How to Seal a Wood Backsplash

Sealing a wood backsplash helps protect it from moisture, stains, and damage. With the right sealant and application technique, you can give your wood backsplash a protective barrier that will keep it looking beautiful for years. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to properly seal a wood backsplash.

Choose an Appropriate Sealant

The type of sealant you use depends on the location and purpose of your wood backsplash. Consider these common options:


Polyurethane is the best choice for most wood backsplash projects. It forms a durable, water-resistant barrier and is available in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss sheens. Use an oil-based polyurethane for the most moisture protection.

Tung Oil

Tung oil is a natural option made from the seeds of the tung tree. It penetrates deep into the wood grain to accentuate the natural color and texture. Tung oil offers moderate protection from moisture.


Shellac is a traditional wood finish made from resin secreted by the lac bug. It dries quickly and forms a mildly protective, natural-looking satin finish. Use shellac on antique or rustic wood backsplashes.


Lacquer creates a strong, water-resistant seal in high-moisture areas like behind sinks. It dries faster than polyurethane but is prone to showing scratches over time.

Water-Based Polyurethane

This low-odor, non-yellowing option works well for light or rustic woods. It doesn’t offer as much moisture protection as oil-based poly but cleans up easily with soap and water.

Prep the Wood Surface

Proper prep work ensures the sealant bonds well to the wood and provides maximum protection:

  • Clean the backsplash thoroughly with a wood cleaner or mild soap and water. Rinse and let dry completely.
  • Sand lightly with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any residue and create a key for the sealant.
  • Vacuum and wipe away all dust with a tack cloth. Make sure the surface is pristine before sealing.
  • Apply wood conditioner for a more even finish on soft or porous woods like pine or maple.
  • Fill any holes or imperfections with wood filler and sand smooth when dry.

Apply the Sealant

Follow the manufacturer’s directions for best results. Here are some general tips:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area since most sealers contain harsh fumes.
  • Use a high-quality natural bristle brush to apply polyurethane or shellac smoothly and evenly.
  • Maintain a “wet edge” by brushing back into areas you just coated. Work methodically from side to side.
  • Apply at least 2-3 thin, even coats for a durable finish, sanding lightly between coats. Thick coats can bubble or yellow.
  • Allow the recommended drying time between coats – usually 2-4 hours. Cool temperatures or high humidity can extend drying time.
  • Consider thinning the first coat 10% with the recommended solvent for maximum penetration into the wood.
  • Work quickly with lacquer since it dries so fast. Use a foam brush or sprayer to apply.
  • Rub lightly with steel wool between coats for an ultra-smooth finish.
  • Allow the final coat to cure fully before use – up to 2 weeks for polyurethane.

Maintain the Finish

A sealed wood backsplash requires minimal maintenance to stay looking fresh. Avoid abrasive cleaners or scrubbing that can damage the finish.

  • Use a mild dish soap and soft sponge for regular cleaning. Rinse well and dry with a soft cloth.
  • Reapply a fresh coat of sealant once a year or when the finish appears worn or dull. Light sanding may be needed first.
  • Immediately clean up any spills or splatters to prevent stains. Oil soap helps remove grease buildup.
  • Revive the luster of polyurethane or lacquer finishes with a polishing wax or rubbed-out oil soap once or twice a year.
  • Consider resealing any areas near a sink or stove every 3-6 months to refresh moisture protection.

Sealing a wood backsplash properly takes a little work but is well worth the effort. The right sealant helps your beautiful backsplash maintain its warm, natural look for many years while resisting moisture, stains, and wear. With routine care, your sealed wood backsplash will stay in great condition to enjoy for a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best sealant for a wood backsplash around a stove?

Polyurethane is the best sealant for a wood backsplash around a stove or other high-moisture area. Oil-based polyurethane provides the most water and heat resistance.

Can I use water-based polycrylic to seal a wood backsplash?

Water-based polycrylic seals and protects wood with less odor and cleanup than oil-based polyurethane. It offers moderate protection from moisture so works best on wood backsplashes away from sinks or stoves.

How long does it take for polyurethane to fully cure on a backsplash?

Most polyurethane finishes take up to 2 weeks to fully cure and achieve maximum durability. Avoid heavy cleaning or placing hot items on the backsplash during this time. Light usage after 3-5 days is generally fine.

What is the difference between varnish and polyurethane?

Varnish and polyurethane both protect wood finishes. Polyurethane forms a harder, more durable coating that’s better for high-use areas like backsplashes. Varnish is less resilient but easier to touch up if damaged.

Should I seal the back of a wood backsplash panel?

Sealing all sides of a wood backsplash helps minimize moisture damage and warping. Use a moisture-resistant primer or sealer on the back before installing the panels for best results.

How do I get a smooth finish when sealing a wood backsplash?

Prepping the surface well, applying thin coats of sealant, and sanding lightly between coats helps achieve a smooth finish. Use a high-quality natural bristle brush and maintain a wet edge while painting.

How long does a sealant finish last on a wood backsplash?

With proper prep and application, a sealant finish can last 3-5 years on a wood backsplash in average conditions. High-moisture areas may need to be resealed more frequently.


Sealing a wood backsplash properly not only protects it from damage but also enhances its natural richness and color variation. With the right prep work, sealant selection, application techniques, and ongoing care, you can maintain the beauty of a wood backsplash for many years. A sealed wood backsplash adds a warm, welcoming touch of nature to any kitchen.