My New Favorite Water-Based Polyurethane Over Paint!

Y’all, I have a new water-based polyurethane over paint favorite! It’s General Finishes High Performance Top Coat and it is WONDERFUL! Let me back up a little bit and tell you how I got here…

In my last post, I said that I was going to paint all of my cabinets with a brush because I couldn’t stand the thought of taping and draping everything for spraying indoors.

And now two days later, my kitchen looks like this…

kitchen taped off and draped with plastic to prepare for spraying the cabinets - 1

Yes, that’s right. I’ve spent the last two days covering everything — walls, floor, countertops, doorways — so that I can spray my cabinets. And let me tell you, taping around those cabinet feet was a huge pain in the butt.

Why did it take me two days to do a one-day job? Because I absolutely hate doing it!! So I took a hundred breaks a day, made excuses for why I needed to stop and look things up online (very, very important things, I’m sure! 😀 ), ate way too many Sun Chips and Fig Newtons and drank way too much tea (because as long as my hands are busy doing something, then I can trick myself into thinking I’m working hard and making progress), spent way too much time on Instagram during the day, and stood around listening to podcasts while staring at my kitchen and dreading the job .

kitchen taped off and draped with plastic to prepare for spraying the cabinets - 4

But I finally got it done. And I also got the rest of the sanding done, which means that this morning I’ll be ready to paint right from the start. And by the end of the day, I’ll finally see some major progress.

kitchen taped off and draped with plastic to prepare for spraying the cabinets - 3

So why the change of heart? Well, I like a job done right. That doesn’t mean that painting with a brush is wrong, by any means. Sometimes it’s the only option, and if that’s the case, you can get a beautiful finish with a brush with some patience and attention to detail. Click here to see how I get a near-flawless finish with a brush...

how to paint cabinets with a brush and get a near-flawless finish

But I’ve already sprayed the doors, and they have the most beautiful finish on them. Click here for more info on the paint sprayer I use

best paint sprayer for kitchen cabinets

And I worked hard to get those doors as close to perfect as I could, starting with hours of grain filling and sanding. So I couldn’t bear the thought of wimping out on the actual cabinets just because I don’t like taping and covering everything. I don’t plan to paint my cabinets again for a very long time, so taking the extra time to do the absolute best job I can this go ’round is worth it.

Yes, I dragged my feet, and I procrastinated, and I took way too many breaks. But I did it. And I’m going to be very glad I did in the long run.

And speaking of finishes, this time around has been a repeat of the last time I painted my cabinets. I used Benjamin Moore Advance, which is really high-quality paint developed specifically for cabinets. It dries hard, cleans easily, etc. It really is amazing paint, and it’s pretty pricey. (About $65/gallon.) Unfortunately, the lowest sheen it comes in is satin. Or at least that’s what it says on the can. Their idea of satin is quite different from mine, and it always seems more like a semi-gloss to me.

Well, I much prefer a true satin or matte finish, but having gone through this before, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to just put a clear water-based polyurethane over the paint. Last time I used Rust-Oleum water-based matte polyurethane. It was fine, but I wasn’t impressed enough with it to use it again. Minwax Polycrylic is junk, in my humble opinion. It dries way to fast, does not self-level, and has ruined more than one project of mine, so that wasn’t even an option.

So I decided to try a brand that many of you have recommended to me over the last year — General Finishes High Performance Water-Based Top Coat in a flat finish. It’s not available locally, so I ordered mine on Amazon. (Click here to see the one I bought.)

Y’all, this is absolutely THE BEST water-based polyurethane I’ve ever used over paint. Check out this gorgeous finish…

cabinet door sprayed with general finishes matte polyurethane

That’s a sprayed finish. It still has a sheen to it, and in my mind, it’s not really flat. I’d call that satin, but it’s absolutely gorgeous.

I actually ordered a quart of satin last year when I was having so much trouble with that one table I refinished/painted over and over. After having so much trouble with the Minwax Polycrylic, someone suggested General Finishes Top Coat, so I ordered it for Round 7 of table refinishing, but Round 7 never came (and aren’t we all glad about that?). 😀

But that quart of satin finish came in handy when I refinished my dining chairs.

breakfast room dining chair makeover - after - side view front upholstered backrest and seat

I sanded those chairs and painted them with a sample size of Sherwin Williams paint that I had on hand. I don’t know what kind of paint they use for their samples, but I was disappointed because it didn’t seem like the finish would be easy to clean. It felt like a really porous matte finish that would be scuffed and stained easily, which isn’t quite what I needed on dining chairs. So I got out that General Finishes satin top coat (this is the one I used) and brushed the polyurethane on over the paint… and it totally transformed the finish on those chairs. Now the finish feels so silky smooth, and it’s very durable and easy to clean.

And I also used it on the breakfast room table before I went back and darkened the finish with my stain/oil-based poly mixture. That was the true test because I brushed the General Finishes polyurethane on the top of the table. That’s where Minwax Polycrylic fails me every time — when using it on large flat surfaces. It dries too fast for brushing, and it doesn’t self-level when rolling with one of those small rollers, so you’re either left with a finish with drag marks and uneven sheen from brushing, or a bumpy finish from rolling. Polycrylic doesn’t even spray well, again because it dries too fast. I always get an uneven sheen on large flat surfaces even when spraying Polycrylic. (Can you tell I think that stuff is junk?)

Anyway, I brushed the General Finishes top coat onto the table top, and to be honest, I expected the same disappointing results that I always get from Polycrylic. But it was so different. It acted more like an oil-based poly in that it stayed wet much longer, brushed on beautifully, and self-leveled so that brush strokes are minimized, but it did that without the smell, hassle of clean up, or yellow/amber tint that you get with oil-based poly. I’m telling you, this is my new favorite clear coat finish. It’s amazing stuff! I highly recommend it.

If you can’t find it in your area, you can click here to get it on Amazon, which is how I buy mine. I have an Amazon Prime membership, so it gets to me within a day or two.

So, since I used my new favorite polyurethane over the paint on my cabinet doors, naturally I’ll be using it on my cabinets, too. And since this is my last time painting my kitchen cabinets for many years, they deserve the nicest sprayed finish I can give them.



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  1. SW told me their sample paint does not have all the same properties as their actual paint, meaning it will scrub right off. They do this to prevent people from just buying four sample quarts instead of the pricier gallon of real paint.

    1. Yes, I heard the same thing. It does not have the “binding agent”. I am pretty sure BM is the same which is why they call them “color” samples and not “paint” samples.

    2. Just coming across your blog as I’m researching putting polyurethane over kitchen cabinets. I bought PPG paint and am now worried it may not work well, but wondering if polyurethane would make them last longer. How are your cabinets holding up? They look great in the photos!

  2. I hate working alone and consequently get little accomplished. You seem to thrive on working alone. Any suggestions?

    1. I think it’s a personality thing, so I don’t know that I can offer any suggestions. I am, by nature, very independent and find it a bother if I have to work with other people or on a team. I’m too much of a perfectionist to deal with others’ mistakes that I feel I have to go back and fix, so I kind of thrive on doing things myself without any help from others, if at all possible. My mom says that even as a very small child, I was very independent, and if someone tried to help me with something, I would say, “Me do it meself!” 😀 To this day, if my mom offers to help me with something, and I decline, she says, “I know, I know…me do it meself, right?” So I don’t know that I can offer any solutions for you. Hopefully someone with your similar personality trait (i.e., someone who naturally hates to work alone) and who has found some solutions will read your comment and give you some pointers.

  3. My favorite saying……..” If you don’t have time to do it right the first time…when will you find the time to fix it?” You continue to inspire me everyday! Can’t wait to see the end result!

        1. It adheres perfectly. It’s a topcoat, so it’s made to go over other finishes. I didn’t sand the final coat of paint. And yes, only water-based over water-based.

          1. I’m literally holding the top coat in my hand while I’m completely frozen trying to figure out what to do next (I don’t want to mess this up!) My cabinets have all been painted…and I’ve taken a TON of time painting each one. I’m now adding the top coat but wonder what the process should be…

            Should I:
            1. Lightly sand the paint (wipe off)
            2. add topcoat
            3. sand again (and wipe off)
            4. add final topcoat

            I’ve never done this before but I’ve been following along with all of these tutorials for years awaiting my big kitchen reno…which I’m just about to finish!

  4. I have used the General Finishes poly you are speaking of on the top of any furniture pieces I refinish, and I will agree its wonderful stuff. I always get a silky smooth finish and it is easy to wipe down and does not chip. Its available in my area in an unfinished furniture store so you might also check a place like that if you haven’t already done so. Its worth it, regardless of where you get it.

  5. Yep! I Love General Finishes. I get mine from one of those local cute painted re-fab/upcycle furniture shops- they stock a full line of paints and finishes. It’s the alternative to a line of products that rhymes with Fannie Moane. 😉 So if you want to find local- you might have to sniff around. But if you are lucky enough to have a cute Main Street with cute little boutiques and shops you hit the jackpot.

    Can’t wait to see your finished product. Oh and when I read that you were brushing it on- I wondered what that was about. lol

      1. How long did you let the last coat of Advance paint dry before applying the General Finishes top coat? I have been told it takes about 2 weeks for the Advance to fully cure. Did you have any issues after with cabinets sticking?

  6. WOW! That is quite the prep project. I noticed you covered the floor, the backsplash and even hung plastic sheeting. Now how did you hang the sheeting? Did you cover the ceiling too? Will you be using the same sprayer that you used to paint with to spray the sealer? Sorry for all the questions Kristi. Just think of it as another reason to take a break!!

    1. Will you also be taping the interior of the cabinets? What a pain! But the finished cabinet door looks amazing!!

      1. No, I won’t. I did that last time, and it was such a pain and a huge waste of time. As soon as I started spraying, the force of the air from my sprayer blew the tape and plastic off. I have no idea what the inside of those cabinets is coated with, but nothing sticks to it. Even the green paint from two years ago scrubs off very easily. I just never took the time to do it. So this time, I’m just going to spray them, let it dry, and then wipe down the insides and it’ll come right off. I’m sure of it. I had a heck of a time painting the insides of those four glass-front cabinets. I ended up having to sand that veneer stuff off almost completely before priming with oil-based paint and then painting in order to get it to stick.

        1. Ahh that makes sense. What a project! It’s going to look professional. I painted cabinets once. I learned A LOT and haven’t done it again. But seeing your results here gives me hope that one day I’ll be up to the challenge and it will look good.

    2. I use masking tape and taped it around the top of the tile on the walls. I didn’t cover the ceiling. I can’t even imagine what a nightmare that would have been. But since my ceiling needs painting anyway, I don’t mind of some of the teal gets on the ceiling. I’ll be painting it as soon as I’m finished with the cabinets. I will be using the same sprayer for the clear coat. That sprayer does a beautiful job with all kinds of finishes, including both oil- and water-based polyurethanes.

  7. I have been following you long enough to KNOW you would go back and spray your cabinets and doors!! Haha! Smart choice! Did I miss it or have you chosen brass vs. black hardware? I’m so excited to see the finished project in your kitchen!! It is absolutely going to be fabulous I’m sure!! Can’t wait!! Good luck with no roadblocks today! Way to go Kristi!

    1. I’m sticking with the brass. 🙂 I love the softness of the look. I generally love high contrast, but the black just seems too harsh to me.

      1. I’m glad you’re sticking with the brass! I am anxiously waiting to see the finished project. I have it pictured already in my mind and can’t wait to see if it’s what I envisioned! I love your attention to detail! If I had the energy to do what you do, I’d be the same way. (I’m battling cancer again, so I don’t have the energy to do those things. But, I certainly enjoy watching you with your DIY professional projects!) I’m cheering you on!

        1. I absolutely love general finishes !!! It’s so versatile . Never yellows and has a durable finish . I’m so glad I read this because I wanted to try using this over my cabinets I painted with advance

  8. As much of a pain the prep work is, I”m so glad you changed your mind and decided to spray the cabinets. In looking at the photos in your last post, I was having trouble tearing my eyes away from staring at noticeable brush strokes contrasted against the gorgeous smoothness of a door face. And wondering, “How can Kristi be OK with that?” Guess she can’t! 🙂

  9. A lot of prep work but since you do everything correctly, I’m sure you will be glad you took the time to do it. Thanks for the info on the paint brand to use with cabinets and the finish. Good luck with your sprayer today and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished cabinets in a day or so.

  10. Agreed on the Minwax Polycrylic. Actually, I commented on it a few days ago. Yesterday I had to go to ACE and my Defthane was there again! I couldn’t believe it. So now I can fix the mistakes in my cabinets that the Minwax junk made on them.

  11. I heard once from a Sherwin Williams employee that paint used through a sprayer will take on a glossier finish than if it is brushed or rolled. I can’t verify that is true, but worth noting.

    1. My experience has been just the opposite. Brushing will produce a glossier finish. Spraying produces a more matte finish. And rolling is somewhere in between.

  12. I love General Finishes. They now also sell a top coat called Flat Out Flat. I haven’t tried it yet, but am hoping it is more truly flat for one of my projects. Can’t wait to see your cabinets in all their glory. 🙂

  13. I am just starting my kitchen cabinets at the cottage. I so agree with you on the time it takes to prep everything if you are going to spray but it is worth it in the end. The time you save on using the sprayer and the finished product makes it worth it. I have used the Advance paint on my last project. I do agree about the sheen of the satin. I just sprayed the laundry room cabinets. I did it in the color greyhound by Benjamin Moore. I have never put a top coat over the paint. The people at Benjamin moore said that you should only use their product the “Stays Clear”. They were unsure how other products will react with their paint. I was worried to try something else. How many coats of the General finishes did you apply? Also My Kitchen Cabinets I am going to be painting in the Sherwin Williams West highland or Benjamin Moore Dove White. My concern about putting a top coat on is if General Finishes will cause the color to yellow. Have you heard anything about it???

  14. I love that you not only talk about your successes, but talk about your failures and how you learn from it. We’re in the planning stages of building a house and it’s really helping me figure out what we want to spend the money on the contractors doing and furniture we’ll buy vs what we’ll do ourselves.Thank you so much for sharing!

  15. I found this post on Pinterest while trying to figure out how to get the Minwax Water-based poly to stay smooth after sanding where I can’t see where I’ve sanded. I just ordered the General Finishes to get a more even coverage on my new-to-me, freshly painted and distressed dining room table. Hoping for a more level coverage!

  16. Can you please tell me when you put the top coat on? I’ve heard that you should wait until the paint cures but with the advance, that is 30 days!

    1. I can’t guarantee your results, but on my own kitchen cabinets, I waited about 24 hours before topcoating. They still look perfect a year later.

  17. Did you ever have a yellow tint come through the top coat after the advance ( with the general finish flat). I am wondering what i did wrong. Any other suggestions

      1. Benjamin moore advance, Coventry gray. I am going to give it another try.

        Do you apply via foam brush or sprayer? Thin or thick layer?

        1. I sprayed mine. I did two coats, and each one was somewhere between thick and thin. If you go too thick, it’ll run and drip. If you go too thin, the sheen won’t be consistent. So I sprayed just enough on each coat so that the sheen was consistent, and then let it dry, sanded it lightly,and sprayed again.

  18. I’m about to do my cabinets.. I purchased the general finishes Satin topcoat.. now I’m thinking I should’ve went with flat.. Can you tell me how much difference there is between the two?
    If I started with the satin and absolutely hate it could i do my second (and maybe 3rd) coat in flat to dull it down?

    1. Yes, you can. And if fact, it’s recommended. Shinier clear coats are more durable, so it’s actually recommended that you start with a shinier one, and then if you want a flat finish, then do the flat as the last coat. I don’t always do it that way, but you will end up with a stronger and more durable finish that way.