milk paint topcoats.

Welcome back for day 2 of milk paint madness week!

Today I’m going to share a bit of information about the various topcoats you can choose for your milk painted furniture, but I gotta say one could write an entire book about this stuff.  There are so many options out there!  I haven’t tried them all though, so I’m just going to scratch the surface on this topic (pardon the pun).  You may want to go grab a cup of coffee first, this is going to be a long one.  I’m going to list the finish options starting with least amount of protection/added durability and ending with the most durable finish.

going topless.

Before we get into the topcoats, what about not using a topcoat at all?  This is an option with milk paint.  It’s definitely not the most durable option and your milk paint won’t be especially water resistant or scrub-able, but if those factors aren’t important to you, you can go topless!  Without a top coat milk paint has a very matte finish.  I would probably never go without a topcoat on the darker colors, but I do like the look with white or other pale shades.

I didn’t use a topcoat on my Belgian bench.

I painted this piece back in July 2016.  We sit on it to put out shoes on, so it gets a fair amount of use.  The finish has definitely worn a bit more since I first painted it.  But if you’re a fan of the distressed, chippy look that’s a bonus.  The paint itself cures rock hard and won’t rub off on your skin or clothing.

hemp oil.

Hemp oil is one of my favorite topcoats over dark milk paint colors, especially black.  It’s all natural, has zero VOC’s and is solvent free.  Remember what I said yesterday about milk paint having similar qualities?  If you work with these things frequently, it’s important to think about not only the environment, but also your own health.  Homestead House, Miss Mustard Seed and The Real Milk Paint Co all sell an all natural hemp oil in their milk paint lines.

One thing to keep in mind when choosing a topcoat is that all topcoats may change up the color of milk paint to varying degrees.  Hemp oil will deepen the color quite a bit, that’s why it’s perfect for use over dark colors.  It works equally well over mid-tone or lighter colors, but you may want to experiment a bit to see how you like the color with the hemp oil topcoat.  Here you can see how much it changes up Sweet Pickins’ In a Pickle

I like to apply hemp oil with a cheap chip brush that I reserve especially for that purpose.  Once applied, I wipe off the excess with a clean cloth.  There is no buffing required with hemp oil.  Hemp oil dries to a matte finish with no sheen.

Your hemp oiled finish will be somewhat more water resistant and durable than if you went topless, but not as much so as the rest of the topcoat options.  Also, the hemp oil will wear away over time.  If you want to maintain that deep rich color you will have to reapply the hemp oil every year or two.

Here’s a q tip for you that’s just good to know, don’t use hemp oil on your leather goods.  According to The Real Milk Paint Co’s website:  ‘Because Hemp Oil is a drying oil it will soak into leather and dry. This will cause the leather to crack and prematurely destroy your leather goods. Repeated applications of Hemp Oil to leather will just speed of the destruction. Use oil products made to treat leather. These will protect your leather goods for the long term.’


Wax is another great topcoat for milk paint.  There are so many waxes on the market these days, I could probably write a week’s worth of posts just about wax.  I did write a post about how all waxes are not created equal back in January 2017 (read that here).  Based on the research that I did for that post there are some brands of wax that I won’t use anymore because of their harmful ingredients so be sure to read it for more info on that.

Wax comes in quite a few different colors these days too.  You can get clear, white, brown, grey and black.  Fusion even has some metallic furniture waxes available.

Clear wax will darken the color of your paint somewhat, but not as much as hemp oil.  Brown, grey and black waxes will deepen your paint color and add a tint of their own color to it, while white wax will lighten your color and add a bit of a whitewashed sort of look.

Here’s a great tip;  if you’ve never used colored wax, I highly recommend doing some experimenting with it before you apply it to a piece of furniture.  Paint an old board with your milk paint color, and then try the colored wax over it.  If the look is too dramatic for you, you can try applying clear wax first, then adding a colored wax over it.

I like to apply my wax with a wax brush.  I find it easier to get into the nooks & crannies with the wax.  Since I do a lot of waxing, I keep a separate wax brush for each color I use regularly.  That way I don’t have to clean them after every use.  I only clean them a couple of times a year (I probably shouldn’t admit that out loud).

  Once you’ve applied the wax using a circular motion, wipe away the excess with clean cloth in the direction of the grain.  After the wax dries for about 5 – 10 minutes you can go back and buff it with a clean cloth to get more shine if you want it, but I have to admit I rarely do that.

If you’ve struggled in the past with a waxed finish that ends up feeling tacky, you’ve likely used too much wax.  Keep switching to a section of clean cloth to wipe away excess wax until your surface feels smooth.  Once cured (after about 30 days) a properly waxed surface will feel smooth and silky.

Personally I love the look of a waxed finish.  It has a patina that appeals to me, not super shiny but not completely flat either.  A waxed finish is more durable than hemp oil, but still not really scrub-able.  It will resist liquids though, sort of like a freshly waxed car.  In addition, a waxed surface is pretty easy to ‘fix’ if it does get dinged up.  Just simply sand very lightly and re-wax that spot.  No need to touch up the entire surface.

Much like hemp oil, wax will wear away over time and to maintain water resistance you’ll want to reapply every year or two.  I’m not gonna lie though, I’ve yet to re-wax a single one of my waxed pieces.  But then durability is not something I really worry about in my household.  If you have small children it might be more important to you.

finishing cream.

The Real Milk Paint Co’s Finishing Cream is rapidly becoming one of my favorite topcoats for milk paint, especially for the lighter colors.  I’ve used the low sheen and the dead flat versions and I like them both.  This topcoat won’t change the color of your milk paint by much, if at all.  The low sheen adds just a minimal amount of shine and the dead flat is more matte.

You can apply this product with a rag, brush or damp sponge.  I usually go with a brush.  What I love about the finishing cream is that it’s very thick.  Sort of like the consistency of a body cream rather than a lotion.  Because of that you really don’t have to worry about runs (which seem to be a problem for me).  So far I have found this stuff to be pretty fool proof.  It also takes less effort and time than a hemp oil or waxed finish.  You just brush it on, no need to wipe away excess or buff.

After drying for 24 hours, a piece with this topcoat will be fully washable and more durable than hemp oil or wax.  You shouldn’t have to reapply the product unless your piece gets a lot of wear, in which case you can re-apply if necessary.  I used a finishing cream top coat on the nightstands in our bedroom to protect them from glasses of water left overnight.

One thing to note here, the Dead Flat version is not recommended for use over black or other dark colors.

tough coat.

Tough Coat Sealer is a non-yellowing, clear topcoat that is available under both the Miss Mustard Seed brand and the Fusion brand.  This product also will have a minimal effect on the color of your milk paint, although it may darken it just slightly.  It is considered a matte finish, but it gives a little bit more sheen than hemp oil or wax.  Please note, this topcoat is also not recommended for use over dark colors as it may look cloudy.

You can also apply the Tough Coat with a brush or sponge applicator, or just wipe it on with a lint free cloth.  The Tough Coat Sealer is more of a liquid than the finishing creams.  For that reason you want to be careful to watch for drips, especially on vertical surfaces like the sides of a dresser.  For more info on how to apply this product click here.

Tough Coat is very durable, and even more so if you apply two coats.  It’s a great choice for tabletops or other areas that will get a lot of wear.

stain and finishing oil.

Homestead House Stain & Finishing Oil All is made from safflower oil, tung oil, linseed oil, vegetable wax, safe odourless mineral solvent and cobalt free siccative which means effective drying without toxic cobalt dryers.  Initially I assumed this product was just meant for use over bare wood as a stain and sealer in one.  I never would have thought to use it over milk paint until I saw it done by someone else.

You might have noticed that both of the more durable topcoats I’ve mentioned so far, Finishing Cream and Tough Coat Sealer, are not recommended for use over dark colors.  There is some sort of science-y reason for that and it has to do with the matte finish which can look cloudy or spotty over dark colors.  For that reason I tend to use either hemp oil or one of the dark colored waxes over dark colors.  However, if you are looking for a more durable option that works great over dark colors, the Stain & Finishing oil is perfect for that.

This product comes in a selection of colors (see them here), the natural option will have the least impact on your milk paint color while the Cappucino will darken up your color quite a bit.  Multiple coats of SFO will increase durability, but also increase the color it adds to your piece.

I used one coat of the Cappucino SFO over black milk paint on this desk and got great results.

Refer back to that post for much more detail on how to use SFO over milk paint.

And that brings us to the fun part, today’s prize!

Includes: four colors of milk paint, Homestead House Stain & Finishing Oil in Cappucino, The Real Milk Paint Co’s Dead Flat Finishing Cream, Miss Mustard Seed’s Antiquing Wax, a Miss Mustard Seed waxing brush and a paint brush.  Thank you to Homestead House, Miss Mustard Seed and The Real Milk Paint Co for providing items for today’s giveaway. 

The basic rules:  to be eligible to win today’s prize leave a comment on this blog post telling me what your favorite topcoat is (or maybe you prefer topless!).  Your comment must be left on the blog, not on Facebook.  You are not required to follow my blog, although it would be awesome if you did!

Normally I make a point of answering every comment left on my blog.  If someone takes the time to leave a comment, I like to acknowledge that.  But I usually only get 10 to 20 comments so it’s easy to fulfill that promise.  But I’m guessing that I’ll get many more comments on these posts so I’m going to warn you up front that I won’t be answering each one.  That helps make it easier for me when it’s time to pick a winner too, so I hope you guys will cut me some slack on that this week.

I will randomly draw the name of a winner for today’s prize from all of the comments left on this post by Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the stroke of midnight.  You are eligible to win each day, so if you leave a comment on each day’s post, your name is eligible to be drawn for each prize.

The fine print: no purchase necessary, you must be 18 years of age or older to win, void where prohibited by law, the number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning, approximate retail value of prize is $150, if the prize is not claimed by Friday, April 13, another name will be drawn at random to win, blah, blah, blah.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next segment of milk paint madness, and in the meantime remember to pin today’s post for future reference.

142 thoughts on “milk paint topcoats.

  1. Thanks for all the great info. I have used mostly waxes and hemp oil but would love to try the finishing cream (which btw is difficult to find in my area).Will use topcoat next time on nightstands though!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome post, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I will have to try finishing cream! Homestead House’s waxes and SFO are currently my faves. 👌🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You did an excellent job explaining all the different options, but if I paint my dresser, I am just going to ask you how I should finish it 🙂


    1. It counts as a wax, but it is one of the brands that you should use with caution. The ‘original version’ does contain cancer causing ingredients. They also have a Toulene Free version, but I have not tried that one and don’t know much about the safety of its ingredients.


  4. Love, love,love your posts. And loving this week’s posts. Finding them really helpful. Only snag is I’m in the UK and some of the products are difficult to find here!!


    1. Yeah, that is problematic. I know there are some Fusion & Miss Mustard Seed retailers in the UK, but I’m not sure about the other brands. But then, on the plus side you get to live in the UK which has to be pretty cool and more than make up for it 😉


  5. Thanks so much for your posts. I feel empowered to start some of these projects I have been too timid to attack. I think the tough coat is the topcoat I am going to use the most because I find coffee cups ALL OVER my house and those cup rings are very unattractive!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well I guess I’ve used topless lol
    And no wax on them girls…lol
    Great information on day 1 and 2
    Thank you linda for giving excellent instructions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for all the great info! I have used MMS clear and white wax-love both. I’ve also tried the hemp oil on both raw wood and over milk paint. Hemp oil really gives a beautiful rich look to the finish. Have not yet tried the Topcoat but I have an upcoming server table project that I think it would be perfect for the top.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I want to try the homestead stain so bad!!! I think it might be perfect for my dining table I want to refinish!! Thanks for this weeks instructions, it’s great!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are wonderful to share your experience. Have used light and dark wax and the hemp oil. My experience with Top Coat did not turn out as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops forgot to mention that I have only used Annie Sloan wax in clear and dark (often combining the two), but I have not yet had the opportunity to use any of the products you mention in this post. I’m very curious to use them.


  10. So much great information! I have used wax and don’t love it (but I’ve only ever used Annie Sloan wax) and hemp oil, which is great, but like you said, not super durable. I guess I’m still looking for my favorite topcoat! I have a can of Homestead House Stain and Finishing Oil, I’ve just been waiting for better weather so I can prep my piece. I’m so ready for winter to be over!


  11. Loved getting your input, great article!!! I have tried hemp oil and since i paint more with chalk paint i usually use annie sloans clear wax with everything. Now i know and can’t wait to try your suggestions!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Another terrific post, full of useful information! I really am looking forward to trying a milk paint project now. I know this post is about sealers for milk paint, but do you think Finishing Cream or Tough Coat Sealer would work on white semi-gloss latex? I am re-finishing a desk for my daughter and don’t know what to do about a top coat. The desk will take some beating – and I don’t want the paint to yellow from a top coat.

    Thank you,


    1. It has been so long since I’ve painted with latex, and even when I did I never used a top coat over it so I can’t really give an opinion on that.


  13. I was looking forward to this series and wouldn’t you know yesterday we had internet issues all day. So much in fact we went to AT & T and are trying out their new service. I have a couple different waxes and other types of topcoats here and get stuck because I have too many choices in front of me. Thank you for taking the time to explain the different options so completely. I think I am going to try a colored wax on my side table after reading your description. I also was have read a lot on application and I think your qtips are a great addition to this article. Now I need to go read yesterdays post, where I should have started.


  14. I much prefer products that let me go “topless” ha! I have minimal experience and have used clear as well as antiquing wax. I guess my favorite has been the antiquing wax since it gives some dimension. So, I don’t know if this has ever crossed your mind, but there are a lot of design books out there that are a compilation of blog posts. You certainly have the content, information and pictures for an amazing one…just a thought! I can see it…”Quandify: the art of scouting, upgrading and re-imagining your vintage treasures.”


  15. Thank you. I’ll have to try the SFO. I’ve used MMS hemp oil & really liked it. But like another commenter, the humidity here (Arkansas) makes wax seem a little risky sometimes. I have used Johnson’s wax but never again, thanks for the info.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I would definately prefer a more durable finish. You information is so helpful. Totally enjoying learning about all these products.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. So far, my favorite I’ve used is Miss Mustard Seed’s clear and dark wax. I paint mostly white furniture and frames, so this works well for me and leaves a silky soft finish. I have recently bought a few of the others from Homestead House and Fusion and will be trying them.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve never used milk paint, so I also haven’t tried a finishing method, but the finishing cream sounds like something that would be the easiest for me to try.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Miss Mustard Seed furniture wax is my go to wax. Goes on like butta! I used the tough cost on a very chippy piece but it’s too shiny unless I have to use it. I need to try the finishing cream.


    1. The finishing cream is also shinier than wax, FYI. Even though both the Tough Coat and the Dead Flat finishing cream are called flat or matte, I agree with you that they are still a little shinier than I like. They are more durable though. Everything in life is a trade off, right?


  20. Thank you so much for the very informative series. It is so nice to see a revival of milk paint. I think the finishing cream would be a good option for me. Keep exploring your creativity, it is inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This is very well written and comprehensive, appreciate this in one article! I have used hemp oil and clear wax. You have inspired me to use the dead flat finishing cream. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I have been a fan of the hemp oil finish as wax is not as durable in Florida. I have not tried the finishing cream or SFO so I may have to give those a try.


    1. I have heard that a waxed finish may not hold up well in a hot climate. Of course, the 9″ of snow that we got here in Minnesota yesterday proves that I do not live in a hot climate so wax holds up just fine 😉


  23. I used some sort of sealer as a top coat..I wanted to use wax but I was afraid that one day if I wanted to paint the item a different colour that I wouldn’t be able to paint over a wax finish..can you elaborate on that?


    1. I’m sharing this info in tomorrow’s post too, but I won’t make you wait for it 😉 You can paint over a waxed surface after the wax is cured. Wax takes about 30 days to cure. So no worries. Unless you change your mind about color more frequently than every 30 days 😉


  24. I love using wax as a top coat. I like the smooth feel of the price after it has been waxed and the depth it gives to the color. After reading your post I’m thinking of giving hemp oil a try. Thank you for all the helpful tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Another great informative post! I have only used water based clear acrylic over painted furniture and hemp oil on stained pieces. I haven’t tried any of these brands but they look interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Hemp oil and Wax have been my go to options, but I keep watching the success you have with Dead Flat’s Finishing Cream. I think it will be a great option for some light colors of milk paint I want to use! Love, Love Love this blog!


    1. Thanks so much Sharon! And I do like the Dead Flat as an option over white or light colored milk paint. I like that it doesn’t change up the color much, and provides a more durable finish than hemp oil or wax.


  27. Such great information. Very helpful in explaining some of my failures!! At least now I know what I did wrong. I will be referring back to this post often!!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. My preferred topcoat is hemp oil over most milk painted pieces, because I love the look, and it’s just easier for me to use. But I’ll put multiple coats of wax over table tops, etc. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge with these posts. It’s appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I have used Annie Sloan clear wax and it was a bear to buff out evenly. I just purchased some Amy Howard for my husband but we were using it to set her “dust of ages” product so don’t really know how it works on furniture as of yet. This was an amazing compliationof info. Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge.


    1. That Annie Sloan wax is a bear to buff. That being said, I do think you can get more shine out of it than you can out of some of the other waxes. I’ve never been able to find any definitive info on the ingredients in the Annie Sloan wax, but the small of it makes me wonder whether it contains those aromatic hydrocarbons (which add more shine and durability to a wax, but are cancer causing). I’m not familiar with the Amy Howard wax at all.


  30. Holy cow, who knew there were so many different finishes out there? I’ve used Annie Sloan wax, but am not a big fan. I’ve used hemp oil to beautify wood, (it’s like a miracle treatment!), but haven’t tried it over paint. My usual go-to is polyurethane satin, just because I didn’t know any better! Would love, love, LOVE to try some of these New-to-Me products. As always, love the inspiration and information you provide!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. So far my favorite top coat is the Sweet Pickins liquid Wax. I have a container of the Fusion Beeswax that I’m dying to try. And just added several more to my ever growing list with your great information. Thanks so much!


  32. I’ve not had the chance to use milk paint yet. I’ve mainly used various chalk paints but love the look of milk paint. I’d love to have the chance! With chalk paint I use Varathane Soft-Touch poly because of the durability, soft feel, and the soft glow of the matte that is similar to wax. I love the feel and look of wax but don’t like the buffing or need to re-apply. I’d love to try the H.H. SFO!


  33. I have not tried Milk Paint yet, hoping to win some to get me started. Thus I truly have no opinion on the top coat!❤️ Your topless comment 😆


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