Top coats are essential to the painted countertop because they prevent staining, scratching, and denting and create a smooth, finished look. Whether you choose an oil-based finish, a water-based finish, or an epoxy resin, you’ll find that adding a topcoat to your countertop offers worthwhile protection.
The best protective top coats for painted countertops are oil-based finish, a water-based finish, and an epoxy resin. However, it is essential to consider the kind of countertops you have, what kind of material is your countertop made of, and what look you want to achieve.
This article will review the best protective top coats for painted countertops on the market, comparing and contrasting features, and detailing what to look for in a top coat for a painted countertop.
Table of Contents
Best Top Coats for Countertops (Comparison)
|General Finishes High Performance Water Based TopCoat||Water-based polyurethane||Durable |
|Minwax 6300 Fast Drying Polyurethane Clear Finish||Oil-based polyurethane||Fast-drying|
|Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finishes||Water-based polyurethane||Fast-drying|
|Rust-Oleum Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane||Water-based polyurethane||Fast-drying|
|ProMarine Epoxy Resin||Epoxy Resin||Water-resistant|
|East Coast Crystal Clear Epoxy Resin||Epoxy Resin||Water-resistant|
|MAS Table Top Pro||Epoxy Resin||Suitable for any surface|
|Giani Granite Countertop Paint Kit||Water-based polyurethane||Comes with a DIY painting kit|
|Nuvo Driftwood Cabinet Paint – 1 Day DIY Finishing||Water-based polyurethane||Comes with a DIY painting kit|
Covers laminate, wood, primed, or metal surfaces
|Rust-Oleum Countertop Transformer||Water-based polyurethane||Comes with a DIY painting kit|
|Majic Paints Diamond-Hard Acrylic Enamel||Water-based polyurethane||Low-odor|
All-purpose (multi surface)
|Giani Granite IronCore TopCoat||Water-based polyurethane||Low-odor|
How to Choose Between Different Types of Top Coats
Whether you use water-based finish, oil-based finish, or an epoxy resin is mainly up to your preferences. However, it does matter whether your pre-existing paint is oil-based or water-based. If your paint is oil-based, then applying an epoxy resin can damage the surface unless you first use a water-based clear coat.
Water-based polyurethane, or finish, oil-based polyurethane, and epoxy resin products have many similarities, but you should consider key differences before making your choice.
There are many topcoats on the market sold for use on countertops, or more generally for interior furniture. Listed in the next sections are twelve of the best primers currently available, sorted into water-based, oil-based and epoxy resin categories.
Water-based polyurethane dries faster than an oil-based top coat. A water-based finish is your best choice if you want a clear, non-reflective coating. They typically dry very smoothly, and do not sink into irregularities in either wood or other textured surfaces.
Water-based finishes tend to have very little odor compared with oil-based finishes, and are very easy to clean. You can use soap and water on surfaces treated with a water-based finish without worrying about losing shine, damaging the surface, or wearing away the top coating.
A water-based topcoat is safe to use on a painted countertop whether the existing paint is oil-based or water-based, and will not change color or tint over time. For this reason, water-based finishes are among the most popular and highly rated products, because they tend to best retain the look of the original paint color and are quite versatile.
1. General Finishes Water Based Top Coat
The General Finishes’ top coat is a long-lasting coat that protects the surface from being altered by sunlight. Without protection, sunlight can cause wear, turn the surface of your countertop yellow, or cause the color to fade. This top coat also protects surfaces from staining.
This option is durable enough to coat floors and lasts a long time, but does not work well with white paint. White or light-colored paints are more likely to turn yellow, and even though this coating is water-based and protective, the manufacturer warns against use in such cases.
This water-based top coat comes in glossy, semi-glossy, satin, and matte, and can be bought by the pint, quart, gallon, or five-gallon container.
This finish dries in only one to two hours, making it among the fastest-drying coatings. That means that you can go from painting to resuming your regular kitchen or bathroom activities within the course of a day.
2. Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finishes
This water-based finish dries fast and has virtually no odor, and though it won’t yellow on its own, may yellow if coated over paint. Made for interior furniture and countertops, you’ll want to make sure to keep this finish on surfaces that require less durability, although the product is made to last when used in the settings it was designed for.
This finish is available in satin, matte, glossy, or semi-glossy and can be bought as a half pint, quart, or gallon. It dries within two hours, making it one of the fastest-drying formulas on the market.
The Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish works great on light woods like maple, ash, and birch, as well as wood stains. Because it is water-based, it can transform wood furniture into pieces that are easily cleaned with soap and water.
3. Rust-Oleum Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane
The water-based Rust-Oleum Varathane Polyurethane finish is designed to protect painted countertops and interior furniture from stains and scratches. It dries quickly and has a shine that pairs well with finished or unfinished wood, making these surfaces look more natural than they ordinarily would with a water-based coating.
This finish comes in matte, glossy, satin, semi-glossy, and can be brought as a gallon or a quart. One coat dries within one hour, and you’ll need to recoat the surface after two hours.
4. Nuvo Driftwood Cabinet Paint – 1 Day DIY
This water-based paint kit can cover about 100 square feet of counter space and works much like the Giani Countertop Paint Kit. It is low-odor and includes an acrylic paint that acts as a three-in-one primer, color, and top coat. This can be used on laminate, primed surfaces, or wood and has a satin finish.
This kit requires little preparation and can be used without detaching cabinet doors or stripping, priming the surface.
5. Rust-Oleum Countertop Transformer
The water-based Rust-Oleum Countertop Transformer is another paint kit designed to make your countertop look like granite. It comes in both a small kit, which covers 30 square feet, and a large kit, which covers 50 square feet, and it comes in four natural stone colors.
This paint kit is ideal for both the kitchen and the bathroom and results in a durable surface that lasts for years.
6. Majic Paints Diamond-Hard Acrylic Enamel
This enamel is water-based and made to cover any of the following surfaces, making it one of the most versatile top coats on the market:
It can be used on any kind of indoor furniture and is odor-free and non-flammable. This enamel has a shiny finish and comes in Satin Black and Satin White.
7. Giani Countertop Paint Kit
This water-based paint kit is made to make your countertop look like granite and includes a water-based top coat made to mesh well with the paint in the kit. This variety is low-odor and covers up to 35 square feet of surface area.
This product takes sixteen hours to dry and fourteen days to set before the counter can be used normally again. Once in place, it is easy to clean with soap and water.
This paint kit is available in five natural colors that can match a wide range of decors, with a high gloss finish.
8. Giani Granite IronCore Top Coat
This highly diverse primer can be used on wood, marble, tile, or laminate, and just 12 ounces can cover 35 square feet of space. It has little odor and dries within eight hours, plus it is easily applicable with an attached roller. This top coat dries within eight hours, providing a glossy finish.
Oil-based top coats sink deeply into wood surfaces and other textured countertops, and so highlight every detail of the unevenness. Some people choose oil-based finishes for this reason, because they want to show the grains of wood or stone texture that give a piece of furniture character.
Oil-based finishes last a long time and are very shiny, but can present a problem on countertops painted with a light color. Although an oil-based paint can be applied on top of a water-based or oil-based paint, it can change the color of the underlying paint over time. Typically, the coating will turn a yellow-amber color over time due to heat exposure or the collection of moisture.
Exposure to sunlight can actually decrease the chance that an oil-based finish will darken over time. Typically, you would see this darkening happening unevenly, with areas of darker color near or underneath appliances. This change in color does not mean that the finish is less effective at protecting the countertop, but can be visually unappealing.
However, this darkening is much less visible on countertops already painted with a dark color, and so the amber effect is not always a major deterrent.
1. Miniwax Fast Drying Polyurethane
This Miniwax top coat is ideal for use with interior surfaces, including countertops, and works on wood surfaces, whether they are finished or not. It dries quickly and protects from stains and dents.
This oil-based top coat comes in satin, glossy, and semi-glossy, and can be bought by the half-pint, quart, gallon, or 2.5-gallon container.
Epoxy resin is a plastic-like mixture that pours on as a liquid and hardens onto a surface, much like water or oil-based coat. They tend to be more reflective than clear. However, unless you first apply a water-based clear coat, an epoxy resin can damage surfaces that are painted with an oil-based paint.
Some epoxies are more resistant than others to yellowing over time. Some are also more durable, thicker, or more scratch resistant. However, all have the benefit that you can sand away imperfections and re-pour epoxy. For small blemishes, you can even try this buffing product called Finesse-It Polish.
An epoxy resin is your best choice if you’re hoping for a reflective surface or if the surface has a lot of divots and irregularities that you’re hoping to fill in and smooth over. Remember that an epoxy resin can damage an oil-based paint if applied directly to it.
Although many manufacturers do not publish a full list of surfaces their products are safe for use on, some surfaces require special attention and require specialty products, which sometimes come at a cost. Granite, in particular, is an expensive material and requires an expensive top coat to avoid damages. Laminate, by contrast, is safe to use with almost any top coat.
1. ProMarine Epoxy Resin
This coating comes as a set of two half gallons, one an epoxy and the other an epoxy hardener, which are both applied to create a hard-plastic-feeling epoxy resin coating. This coating is created for painted surfaces or wood and resistant to sunlight damage. It also fills in any divots, scratches, or craters originally on the coated surface.
This material is self-leveling and makes creating a smooth surface easy. It is also UV resistant, protecting materials from sun damage that might fade paint. And this coating is water-resistant.
The ProMarine Crystal Clear Epoxy Resin dries quickly and makes any surface smooth, but should not be used for exterior furniture. It is available only by the gallon.
2. East Coast Crystal Clear Epoxy Resin
This epoxy resin top coat comes in a set of two half gallons, much like the ProMarine epoxy resin coating, one meant for coating and the other acting as a hardening agent. This coat is one of the best on the market for removing irregularities and adding shine to surfaces and is resistant to sun damage and future scratching or denting, as well as spills.
This finish dries quickly and is easy to use. However, it is made for interior furniture and does not work well on exterior ones, even though it is water-resistant.
3. MAS Table Top Pro
This epoxy resin kit comes with two half gallons, a resin, and a hardener, along with a brush and a spreader for easy application. It dries quickly and works well on a wide range of surfaces, including finished and unfinished wood, filling in any imperfections on the surface and preventing new ones from developing.
What Do I Need to Know About My Countertops?
Before choosing a top coat for your countertops, the first thing to consider is whether any pre-existing paint is oil-based or water-based, because oil-based paint can be damaged if you use an epoxy resin coating.
Next, consider the underlying material that your counters are made of, and whether you want to preserve or alter their natural appearance. Most primers are safe to use on a wide range of surfaces, but can either enhance or decrease the appearance of unique characteristics, like texture.
Knowing how to classify your countertop can be a challenge if you did not choose the materials and are unfamiliar with common counter building materials.
What Are My Countertops Made Of?
Countertops can be made of many different materials, ranging from the common to the very expensive. If you did not choose and install your countertops and are not sure what they are made of, you should be able to tell by the look and feel what kind of material the counters are made of. Visiting a hardware store to inspect different kinds of countertops may be helpful.
The most common countertop materials you’ll find are:
- Quartz – strong, nonporous, resists heat, water, stains, and bacteria. Simple to clean, have consistent patterns but many colors. Visible seams and can be faded or discolored if exposed to UV rays from sunlight.
- Granite – ultra-smooth, distinctive stone. Heat-resistant, stain-resistant, bacteria-resistant. Visible seams can split under stress.
- Solid-Surface (Acrylic) – available in many colors and patterns, made from nonporous acrylic. Seamless, water-resistant, stain-resistant, bacteria-resistant. Less heat-resistant than stone and more likely to scratch.
- Laminate – come in hundreds of colors. Most affordable option, made of laminate sheets glued to plywood, particleboard. Water-resistant. Visible seams, susceptible to cuts and scratches, and heat damage.
- Butcher’s Block – made of solid wood boards cut, shaped, and sanded to fit before installation and originally used in butcher shops. Porous needs to be treated with a sealant to prevent bacterial growth and water damage. Susceptible to staining, blemishes.
See the following video for a visual guide to different countertop types:
Laminate countertops are the easiest to paint and are most likely to be painted and safe to use with any finish.
Wood and stone surfaces require the most special consideration, and in those cases, you should likely choose a top coat that explicitly states that it is safe to use on that kind of surface. These will be more likely to preserve the original character of the surface than other finishes.
Which Kind of Product Should You Use?
Whether you’re looking to coat furniture, doors, or countertops with a stain and dent-proofing, smoothing enamel or top coat, chances are that you have many good options at your fingertips. However, you always need to make sure that the product you’re buying is suitable for the material and location of the surface you’re coating.
For painted countertops, you’ll likely want a lighter coating designed for indoor use and one that will work well with the color and type of paint on the countertop.
For best results, you should likely choose a painting kit that includes the paint, primer, and topcoat all in one, because in that case, you’ll be sure that the paint and top coat are compatible. These come in a variety of colors, even colors that mimic natural stone and other high-quality countertop designs.
Make sure to follow any special instructions from the manufacturer, in addition to the steps you would follow applying any countertop finish.
However, if you have already painted your countertop and are happy with the color, continue reading for comparisons.
Safe to Use On Wood (Butcher’s Block)
- Minwax 6300 Fast Drying Polyurethane Clear Finish
- Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finishes
- ProMarine Epoxy Resin
- MAS Table Top Pro
- Giani Granite Countertop Paint Kit
- Nuvo Driftwood Cabinet Paint – 1 Day DIY Finishing
- Giani Granite IronCore Primer
Safe to Use on Granite
- Giani Granite Countertop Paint Kit
- Giani Granite IronCore TopCoat
Safe to Use on Marble
- Giani Granite IronCore TopCoat
Safe to Use on Laminate or Acrylic
Most top coats are safe to use on laminate or acrylic (solid surface) surfaces, including counters that have been painted. Applying paint and top coat to a laminate or acrylic surface is easy to do and provides excellent results.
Reapplying a Top Coat
If your counter was already treated with a top coat that is now wearing off, make sure that you have a smooth surface to work with. Although you likely want to preserve the paint color and so do not want to strip the surface, you may want to sand away any major irregularities before beginning.
Make sure that you do not use an epoxy resin coating if there is a chance that the original finish is oil-based, because this can keep the resin from hardening properly. Instead, use an oil-based or water-based finish.
If you do see irregularities and are afraid that sanding them away would damage the underlying paint, choose a water-based finish that is less likely to highlight these differences in texture. This will give you the smoothest possible new coating.
The best protective top coat for a painted countertop depends on what kind of countertop you have and what your goals are for the final appearance.
For a reflective finish that smooths over imperfections, try an epoxy resin. For a clear finish that’s safe to use over oil paint, try a water-based finish. For a yellowish finish that’s safe to use over oil paint, try an oil-based finish.
Ultimately, your choice is based on preference, because many kinds of top coats will perform the same functions.