What Polyurethane Should I Use to Protect Painted Kitchen Cabinets?


You do not need to apply a polyurethane finish to painted kitchen cabinets if you've used a durable paint. If you chose a less durable paint, a clear polyurethane topcoat can help prolong its life by protecting it from premature wear. Unfortunately, not all polyurethane finishes are suited for all types of paint. Learn which paints require a polyurethane finish and which do not. Choose the correct type of poly, or finish failure could result.

Durable Paints

  • High-sheen paints, such as gloss latex and acrylic enamel, are stain-resistant and durable enough to withstand duress. If you've painted your cabinets with one of these types of coatings, you do not need to add a polyurethane finish. If you painted your cabinets with a low-sheen flat, eggshell or satin latex paint, you can add a polyurethane topcoat to protect the finish from stains and fading.

Solvent-Based Polyurethane

  • Solvent-based polyurethane is suited for cabinets coated with oil-based paint. It is not suited for cabinets coated with water-based flat, eggshell or satin latex paint. if you apply a solvent-based polyurethane over a water-based finish, potential adhesion problems could lead to flaking. Because solvent-based polyurethane is less flexible than water-based undercoats, cracking can sometimes occur. For best results, use solvent-based polyurethane with oil-based finishes.

Water-based Polyurethane

  • Water-based polyurethane is well-suited for low-sheen flat, eggshell or satin latex paint. If you painted your cabinets with any of these paints, apply a water-based poly over the top to prolong the life of the finish. Do not apply water-based polyurethane over the top of gloss latex and acrylic enamel. Not only is this unnecessary, but the high sheen is likely to prevent the poly from properly adhering.


  • Choose the proper paintbrush when applying polyurethane. Use a natural-bristle paintbrush when working with solvent-based poly; use a synthetic brush to apply water-based polyurethane. Though you can use a synthetic nylon-bristle paintbrush to apply a water-based poly, a polyester-bristle brush will provide slicker, more attractive results.

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