Waterlox Kitchen Countertops: Almost Three Years Later

It was over three years ago that we were working on our Kitchen, and not quite three years ago that we finished the countertops.

At the time one of the hardest decisions was what to finish our wooden countertop with. In the end we went with Waterlox. It was supposed to be durable, food safe, low maintenance, non-chipping and easy to repair if the need arose.

The counter tops have taken three years of abuse and misuse by a family of 6 who didn’t always use a cutting board (but usually did), who didn’t always wipe up water, vinegar, ketchup or whatever else feel on the counter (but usually did) and who treated the counters like something meant to be used, and not like a piece of art.

This resulted in some expected damage, like nicks and scratches, as well as some unexpected blemishes, like water marks under the handle of the faucet,  a big circle that peeled off where ketchup had sat on it for an hour or so (oops), and occasional print transfers from plastic bags (??!!??).

So, we decided to refinish it before winter set in, so that we could have the windows open during the process. Waterlox is super stinky when it’s drying. I suppose I could’ve tried the low-VOC formula this time, but the original formula worked so well, and it’s so expensive per can that I didn’t want to risk it.

Before and after. The color change is mostly due to lighting, but the difference in sheen is pretty accurate.

I hit the damaged spots with a random orbital sander with a 120 grit pad on it. I sanded down until I couldn’t see the damage any more, and blended the sanded area into the surrounding still-good areas.

The top picture is after spot sanding all the blemishes. Below is after refinishing.
This black streak was writing from a plastic breadbag. This sort of transfer occurred several times, and we were never really sure why. Usually we could just scrub it with a dish rag and get it off, but occasionally it was stuck on too hard for that to work.

After sanding I applied two very thin wiped on coats to see if it would blend in. It did stick to the old waterlox seamlessly as it was supposed to, so we carried on.

Water damage under the faucet handle. Our hands were often wet when we turned it off, which usually meant a drop or two under the faucet all the time. After re-finishing I turned the handle to hang over the sink.

After the thinly wiped coats I applied several spot-specific coats in the areas where I had sanded, making sure to blend out from the sanded areas into the surrounding counter top.

I did this  to build up a coat that would be about the same thickness as the original coat so that the color would blend better.

Before and after showing how the new coats blended nearly seamlessly into the old.

Between each coat I wiped the counter with 1000 grit sandpaper to remove any bubbles and dust that had settled while it was drying, and then wiped it as clean as possible with a towel.

It’s so shiny again.

I lost track of how many coats I ended up putting on, but it was at least 8 coats, but probably 10 or 12. The final two coats were very thin wiped on coats to make sure that whole surface had the same wipe pattern.

It’s so shiny again.


Re-finishing the counter was slightly easier than if it had been polyurethane or something since the new finish blended so well with the old. However, it took just as long between coats for spot application as it did for whole counter application three years ago, so it wasn’t quicker.

We’ve been happy with the day-to-day performance of the Waterlox. It’s handled water, cuts, condiments and hot pans

I’m sure we would’ve abused a laminate countertop too, and we couldn’t replace or refinish laminate after only three years. Also, while Waterlox is expensive ($90ish/can) for a finish, the cost of a new countertop in comparison makes it seem cheap.

On the other hand, while laminate would’ve gotten beat up too, it probably would’ve still looked adequate. The wooden countertop was starting to get dark spots from where the Waterlox had been cut or dissolved by ketchup and then repeatedly gotten wet.

I still like the look of the wood better, but wood with Waterlox is more work than laminate would be.

So, if you want maintenance free, then wood + Waterlox probably isn’t the right choice. It looks great for a few years, but eventually you’ll need to take a week and refinish it. If, however, you like the look of wood countertops and you’re willing to do the maintenance then Waterlox seems to be a good option and I’m glad we went with it.

It’s so shiny again.
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