milk paint basics.

Welcome to day 1 of milk paint madness week, milk paint basics.

For those of you who might be entirely unfamiliar with milk paint, this post is for you.  But everybody, be sure to read to the end for details on today’s giveaway.

  First of all let’s just establish that when I’m talking about milk paint, I’m talking about paint that comes in powder form and you mix it yourself with water when you’re ready to use it.  Some of my favorite brands of milk paint include Miss Mustard Seed, Homestead House, The Real Milk Paint Co and Sweet Pickins.

Don’t be confused by General Finishes Milk Paint which is really an acrylic paint and not a milk paint at all.

Also, don’t be confused by The Real Milk Paint Co’s packaging.  It looks more like a traditional paint can, but there is a bag of powder inside.  There is also a marble inside which is a very clever tool for mixing your paint, but I’ll get to mixing in a minute.

Milk paint is made with only a handful of basic ingredients including milk protein, lime and pigment.  It is non-toxic and has zero VOC’s.  In other words, it is a very green product that is not harmful to the environment or to you while you’re using it (go here to read more about the green quality of milk paint).  Since I paint a lot, I’m exposing myself to the products I use on a regular basis and I bet you are too.  Don’t forget to take this important quality into consideration when choosing which products you’re going to use.

Milk paint in powdered form can be stored pretty much indefinitely as long as it is in a sealed container and stays dry.  It doesn’t take up very much space on your shelf this way, which is an added bonus.

Although these days most of us use milk paint over a pre-existing finish and are delighted when it chips and crackles because of that resistance, historically milk paint was intended for use on raw wood.  When used on raw wood, milk paint soaks into the wood much like a stain rather than sitting on the surface like other paints.  That makes it incredibly long lasting and durable.  When used on raw wood milk paint won’t chip or peel away.

So let’s talk about mixing your milk paint.  The basic rule of thumb is to mix equal parts water to powder.  However I like to mix darker colors a little thinner (more water, less powder) and lighter colors a little thicker (less water, more powder).  But half and half is a good starting point.

You can also mix your paint really thin and use it as a wash.  Or leave it thicker if you want to add some texture to your piece.

There are all kinds of methods for mixing your milk paint.  Unlike Mr. Bond’s martini’s, it can be shaken OR stirred.  This is where that marble comes in from The Real Milk Paint Co.  If you like to shake your paint in a jar, throw the marble in the jar as well and it helps mix the paint beautifully.  You can also choose to use one of those battery operated milk frothers to mix your paint (reserving it for paint use only of course).  I’ve even heard that some people use a blender, but that seems like overkill to me.

I used to always shake my milk paint in a glass jar and the marble is pure genius for that.  It was also a very environmentally sound practice.  However, Mr. Q eventually got tired of washing out those jars for me (he does all of the dish washing in our house, we don’t have a dish washer).  So I switched over to stirring my milk paint in a disposable solo cup with a plastic spoon.  I purchased what may prove to be a lifetime supply of plastic spoons at a garage sale for a dollar and I haven’t run out yet.

Do you put the water in first, or the powder in first?  Some say one and some say the other, but I don’t think it makes that much of a difference.  However, if you put the powder in first, just be sure to mix all the way to the bottom.  It’s sort of like making hot chocolate from a powder, you don’t want to get that overly chocolaty last swallow because a bunch of the mix was stuck at the bottom of your cup.

Should you use cold water or warm water?  Again, I’ve heard both.  I suggest meeting in the middle and using room temperature water.

I’ve also heard that sometimes well water may cause problems with milk paint.  When I was in high school a friend of mine had orange hair from washing it with well water.  So if your well water turns things orange, you might want to try using bottled water instead.  But city water from the tap should be perfectly fine.

One thing to keep in mind about milk paint is that once it’s mixed with water it has a limited shelf life (no longer than one week).  So obviously you don’t want to mix way more than you are going to need.  I think this factor stresses people out unnecessarily.  Over time you’ll develop a feel for how much paint you need, but in the meantime I have a little trick for you.  For a typical piece of furniture like a desk or medium sized dresser, start with about a 1/2 cup paint mixed with a 1/2 cup water.  Then start the first coat of paint on your piece and pay attention to how much of the paint you use.

Did you use all of it for the first coat?  If so, mix the same amount again for the 2nd coat.

Did you run out?  If so, mix a bit more the next time adding enough to finish the first coat and complete the 2nd coat.

Did you have way too much?  You get the idea.  As long as you have enough paint mixed to paint your final coat all from one batch you are going to be OK.

That being said, you can not mix a new batch of milk paint just to finish that one last drawer and expect it to match.  It most likely won’t.  So be sure your final coat of paint is all mixed at the same time (see an example of that here) .

Speaking of mixing, be sure to stir your milk paint frequently as you use it (that plastic spoon really comes in handy for this).  Because this paint is all natural, the heavier pigments will sometimes fall to the bottom of your cup as you’re painting.  This can result in some fairly obvious color differences between the beginning and end of your piece .  The best way to prevent that is to give your paint a little stir every 10 minutes or so as you are painting.

Here’s one of the best milk paint tips I ever got; mix your paint first and then let it sit while you are prepping your piece to be painted.  That gives the milk paint ingredients time to dissolve and blend while you are removing knobs, lightly sanding and then cleaning your piece.

Speaking of prep work, I recommend not skipping this step when using milk paint (actually, I recommend taking the time to prep your piece no matter what paint you are using).  Especially the cleaning step.  If there are any oils (or furniture polish) on your piece of furniture it will resist the paint, possibly by a lot.  I like some chipping, but maybe not quite this much (check back later this week to learn how to get the perfect amount of chipping).

When buying a piece of furniture always ask the seller if they cleaned it up with anything recently.  I often find that Craigslist sellers will put a coat of furniture oil on a piece to make it look good for pictures.  If that’s the case, you want to be sure to clean that off before you start painting.  I like to use TSP Substitute for that.

Also, don’t panic if your piece looks like the one above after the first coat of paint.  If this happens to you, get out your shop vac and vacuum off the flaking paint.  Sand the piece thoroughly, you don’t have to remove all of the paint just the lose stuff, but you also want to give the wood underneath some more ‘tooth’ to hold the paint so you don’t repeat the same result.  Vacuum again after sanding, wipe the piece down and start over.

OK, so you’ve mixed your paint and you’ve prepped your piece.  The next step is painting.  This is the simplest part of milk paint.  Because it’s thinner than most paints you don’t have to worry about brush strokes (although do keep an eye out for drips).  You really can use just about any kind of paint brush and still get good results with milk paint.  This may sound odd, but I find it less physically taxing to paint with milk paint versus other kinds of paint because it’s much lighter on your brush and it doesn’t really drag as you’re painting it on.  I don’t think I can really explain that properly, but if you’ve ever gone from painting with milk paint to then painting with another paint you’ll know what I mean.  It just feels like less work.

Another big bonus to milk paint is how quickly it dries.  When painting a dresser I generally remove the drawers and paint them first, then move on the body of the dresser.  By the time I’ve finished the body, the drawers are usually dry (unless it’s a super humid day).  Because the paint dries so quickly, I often am able to complete a piece from start to finish in one day.

Milk paint coverage can be variable.  It will depend on how thick or thin you mixed your paint, what color you are using and what color you’re covering up.  I’ve gotten away with as little as one coat when using black or other very dark colors, but I’ve also needed at least three coats when using white over a dark wood.

Here’s a great tip regarding coverage.  If you’re painting over a dark finish with a very light color, like white, start with a coat of paint in a mid-tone shade of grey first.  Then move on to the white.   You’ll get better coverage in fewer coats.

Don’t worry if you feel like your first coat of milk paint looks terrible.  The first coat rarely looks good (with the exception of those dark colors).  Move on to the 2nd coat and you’ll be amazed at how much better it suddenly looks.

Once your final coat of paint is dry you might notice that milk paint is a little rough to the touch.  Get out your sanding block and some 220 grit sand paper and hand sand over the entire piece (I say you can count this as your cardio for that day).  The finish will become smooth like butta’ and it will be time to move on to the topcoat, which is the subject of our post for tomorrow.

By the way, if you are a visual or auditory learner you can click here for a link to a great milk paint basics video by Marian Parsons, a.k.a. Miss Mustard Seed.

Now it’s time for the fun part, the prize!

Includes:  Miss Mustard Seed Look Books 1 & 2, paint brush, whisk paint mixer, 4 colors of milk paint, Miss Mustard Seed’s Beeswax, Miss Mustard Seed’s Tough Coat Sealer.  Thank you to Miss Mustard Seed, Homestead House and The Real Milk Paint Co for providing items for today’s giveaway!

The basic rules:  to be eligible to win today’s prize leave a comment on this blog post telling me whether or not you’ve tried milk paint.  Your comment must be left on the blog, not on Facebook.  You are not required to follow my blog, although it would be awesome if you did!

Normally I make a point of answering every comment left on my blog.  If someone takes the time to leave a comment, I like to acknowledge that.  But I usually only get 10 to 20 comments so it’s easy to fulfill that promise.  But I’m guessing that I’ll get many more comments on these posts so I’m going to warn you up front that I won’t be answering each one.  That helps make it easier for me when it’s time to pick a winner too, so I hope you guys will cut me some slack on that this week.

I will randomly draw the name of a winner for today’s prize from all of the comments left on this post by Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the stroke of midnight.  You are eligible to win each day, so if you leave a comment on each day’s post, your name is eligible to be drawn for each prize.

The fine print: no purchase necessary, you must be 18 years of age or older to win, void where prohibited by law, the number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning, approximate retail value of prize is $140, if the prize is not claimed by Friday, April 13, another name will be drawn at random to win, blah, blah, blah.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next segment of milk paint madness, and in the meantime remember to pin today’s post for future reference.

171 thoughts on “milk paint basics.

  1. I have used milk paint. Most of the time I prefer milk paint to chalky style paints when painting furniture because of the silky smooth finish I can get with milk paints vs. the more textured finish of chalky paints.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Quandie – yes, I’ve used it! I made a chalkboard, and it didn’t go so well. I’ve noticed some dressers painted with milk paint are some of my favorites on Pinterest, so I need to experiment more. I love your blog. 😊


    1. I’m curious what went wrong with your chalkboard Michelle. Tomorrow’s post will be about chalkboards, so be sure and leave me a comment if you have anything to add to that post … like what can go wrong 🙂


  3. I havevtried milk paint before and was surprised atbthe feel initially. Great tip on sanding for a smooth finish. I look forward to the next installment.


  4. Milk paint always drives me crazy, but I keep going back to it. 🙂 The tips you post have gotten me through some tough pieces of furniture! As well as letting me distress more when I didn’t get enough chipping.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This paint is so intriguing to me. I have not tried ‘true’ milk paint, and just need to grab the bull by the horns! Thanks for all the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have yet to try milk paint, but have been wanting to for a while! I love the bold, rich colors and how they saturate the surface, as well as the matte look of the finish.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just love milk paint and the variations you can make by blending, etc. I am sharing this with my sister who is just beginning! Thanks for your input.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and just finished my first chalk paint project! So…much…fun!

    Now I want to try milk paint! Especially that gorgeous turquoise shade you show!

    Keep inspiring us!!!


  9. These are great tips. I actually do have a container of milk paint that is already liquid. I will be following (and I think referring back to this series. I have several pieces I have been meaning to paint. Finally ordered a paint shelter to work in and am waiting for delivery. I need to order some Miss Mustard seed to try on a smaller piece. My husband has been joking lately that i need to stop collecting paint and actually get started using it. I think a little packet of this Milk paint and a wax finish will be easy to slip in, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have used Miss Mustard Seed and Sweet Pickins and I love the results of milk paint!! I plan to do many more projects in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love milk paint! It’s about all I use now. The chippier the better! (almost)
    The marble is a great idea. I will try that.


  12. I’ve yet to use milk paint..daughter and I painted a few pieces of furniture for their new home and now I’m hooked…next step will be to try milk paint..I’m nervous about mixing the colour and getting it all wrong


    1. No need to be nervous. If you can mix up some hot chocolate from a packet of powder, you can mix milk paint. Just remember to give it 10 – 15 minutes for the ingredients to properly dissolve before you start painting, and stir regularly.


  13. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you are teaching this milk paint class! I have wanted to try it ever since I started reading your Blog a year or maybe more ago & I am hooked!
    Thank you so much for sharing! 😊👍

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve painted a lot of furniure but never used milk paint, mainly due to nerves from the mixing & chipping (I love the look but doing it myself scares me!) I definitely want to try it, especilly after reading your milk paint tutorials and information.


  15. Yes! I painted my daughter’s twin size bed with one of MMS’ shades of white and I loved how it turned out. I don’t remember what I used to protect the paint on it, but it has held up so well.


  16. I love chalk paints while working, but I love more my finished milk paint pieces. My favorite is a small table that sits in my mom’s living room. I did it in MMSMP Tricycle. It chipped just right!


  17. I’ve used milk paint on a few pieces and really like working with it. I find that I actually like it’s unpredictability…chip…crackle..or none…it’s all fun!!!!


  18. Great information. Have not used this yet but reading a lot about it. You’ve explained things so nicely. Looking forward to giving this a try. I like an alternative to chalk paint…. which I love also.


  19. Can I use chalk paint over milk paint that has not been sealed? The milk paint did not chip and even after 3 coats of white, the dark wood is showing through and I have no more milk paint. I’d like to just go over the white (MMS) milk paint with the Fusion mineral paint equivalent color.


    1. Yes, you can paint over milk paint with chalk paint. Fusion paint is not chalk paint, but an acrylic paint, and you can also put that over the milk paint.


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