When to Use Milk Paint


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There are multiple types of paints available today. Particularly, when you consider the number of varieties of paint available 10-15 years ago. There are multiple chalk paints, boutique paints, latex paints and milk paints available today. So how do you know when to use milk paint? Today I am going to share with you why you would want to consider using this paint. This is particularly important given the variety of paints that are available in the market. It can make your head spin trying to understand the pros and cons of each variety.

Depression era dresser painted with Milk Paint
Depression Era Dresser painted with Milk Paint

A couple of weeks ago, I came across 3 dressers that were in need of a make-over. As shown in the photo above, I decided to paint one of them with milk paint and I am going to tell you why.

Technically, you can paint anything with milk paint. There are no official “rules” for using this paint. (No one is going to jail if you paint laminate with milk paint) Nonetheless, I am going to share with you my thought process for when I decide to use it on a piece of furniture.

Use on Vintage/Antique Pieces of Furniture

The first rule of thumb I use to determine whether or not to use milk paint on furniture depends upon the piece of furniture itself. If the piece of furniture pre-dates the 1940s, often I find it’s an excellent candidate for the use of this paint. Milk paint has been around for 100s of years and is one of the first paints created and used. Because it is made out of a powder with pigments, you simply add water to create the consistency that you desire.

Based on my experience – milk paint looks best on furniture that is truly vintage or antique. This paint has a flat finish and displays a depth of color that modern paints do not. It also looks best on wood finishes.

For an Authentic Textured Finish

The texture of milk paint on a dresser
The authentic crackle and texture of Milk Paint

The next thing I consider in determining if I want to use milk paint – is the type of finish that I want on the piece of furniture. If you look at the photo above, you can see the “crackle” finish and texture that milk paint imparts. This is a natural feature of the paint. It creates crazing and in some cases – chipping – on furniture and imparts a more authentic look to the furniture.

Please note, that it is difficult to intentionally create this type of finish. Milk paint has a mind of its own and will crackle and chip IF and WHERE it chooses to.

Another feature of this paint, is the depth of color. Because the paint is hand mixed and the color pigments are in a powder form – there is a subtle color variability in the final product. This slight variability of color – provides a depth of color and prevents pieces from looking flat/uniform in appearance. There was an antique side board that I painted using this paint – you can read about it HERE– that displayed great depth of color.

For a Nontoxic Finish

Depression Era Dresser painted using Milk Paint
Depression Era Dresser Painted with Milk Paint

The good news about mixing this paint from powder is that it is comprised on natural ingredients. There are no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). This also makes for easy clean up. The paint is water soluble and as such – you can clean your brushes in the kitchen sink. It’s also safe to use around pets and children.

Use Milk Paint For Quick Drying Time

Another reason I use milk paint is that in normal conditions, it dries quickly. Most times, I can apply a second coat in about 40 minutes. Oil based paints, in contrast, can have loooong dry times. Given that I have a limited amount of time to work on furniture, having a quick drying time is important to me.

By way of example, a cute little cupboard – which you can read about HERE– was given a makeover in 2 hours. This was such a fun and rewarding project. After spending hours and hours on some pieces of furniture – it was a joy to finish this little project in an afternoon. Thanks in part to the fast drying time.

Use Milk Paint If You Plan to Sand the Finish

Depression Era Dresser in Milk Paint
Depression Era Dresser with Milk Paint

My personal philosophy is that old furniture should look old. I am not saying it should look worn down and beat up. Having a nice warm and worn patina is what I prefer. Having said that, I believe old furniture shouldn’t have a new shiny finish on it. To my eye, old furniture with a coat of latex paint just doesn’t look quite right. One way I ensure that newly painted furniture looks more authentic is by going over a new paint job with sandpaper.

I realize this sounds contradictory. However, if you use a fine sandpaper with a 220 grit or even higher – it can create the perfect affect. I also like to sand away any drips or areas where the paint may have inadvertently pooled. I also like to lightly distress the edges of a piece of furniture. So that the wear looks natural.

This paint is perfect for sanding once it dries since it turns into a fine dust as you sand away. It definitely gives furniture that time-worn affect. In contrast, some other paints will gum up and become gloppy on your sand paper.

Another benefit of using this paint is that you can do wet sanding, which is where you sand hemp oil into the dried paint. More details about wet sanding can be found HERE.

When NOT to use Milk Paint

It may also be useful to know when NOT to use milk paint. So here are some thoughts. First, don’t use this paint if you want to apply it using a sprayer. Because this paint comes in a powder form to which you add water and because it needs periodic mixing, it’s just not paint sprayer friendly.

If you want a paint product that has a sealer built in to it – then don’t use milk paint. When using this paint, an additional step is required since it has to be sealed with a wax, oil or polycrylic. This step isn’t necessary when using other paints with a built-in sealer – like a latex paint.

You may not want to use this paint for large areas since it can be costly at $25 -$30 per quart. So, if you are considering painting all your kitchen cabinets with milk paint – factor in the cost. The same is true for exceptionally large pieces of furniture like hutches and large book shelves.

Finally, this paint has its own personality. You can never be entirely sure where and how it will adhere. It may chip, it may crackle – then again- it may not. I don’t mind taking a risk and letting the paint do its thing. Having said that, it may not be for everyone. If you are strongly committed to how you want a piece of furniture to look – I don’t recommend using milk paint.

Online Sources

Here are some of my favorite online sources for milk paint. I have used all of these brands and my experience with all of them has been positive.

Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint

Shackteau Milk Paint

Sweet Pickins Paint

Thanks for stopping by the blog today. If you liked this post, please leave me a comment in the box below.

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    1. Renee – thank you for your comment! Glad to provide some useful tips. On a different note – I always love your paintings!

  1. Super helpful blog post, thank you! Much to consider when choosing a paint, even before the color consideration, which alone can be overwhelming. Thanks for the tips, in particular the sand paper grit tip, so many grits in Home Depot to choose from, particulars are always appreciated. PS – The new blog design is beautiful!

    1. Thank you Susan! I appreciate that you took the time to make a comment. Yes – color consideration . . . another topic. Fortunately – you can repaint and change colors.

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