Milk Vs. Chalk Paint: Are They The Same Thing?

Milk Vs. Chalk Paint: Are They The Same Thing?

Milk Vs. Chalk Paint: Are They The Same Thing?

I’ve used many different paint mediums over the years. The truth is, when my partner Matt and I stumbled on "milk paint" in a bag we were as green to it as everyone else. "Is this like a chalk paint?” - I asked my knowledgable partner who’s been painting and has been in the construction world for all of his adult life. "I think so" - he replied.  Needless to say we took our new milk paint purchase home and gave her a whirl.

Which Is Easier To Use - Milk Paint Or Chalk Paint? - Our Two Cents

Right off the start we realized that this was not like other paints and not even similar to chalk paints. As we painted on our dry powdered bag of paint pigments we came to see this paint is a gigantic time consumer.  Instead of choosing a small piece of furniture to start our endeavor on we went with a large Hoosier cabinet...oh yeah, let's just jump right in. Matt mixed his bag of paint with water just like it mentions (1:1 ratio) and began to paint over top of the already existing paint.  We thinking this paint is similar or even related to  chalk paint must adhere like chalk paint....right?! Well F*** No!  It was like painting colored water onto a wall and watching it run right off, no sticking or adhering was happening here.

Soooo....after the second coat not doing anything we began to read into this milk paint a bit deeper. Turns out milk paint has been around for thousands of years!  It's a water based all natural (No VOC's) paint made up guessed it, milk & lime and whatever color pigments that were mixed in.

Chalk Paint Over Milk Paint.....Or What?

That being said, we were trying to take a very old paint concoction and hope to hell it would stick to our already latex or lead painted piece.  What we were forgetting is there is nothing in the milk paint dry mixture that assists in the adhesive process or "bonding" process.  A milk paint will and can be painted on an unfinished, raw wood piece and it will absorb and stick to that piece, but if your looking for something that will be as easy as chalk paint and stick to those "pre painted" surfaces your hooped!!! BUT WAIT! Someone got smart a few years back and created a bonding agent which I like to refer to as a glue and primer in one.  Really, that’s basically what it is.

So what you do here is take your already mixed up water and paint mixture and add the same amount of bonding agent to this (1:1 ratio). And yes you're mixing it right into the paint before you begin painting.  Now taking you back to when Matt and I took on the hoosier cabinet....we stopped our sad painting and started from scratch with a new batch and added in our bonding agent. Now, picture the sky opening and light shining through….It was a miracle!

The Milk Paint Recipe (And How Tricky It Can Be)

The paint began to stick to our pre painted piece and the color began drying (no the piece not the floor). So after about the 6th coat of milk paint our piece was completely covered.  Milk paint isn't simple in the sense that it takes many coats to cover a piece, it’s so thin and water based so very far from a thick chalk paint that covers in 2-3 coats. Now we still got some "chipping" happening but it was a cool effect.  When all was said and done we did some sanding of edges and let any chippy paint fall of that wanted to.  A good coat of wax was then applied just like you would a chalk based piece to seal everything in and well, our hosier was complete!

Chalk Paint Vs. Milk Paint - Key Points & Features

Without that bonding agent this would be a pointless project, and I’ve found that by using the bonding agent every time I paint with milk paint even if the piece is stripped or not i am decreasing the amount of applications and the paint just holds better.  I think that milk paint & chalk paint both have their places in the painting world.  When I have customers come into my shop and ask me what the difference is and "aren’t these the same thing" I give them this quick definition.

  • Chalk paint Sits more on top of a surface.
  • Usually comes in brighter more modern tones and colors.
  • Most you have to seal with a wax unless they are a fusion style
  • Covers usually with 2-3 coats (nice and thick).
  • Can totally distressed and layer

Milk Paint

  • Milk protein helps paint absorb into the piece giving it a more timely, aged look.
  • Colors are very early 1900's pallet Matte finish Looks phenomenal if you distress, it's a line that almost needs or calls out to be distressed!
  • Layers well So those are my simple key point definitions of these two paints.

So, if you're refinishing a piece I personally recommend the early 1900's-1960's models which look amazing done in milk just takes them back to that era.  So, my two cents go to the 1960's design plus a layer of chalk paint. The wood is solid but the piece just needs a pop of color and a facelift, chalk paint is ideal for these pieces!  I always mention to my customer that you can tell the difference between a chalk piece and milk piece, the milk painted piece you're unsure of what era it's been painted in..."did you pull it out of your grannie’s basement?"However, a chalk paint that is distressed to look vintage will always look like a recently distressed piece.

So, Which One To Go With?

My advice is to decide how much time you're willing to spend on a piece, see what decade it's coming from and how you picture it in your mind and just go from there! Oh, and if you want to see how the process went in pictures, check out our Instagram act (and this one ) on the entire story!

before picture of our hosier


after picture of our hosier


Close up of Milk Paint



Milk Painting DIY

Leave a comment