Choosing Between Milk Paint vs Chalk Paint for Furniture

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 05/24/23 • 

Milk paint and chalk paint are two popular types of paint that DIY enthusiasts have used to achieve a wide range of styles, from distressed color washes to dated designs.

Milk and chalk paints share similar properties, so they are confusing and usually interchanged. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at milk and chalk paints to help you make a better decision on your next furniture painting project.

What is Milk Paint?

Milk paint is a non-toxic and environmentally friendly paint made with milk protein. It is usually sold in powdered form, unlike other ready-to-use liquid paints. Apart from casein, other ingredients used to make milk paint are lime, calcium carbonate, color pigments, and sodium borate as a preservative.

Once you buy a milk paint powder, mix it with water to achieve the desired consistency. Milk paint can be used on various surfaces and has a milky appearance. It is perfect for thinning other paints, a paint wash, or achieving a rustic style. You can also create your unique color by mixing dry pigments.

Chest of Drawers Painted Milk Paint

Chest of Drawers Painted Milk Paint

Because milk paint is made by combining organic ingredients, it cannot be stored for more than a day. This is why you should only mix the right quantity to avoid wastage. However, some milk paints that have preservatives have a longer shelf life of about two weeks. If your milk paint has no preservatives, refrigeration can preserve it for days.

What is Chalk Paint?

Chalk paint has grown in popularity in recent years among DIYers. The paint was first invented by Annie Sloan in 1990, and since then, other companies have joined the bandwagon by creating their versions of chalk paint. Chalk paint is made from latex paint and calcium carbonate mixed with water. The calcium carbonate is what gives chalk paint its chalky finish.

Chalk paint comes premixed in liquid form and does not contain any organic ingredients, meaning it can be stored longer. While chalk paint and milk paint look similar, chalk paint has a flat/matte appearance. Other than mixing properly, chalk paint comes ready to be applied.

Distressed Chalk Paint Dresser Coated With Clear and Dark Waxes

Distressed Chalk Paint Dresser Coated With Clear and Dark Waxes

Chalk paint also comes in different colors, but it takes work to customize it to your favorite color. You’d have to mix chalk paints to get your desired color. Chalk paint is more delicate than milk paint and tends to flake off over time. A clear sealant, varnish, or wax is needed to stop flaking.

Choosing Between Milk Paint vs. Chalk Paint

Consistency & Form

Milk paint comes in powder form and is mixed following the instruction of the brand you get. However, you can change it to your desired consistency. Compared to chalk paint, milk paint appears thick but thinner.

Chalk paint is thicker and is usually sold premixed in tins. However, you can thin it a bit, but the thickness and chalky appearance make it popular.

Appearance & Texture

When it comes to the final results, milk and chalk paints all have a matte finish. Milk paint works great for creating a brushstroke effect or achieving a distressed finish. Because it is stronger than chalk paint, you also do not need to finish or seal milk paint in any way. However, you can add wax to protect a milk paint finish from dust and improve its water resistance.

Chalk paint also leaves a matte finish but hardly shows brush strokes. If you’re looking to hide flaws, chalk paint is much better and has a thicker finish.

Durability & Adherence

Milk paint, once mixed, should be applied because it can only last one or two days. However, once casein has dried after application, it is very durable. It is also hard to wear and retains color for a longer time to come.

Chalk paint in liquid form has a longer shelf life. Once applied to a surface, it is also durable, but it can’t compare to milk paint. It is soft and can be easily chipped or scratched if left without a sealer.

Ease of Application

Both chalk and milk paint do not need priming or sanding when applied, saving time. However, milk paint will adhere more effectively to most surfaces without prior preparation. You can also use a natural bonding agent to improve its adherence when working with smoother surfaces.

The drying time of both paints is also different. Milk paint dries in about 1-2 hours and is ready to receive a second coat. For chalk paint, the drying time is 3-4 hours, but you might have to wait up to 24 hours to reapply a new coat. Milk paint is better than chalk paint when working on larger projects.

Which is Better? Milk or Chalk Paint

Milk paint has existed for hundreds of years and has a solid history. However, while chalk paint is a recent paint, it also has an excellent track record.

These paints are popular for creating antique and distressed appearances on different surfaces. Chalk paints require little preparation before application, but you’ll have more work in the finishing stage. Although both are environmentally friendly, Milk paints are a greener product, while chalk paints can contain low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Milk paints work better for creating a paint wash or achieving a rustic design with a very light sheen. You can also customize the appearance of milk paints with more color options and color mixing. Chalk paint is better for a thicker and more even matte appearance. It’s also easily distressed to create a realistic antique appearance. However, your color options with chalk paint might be limited.


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