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Best Polyurethane for Kitchen Cabinets

When it comes to decorative pieces of furniture, there’s nothing like a good clear topcoat to make it pop out and protect it from dull aging. So, it is good to have extra protection to keep them beautiful and functioning for a long time.

Using a good polyurethane for kitchen cabinets is a simple and effective means of preventing the wood from deteriorating over time due to use, weather, and simply age.

Luckily, there are plenty of choices out there that provide long-lasting protection and shine for wood. They also outdo oils and wood stains in both protection and making your cabinets stand out.

Best 5 Polyurethanes for Kitchen Cabinets in 2021:

As technology and the discovery of new ways to create materials continually grow, we have seen the emergence of the best polyurethane clear coat for kitchen cabinets. In this list, we will look at the options available to you.

1. General Finishes High-Performance Water Based Topcoat

First on this list is a well-known and loved polyurethane topcoat. The finish of this clear coat is extremely hard, which makes it durable and scratch proof. It also keeps the wood from drying out, so they stay looking good for a long time.

As a water-based topcoat, your wood surfaces will have a glossy shine and will retain the natural grain and sheen of the wood.

Aside from the topcoat, it also helps protect the wood from UV light, which is known to dull the color and fade the stains on wood surfaces. It coats the surface with a protective film that reflects these harmful rays and keeps them away.

These work well on kitchen cabinets and wood surfaces. If you have hardwood floors, this topcoat can also be used to keep them from scratches and spills.

When using this, you will notice that this will not have a lot of odor, so you don’t need to worry about any unnecessary smells after using this product. This topcoat is so good that it dries as fast as 1 to 2 hours.

Special Features
  • Well-known brand
  • Water-based topcoat leaves a glossy shine
  • Makes surfaces scratch resistant
  • Low odor and non-flammable

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2. INSL-X CC550109A-01 Cabinet Coat Enamel

If you are looking for something that is specifically made for kitchen cabinets, this one is worth your consideration. This water-based topcoat will provide protection as well as a factory-like finish on your wood surfaces.

They created the formula to adhere to any surface, even on hard-to-coat ones, so that you give new life and protection against scratches for your cabinets, shelving, and any type of furniture.

A gallon of this will cover about 350 to 400 square feet of space, which is plenty and can save you a lot of money, making this a great value purchase.

The satin white finish is ideal for wood surfaces that have faded or if you simply want to paint over old furnishings for a fresh and clean look.

For best results, sand down any imperfections and clean the surface before applying a high-quality primer on the wood you want to coat. Then use a good quality roller and wait 6 hours in between coats.

After coating, the wood surfaces will have a stain-resistant and durable finish that will last for years.

Special Features
  • Provides even coat and a nice finish
  • Covers a lot of space per gallon
  • No odor
  • Offers ample protection for wood surfaces

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3. Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish Water Based

This product is for someone who wants to preserve the natural beauty of the wood grain of their cabinets and furniture.

If your kitchen cabinets, doors, and other woodwork have wood grain you want to showcase, then this coat will help that. The protective finish imparts a clean and durable film that will protect the wood from scratches.

When using this product, make sure to plan out the surfaces you want to coat because it will dry fast and in as little as one to two hours. The surface coat will be hard and glossy when dried. This helps prevent damage to the wood as well as keep it from drying out.

You don’t need to worry about the cleanup after using this because, as a water-based coat, you just need to use soap and water to remove any unwanted coat on the surfaces.

To apply this, it is best to use a high-quality roller or brush because spraying this will leave uneven surfaces and even bubbles, which can be unsightly if not removed.

Best of all, this will not yellow over time, which means your surfaces will look great and be protected for a long time.

Special Features
  • Dries fast for faster coating
  • Low to no odor
  • Water-based and easy to clean
  • Hardens well and doesn’t turn yellow

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4. Varathane Rust-Oleum Water-Based Polyurethane

Not all polyurethane topcoats are made equal. There are variations to each product, and there are some which stand out. This one is something worth your consideration when looking for the best finish for kitchen cabinets.

This is a topcoat that will provide a glossy finish to your wood surfaces. It acts as a protectant from scratches and also seals the wood so that it won’t dry for a long time.

The finish is transparent and helps in emphasizing the wood grain. If you are the person who likes to see the natural wood grain on their kitchen cabinets, furniture, or other wooden surfaces, then this one will be your favorite.

Having a gloss finish gives a polished and clean look to the surfaces it is applied on. Not only that, but it also keeps it from scratch and protects from external stains.

When applying this, you will only need 30 minutes for it to be dry to the touch. For the best results, you’ll have to wait for 2 hours for the second coating.

Special Features
  • Low odor when applying and when dry
  • Protects from scratches and stains
  • Clear coat finish
  • Fast-drying formula

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5. Watco Lacquer Clear Wood Finish

The last product on this review is an oil-based lacquer finish, which is ideal for kitchen cabinets, furniture pieces, paneling, and any indoor wood surfaces.

As a lacquer finish, it is formulated to have a clearer finish than polyurethane. It dries to a crystal-clear coat that protects the wood from scratches. The clear glossy finish will not turn yellow over time.

It has a traditional feel and consistency that experienced professionals can appreciate. The familiar hard drying and curing may need a little more attention than its water-based counterparts. But the results will be satisfactory if properly attended to.

You will not need any wood filler as the oil-based formula seeps in the wood. This also eliminates the need to sand in-between coats so that the job can be finished faster and more efficiently. In as little as 30 minutes, this dries up to the touch, and you can apply a second coating after an hour.

Make sure to use this on indoor furniture and wood surfaces. This is not recommended for outdoor use.

Special Features
  • Dries quickly
  • Has a traditional feel and finish
  • No need for wood filler
  • Scratchproof

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Type of Clear Coat You Need to Use on Kitchen Cabinets

Essentially, you have a choice between a water-based and an oil-based finish. 

Water-based finishes tend to be hard and don’t turn yellow over time, unlike most oil-based finishes. When dried, water-based finishes become crystal clear on all the coated surfaces.

Almost all the modern furniture use water-based finishes to emphasize the grain and beauty of the natural wood without adding any color over the finish.

On the other hand, oil-based finishes have a more vintage appeal to them. One thing you will notice when using this is the glossier character of the coat. It also has a tougher exterior compared to a water-based coating, but it should suffice to say that it’s just a marginal difference.

Oil-based finishes darken the finish a little bit and tend to yellow over a period of time. Some people like this because it gives the wood an antique vibe.

What to Look for the Best Polyurethane for Kitchen Cabinets:

When using a polyurethane finish on your kitchen cabinets, you will need to consider a few things. These can seal or break the deal for you, so you have to take these into serious considerations before going out and purchasing any finish for your kitchen cabinets.


There are various price ranges for polyurethane finishes. The most well-known brands tend to have a steeper price than lesser and newcomers in the market.

The best way to find what fits your budget is to ask around and see which one works well for you and which gives the effect you want to achieve.

Color of the Gloss

While most polyurethane finishes have a transparent coat, you might be interested in colored finishes. There are many options around, so it’s a good idea to pick and choose the one that fits your taste.

Some will suggest using a clear topcoat if the wood surfaces you’re finishing have good grains on it, but it still depends on your preference. Choose the one that you will feel most comfortable and happy with.


Most polyurethane finishes have a thick and durable coating, which makes them all easy to clean up when dried. Make sure to ask your contractor or see how you can make your coat easy to clean afterward.

Take also into consideration if you are going the DIY route or getting a professional to do the job. If you’re going to DIY the project, gather as much information as you need, and if you’re going with a professional, talk to them about the end result you have in mind and let them recommend what they think is best.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Many Coats of Polyurethane are Needed for Kitchen Cabinets?

Ideally, at the bare minimum, you will need to put at least two to three coats of the polyurethane finish. This will help seal any moisture in the wood as well as protect it from outside moisture from humidity.

The duration of the effectiveness depends on the number of layers and coatings you put there, so the more layers, the longer the time it will be protected.

2. Can I Clear-Coat Previously Painted Kitchen Cabinets?

Yes. As a matter of fact, putting a clear topcoat on painted cabinets is always recommended as it further protects it from damage due to scratches or any form of misuse. Of course, these topcoats will still be dented, but it will provide ample protection for a long time with proper care.

However, if you plan on repainting the cabinets every year, it is probably not a good idea to give them a topcoat. This will help you easily strip the old paint to give way to the new one.

3. Will Polyurethane Keep the Paint from Chipping?

Yes. As a topcoat, it envelopes the paint with a durable film, and that also depends on how many coats you apply to it. So, if you want more protection for a longer time, ideally, you will want to coat the painted surface two or three times.

Paint chipping may be caused by drying out due to exposure to sunlight or just uneven sealing of the wood. A proper topcoat with UV protection properties or just a good coating job will do a lot to save the wood as well as prevent paint chipping.

4. What if I Want a Matte Finish on My Cabinets?

There are many finish options available from super-glossy to a matte finish, so you don’t need to worry about that. Find the finish you want and go with that.

5. Which is Better Between a Water-Based and Oil-Based Finish?

Choosing between the two is not difficult because it all boils down to your preference. If you want the wood to stand out, use a water-based finish. And if you want something leaning to the classic design, an oil-based finish will fit your tastes.


While most people dismiss the importance of the coating of wood surfaces, applying it to your cabinets will make a huge difference in your home. Using the best polyurethane finish for kitchen cabinets is also a big factor in achieving a good look as well as keeping them looking amazing for a long time.