Wipe-On Poly Tips and Tricks

Wipe on poly is an awesome product to use to add a layer of protection to your painted furniture. It’s easy and fast to apply, easy to clean up, and relatively inexpensive. There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to wipe on poly, so I’m here to s with you the tricks I’ve learned along the way to make your experience a little better. (Scroll down for a video tutorial demonstrating how to apply wipe on poly.)

Oil Based v. Water Based

Does it ever seem like this is a never ending question?

Wipe on PolyAs usual the issue with oil based is that it oils over time, and oil based wipe on poly is no exception… There are benefits to it though -it’s easier to apply than its water based counterpart because it stays wet much longer – also its a little bit cheaper and easier to get a hold of. So if you are going to be working on something that is painted a medium to dark color, or its stained or natural wood – use oil based.

Water Based Wipe On Poly

If your going to be working on a white or light-colored piece of furniture. Even some really light natural wood – use water based. It doesn’t yel over time, so your color will stay truer. (I say truer because just like wax, it darkens the color just a bit – so plan for that.) The problems with water-based wipe on poly are that chalk paint soaks it up like a sponge – so to get a clean smooth finish your going to want to dilute it with water. I use a 50: 50 ratio for water and wipe on poly. (You can also do this with oil based wipe on poly if you’re having streaking issues – just substitute the water for mineral spirits or lacquer thinner.) This solves the issue so that it stays wet long enough to work it in and avoid streaks – but you might find that you need to put on another coat to get the protection you’re looking for. The other problem with this stuff is that its only available in California…. wait what? Yes, this product is only distributed to stores in California. So if you want to purchase this product outside of California – you will need to do so online. I bought mine through amazon for about $17 including shipping for a pint. A pint goes a long way – Generally I can get 3 large pieces with one pint because I dilute it down.


Water based wipe on poly is a little bit harder to work with in the beginning and takes some practice, but its a good alternative to wax for light colors. (I still use wax by the way, just not when I’m glazing – find out why!)


Hope this information is helpful!





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  • Brenda From Logan

    Do / can you dilute it if you are using it over an enamel or latex paint? Have you ever used it diluted on either and if so is it easy to work with and have good results. Thanks!!

    • Kelsey Elaine

      Yes, you can dilute it over latex paint and I have personally done so. With oil based paint the concern is not so much the diluting, but the fact that the product I use in this tutorial is water-based. I know from experience that water based paint cannot be painted over oil based paint because the oils in the paint below repel the water based paint above and it will peel off in sections. I would assume the same would be true for a water-based top coat and I would not recommend using this product, diluted or not, over oil based paint. (You would want to use oil based wipe-on poly, which isn’t a problem with oil based paints, as your paint is going to yellow regardless of the top coat you use.)

      Just as a side note, when your diluting water based poly, your just increasing the amount of water that is already in the mixture. Water-based wipe on poly is actually regular waterbased polyurethane that has already been diluted down with water (I believe the consistency is 25% polyurethane to 75% water if your diluting regular polyurethane yourself.) You can do the same with oil based polyurethane, but you would need to use an oil based paint thinner such as mineral spirits to dilute it.

  • sb

    Hi, can you tell me what it means if you use oil-based poly your piece will oil over time? I accidently used the oiled based poly instead of the water based. Can I go over the oil based with the water based? I used it on a piece that is a light green. Will the color change over time? What should I do?

    • Kelsey Elaine

      If you used oil-based poly, your piece will amber over time. This means that it will get a slightly yellow color over time. If you’ve ever gone into an old house that was painted with oil paint, you can get an idea of what the ambering effect looks like. Ambering is an effect that is actually desired on regular wood pieces because it enhances the beauty of the piece, it only becomes a problem when your painting and you want the color to stay true. Putting water-based wipe on poly over the oil based won’t make a difference because ambering is due to the chemicals in the oil based poly, not a reaction to outside influences. Ambering is most noticeable on really light colors such as white and off white. With a light green, its more than likely that you won’t even notice the ambering effects. At the most, you might notice the color slightly go to a more yellow or darker hue over time. I personally, would leave it the way it is. The only way to change it is to repaint the piece…. Ambering is a fairly slow process, and if you do notice a color difference, it probably won’t be for a few months/years.

  • Toni

    Hi, I used the wipe on poly oil based on my white furniture…big mistake. Can I sand off the poly and repaint? I am using an acrylic paint mixed with calcium carbonate (home made chalk paint)

    • Kelsey Elaine

      You can sand the poly off, but it’s much easier to paint over it. Calcium Carbonate isn’t strong enough to not need a primer or something over the poly. You can use a brand name chalk paint or chalk paint powder to avoid sanding as they have additional minerals and clays that increase the gripping power of latex paint so that you do not need to use primer over these types of finishes.

      I hope that helps!

      • Toni

        Thanks Kelsey for your reply. I am using Benjamin Moore Regal paint with primer or should I use a different primer as well?

  • Kaylene

    Hi Kelsey, I first want to say that I love your work and your tutorials and reviews are very helpful. I was wondering for a kitchen table would you recommend polying the whole piece or poly top and wax bottom? I wish I had seen your tutorial before I put top coat on my table. I tried using the wipe on poly, but in my area people aren’t as knowledgeable and can’t give some guidance. So since it wasn’t quite working out, I did the brush on poly instead. I put two coats on over diy chalk paint, and the second coat turned out pretty good, with almost no streaking just one small spot in center. I’m new to the repurposing furniture world, but would really like to venture in. How can I know which pieces are better to poly a whole piece or poly/wax etc instead? Thank you in advance for your guidance.


    • Kelsey Elaine

      Hi Kaylene,

      When considering wax versus Poly, it’s really a personal preference. I have a hard time brushing poly on. I feel like it always ends up looking streaky or has brush strokes in it. I’m never happy with the end result – so I prefer wax whenever possibly – or wipe on poly. Poly is ALWAYS going to be stronger than wax. It’s, as far as I know, the strongest finish out the for this type of application. Wax is also a good alternative if you want something faster, easier and doesn’t show brush strokes (Plus I like the look of it more) – but I never put wax on anything that involves cooking or food – for example; kitchen cabinets or table tops. I’ve never had an issue with wax being on the sides of a table – so I still opt for that finish on the sides – but I will always put poly on the top of a dining room table. The decision is based on the places that the piece will be used and the look I’m going for. Wax is too easily damaged by the oils that are commonly found in food for use in a kitchen setting.

  • http://dancingtotherhythm.blogspot.ca Kalli Ann

    We have painted our kitchen cabinets using a water based paint (dark slate colour) the plan is to distress them a bit and then apply a protective sealant. We are just trying to decide what would be our best choice. Can you thin down a regular water based poly and wipe it on instead of brushing to avoid brush streaks? Or if we were to go with the oil based wipe-on poly would we still be able to paint over them later on with a regular water based paint?


    • Kelsey Elaine

      You can thin down regular waterbased poly, but it does give as consistent of a finish as oil based does. Personally, I would stick with oil based. Yes you can repaint them later with water-based paint as long as you are using either a paint additive like Blue Minerals Chalk & Mineral Paint Powder, or primer.

  • Texas Woman

    Had a custom breakfast table made, which took forever (over a year) to receive, and I have multiple wax coats on the top but am noticing every scratch, fingerprint, etc. Thinking about buffing the wax myself then applying a wipe-on oil based poly. The table is a dark stain. Paid a lot of money for this custom piece and don’t want to pay more for shipping back to artisan and dealing with another custom issue. Called a reputable antique store and was told that most authentic antiques have multiple coats of wax, poly and lacquer applied over the years. The Minwax website says to sand off all of the wax before applying poly, but am wondering if I really need to do so, or can just apply the wipe on poly over the wax.


    • Roy Niswanger

      @Texas Woman, I would not put poly on the original finish of that table, even if you use Naptha and 0000 steel wool to try and strip all the layers of dirt/wax/oil-build-up/etc. I would recommend stripping the surface with 15 minute chemical stripper (stuff for lacquers/varnish/poly) and I prefer the sprayable kind (still brush it on with a chip brush, the sprayable seems to penetrate better than the gel stuff). I would just refinish the whole thing (strip, sand, stain, then poly for the best protection). I just finished an old solid (no veneer) 5 quarter board thick Danish teak dining table (beautiful solid teak). After stripping and sanding (hours and hours of work), I then applied 3 coats of Watco Danish Teak Oil (semi-wipe-on-varnish). Then I let it off-gas for 10 days, if the surface smells at all then it’s not fully done oxidizing. Then I cleaned the surface with a light wiping of Naptha and then did a wipe-on poly top coat. My method here is creating my own wipe-on poly with General Finishes (good stuff, but expensive) Satin Floor Poly (engineered better as it’s for floors) mixed with regular mineral spirits, 50/50. Then I use a wadded up old piece of t-shirt and nylon panty hose stocking cut to wrap around the shirt (best lint-free method). I soak in the rubbing poly and start a rubbing…just light coats to cover the wood. It took 12 coats and 6 weeks for me to finish that procedure (I don’t have the time to sand with synthetic 0000 wool and re-coat ever 24 hours because I work and have other life obligations. The result is probably the very best poly top-coat you could ever achieve…super smooth!

  • Jan

    I’m struggling to get a flat surface for a desk. I built a desk and painted it with a beautiful (but very expensive!), very hard latex enamel paint (from Sherwin-Williams), but no matter what I did I couldn’t get it to stay truly flat. I tried using brushes and foam rollers, but no matter what I did the surface showed significant evidence of my method (orange-peel-ish for the roller, brush strokes for the brush). This despite the fact that I applied to paint to a surface sanded perfectly flat.

    Now, it’s a gigantic desk, so it takes a while to cover the whole surface. At this point, I’m considering whether it’s at all possible to find some polyurethane product I can apply, possibly by wiping it on in many coats, to get the surface as flat and smooth as I’d like. I guess that on top of latext (white, for that matter) paint, I’d want to use a water-based poly. Do I have any hope of making the surface of an enamel-painted desk flatter using water-based poly?

    • admin

      Hi Jan,

      I share your frustration! When I first started painting furniture, I could not get the finish to be smooth and it drove me nuts. I tried everything I could think of with no luck! I eventually switched over to spraying my paint, which did solve the issue – but after a while I really missed painting by hand. I enjoy it more. So I started working on figuring out a way to get a smooth finish with a brush.

      First of all, you’ll need to get a good quality brush. Honestly, I don’t like any of the brushes currently at Home Depot or Lowes. I prefer Benjamin Moore brushes. They have a 2″ angled brush that I absolutely love!

      Now I like to use either Sherwin Williams Pro Classic Line or their Cashmere Line. Cashmere is slightly more smooth – but it’s not a huge difference. I believe they have an enamel in the pro classic line – so hopefully that’s what your using! If not – I’m sure whatever you’re using will work the same. I like to dilute the paint down just a little bit to make it so I can get really thin coats of paint on – which help eliminate any brush strokes appearing in the paint. The amount you dilute is something that requires a little bit of practice and experimentation – as it all depends on your climate. I usually start with something around 2 Tbs water per quart of paint and go from there. You’re looking for a consistency that isn’t runny, but allows you to get a very thin layer of paint. (Of course you’ll have to do more coats this way – but it’s worth it). Also – glossier paints are easier to get smooth.

      In between coats check of ridges and runs and sand them out with a 320 or 400 grit sandpaper. This should be a super light sanding and if you’re doing it correctly, it should only be in a few areas of it all. Don’t sand the last coat.

      Then seal your finish. You can seal it with polycrylic (water based polyurethane) but I don’t like the wipe on kind – it’s difficult to not get streaks. I would consider getting this in a spray can and spraying your finish on because getting polyurethane to lay flat with no brush strokes is even more difficult than the paint.

      I hope that helps!

    • Roy Niswanger

      It’s just like using a primer…after you prime with a brush you can certainly top coat it but the top coat will reveal surface character of the primer coat. So like the admin said, sand with 400 grit sand paper (don’t worry about it “dulling”the sheen) you are after a smooth base to apply your top coat. Then if you apply the top coat and you still don’t like the texture, you can sand that with 400 (don’t go too aggressive)…best if you do 3 light top coats sanding in-between. The final coat can be left as-is or if you want to seal it with poly, then sand it too then I would use 50/50 poly/mineral spirits and wipe on 3-4 coats or if using a WB polycrylic, I would use a HVLP sprayer.


  • Karla

    Hi Kelsey, I’m working on painting my dining set, I’ve painted 2 of my chairs with a chalk paint Provence color but when I applied the Polycrilic it looks yellowish in parts. It seems to happen everytime I used Polycrilic. I’ve done a couple pieces and everytime the same thing happens. It’s a bit aggravating. Any idea why? I thought it was the first can I was using but I’m using a different one now and still does it. Is there a trick to applying it? I’m gonna be doing a couple of my chairs in white and I’m worried this will happen again. 🙁

    • Kelsey Elaine

      Hi Karla, This is actually really simple. The product your using is an oil based product. Oil based polyurethane “ambers” over time giving things a yellow tint. I’m guessing that you are seeing the yellowing effect more clearly and faster in areas where you have a lot of build up of product. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way you apply the paint. I’m actually surprised you can tell on such a vibrant color like Provence. Usually people really only notice on lighter colors like white and grey. Anyways, to fix the problem you need a different product. Look for a can of polycrylic (it used to by that polycrylic was generally water-based, but now companies are marketing their oil based poly’s with the same title) that also says that its water based. I use one of two brands usually – Minwax carries a great version. It’s in a blue can and it says right on the can: Minwax 63333 Satin Polycrylic Protective Finishes, 1 Quart

      I also like General Finishes waterbased polyacrylic: Poly/Acrylic Semi-Gloss, Quart

      I prefer General Finishes over Minwax, but they both work great and won’t yellow! Minwax offers a wipe-on version of the waterbased polycrylic but it’s not available in stores, you have to order it online.

      Hope that helps!