Okay, you’ve probably seen me on Facebook or Instagram talking about refinishing furniture with milk paint. But what about chalk paint? Are they the same thing? If not, are there any real differences when it comes to painting furniture?
I’ll admit, when I first started refinishing furniture and trying to achieve a rustic farmhouse look, I didn’t know much about either type of paint or how they are used. I can’t even say when or where I heard of them. It was probably a magazine article or something, but I started to realize they could give me the look I wanted. So after trying both and doing some online research, I settled on Milk Paint, although there are times when chalk paint might be the right choice.
Confused? You’re not alone! Milk paint and chalk paint often get confused because they are used for many of the same types of projects. That being said, there are some important differences.
Let’s dive in and see what those differences are and why it matters to you!
What ARE milk paint and chalk paint?
While some of their ingredients are similar, milk paint has one thing chalk paint doesn’t … milk protein (casein). Dating back to colonial times, food items such as milk, eggs, etc. were added to paint as binders. The milk protein gives milk paint the ability to achieve a chippy, distressed antique look prized by fans of the shabby chic farmhouse style.
Chalk paint, on the other hand, is a more modern paint made developed in the 1990s with a look and feel like matte acrylic paint. The phrase “Chalk Paint®” is a trademarked brand of paint by Annie Sloan. Other companies have paints that give you a chalky finish. These are referred to as “chalk style”, “chalk finish” or “chalk mineral” paints.
Where can they be used?
Both can be applied to a variety of materials. Wood, metal, ceramics, glass – all frequently get the “upcycle” treatment using both milk paint and chalk paint. Milk paint can be used indoors or outdoors and can even be used on fabric or paper!
How are they sold?
Both come in an array of beautiful colors.
Milk paint is sold in powder form and must be mixed with water, while chalk paint comes premixed in cans or jars. The convenience of pre-mixed paint makes chalk paint more expensive than milk paint.
Powdered milk paint makes mixing custom colors much easier than mixing two or more liquid paint colors. While both can be thinned to create a color wash, powdered paint can be mixed thicker for use with stamps and stencils or to create a textured look. For more information on mixing milk paint, click here.
Is there any difference in preparation?
Both require little preparation in the form of stripping or sanding, as they will adhere easily to most surfaces. If the surface is particularly slick, the addition of a bonding agent will help milk paint grip the surface better. For more information on prepping before painting, click here.
Chalk paint comes premixed and only needs a stir before using, while milk paint must be mixed with water and ideally should rest for a few minutes to ensure all the minerals have absorbed the water.
How easy are they to apply?
Both are easy to use and fast drying, with little odor. They can be applied with brush, roller or sprayer. Because chalk paint is thicker, it may need to be thinned when using a sprayer. Milk paint tends to be thinner, but it needs to be well-mixed and strained before loading into a sprayer.
Is the finish the same for both?
Both can be used to create a beautiful, smooth, flat, matte finish and both can be thinned to create a color wash for a weathered look.
Chalk paint creates a higher build meaning you can’t feel the underlying texture of the wood, while milk paint is thinner, allowing the texture of the wood to come through. Depending on the look you want, one or the other may better suit your needs.
Milk paint can be easily distressed to create an antique, rustic look or even give it a crackled or chippy finish using simple techniques. Chalk paint can be sanded off to give it an antique look, but does not lend itself to a crackled or chippy finish. Typically, chalk paint distresses in a fine powder and results in a more opaque full-coverage finish.
Are both types environmentally friendly?
Both paints are water based and low odor. Milk paint is 100% natural, non-toxic, organic and eco-friendly with no VOCs.
How long can you store the paints?
Because it contains milk protein, milk paint cannot be stored long term after it has been mixed with water. If put in the refrigerator, it can be kept for several weeks. The unmixed powder, however, will keep indefinitely.
Chalk paint is shelf stable and, as long as it is resealed well, it will be ready for use for some time.
Do you need a topcoat when using milk paint or chalk paint?
Both milk paint and chalk style paint are porous. They absorb water, oils and stains if left unsealed, so it’s a good idea to apply a protective topcoat. Both paints can be sealed with a variety of finishes including polyurethane, hemp oil and multiple wax finishes.
How about those dreaded brushstrokes?
Brushstrokes are a nuisance if you’re looking for a silky smooth finish. Milk paint soaks into the surface and behaves similar to a stain. It’s self-leveling and does not produce any brushstrokes! This makes it an ideal paint for a beginner to use because it’s incredibly forgiving.
Chalk style paints can produce brushstrokes due to their thick consistency, but can be sanded smooth.
So, which is better?
My answer? Neither! One is not better than the other. Both styles of paint are fabulous choices depending on your project. They offer the painter very different experiences and a variety of beautiful outcomes.
Overall, I love the versatility of Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint. It can be mixed to any consistency, allowing the user to produce stains, opaque finishes, and the chippy look. Mixing custom colors is simple and easy! It’s completely customizable, so you can decide what it needs to be to suit your needs. It soaks into wood much like a stain and does not produce brush strokes. Milk Paint tends to chip and flake off from shiny factory-finished surfaces, requiring a bit more prep sanding and perhaps the use of our MilkGrip Bonding Agent. It dries to a matte finish with a chalky feel, providing an authentically aged finish. While the mixing stage can seem intimidating at first, the process is as familiar as mixing your morning protein shake or making brownies from a box! If you can stir, you can mix Milk Paint!
Chalk paint has a lot more fillers and additives that make it smooth and creamy. It is more of an open-the-can-and-go product. While some chalk style paint brands promote a “no-prep needed” policy, you may need to apply primer or at least clean your piece prior to painting. Chalk style paint does not produce the chippy look easily and is known for having an opaque, full-coverage finish. It adheres very well on slick and shiny surfaces without the need for an extra bonding product. Typically, it has a much thicker consistency than milk paint, and produces more brush strokes. These can be sanded smooth with a bit of effort.
I hope you found this info helpful If you have questions, please let me know. I’m happy to help! Feel free to leave a comment below or message me with any questions. If I don't know the answer, I'll talk to the experts and get you the info you need.