Milk paint is not like other paints and it can seem intimidating to beginners. This post is a complete beginners guide on how to use milk paint on furniture. I will walk you through the entire process of how to use milk paint on furniture from start to finish.
How to Use Milk Paint Video
Check out this video to see me demonstrate how to use milk paint on furniture. In the video, I painted this antique dresser for my master bedroom. I painted this beauty in Miss Mustard Seed’s Aviary. This color is described as a smoky blue-gray color. I knew it would be a perfect color to use in our master bedroom. We are working with a pretty blank slate in that room, so I wanted to add some color. But, I also wanted to use a color that was neutral enough to go with many duvet and decor options. I think I hit the nail on the head with this one! I am totally in love with aviary and already thinking it might be perfect color for the grandfather clock in our living room.
Step 1: Make Repairs
Before painting, make any necessary repairs to your piece. The most common repairs, especially with vintage and antique furniture, that I see are:
- pealing veneer
- broken or sticky drawers
- filling holes, scrapes, and gouges
- missing appliqués or trim
I like to make any repairs to my pieces before prepping them for paint, because sometimes making repairs can get them dusty and dirty.
I plan to cover all these common repairs (and more) on my channel and on this blog. So be sure to subscribe to stay up to date when a new post comes out!
Step 2: Prep the piece
Cleaning your furniture before painting
After making repairs, the next step is to prep the piece for paint. Milk paint is a little to no prep paint. This means there’s not a lot of prep work involved for most pieces. For most furniture, the only thing that needs to be done before applying milk paint is just cleaning it. For cleaning my pieces, I like to use a degreasing dish soap. Dish soap is strong enough to remove oils, grease and food residue but gentle enough to use without gloves and a respirator. I just fill a large bowl with water and a few squirts of soap. Then I use a old rag to wipe down the piece of furniture.
It is important to note, that if your piece is not solid wood, you do not want to use too much water. Wetting furniture with veneer can reactivate the glue holding the veneer and can damage it. For veneer pieces, you can still use the method described above, just rig out your rag until it’s just barely damp.
If I am being honest though, most of the time I don’t even bother to clean my piece before painting. Shocking I know! The reason is because I am often going for a chippy/aged look, and I find that dirt and dust can act as a resist and cause the paint to chip off more in certain areas.
What if your piece is extremely dirty?
Most of the time, just dish soap is enough to remove debris off your furniture before painting. However, there has still been times that I come across those pieces that are just flat out nasty! These pieces will might have layers of grease, oils, and grime that dish soap is just not strong enough to remove. This is particularly true for pieces that have had year and years of furniture polish applied to them.
If this is the case, I like to use a potent product called TSP or trisodium phosphate. This product comes in a powder form that gets mixed up with water to create a concentrated liquid. I like to mix mine in a dedicated spray bottle, and after its mixed- I just spray the piece down and wipe it off. After you have wiped the piece down with TSP, go back in and wipe it down again with just water to remove any of the cleaner.
TSP is high powered product. It will remove every trace of gunk or grime from your piece. But it is a harsh chemical packed product so be sure to wear proper safety gear while using. This includes safety goggles and a respirator. Check out this post, to read more about the pros and cons of cleaning with TSP.
I want to stress that this method is not needed for about 90% of the pieces you will paint, so do not feel like you have to resort to these extreme methods all of the time. But it is nice to have this tip in your back pocket if need be.
Sanding to Add “Tooth”
If you are new to milk paint, you might be wondering “Do I need to sand before painting?”. The answer really depends on the type of finish you are trying to achieve and how shiny the furniture’s finish is. For me, I am happy with a slighty chippy look and I am usually painting a piece that has a pre-existing finish that isn’t overly shiny. Therefore, I do not sand in this case.
However, if your piece is extremely shiny or you are not wanting a chippy look, I would recommend sanding the piece before painting. You can tell your piece is extremely shiny if it feels super glossy to the touch or you can see your reflection off the shine. For these types of pieces, sanding is necessary to get milk paint to stick well. Keep in mind, the point of sanding is not to remove the finish. The objective is just to rough up the surface enough to give the paint something to stick too. This should not take more than 5-10 minutes to sand an entire piece. I use an orbital sander and medium grit sandpaper, such as 100 or 120 grit.
Step 3: Mix Up the Milk Paint
Mix Paint in Small Batches
Milk paint is not like other chalk based furniture paints that comes ready mixed. If you are wondering what the difference is between milk and chalk paint, check out this post.
Authentic milk paint comes in a powdered form and needs to be mixed right before you are going to use it. It is important to remember not to mix up more paint than your going to use at once. This is because after milk paint has been mixed, it is only usable for a few hours before it starts to gel up. Once its gelled up, it is unusable. You could try to water it down but it will continue to gel up quickly. Most milk paint brands say it can last for up to ____ hours in the refrigerator. But, I don’t find this to be true, especially when using lighter colors such as white or cream.
To avoid wasting paint, it is best to only mix enough paint to add one complete coat to my piece of furniture. For a dresser, I can find that ______ is a good amount to get a full coat without much extra. This estimate could be slightly different depending on the color you are using and the size of the piece. I don’t always get the amount right, its pretty much a guessing game. But, I would rather mix up a little more painting to complete a coat, then to mix up too much paint and it gets wasted.
How to Mix Up Milk Paint
Milk paint powder should be mixed with equal parts warm water to powder. For example, mix 1/2 cup of powder with 1/2 cup of warm water. This one to one ratio is a starting point. You may find that you might need to add slightly more powder to water due to environmental factors, like the temperature and humidity levels. Mixing milk paint is not an exact science! This 1-1 ratio is just a rule of thumb. Adding a little more powder or water will not affect the finished piece.
You are just aiming for a consistency that is good for painting. For example, if its too thin, you will have paint runs everywhere, but if its too thick the paint drag and not glide across the surface well. A good milk paint consistency is something in between and can be similar to the consistency of a melted milkshake or slightly water pancake mix.
Once the paint has been mixed, let it settle for 15-20 minutes. I had been skipping for awhile (I like to break painting rules), but once I started actually doing it I could see why this step so important. By letting the paint settle, it allows it to thicken up which leads to less runs while painting. Also, letting the paint settle helps all the pigments in the powder fully dissolve in the water. For more details and additional tips and tricks on mixing milk paint, check out my post on that here.
Tools for Mixing Milk Paint
There are many tools you can use to mix milk paint. What method/tool you is completely personal preference. Here is a list of tools you could choose to use to mix your paint:
- shake up in a jar
- emersion blender
- blender ball
- hand held milk frother
Personally, I usually use either a fork or an emersion blender. If I am painting a small piece, such as a side table, I will just use a fork . But if I am painting a large piece, like a dresser or buffet, I will use a emersion blender. Using an emersion blender allows me to make sure the all paint is fully mixed. I bought my emersion blender at Goodwill just for a couple bucks and dedicated for solely to mixing paint. It makes mixing large amounts of paint quick and easy!
Do You Need a Bonding Agent With Milk Paint?
Depending on the finish of your furniture, you may need to add a bonding agent to your milk paint. This is because milk paint is made without the additives found in modern day paints. A bonding agent is helps to adhere the paint to the surface and will prevent the paint from chipping. A bonding agent only needs to be applied to the first coat of milk paint, and not to the subsequent coats afterwards.
Deciding whether to add a bonding agent is really dependent on the finish you are trying to achieve and how shiny the piece is. Adding the bonding agent will make it less likely to achieve that natural paint chipping effect that milk paint is known for. In addition, not adding bond to your paint could make the paint completely chip off certain pieces. Therefore, it is an important step to get right.
In general if you are wanting a chippy finish, then adding bond is not needed. Conversely, if you want the paint to be smooth and full coverage then you may want to add bond to the first coat. However, this is also dependent on the finish of the piece you are painting. If you are painting a porous surface, such as raw wood, there is no need to add bond because the milk paint will absorb down into the wood like a stain. However, if you are painting a non-porous surface like a top coated piece, the milk paint may need more help to adhere to that surface. In which case, adding bond would be a good idea unless you are wanting some natural paint chipping.
Deciding when to add bond can be difficult, especially for a beginner. This is the main reason why beginners are fearful of using milk paint. But I promise its not difficult. If I can do it, anyone can do it! I created a flowchart to help you decide on whether to use a bonding agent on your next project. You can download this printable flowchart here for free.
How to Use a Bonding Agent in Milk Paint
If you have decided to add a bonding agent to your paint, remember it is only needed in the first coat of milk paint. If its added to subsequent coats, it can actually reactivate the paint and cause it to chip off which is basically the opposite of its intended purpose.
Using bond is very simple. Just mix up the milk paint as you normally would and then add the bond. Here is a list of the recommended amount of bonding agent for some of the most popular milk paint brands.
|milk paint brand||recommended amount of bond|
|Miss Mustard Seed||1 parts paint to 1 part of bond|
|Sweet Pickens/ Old Fashioned Milk Paint||2 parts paint to 1 part of bond|
|Shackteau Interiors||2 parts paint to 1 part of bond|
|The Real Milk Paint Co.||4 parts paint to 1 part bond|
Technically speaking, it is recommended to wait a full 24 hours after the first coat of paint was applied with bond before adding subsequent layers. However, I have literally never followed this rule and its always been fine (even for extremely shiny pieces).
Step 4: Apply the Milk Paint
Finally, the fun part! Its time to paint! Milk paint can be applied several ways. It can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed. Most of the time, I choose to use a brush to apply my paint simply because I find it relaxing and a lot of fun. Milk paint can be applied with either natural or synthetic bristle brushes. Personally, I prefer to use synthetic since it gives a smoother finish than natural bristle brushes.
The First Coat of Milk Paint
The first coat of milk paint will not look good. This is totally normal. It will look streaky and patchy. If your piece is more dry or is raw wood, the coverage might be more opaque. But most pieces with any type of previous finish will only allow the milk paint to sit on top the surface and this causes that first coat to look very ugly. Do not let this discourage you from keep going!! I promise it will get better as you apply more coats of paint.
Applying Subsequent Coats of Milk Paint
Milk paint will typically need 2-3 total coats of paint to reach full coverage. The amount of coats you need depends on several factors including the color, the pieces finish, and your technique. Lighter colors, such as whites and creams, may need 3-4 coats especially if the piece was originally a dark color. While, dark colors, like navy and black, may only need 2 total coats. I find that I will get full coverage if I let the paint fully dry between coats for 1-2 hours before applying another coat. If I paint before the paint as fully dried, I will end up moving the paint around rather than layering it.
The second coat of paint is my favorite because this is the coat you will start to notice crackling and chipping paint if it will happen. Generally, after the second coat is dry is when chips and crackle will be noticeable if its going to happen. If you did get chipping and you still need to add another coat of paint, just paint directly over the chipping areas like they aren’t even there. No need to sand them off before applying the next coat.
It is important to note that if the paint starts to chip, there is no way to stop it from continuing to chip. Whatever is lifting off is going to come off. You cannot prevent it from chipping if it has already started to lift off. So if you have more chipping than you bargained for, sand the piece down to knock off the loss chips and repaint with bond in the first coat.
Step 5: Sand and Distress
Once your piece is painted, the next step is smoothing and distressing. First use a high grit sand paper like 220 grit or higher to lightly sand the entire piece down. This will not cause the paint to distress (especially if this is not the look your going for) but rather it smooths out any tiny powder clumps, removes brushstrokes, and smooths out any runs in the paint. Smoothing out your paint will cause the milk paint to become extra buttery smooth. I really enjoy when my furniture feels nice and I have never gotten any paint as smooth as milk paint!
After the paint is smoothed out, you can choose to go back in and distress the piece more. This step is completely optional. Distress the around the edges of the piece using a medium grit sand paper. I would recommend avoid distressing random spots on the flat surfaces of your piece. This will cause the distressing to look unnatural because flat surfaces generally would not get as much ware as the edges furniture.
Step 6: Seal for Milk Paint for Durability
The last step of using milk paint on furniture is to seal the paint for durability. Milk paint is a porous paint, meaning it will collect dust, dirt, and oils if not properly sealed. It also will need to be sealed to be cleaned as well. So do not skip this step! The last thing you want is to have dirt ruin all of your hard work. There is lots of different sealers you can choose to use to protect milk paint. Here is a list of the most common sealers:
- oil wax
- hemp oil
The type of sealer you choose just depends on the durability needed for the particular piece and your personal preference in application. Here is a list of sealer types with durability level and the pros and cons to each to help you choose a sealer for your next piece. Personally, I prefer using a matte polycrylic product because it does not yellow over time, provides extreme durability, and is easy and quick to apply.
|paste wax||low||doesn’t change color||needs to be reapplied|
|oil wax||Medium||no need to reapply||could cause yellowing over time|
|polycyclic||High||doesn’t change color||can cause more chipping|
|hemp oil||Medium||easy to apply||takes a long time to dry|
Frequently asked questions
Why would you use milk paint?
Milk paint has a unique ability to create an authentic time-worn finish. It has a matte finish without being a flat color. The pigments in milk paint allow it to highs and lows giving your furniture a multi-dimensional color. Milk paint can also be great for beginner painters because it can be sanded to make brush marks and paint drips disappear. It is a very forgiving paint. Also when sanded, milk paint gets ultra buttery smooth. Lastly, milk paint is incredibly durable because it can seep into porous surfaces and perform similar to a stain.
What is the difference between chalk paint and milk paint?
Check out my post here where I explained in depth the similarities and differences between chalk and milk paint.
In short, both are excellent paints for furniture. Both paints are considered little to no prep furniture paints. Which paint you select is really dependent on the finish your are trying to achieve. If you are want a sleek modern finish that is picture perfect, then chalk paint is the best option. However if you are painting a vintage or antique piece, I really recommend trying milk paint. Milk paint has the ability to create an authentic old-world finish. Additionally, milk painted pieces can be sanded to a buttery smooth finish. Chalk paint and milk paint distress very differently. I find that chalk paint is easy to over distress and does not look as natural. Overtime, I have discovered that I prefer the look of milk paint for my vintage and antique furniture. Although, I still use chalk paint all the time for small home decor items.