Asking seriously/ELI5 - why do we have to seal painted furniture?

by Joffler
I know this is a crazy question and I suppose I should know better but 10 years ago I bought used furniture to furnish a couple empty bedrooms for foster kids (during Katrina we signed up to foster a family and then decided to foster children). I stripped the pieces and painted them and didn't seal them with anything. All these years later, they've held up really well to kids and have a great rustic patina--just like the fake kind everybody paints and distresses to achieve. Now we have a daughter of our own and we're transitioning to the "big girl" bedroom. I've acquired some excellent pieces we're going to chalk paint (since it's trendy) and have been reading up the pros and cons of wax seal versus poly seal, but I'm left wondering why we have to do that since all the unsealed painted furniture has held up so well. All her nursery & toddler furniture was stripped and painted to suit and left unsealed and they're in wonderful shape, look great and feel great to the touch--not slick but woodsy. So why do we have to seal painted furniture (ELI5 - 'explain like I'm 5)? Thanks in advance for your responses.
  15 answers
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Sep 22, 2015
    Honestly after reading the pros and cons myself I think it is wise to put a wax coating on the furniture. Chalk paint has a different consistency.
    • Joffler Joffler on Sep 22, 2015
      @Janet Pizaro Thanks Janet. I hadn't considered that chalk paint has a different consistency. We have a chalk painted sideboard that's quite nice and sealed in wax, which means we'll have to re-wax once a year since it only serves as a decorative piece. From what I've read, polycrylics are more practical for high use chalk painted surfaces because it's more durable and wax will require re-application. I guess your insight will help me consider whether chalk paint is the way to go or not.
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Sep 22, 2015
    good luck with your project. Im sure it will be beautiful.
  • @Joffler chalk paints need to be sealed. They are nothing like what your other pieces are painted in. Which is more than likely latex paint. I refinish furniture and don't use clear wax to seal my pieces. It doesn't hold up to daily use from kids. I'd suggest buying a water based top coat. I use Polyvine. I get it on Etsy. The store is 'Brass Tacks Vintage'. It's the 'Dead Flat wax finish varnish'.
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    • Joffler Joffler on Sep 22, 2015
      @Stephanie Coon/Rehab to Fab Thank you for your response. I think I'm leaning toward poly but was curious about why sealing is required. I will definitely seal the major pieces - mostly because my wife will demand it - but i'm going to experiment and leave one smaller but equally relevant piece unsealed and see how that does.
  • Somewhat Quirky Somewhat Quirky on Sep 22, 2015
    The furniture that you painted years ago was likely a latex paint which is designed not to be sealed. Sometimes people seal over that because latex tends to chip and peal. If you used an oil based paint, they don't need to be sealed either. Oil based paint tends to wear over time in the same manner we now distress the new chalk based paints. The reason they need to be sealed is because they don't have the built in sealing properties. But the lack of these properties is what gives them the ease of use - no sanding, quick drying, easy to sand, easy to distress - and the more natural look that they are famous for. Personally, I prefer the look of a wax finish. Practically, I prefer wax because if the piece becomes damaged somehow - watermarks, etc - I can spot repair it by cleaning with mineral spirits,and waxing. With poly finishes you can't do that. Also, you don't have to wait for 10 years to get a distressed look!
  • Joffler Joffler on Sep 22, 2015
    Thanks for your response. That's a great point about latex. But that prompts the question about what type of paint is supposed to be used when making your own chalk paint because aren't most of the common big box store paints latex? Or am I wrong about that? I've seen a variety of blogs with "recipes" for chalk and chalk-like paints and latex paints are part of the mix. Sorry, not trying to be argumentative. Just trying to understand the reason behind sealing.
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Sep 22, 2015
    hometalk has a whole section of info for chalk paint .
  • Shari Shari on Sep 22, 2015
    I started painting furniture about 8 years ago--before the chalk paint craze so the majority of my painted furniture pieces are done in interior latex paint (usually satin or semi-gloss finish) and I don't top coat them either. I rarely ever have problems with chipping and if something should get a nick or ding, it's easy enough to touch it up with dab of paint if it isn't top coated. I have done a couple pieces in chalk paint but personally, I'm not a chalk paint fan, at all. Latex paint will always be my #1 choice for painting furniture. There are 3 main reasons why using wax or some type of top coat is recommended over chalk paint. First, chalk paint usually distresses quite easily. Some brands say you don't even need to sand, you can just distress with a damp paper towel or rag. If it will rub off that easily, it isn't going to last without something protecting it. (Suppose your daughter spills a glass of water on her night stand that has been painted in chalk paint but not sealed. When you wipe up the water, it is possible you might just take some or all of the paint with it!) Secondly, chalk paint is very porous. It will absorb stains if it is not protected. And finally, chalk paint has a flat, matte finish. In order to give it a nice luster or sheen, waxing or top coating is necessary. Even homemade chalk paints made with latex paint come out looking flat (no sheen) due to the baking soda, unsanded grout, plaster of paris or calcium carbonate that are part of the *recipe.*
  • Sherrie Sherrie on Sep 23, 2015
    No you don't have to the main thing is to let it cure. I also think it depends what sheen you use. If it is a flat sheen I will seal. I always seal the tops of everything. But I a lot of flat paints and chalk paints. I use a flat sealer. If this is for a child I would let the paint set for awhile before I would stick it in their room.
  • Betty Farnsworth Betty Farnsworth on Sep 23, 2015
    It's not a crazy question. I have wondered too. There are no dumb questions just ones waiting to be asked, usually by many people.
  • Joffler Joffler on Sep 23, 2015
    Thank you.
  • Joffler Joffler on Sep 23, 2015
    Thanks Sherrie!
  • Sarah A. Victory Sarah A. Victory on Sep 23, 2015
    I am a big (Google It) person---if you have a computer. Also--(YOU TUBE) has lots of free videos on almost anything you choose to do. Also, I just saw on this Page where Hometalk has a guide to--Painting Wooden Furniture. All that being said--I did some chalk painting on an old mahogney table top and after distressing it a bit w/a sanding sponge I used the dark wax (because it was suggested) to seal and protect the table top. It was flat paint so it gives it a bit of a sheen, also. Hope this helps!
  • Joffler Joffler on Sep 24, 2015
    Good point. Thanks.
  • Rebecca Bender Rebecca Bender on Sep 29, 2015
    I just read an article about wood furniture and it said that wood dries out in winter months from heat in your home and if left unprotected can crack and brake. Wood furniture that is protected and sealed dries slower!
  • Joffler Joffler on Sep 29, 2015
    Thanks Sarah. I did some googling and all I could find was advise on sealing and I just wondered why when none of the previous furniture I'd painted was suffering at all without a seal. Perhaps it's just that chalk paint is different, though not sure because it just has an additive so it's not fundamentally different--at least not if it's homemade, which is the route I'm going because no way I'm paying $137 for a gallon of ASCP. I know it's sold by the quart but once you have to buy 4 quarts...fuggedaboutit. That's just cray--at least in my world. But I'm going to seal the major piece and test another small piece without sealing and see how it fares.