, shiny finish. It is also easy to use and does not require any sanding down between coats.



Spraying Lacquer on Kitchen Cabinets

Applying lacquer to kitchen cabinets can be done with a brush, or by spraying. While both options are available, spraying it on provides a much more even finish. We have highlighted the steps to take on how to apply lacquer on kitchen cabinets through spraying.


Using Spray Equipment

Using spray equipment is the best approach to take when applying lacquer. In order to do this, you will need to work in a well-ventilated space, as the lacquer emits potentially harmful odors. It is also flammable. For the best results, try to remove any doors on the cabinets and spray each part separately.


  • First remove all the parts of the cabinet (doors, bolts, hinges, etc)
  • Sand down the surface until you can sand it over with a 150 grit sandpaper
  • While the wood grain is still open you need to apply a stain. Depending on the wood, you may need to apply a wood conditioner first
  • Now the wood is prepared for spraying. Start by thinning out the lacquer using a lacquer thinner until it meets the desired consistency of the paint sprayer
  • Fill the paint cup up with the thinned lacquer. Attach the air hose, turn the compressor on, and you can start to spray on the initial coat
  • Once the first coat is dry, you can sand it down with 220 grit sandpaper. Wipe the dust off until the surface is clean again, and spray on the next coat. You can now apply as many coats as needed.
  • Once this is done, you can apply the finish coat on top. This needs to be slightly thinned down until it is just thin enough to spray



Brushing Lacquer on Cabinets

Sure, the best way to achieve a completely smooth and even lacquer finish is through spraying. This doesn’t mean that brushing should be ruled out though. If done correctly, applying lacquer with a brush can achieve perfect results. Let’s explore this process a little bit below.

best polyurethane for kitchen cabinets


Using Brushes

When using a brush for applying lacquer, the process needs to be carefully managed. This is a process that requires patience, but it can produce great results if followed through properly.


  • Begin by clearing out the kitchen and making sure that all cabinets are clear and appliances are packed away
  • Protect any areas you don’t want to be covered with lacquer by using masking tape and plastic sheeting
  • Remove the cabinet doors and shelves – these will be painted separately
  • Make sure that all surfaces are properly cleaned. These need to be wiped dry. Ensure there is no dust or dirt present
  • Fill in any possible cracks or gaps. This can be done with wood putty. Then make sure that these areas are sanded down and smooth – with no sharp edges present
  • Then sand down all the cabinets with 100 grit sandpaper. Wipe the dust off until everything is completely clean
  • Next, use an oil-based primer to coat all of the surfaces. This should dry overnight
  • Now the cabinets are ready for the lacquer. Use a paint roller to apply the lacquer, and do this in motions that run across the grain of the wood, then finish with the grain
  • Between dried coats, you should sand down the lacquer. This can be done using 280 grit sandpaper to achieve an even and smooth finish
  • Once you apply the fina;l coat, leave it to dry for at least 24 hours
  • Now you can reinstall the cabinet doors and take away the masking tape and protective plastic



Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Coat Paint With Polyurethane?

If the paint surface is properly cleaned and prepared, then you can use polyurethane over the painted surface. This is often a popular way of coating over painted wood.


How are Water-Based and Oil-Based Paints Different?

Water-based paints are fast drying and less toxic. Oil-based paints are thicker and more durable. They are more resistant but take longer to dry.


When Should You Wash a Painted Surface?

It generally takes about two weeks for a painted surface to reach its complete strength. The longer you leave the paint, the stronger it will get for washing.


Can You Apply a Clear Coat Over Painted Kitchen Cabinets?

Cabinets that have been painted are best for applying a clear topcoat over. This helps to maintain the surface and protect it from scratches, peeling, or chipping.


Which Finish is Best for Kitchen Cabinets?

Polyurethane offers the best top coat for kitchen cabinets. Try to go for a semi-shine or shiny coat, as this allows the paint to show through clearly while still providing excellent protection.


How Many Layers of Cabinet Sealer to Add?

A double coat is a popular choice for kitchen cabinets as this adds enough thickness. You can also do three coats for an additional protective finish.


If you are looking for the best clear coat for kitchen cabinets then you will see that there are a number of options to choose from. Sealing cabinets should depend on the specific situation, the wood used, and the kind of effect you are after. This guide should have explained everything you needed to know about finding the perfect clear topcoat for your project.