Varathane – The Best Polymer Clay Sealer

We all have our favorite shampoo and conditioner. We have pretty strong opinions about the best brand of mayonnaise (or we hate it entirely). So it should really come as no surprise that many people have chosen a favorite polymer clay sealer, Varathane. I don’t always use a sealer or varnish on my polymer clay, but when I do, Varathane is one of my top picks.

Do You Need to Seal Polymer Clay?

Varathane is the best general sealer for polymer clay. Read about it on The Blue Bottle Tree.One of the most common questions I am asked is, “Do you need to seal polymer clay?” The short answer is no. Baked polymer clay is a durable plastic and does not need to be sealed against the elements. Polymer clay is so durable that it will hold up to wear, weathering, washing, and use better than any sealer that you can put on it.

But the long answer is that sometimes you do need to seal it. Mica powders (such as Pearl-Ex or eye shadow) are perfectly durable on a sculpture that sits on a shelf. But when used in jewelry you’ll want to seal the powder to keep it from rubbing off. The same goes for powders such as metal pulvers or chalk pastels. Some techniques, such as a variety of crackle techniques, use metal leaf adhered to the surface of the polymer clay, and that does need to be sealed. Most acrylic paint is as durable as varnish so you don’t always need to seal it. But using a sealer or varnish can add an extra layer of durability.

You would also use a sealer on polymer clay when you want to change the look of the surface. If you want the surface to be more glossy or more matte then a sealer is a great way to do that. Adding even a thin layer of a sealer can intensify colors just like when you find a pebble at the beach then wet it to see the colors. Varnish also makes translucent clay more translucent, mica powders more sparkly, and colors much more rich and deep.

What is Varathane?

Varathane is a brand name of polyurethane varnish that’s been around since 1958. It’s used as a wood, furniture, cabinet, and floor finish. Chances are good that there is wood in your home that is finished with polyurethane. It’s been a favorite of polymer clay artists for over 25 years because it just works. It’s currently produced by the Rustoleum Corporation, but previously it was made by a company called Flecto. You might even see it referred to as Flecto from time to time. It’s the same stuff. It’s also undergone many label changes over the years and the can you have may differ from the pictures here.

Varathane polyurethane makes a great polymer clay sealer, varnish, and glaze.
Varathane has changed its label over the years. The one on the right is the most current (came out in 2016), but online listings might show the one on the left. It’s the same stuff.

Varathane does come in an oil based and a water based version. For polymer clay use, you will have much better results if you use the water-based version. If you need to use soap and water to clean up, that’s the right one. You don’t want the one that requires use of paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean it up. Oil-based Varathane can work on polymer clay, but it takes a long time to dry (days) and gives a yellow cast.

Varathane comes in half pint, quart, and gallon cans. It also comes in a spray. I’ve heard that some people have had success with it, but I find that it gives a rough and uneven spray finish. Sprays are always tricky, most of them aren’t polymer clay safe, so stick with the liquid in the can.

Characteristics of Varathane

Varathane is a milky white liquid with a slight bluish tint. It is slightly thicker than water, but not gloopy like many other varnishes that I’ve tried. Varathane has a very mild smell, not a whole lot different from lots of craft paints. It goes on easily with a brush and dries absolutely clear within minutes. You can recoat it again as soon as the first coat dries. But I do like to wait an hour between coats. (Okay, I admit it, sometimes I rush drying a coat by using the heat gun. I’m so impatient.)

You can use a brush, sponge, or even your fingers to apply it. Don’t “scrub” back and forth with the brush, though, or you will get bubbles. Anita’s article on Varathane goes in detail about how she gets a perfectly speck-free finish on her wonderfully fun polymer clay cherries. If you dip coat your beads, give them a quick spin to remove excess Varathane before putting them up to dry. It’s better to use several thin coats than one thick one. I use a very thin coat if all I’m doing is setting mica powder. But I use several coats to build up a thicker layer if I’m going for a glossy, glass-like finish. And yes, you can thin your Varathane with a bit of water to get an even thinner coat. This is sometimes the best way to get a smooth, low shine finish, too.

I like to decant my Varathane into these small containers and apply directly from there. That keeps my can from getting contaminated.

To keep your can of Varathane clean, don’t apply it directly from the can. Decant a small amount into a small bottle, and apply it from there. Prescription medicine bottles work particularly well for this. I also like to use these nifty containers I found at WalMart, too. I like the wide mouth, perfect for dipping beads.

Varathane comes in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, and matte finishes.  (Not sure what that means? See pics to compare here.) I see very little difference between the gloss and satin, though, especially when used as a thin sealer coat. I think if you built up several layers you’d see that satin is less glossy than gloss. But it’s not matte by any means. I wouldn’t spend the money for the satin, by the way. I’d just use a thin coat of the gloss version if I didn’t want a very shiny finish.

How Durable is Varathane on Polymer Clay?

First let me say that I always use Varathane on polymer clay that isn’t waxy or oily. If you’re using Pardo or Kato Polyclay, give the clay a good wipe with alcohol before applying any sealer. (Even then, I do have trouble with any sealer sticking to Kato very well. It tends to peel off like skin after a sunburn.) Varathane will dry to the touch right away, but can take weeks to fully cure. To accelerate that curing process, I usually put sealed items back in the oven for another bake. I have often seen it recommended to use 200°F (93°C) for 10-15 minutes, but that seems to be info that’s “passed down” and I don’t know its source. I usually just bake it again at my clay’s favorite temperature. (Usually with the next batch of beads.)

Once cured, Varathane is water resistant and will easily hold up to washing. The surface is hard enough and durable enough that scratching with your fingernail will not tear through it (once fully cured). Yes, of course, you can scrape it with a knife or something, but don’t do that! Varathane will never fully cure to a rock hard finish on polymer clay because it is softened by the plasticizer in polymer clay. But it is hard and durable enough for jewelry use.

If you ever need to remove Varathane, you can dissolve it with rubbing alcohol. Not that I’ve ever had to soak dried Varathane off a brush or anything. 😉 Okay, I admit it. I’m always forgetting to wash my brush. Sometimes it’s hard to completely remove dried Varathane from polymer clay. It’s really very durable. But alcohol’s fairly safe and fairly effective at removing it, especially before it’s fully cured.

Is Varathane a Sticky Sealer?

There seems to be a fear out there about sticky sealers. And for good reason. If you use nail polish as a sealer or glaze, your project will usually turn sticky with time. If you use the wrong spray sealer, it can get sticky over time. And some acrylic varnishes, such as the green label Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish, seem to never fully dry and stay sticky. But I’ve NEVER, NEVER, EVER had Varathane remain or turn sticky. In fact, the feel of dried Varathane is sort of like a smooth plastic. I really, really like it. (How’s that for a scientific term?)

There are lots of articles about varnishes and sealers on this website.

Is Varathane Non-Toxic?

Even though Varathane is a wood varnish that’s commonly used on furniture and floors, that doesn’t mean that it’s a toxic substance. Yes, I know, it’s easy to think of the stinky cans of paint that you’ve used in the past. Well, this isn’t that. Totally different stuff!

If you’ll look at the label of many craft items, such as polymer clay itself, you’ll see that there is a seal that certifies the material is tested to be safe and non-toxic as a craft material. To get that certification, a manufacturer has to have the material tested. Since Varathane is a wood varnish and everyone expects a product used in that capacity to be possibly toxic, there’s no reason to pay to test and get certification for it to labelled as non-toxic.  That being said, it is a fairly non-noxious substance as paints go. It is not turpentine or paint thinner based. It is water based and doesn’t have volatile compounds such as any of the aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene and toluene.

The label does warn to keep it out of your eyes and use good ventilation while drying. The only compound the label lists as being worrisome (glycol ethers) are also in sunscreens, and totally evaporate during drying. Don’t drink it. But I wouldn’t hesitate using it to seal jewelry. Dried Varathane is non-toxic and perfectly fine for skin contact. UPDATE: Safety rules changed in 2015, and many varnishes contain N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) as a solvent, in addition to water. This is a fairly low toxicity solvent, but it has been shown in some tests to cause reproductive harm in high concentrations. Wear gloves and be sure to wash your hands if you’re pregnant. The solvent evaporates, so fully dried varnish (as with finished jewelry) has no safety concerns.

Availability of Varathane

In the US and Canada, Varathane can be found in many hardware stores and paint stores. Again, make sure you get the water-based variety that matches the label you see above. I’ve heard that some people have found it at Home Depot and Menards. I couldn’t find it here in my town so I ordered it online. (affiliate link) But shop around, you’ll find it.

Minwax Polycrylic is not the same thing as Varathane and gives a slightly different result. But it is still a good polymer clay sealer or varnish.
Though it does make a good sealer, Polycrylic is not the same thing as Varathane.

Lately here in the US, all I can find in the hardware stores is Minwax Polycrylic. It’s not the same thing as Varathane. It WILL work as a polymer clay varnish. But it’s going to be subtly different from Varathane. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Varathane is available in North American and also in the UK from Amazon.co.uk. But if your country doesn’t have Varathane, see if you can find a water based polyurethane wood finish. Chances are that it will be very similar. The key thing to look for are the terms “water-based” or “water clean-up” and “polyurethane”. If you know of a another good polyurethane brand, please let me know!

Looking for a Varathane alternative? Check out my article Testing Polymer Clay Sealers to see how 40 different varnishes and sealers performed on five brands of polymer clay.

UPDATES:

  • Craftmill, a UK craft supplier repackages a UK brand of polyurethane in smaller bottles. They say that it’s good for polymer clay. Might be worth a try.
  • María Eva Ramos of Niná Studio tells me that she has used VITRIO water based polyurethane wood floor finish for several years and has the same good luck that I’ve had with Varathane. She’s in Venezuela, though, but it might give you a brand name to look for in addition to Varathane. Thanks María Eva!
  • And Nicola Sutherland says that in Australia she uses Cabothane with great results.
  • In Latvia, Tin Liva has been using this polyurethane for 7 years and reports that it’s just like Varthane (which she has also used). Look for Synteko Pro – one-component polyurethane water based wood floor finish;Synteko Pro 90 (gloss), Synteko Pro 20 (matte), Synteko Pro 45 – (satin
    comes in cans 1l, 5l, 10l

120 thoughts on “Varathane – The Best Polymer Clay Sealer”

    1. I could only find the “blue and black” can pictured above online. Here in CT they have all Minwax only. But I found in Home Depot the Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane 3x Gloss water based interior. The employee said that it is the same as the other pictured above but one coat is like 3 coats of the other. So I will see how it goes. I am nervous about cooing it into clay after pearl ex powder cuz I don’t see anywhere on the can to bake it but I will trust you lol I just wanted to update you all on the new product. Thanks happy crafting!!! =)

      1. Stores change what they carry all the time. Varathane is a brand name and there are several types of it. The triple thick type you found will work just fine, but it is thicker and might be a bit yellow if used over white. The blue and black can, I’ve only found online recently.

        1. Just a note that I found the triple thick Varathane at Home Depot as well, but on the can it says “self-leveling”. Not so sure that would be a good thing for corners in multi-level jewelry pieces, Have you done testing the Varathane “gloss triple thick polyurethane” or are you just saying it would be compatible?

          1. Varathane is a brand name under the Rustoleum umbrella company. There are many varieties of Varathane. I’ve only tested the one pictured. But the triple thick version is well-loved by other polymer people.

    2. Hi I was just wondering if this would work as a sealant on shrink plastic jewellery as well ? Great article it’s very informative:) -Kiran

      1. Varathane is a varnish and it works nicely on wood, plastic, paper, stone…essentially anything that will look good with a varnish on it. Therefore I think it would work nicely on shrink plastic. But I do wonder why you need a “sealant”? It’s plastic. If you’re afraid the artwork on the shrink plastic isn’t waterproof, then Varathane will also dissolve your artwork. Just a thought.

        1. Thank you for you reply! I was just looking at different options to seal artwork on shrink plastic. A lot of people use resin to seal it. But I haven’t tried that yet. That’s a good point you made that it might dissolve the artwork I didn’t think of that !

          Kiran

  1. Kathryn Corbin

    Ginger, I’ve been exploring applied color to highly textured off white Premo, often mixing and layering things like colored pencil, chalk, Inka Gold, etc. because they can be rubbed off, a sealer is needed. But because these colorants are water-soluble, brushing on varathane moves the “paint” around rather than “fixing” them in place. I use PYM II, but have noticed that it wears off the high spots in things like bangle bracelets. So I have been searching for a more durable spray finish. I wonder if you have had any experience with diluting varathane with water and spraying it on for the first seal. Presumably, one could brush on further coats once the fugitive colors are thus sealed. Alternatively, have you tried Varathane on top of an initial coating of PYM II? I wonder if they would interact adversely over time?
    I have tried the spray version of the Vrathane and it seems to take a verrrrryyyyy long time to dry and does seem to retain a little tack to the surface, so I’m looking for a durable alternative. Thoughts?

    1. Kathryn, I’ve been playing with the PYM II also. Maybe the baking trick that hardens Varathane will work with multiple layers of that too. That was the next experiment that I was going to try. But I’m travelling this week and I will have to wait until a week into June to try it.

    2. Yes, yes, and yes. I was just thinking I forget to mention this. A thick coat of varathane dissolves the soluble things that you’ve put on the clay and can cause it to run. So you have to put a VERY thin coat of it on. You could certainly thin and spray the varathane (but I’ve not done it). The key is make the Varathane dry before it disturbs the stuff it’s trying to seal. But once you get that first coat on, then it’s set and you can be more liberal with your application. And yes, you can spray with PYM first and Varathane after. PYM is great, but I agree it’s not super hard durable. Varathane will wear, too. But it’s better than PYM.

      1. PYM is also bakeable BUT it is very sticky when hot. I have rebaked a piece mutiple times and every. Time it gets sticky but cools fine.

    1. I’m always more than happy to share what I know. And it was your article that goes into so much more detail about using it. Thank YOU!

  2. Another helpful product review. I found pint cans of all four finishes at my local ‘ifwedon’thaveityoudon’tneedit” hardware store. At one thin coat, I can’t tell much difference between any of them – but they all enhance the color just as you noted. I didn’t do a side by side comparison on beads of the same color or test multiple coats for varied levels of glossiness.

    1. Lucky you! I will keep my eyes open. It’s validating to find that you noticed the same thing about the shine level of the various finishes. I do wish they were greatly different. Oh, remember to stir, especially the matte. Get that stuff up from the bottom.

  3. “If you ever need to remove Varathane, you can dissolve it with rubbing alcohol.”

    Oops, I forgot to mention that if someone is sensitive to alcohol (as I am) I’ve had success removing dried Varathane from beads by soaking them in water for 8 hours and then lightly rubbing them with the kind of green Scrubbie one uses to clean Teflon.

    1. If it’s fresh, yes. And the scrubbie, good idea. It’s probably a bit tougher than a toothbrush and a much better option than my fingernail.

  4. I have also used Polycrylic it is thicker and Varathane . I have also used Polycrylic in the spray can. worked fine and not sticky after 4 years. I think it is better to spray in a warmer more humid environment which allows the spray to spread out to an even coat before it dries. I sprayed in a cold anteroom in winter and the spray pebbled very slightly the second coat shortly after seemed to fill in and smooth out that first pebbly coat. I had some items that I sprayed too much on so I threw it right away into a container of warm soapy water. it turned milky and washed off . a partially dried piece I soaked for longer and it also turned milky and washed /peeled off. Both recoated fine on second try.. Thin Multiple coats are best… of course I too always have to rush it.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jembox/5278033040/in/set-72157626847438104/

  5. Thanks for the excellent article. I just got my first quart of Varathane after using the Pledge Floor Care for a long time with great results. I feel like I’m sort of on the verge of one of those “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” deals. So, can you give us your opinion on Floor Care vs Varathane?
    Much appreciation for your info,
    Sally

    1. Well, I can give an opinion, but I’ve not used them side by side. I used Future (now called Pledge Floor Care) for years and loved it. It’s thin, clear, smells good, goes on easily, is very glossy, and seems to be fairly durable. Well, let’s just say that I was used to how Future worked, then I switched to Varathane and like it better. Future is more brittle, Varathane is more flexible. Varathane produces a thicker coat (unless thinned). And the feel is different. I know, hard to describe! I have found that beads coated with Varathane hold their shine better than beads coated with Future. Some people say that Future yellows over time but I’ve not seen it happen. I do need to compare these two, though, and I’ll put it on my list of things to test. Thanks for the reminder about it.

      1. I had the opposite experience to Ginger’s. I used Varathane for years and switched to Future/Pledge and never looked back. I love Future. The problem i had with Varathane is sometimes it would goop up in small crevices and turn white. I have seen the white on other’s sculptures (in the crevices) and know they used Varathane. Maybe it didn’t work as well for me because i have NO humidity where I live (someone above commented re humidity is good). I have never had Future turn yellow on a sculpture and have been using it for years. That said, I have seen it turn yellow in the container I use and that’s happened after using the same batch over and over and adding new. Maybe its get dirty, i am not sure. I think it happens when i have clay attached to something else (wood, metal, etc) and something “dissolves.” But that takes a long time to happen and I have since prevented it by changing the used batch in a container when I need to add more rather than adding new to old. Actually, I have been dipping for awhile and quite frankly, I just started to paint it on with a brush again and prefer it. Of course it’s more time consuming but thats OK though sometimes I cannot get into tiny crevices with a brush and will dip one coat. Hope all this wasn’t confusing.

        1. I wouldn’t say that it’s the opposite experience, exactly. You bring up a very good point about Varathane that I forgot to mention. You’re absolutely correct that it can collect in the crevices and look bad. But I don’t consider that a failure of the material as much as an application issue. I avoid this by thinning my varathane when I use it on textured surfaces. Then I shake or blot off any excess. Then I use either my breath or a heat gun to pop any bubbles that have shown up. That gets me a really thin coat that doesn’t goop in the crevices. But you’re right, it’s a plus in the Future/Pledge column that it’s easier to apply in that case. Certainly. I ever had Future yellow, but I also noticed the same thing in the container. I think that “stuff” gets on the brush. I noticed that mica powder would collect in the bottom, too, even though I was “absolutely sure” I never contaminated the container. Ha! I do prefer Varathane, but I don’t have anything tremendous against Future/Pledge, either. It is a very good finish, it’s just not my fave.

  6. VERY interesting, Jan. Thanks for sharing. I think most water based sealers can be removed right away like this, either with water or alcohol. It helps to know this to save the day when a disaster happens. It’s sooo tempting to put a big thick glossy coat on, that’s for sure. I would think that warm would be good, but not humid. I know that in the case of PYM II, humidity can cause it to turn white. (Nothing’s ever simple, is it?)

  7. Hello Ginger, thank you for this article as always very interesting and well documented. I’m from Venezuela and the brand Varathane doesn’t exist here but I did as you suggest in your article and when I started claying 5 years ago, I did an extensive research and found a great water based polyurethane wood floor finish, that works super good, and the most exciting part is that the makers of this varnish made it for outdoors and marine use too, which is great because it has a UV filter and when you apply it on white and pastels colors it doesn’t yellow that much, though it get a yellowish tint after 3 o 4 years. The brand is VITRO and comes in gloss, satin and matte finish. but as you said the difference between the gloss and the satin finishes is almost imperceptible, that is why I use the gloss an the matte, regards. María Eva Ramos – Niná Studio

    1. Oh wow, that is a great recommendation. Thank you so much for that information. I will definitely share that! I wonder if that same product is also available in Europe, too? I hope someone knows.

  8. The Humidity was a plus for the Spray can of Polycrylic. Future comes right off if dipped in window cleaner or ammonia. To me Future is to weak or unpermanant of a product for me to use on anything that i would ever sell.

    1. Ah, good. I suspected there was an equivalent elsewhere, it was just a matter of finding it. I put your information in the post. Thanks Nicola!

      1. Hi there

        I have read elsewhere that pieces coated with Cabothane can stick together over time if left touching one another. Have you had this problem Nicola?

  9. Hi can you tell me if the soft touch is the same thing. it’s the matte Varathane Polyurethane water based crystal from home depot Varathane 1-qt. Matte Soft Touch Polyurethane
    Model # 266233. Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t really know as I’ve never used that product. I had a quick look at the MSDS of both types of Varathane and the soft touch is not the same thing. They have different carrier chemicals and the soft touch has a slower evaporation rate. The MSDS says that the Soft Touch has an ammonia-like odor (regular Varathane doesn’t) and that is an acrylic polyurethane. My gut tells me that it will probably work just fine on polymer clay, but unless you just happened to have it on hand already and wanted to do a test, I wouldn’t bother. If you’re going to spend the $, get the one we know works. Maybe someone will do a test on the Soft Touch and then we’ll know!

  10. So many things are not available in the UK, including Varathane and PMYII. Amazon refuses to send as soon as they realise the UK address because airlines won’t carry them. One UK company I contacted said that she would have to order 40,000 and doesn’t have the room to store. I will check around for the water-based polyurethane but what can I use instead of PYMII? Thanks, love your site! Marion

    1. There are several sprays that people say will work with polymer clay. But for every one that people say works….someone else will say that it doesn’t. So. I do know of one company thinking about importing PYM II to Europe, and as soon as they do I’ll write about it. So cross your fingers. I’ll also keep my eyes peeled for a clay safe spray in the EU/UK.

        1. I do know of one person who is working on it. But it’s a long process. So much red tape! I’ll be sure to write about it when it becomes available.

  11. Point of random Info….The company that makes PYM. II is a small company it would cost a fortune to them to get approval to ship to uk. PYM was originally invented to coat bullets so that when they are fired it liquifies and make the bullet spin faster fir a more accurate shot. The inventors notice that it made the paper that was catching the over spray was water proof. So it was package as a scrapbook product. ……..

  12. Hello Ginger. Greetings to You from Latvia.
    Here we haven’t Varathane and I tried to find analog. I found Synteko Pro – one-component polyurethane water based wood floor finish; scratch resistant, non yellowish.
    http://and-trade.com.ua/files/products/SYNTEKO_PRO_new519890_1_69834343.jpg
    Synteko Pro 90 – gloss finish
    Synteko Pro 20 – matte
    Synteko Pro 45 – satin (not so glossy like Pro 90, but difference isn’t so big for spend money for this one)
    comes in cans 1l, 5l, 10l

    we (me and other polymer clay lovers) use this finish for something around 7 years and haven’t problems like stickness (if polymer clay is properly baked) and it also work good with acrilic, oil colors, pigments, pearl-ex, inks etc.
    Similar characteristics like Varathane – milky white, after drying – clear finish, similar smell. I had chance for comparing, because before we found Synteko, I bought Varathane form PolymerClayExpress.

    1. That is wonderful news! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I updated the post with your information. I hope this helps people!

  13. Hi there, I have a question which answer I haven’t found online. What’s the different reaction between a water based polyurethane, acrylic and vinyl sealants? I can’t find Dulux not Varathane sealants where I live. Nor any of the mentiones, but I found the kind of sealants I mentioned at my local home depot. They are quite expensive to be able to buy all of them and try, specially because I don’t know what I’ll do with the rest of the can. So, Does anybody has some input on this? thanks in advance!

    1. Polyurethane, acrylic, and vinyl are different chemicals. They’re different kinds of plastic esters that are added to a paint-like base. In general, all should be safe with polymer clay (most brands, anyway, and if water-based). But you’re right, it’s a bit like playing roulette to know which one to choose, and they’re not cheap. Most will probably work, but then again you never know til you try it. (Now you know why I’ve not tested all of them. Those pesky dollars.) But I DO know that Varathane works. I can’t find it where I live either. I had to order it online. Dulux is a UK brand, you won’t find it in Home Depot.

    1. For any given product, there is going to be someone who has an unsatisfactory result. I can say that about every product that I recommend. There are so many variables that could be coming into play. (eg. were paints involved? Was a clean brush used? Which clay was used? Was the clay fully baked? Were the pieces stored in colored tissue paper? You get the idea.) But of all varnishes that people use with polymer clay, Varathane has the best reviews over the longest period of time. I can count on one hand (that review included…yes, I knew about it) the number of bad stories about Varathane. I’ve never had yellowing and neither have most people who use it. But it’s interesting that the FEAR of things turning yellow and the instance of people saying that Varathane yellows far outnumber the actual reports of it happening. 🙂

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  15. Michelle Gates Drushel

    I just started making clay charms and I did one all white using premoi clay. It was baked appropriately and dried. I used Varathane water base crystal clear fast drying triple thick gloss, and dip the charms. After only a month it is turning yellow in spots around creases and where it piles up thick. I’m going to attempt to remove the varathane with alcohol and brush it on this time. I haven’t had any complaints about my other charms turning yellow so far. Any advice? My varathane is pretty new and I keep it in a sealed container with screw on lid and wipe the edges to keep clean with a dry cloth.

    1. Varathane is a brand name and there are several varieties of it. Some of the varieties are a bit yellow-tinged. Does the stuff in the can look like skim milk? It should. If you have the yellow-tinged stuff, then it is going to look a bit yellow where it’s thick. To prevent that, you can brush your charms. Or if you dip, you can give your charms a good shake or spin to remove the excess. I’ve not heard of “triple thick gloss” with varathane, and that tells me perhaps you’ve got the wrong stuff. Not that it’s bad…I’ll bet it will work just fine for things that aren’t white. But you might want to get a can of the type that you see in the photo here, it’s completely colorless.

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  17. I will try this next time. I would also like to know if it takes away the luster of the mica powder. I found the spray did and ruined my piece. argh.

    1. Varathane doesn’t take away the luster, it intensifies it. Sometimes what happens with mica is that you’ll end up putting a lot on the surface and a lot of that is actually not even attached. So when you brush it off the piece seems to lose the luster. If you put a spray on it, it sort of wets the loose powder, darkening it. You can see that effect here, scroll down for the part with the textured pink sheet. So that’s going to happen with any sealer. But keep in mind, the extra luster was in illusion anyway, as the powder was loose. Varathane is, however, going to be a bit like wetting a beach pebble…it will intensify the color and make the sparkles show better, so you actually have a better effect that bare mica powder. But you do need to remove the excess with a quick brush-off with a paint brush.

  18. Fredrica Van Sant

    Ginger, your informative article on varathane was timely for me – thank you. Being recent to polymer clay, I am yet needing questions answered. At this time am researching sealers. Varathane comes up as the choice in so many places. I was asking for “Flecto” Varathane only to confuse the store clerks until one pulled up the information online that “Flecto” was once used but is no longer. I have not been able to find it as yet but more time is needed. I have one question: Is the product only in milky white? I noticed several other brands stating “crystal clear” and wonder if that would be now available in the Rustoleum water based product, and if a “crystal clear” product would avoid the yellow tint eventually. While I intend to find the Gloss Varathane, Rustoleum brand and will check Home Depot and Lowes, and Ace Hardware…(True Value will order it for me they say) – the idea of Pledge/Future is something to try also and more available. Again…this was a great article…you are a superb researcher. I printed it out for my files.
    Every time I lay out a project idea, I fail to factor in the time involved in researching, buying (trying to locate) supplies, while the production awaits me impatiently.

    1. The Varathane in the can is slightly blueish white, like skim milk, but it dries absolutely crystal clear. Some other formulations of Polyurethane can yellow. Often they’re yellow in the can (as is the case with oil-based polyurethane) and in other cases the varnish itself yellows in UV light. But Varathane is tried and true. I’m not able to find it locally anywhere. But it’s readily available on Amazon. I source a lot of my materials on Amazon, actually. I have Prime and it makes it all so much easier.

  19. Hi! Just felt like I needed to add -I bought polycrylic at lowes because they didn’t have varathane and I thought it was the same. I got a spray can and a small paint can size. Weelllll of course some pieces have done well over the last year and some got dirty. I make jewelry and the oils of my skin and make up just stuck to stuff. Made them dirty looking. I never comment online but I hope this info helps someone else

    1. Well that’s horribly disappointing! I do wonder if the ones that got dirty were the ones you used the spray with? In general, you can’t use spray cans with polymer clay as it gets sticky over time. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hopefully you’ll save someone else the trouble. Varathane rules! 🙂

  20. Pingback: Насколько прочны пуговицы из полимерной глины? | CHAROTSVIT

  21. Is it safe to use water-based Varathane on polymer clay earrings that have been previously coated with Sculpey gloss glaze?

    1. I haven’t tried that particular combination, but I have used Varathane over other sealers without any ill effects. You might get crackling, but you won’t know til you try. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I’m new to polymer clay and I didn’t know that Varathane would be a better choice until after I bought the Sculpey glaze. By the way, your articles have been super helpful for me! 🙂

  22. Hello there! Thank you for great article!
    I’m from Poland so.. No chance to get Varathane. I also tried few varshines. Some really became sticky. But I’ve got an idea about Sculpey gloss. I’m using it now and yet it’s perfect. It’s dry in no time and does not get sticky. I think, it’s because of the clay, that people sometimes dislike it. I noticed that not every varnish is usable for every brand of clay. For example: I’ve had one decoupage varshish which was sticky on Premo but wasn’t sticky on Fimo.

    Currenly I’m using only Premo clay and I must say that Sculpey gloss goes very well with it. Also I don’t think they would produce a product not suitable with their own products.. Maybe that’s the problem with Sculpey 🙂

    1. I agree with you that different varnishes will act different on various brands of clay. I have experienced the same thing. Sculpey Glaze isn’t a terrible glaze, and it does a good job in many cases. But some people don’t like it, perhaps merely because they like Varathane better. I did find it to be a bit gloopy and thick. But if it works for you, then that’s excellent!

  23. wow, this is great! Thanks for this, its a huge help!
    I was curious to know if you would recommend this for air dry clay too?
    I’m having trouble sticking fabric to air dry clay, without it becoming cloudy and ruining the finish. I was using Modge Podge (it was recommended) to stick the fabric, but I need to find another glue that doesn’t ruining the finish. But now I’m thinking if I can find a suitable glue, I could finish the work off with this to make the work really look and feel finished and protect it.
    Anyone have any thoughts?
    PS I’m enjoying your site, pleased I stumbled across it!

    1. Varathane seems to be a very nice finish for lots of surfaces. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work for air dry clay as well. I’m not sure, exactly, what you’re doing with the fabric, so it’s hard for me to give any recommendations. But Varathane (or another polyurethane varnish) is a good one to have on hand for a variety of great crafting applications. I’m glad you’re enjoying my site. Don’t be a stranger! 🙂

  24. Ginger..just a quick question….i’m reading that you prefer a water-based poly….i did have an oil-based laquer on hand…i tried it on a spare clay piece and itvseems fine–beautifully glossy….is your preference just because of easier clean-up?…or are there other reasons?

    1. Clean up is certainly a factor. And the longer drying times of oil varnishes can be an issue as well. Sometimes a varnish won’t fully dry on polymer clay and the oil based ones seem to be the ones people report problems with. Lastly, the oil based varnishes seem to be amber colored and will be slightly yellow on white polymer clay. They also tend to get more yellow over time. This isn’t an issue on wood, of course, but for Santa’s beard, it would be a problem! However, if your tests look good and your varnish is behaving well then certainly go ahead and use it.

  25. Thank you so much for this handy article!

    After reading, I went on a journey for the fabled Varathane. After going to Kroger, Keltons, Tractor Supply, Nothern Tool, Walmart and Lowes, the only thing I could find is Polycrylic, but the stuff is not nearly the same as Varathane according to a lot of reviews. I wanted to get the good stuff asap, because I plan to sell a lot of my glaze-awaiting polymer clay pieces.

    I talked to an associate at Lowes and he told me they stopped selling Varathane months ago and started putting up Polycrylic. I wonder why this is?

    Turns out the only way for me to get my hands on this stuff is to order it online. A lot of the hardware stores I visited have it listed on their website, but not in-store.
    Just wanted to let everyone know. Best price I could find was on Amazon.

  26. My Home Depot said it depends on what state you are in to be able to get the water based Varathane. In NH you can only buy the oil based version, at least in HD. I ordered mine through Amazon.

  27. Hi, I have a question. I have been working in ceramic clay for a long time, but I had an idea for a piece to put in my planter garden in polymer clay. My research has brought me to your website, which I really enjoy btw. Because it is outdoors and I know I want to use Pearl EX colors and Kato clay, but what I am having a hard time figuring out is sealer. On another post you posted pictures of hearts that you have outdoors and mentioned sealing with “future”, but I did not see that on the list. I keep reading about this verathane as acceptable for outdoor use, but the can says interior. Am I missing something or does it come in different varieties? And if so, if I do not want it too glossy, by only putting 1 coat, is that acceptable coverage for the outdoors? Thank you, I value your opinion and appreciate the posts you write.

    1. I’ve never done any long term outdoor tests with any varnishes on polymer clay, so I really don’t know. I did use “future”…which is now called “Pledge Home Care”, which is a clear acrylic liquid used to put a shine on kitchen floors. Outdoor Varathane may work, but I’ve only use indoor Varathane on clay. Really, the best thing is to take your chances and see what happens. Try it and see. Good luck!

      1. Thank you so much. I bought some outdoor varathane and will test it out. Thank you so much! I’ve enjoyed your posts and have learned so much. Love learning new artistic mediums.

  28. I wish I had seen this article earlier! Unfortunately I already applied some nail polish to my polymer clay sculpture. 🙁

    Is there any other downside to usingnail polish, other than the fact that my sculpture now feels a little sticky even though its dry?

    Do you think I can fix this by glazing over the nail polish with Varathane?

    1. The downside to using nail polish is that it very often remains or becomes sticky over time. That is bad because the stickiness will attract dirt, fibers, fur, and can often be scraped off with a fingernail. Yes, you can sometimes fix it by giving it a coat of Varathane, but only if it’s very slightly sticky. I don’t think it will work if it’s really sticky.

  29. Deni Lindgren

    I read a blog once that said if the nail polish stays sticky, just put another coat on and it’s fine. I don’t know this for myself, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
    The new thing I’m trying is a light coat of water based polyurethane and then clear nail polish that I got in bulk from a nail art supply. This is working out great so far, but I have yet to see what the long term results might be.
    Has anyone else tried this?

    1. It might work, certainly. The problem is, there are hundreds if not thousands of brands and formulas of clear nail polish available worldwide. Some work well, many don’t, and it’s impossible to know which one will work or not. If you have one that works…fantastic! But from my position it’s hard to recommend that anyone do this because of the extreme variability in what my readers will have sitting in their makeup drawer.

  30. Hi Ginger, I have a problem with applying chalk pastels then sealing with polyurethane. I recently made a lovely pendant using pastel as colouring, baked and cooled as usual but when applying the varnish it diluted all the chalk colouring! I’m also having the same problem with Mica Powder. I live in the UK and Pearl Ex isn’t available here at a reasonable price so I bought some powders online which said was craft grade for polymer clay but the colours do not seem to stick? I have used Fimo and black and white Premo. Also would just like to say what a great site full of valuable information which has been so much help to me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jo, I don’t think anything is wrong, it’s just a matter of knowing what to expect. Putting a varnish on anything is essentially like making it permanently wet. So the chalk gets dampened and therefore the color of the underlying clay can be seen through it. Also, make sure that your chalks are densely pigmented. If they’re very inexpensive, they might be more “chalk” and less pigment. Also, try adding a thicker coat of pastel.

  31. Pingback: Viva Decor Precious Metal Colour Heat-Set on Premo Polymer Clay | KarenAScofield

  32. I’ve been working in pottery clay for a while now and decided to try out polymer. I’m doing transfers on the clay which need some kind of sealant. I tried using Magic Glos for the first time today, which was an abysmal failure. My piece is curved and the gloss ran off or pooled. I’m going to give the Varathane a try next. My question is what happens if the piece gets wet? As an example, I am making pieces for an upcoming pirate festival, and if someone buys my product (pirate eye patch) and it rains, how will the Varathane hold up?

  33. Really love all the effort you put into testing and supplying information. Your information has allowed me to answer so many of my customer’s questions. Really hate staring back at them with that deer in the headlight look! I have a question, have you used Varathane 3X? Right now i am going back and forth between varathane and minwax. Both seem to work well, but I am dipping my product up to 5 times and allowing it to drip to get a smooth thick coat. Varathane is saying 3X is three times as thick. It would be great to get away with one or two coats instead of as many as I do. Please let me know what you may have learned about this product. Thanks

  34. Heather Victoria

    I love Varathane too it is exactly as you explained!

    Although i like to use guilders wax & rub n buff on some of my jewellery pieces, but i think due to it being water based on top of a wax base that it doesn’t work as well 🙁

    Not sure if anyone has any ideas on sealing rub n buff? But i think i’m going to try a thin layer of liquid fimo.

    Thank you for your review, it’s these sorts of pages that help me decide what products to buy and saves me wasting my money 🙂

  35. Thank you so much for all the great information! I’m definitely considering using this now, but I was just wondering if you knew how well this glaze reacts with acrylic paint on polymer clay? Because recently I’ve had a problem with Triple Thick glaze cracking on pieces that I’ve painted with acrylic paint, even after watering the glaze down and using a thin coat. And after looking into the Varathane a bit more, I came across someone who said that when they use it over acrylic paint, especially black paint, it can make the paint smudge. So I was just wondering if you had any experience with Varathane making paint smudge. Thanks so much!

    1. Glaze? Do you mean the Varathane varnish? It works well, even over paint. It’s one of the few that does. Any varnish can smudge the paint used under it if the paint hasn’t dried, or if the paint contains materials that the Varathane would dissolve. But I’ve not experienced this. Triple Thick doesn’t work well as a varnish over paint…it seems to cause stickiness down the road.

      1. Oh okay, it’s good to hear that it works well with paint! I’ll definitely be giving Varathane a try, thank you so much!

  36. Pingback: Polymer Clay Faux Opal Test Beads | KarenAScofield

  37. hi! i found this review tonight, after reading up on this product in every possible site online. i’m wondering if you’ve noticed much yellowing with this product? a fellow blogger said she’s never had an issue w/ it (the first she’s found, actually) yellowing white cabinets. can you give your opinion on this? i’m about to dive into painting my light oak kitchen cabinets and i’m SO nervous to use the wrong product and then have them yellow in a short amount of time! 🙁 every DIY’er says i’m over thinking, but i really don’t think i am. i need them to be durable and last longer than a few years and doing my due-diligence in research will hopefully pay off.

    1. I can really only comment on the use of Varathane on polymer clay. The variety shown in the article does not yellow whatsoever. I have used it on wood in my home as well, and it looks great. Keep in mind that all varnishes will intensify and enrich the color of wood, sort of like making it wet would do.

  38. I know that this post is old but… I but I did buy the exact brand of polyurethane posted and made my first piece with it. After letting it dry for 2 day it was still tacky. I am wondering why this would be? I use Super Sculpy and the piece was a small thin sanke earing. I dipped the entire snake into a cup of the polyurethane and hung it to dry. I was wondering if I did something wrong?

    1. How very odd. Thousands and thousands of clayers over 25 years have relied on this product. I’ve not personally heard of this happening before. At least not with this specific formulation. The only thing I can figure is that your clay might not have been thoroughly cured. Or perhaps the formulation has changed. Would you mind sending me a pic of the can?

  39. I’ve been experimenting with other craft projects, and looking for a good sealer I could buy in bulk. I found this article, and went looking at Home Depot a few days ago.
    I didn’t find the Varathane water based at Home Depot, just the Polycrylic one by MinWax.

    I checked Michaels though, and found much smaller bottles of what I think is the same as Varathane, just another brand?
    I found an Americana “DuraClear Gloss Varnish” which is labeled as a “Polyurethane Gloss Varnish”.
    I also found an Americana bottle of “Matte Varnish”. I believe both are water based.

  40. Do the regular water based formulas work as well as the “Heavy Use Formula”? I’ve tried to buy it from three different sellers, and they’ve all sent me the regular version. I plan to sell some jewelry so I really want to make sure I get it right! Thanks so much, your website has been very helpful.

      1. It seems to be working quite well, I sealed some pieces with 5 thin coats of the “Ultimate” water based Varathane in the white can and they are very hard. I accidentally dropped a few on my studio tile floor a day after sealing and they didn’t even scuff or scratch.

        Thank you so much for your reply! I’ve recently started working with polymer clay because I broke my ankle and needed a medium that I could make things with while keeping my leg elevated, instead of running all over my studio standing a lot with my resin work. Your site has been invaluable and I’m so grateful! I hope to buy the sea glass tutorial soon.

  41. I make dog type buttons for crochet items for animal rescue fundraisers. I just started making them and would like to clarify that I should bake again after applying Varathane. Also, I live in a rural area of Michigan and searched for the Rust-Oleum varathrine polyurethene in gloss on line and True Value will ship free to your local True Value hardware. The price is reasonable and it comes in multiple sizes.

  42. Hello! I love this page, thank you for sharing all your experiments! It is a great help 🙂
    I was desperate with the subject of varnish .. at first I tried several but they were all sticky, until I found Fimo’s that seemed to fit. I have used it for a year, until now that I have seen that it is definitely not resistant at all! with the humidity or scratching a little, it goes away … and the problem is that in some parts of the pieces I put acrylic paint and that’s why it does not work for me, I need a very strong protection. I make realistic animal jewelry and I would like it to be preserved over time!
    Now that I have found this information I am more relaxed, I found the Varathane on Amazon and it’s coming tomorrow 🙂 I really want to try it, but I have some doubts about how to do it.
    With three layers for example is it suitable for good protection?
    And how much time / temperature do you put in the oven? (after each layer or only at the end?) I have no idea how to do it .. I use Fimo clay. Thanks!

    1. Varathane is a good varnish, and it works well to protect against wear (such as for jewelry). But it won’t protect against abrasion or actual damage such as would happen for a dog’s tag or a keyring. Nothing will work for that. If you find that Varathane doesn’t work for you, I would recommend using liquid polymer clay and curing it with a heat gun. Another option is to brush on UV cure resin.

      You don’t need to put your items in the oven after coating with Varathane, but doing so will make the varnish cure more completely faster than by air. Most people do about 250°F for about 30 minutes, but there is no standard.

      1. I tried this at 250 for 20 minutesand it smoked a bit and some of them discolored. The only thing I can think I may have done wrong is I didn’t tent them and I preheated the oven, I normally put them in cold. I’m going to keep experimenting because it does give a harder set cure.

  43. Great articles!
    I have sealed the top of some pendants with the Varathane. But now I have decided to add more clay and put an edge around them and a pc bail. Can you rebake them if they have the Varathane coating? It is 2 or 3 thin layers applied a week ago. AND can you put epoxy resin over it? Or should I just remove the Varathane altogether?
    Premo clay… Thanks!

  44. Could you tell me if the packaging is the same as in the photo? The blue/white can?
    I can not for the life of me find this. Even on the Rustoleum website.
    They only seem to have one called Varathane Diamond Finish when I search water based Varathanes on their website. Is this their new packaging?
    Thank you!

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