Categories: Painting

Chalk Paint Vs Milk Paint? What’s the Difference?

I love the countless looks you can get from using simple milk paint and chalk paint. If you’re on our email list you know I love finding new ways of doing things – simply and inexpensively. If you’re not receiving our emails, you can join here. It’s free and you receive DIY Cheat Sheet and the Interior Decorating Secrets series as a thank you, full of great photos with 42 secrets that are low cost, high impact to get you on your way. The kitchen cabinets below were professionally done, but you can get the same look following some of the tips below. Its a long post so grab a cup of coffee or a pot of tea. 

Let’s talk about milk paint and chalk paint. I’ve written about milk paint and chalk paint but everyone wants to know ‘what is the difference’? These pointers should help you decide which one is right for you.

Are Milk Paint and Chalk Paint Different?

Yes! The paints contain different ingredients and create completely different looks.

Milk paint recipes have been used for centuries. They are natural and eco-friendly. You can make your own paint following the video below or buy ready made powders and just add water.

The main ingredients are milk (or quark) and lime. They mostly come in powder form which you have to mix with water, then stir like crazy to get the lumps out; this is part of their charm and their curse, especially if you are expecting a thicker paint consistency. You might consider using a blender if you are planning on painting large areas.

Chalk paint can be non-toxic or toxic depending on the supplier, so make sure you read the tin before buying.

Both paints give amazing paint finishes; chalk paint finishes are thicker and more consistent, whereas milk paint is often less predictable. Now, let’s look at some of the differences between the two famous paints.

Milk Paint Powder

Buying milk paints is easy. They come in powder form, often in a small brown paper bag and super easy to carry. Making up a milk paint recipe is easy too – just add water and stir. This means you make only what you need, along with the intensity or color.

Like MilkPaint.com specialists say, ‘Milk paint is quick, easy and forgiving.’

It results in a rich, lustrous and complex finish that improves with time.’ Here are the main milk paint characteristics.

  1. It can be applied in a few hours.
  2. It’s very easy to use which is great if you are new to painting.
  3. It’s hard wearing.
  4. While it doesn’t chip like normal paint it can be scratched.
  5. Milk paint needs a bonding agent if you don’t want to an antique or distressed look. Without a bonding agent, it self distresses over time. If you add a bonding agent, add it to your milk paint before you start painting.
  6. The paint effect creates subtle differences in tone and color.
  7. You can mix powders and create new colors.
  8. Milk paint looks better as it ages. It ages beautifully, looking more polished with different levels of sheen.
  9. There are no fumes during use, and is safe enough to go down the kitchen sink.
  10. Milk paint is water based.  It soaks into the wood unlike regular paint that forms a coat on the surface.
  11. For the best effect, use thinner, not thicker coats.
  12. It doesn’t require sanding your furniture which literally saves hours. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sand if there are rough surfaces but it’s a great start if your piece is half way decent. This really depends on the kind of effect you want but sanding is optional. See Miss Mustard Seed for more on this.
  13. Milk paint bonds well to fresh, raw wood or to itself.
  14. You can apply it with a brush, roller or sprayer. If you use a sprayer strain the milk paint; a few times.
  15. The first coat of paint seals, the second coat covers. Some people like one coat, others prefer two or three, especially if they are layering colors. My suggestion is to allow the first coat to dry completely, then apply the second coat.
  16. Milk paint can be unpredictable when it comes to distressing. You can get some amazing looks if you’re happy to experiment.
  17. Manufacturers recommend a one-to-one mix. Most people mix and shake it in a clean, wide mouthed jar which makes it easy to dip the brush. Shaking creates a paint full of air. Allow it to sit for an hour to allow the solids to settle.
  18. Stir before you start painting and regularly while you paint.  When mixing use hot water (preferably filtered). This helps to dissolve any clumps, and gives you more paint and a more accurate color. Stir for a few minutes until you get a consistent liquid. Don’t panic about any clumps as they don’t show up when the paint dries.
  19. Some like to use a blender to get a frothy milk paint while others say its best to mix by hand.
  20. It’s best not to buy large quantities of milk paint powder because over time is absorbs moisture from the air and can lose its ability to bond with wood. Unused milk paint should be sealed and kept in a dry area.
  21. Mixed milk paint also goes bad so use it on the day it is mixed or leave it overnight in the refrigerator and use the following day. 
  22. Hemp oil is a great top coat for milk paint. You can also use a wax or poly topcoat. Top coats are optional but they protect paint from moisture and wear and best for furniture used regularly. Oil gives your piece a darker, rich color and luster and protects it from spills.
  23. Milk paint is non-toxic. It doesn’t contain lead or any other nasties. See Real Milk Paint for differences and toxicity levels of paints. 

There are great tutorials all over Youtube if you want to learn more. I found this great video that also explains the differences between the two paints…

But read on for a few tricks of the trade.

Milk Paint Mixtures and Their Secrets

Milk paint starts to get interesting when you layer paint colors on top of each other to create truly unique finishes. Professional chair makers and painters apply multiple coats of different colors such as Lexington green as the base, followed by Barn Red and topped off with Pitch Black to create a subtle tortoiseshell appearance. Try this with blues, yellows and greens or grays to get soft neutral looks.

This may sound, using three colors, but wear and tear creates a close imitation of an old paint loved by antique collectors.

The amount of water you use also changes the finishing effect and end results. If you thin your milk paint with one and a half parts water to one part paint and you’ve created a color wash. Add more water and it becomes a color stain which you can wipe off with a rag.

To get a smooth finish, strain the paint using a strainer or old pantyhose. Leave it unstrained and you will get a grainy, less appealing, finish.

Its a good idea to spray your furniture with water before you begin painting. This will show any residual glue or oil to be removed; preventing the milk paint from bonding with your piece.

Recipes to make your own milk paint can be found at Martha Stewart, Real Milk Paint, Esprit Cabane and a cheat’s version using acrylic paint from Craft Apple.

It is often said that milk paint has a mind of it’s own – (read ‘it looks and sticks differently on each piece.’) This is worrying for some but for most people that is part of its charm.

I’ve put together a page of leading milk paints, waxes, oils and brushes along with prices here.

What is Chalk Paint?

Now let’s look at chalk paint, starting with a Annie Sloan chalk paint tutorial who coined the term ‘chalk paint’.

  1.  Chalk paint sticks easily, which means it doesn’t need a primer, so you can leave out this step. This often depends on the chalk paint manufacturer, so you may want to test it first. This also means less worry about old oil or glue left on your piece.
  2. Chalk paint is versatile in creating a wide range of looks; from distressed paint, crackled paint to limewash looks. (If you want the ‘chippy’ look, milk paint is better.)
  3. It doesn’t need wax or a varnish coat which makes it super easy to apply. Always consider wax, oil or varnish if you want to protect your piece.
  4. You can mix it to create custom chalk paint colors. There is a growing selection on the market such as Annie Sloan, or Websters Chalk Paint to choose from but if you want your own colors – you might want to make them.
  5. You can apply chalk paint with a brush, roller or sprayer.
  6. Chalk paint distresses well. You can distress before or after you wax. Chalk paint comes off in a fine powder if sanded. Just sand back to get the look you want for a soft, distressed finish.
  7. It’s the calcium in the paint that give it a chalky finish.

Recipes to make your own chalk paint can be found at InMyOwnStyle, Elizabeth & Co and LilyfieldLife. If you are doing a large area like a kitchen and the price of using a store bought chalk paint like Annie Sloan looks prohibitive (read scary!) then this simple recipe is a great way to create your own substitute and get great, hard wearing results.

Chalk Paint Recipe

  • 1 Cup Latex Paint (flat)
  • 1/4 Cup Calcium Carbonate
  • 1/8 Cup Water

That’s the basic recipe.

Depending on the size of your kitchen, a gallon of paint could be more than enough. Make sure you get every lump out of your mixture, unless you don’t mind a streaky look. Remember, this mixture goes a long way, and its inexpensive, so you can be generous. To protect your cabinets, think tough; think decking.


Chalk Paint Cabinets – DIY Chalk Paint

These are simple and inexpensive recipes, the cheapest is $4.00 from Elizabeth & Co. You simple use latex (acrylic) paint mixed with either grout, plaster of Paris and powdered calcium carbonate.

How to Make Chalk Paint Recipe

The video below has 4 chalk paint recipes and shows the different finishes they create. Some are easier than others.

You can find reduced additives, powders, paints, wax and brushes here.

But if you have all your gear and just want more painting and waxing techniques and ways to make chalk paint there are four great videos here. Even on a budget, there’s no excuse for not getting your hands on chalk paint.

Still on the fence about buying or making your own chalk paint?  Liz Marie Blog has a review on home made chalk paint versus Annie Sloan paint which basically comes down to this – Homemade chalk paint is easy to make, there is no prep work on furniture, since it sticks to any surface, and its cheap!

Finish off with a wax or other sealer and you have a long lasting finish. You can age it with simple sanding or distressing and, most of the time, all you need it one coat of paint.


The downside is has a rough texture when dry and needs sanding between coats and may need some water added to it if it becomes clumpy. Not so hard, so far. And Annie Sloan Chalk Paint?

Again, there is no prep work, priming or sanding. There are lots of varieties of DIY chalk paint that are less expensive and very smooth and easy to work with. You can layer colors and it dries with a velvety finish. needed. Most of the time only one coat is needed and its easy to age or distress.

There is an ever expanding color range but Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is more expensive – even compared to other Chalk Paint brands, which do a similar job. Annie Sloan has a lot of chalk paint tutorials but you don’t really need them to get the process right.

The subject seems inexhaustible but I hope this answers some general questions. Find a selection of milk paints here and chalk paints to buy here. 



Christine :

View Comments (52)

  • You have a picture above of a dresser in a darker blue...what color did you use for that?

  • Thank you for your fantastic informational blog!
    I have a completely different project I've been contemplating for some time. And, it seemed a little daunting (esp when speaking to most people). However, after reading about chalk paint, I'm thinking this could actually be my saving grace! To my dilemma- I would like to whitewash the walls in our (small) bathroom & (tiny!)1/2 bath. Our small 1950 beach cottage was finished with all knotty pine, shellacked, walls. We do enjoy their warmth, but thought the bathrooms could easily benefit from a update. I am looking for a wash, not solid color, and am concerned about peeling, though I'm thinking it may not be a problem with chalk paint!? Do you think I still have to sand 1st (as needed with regular paint because of the shellac), and what might you recommend I finish it with after?

    I really appreciate any suggestions you might afford me!!

  • Great article! I am new to the milk/chalk paint world. I have read several places that you don't have to sand or prep kitchen cabinets before painting with these choices. Have you ever tried either one of these paints on oak cabinets without removing the finish beforehand? Which type would you suggest? Thanks bunches!!

    • Hi Lisa
      if you are using Annie Sloan you can just paint! Its amazing. There are other paints but most of them need some prep work and it depends on the condition of your cabinets and how smooth a finish you want. Annie Sloan is more expensive but it goes a long way. Sounds like a great project!

      Hope that helps a little...


      PS There are other articles on the site with videos about using these paints - and Annie Sloan has more videos on Youtube.

      • PS.I'm so excited about this project. I am going to use old 2" thick barn board tongue and groove for the countertop. Hope it turns out close to how I have it imagined. 😊

      • Thanks so much for your quick response! Ive decided im not going to do any antiquing, so would you recommend milk or chalk? Just curious...

        • Hi Lisa
          I think I would use chalk paint in the areas with more traffic, because there's less risk of it chipping- unless you want that look.And milk paint on pieces that are either out of direct traffic like a sideboard and could do with a little character. Milk paint can be tricky and it depends on the surface and can chip easily. Great for rustic or country pieces.

          You project sounds great! However, it turns out ... I'm sure it will be better than you expected!


  • What about a coat of chalk paint for the base, with milk paint for color washing. Does that work? I'm totally new to painting furniture but loving it.

    • Hi Dee
      thanks for the email! It can work but there are so many variables that you could end with a look you don't like. I suggest trying it on sample piece first to see if the look matches what you are looking for. Milk paint is unreliable when it comes to finish... but try it first. You could end up with something amazing!


  • Hi there!!! Like some of the others above, I am new to this world. I have a dresser and crib that I need to re-finish for my daughters nursery. I was going to do chalk paint, before I read someone's comment about it being toxic. I don't want to distress it... just a nice even finish to take a dark espressso wood to solid white/cream. Thoughts??

    • Hi Emily
      thank you so much for writing in. No, only some chalk paints are toxic. Not all of them, so be careful which ones you choose. Annie Sloan is a non-toxic paint that is lead-free, EG-free, odour-free and has very low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It can be applied to most surfaces and very rarely requires any priming or sanding before painting.

      It is more expensive but it is a great paint. There are other non-toxic chalk paints - I just googled it and found quite a few different brands. Take your time to find the right one for you.

      Some people choose milk paint because it is also non-toxic. Miss Mustard Seed's Milk paint is made from five simple, non-toxic ingredients – clay, limestone, chalk, casein (milk protein) and natural & non-toxic synthetic pigments.

      Good luck! You choice a neutral white/cream sounds perfect!! I'm sure it will look wonderful in your daughter's nursery.

      Thanks again


      PS if you don't have a stockist nearby - here's an Amazon link to Annie Sloan - http://amzn.to/2tchhN2
      and here is one to Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint - http://amzn.to/2u8xQ9y

  • Hi Christine,

    This article is so helpful! I never heard of chalk paint until I looked for an alternative to milk paint. I want to do oak cabinets with verathane or something similar, and also what I think is a laminate tabletop. I was all set to use chalk until you mentioned it having a rough finish. I want the cabinets to be shiny and smooth, would normally use latex enamel. Can the enamel be mixed with chalk, or should I use a different paint? Is there a pre-mixed chalk paint that would be better? How do I get a smooth finish? Do I need a different finish for the table? Thank you!

    • Hi Chris
      this sounds like a big job and to make your life a little easier you might be better off using Annie Sloane's Chalk paint. The rough or chippy look is what some people like but you can get a wonderful smooth finish with chalk paint.

      You can use it directly on anything, including laminate and plastic. You don't have to prep either which is a huge time saver. Watch some of these youtube videos below but there are hundreds of videos - one of these is on laminate wood and the other on wood. Hope they help.

      Annie Sloane has a number of finishes - but you can use a normal varnish or a wax to set it.

      It is more expensive but a little goes a long way.

      I have included a couple of Annie's videos so you can see technique and a link to Amazon to see what is available including brushes and wax. Take the time to look at more videos to get an idea of the look you want; modern, antique, retro etc and I'm sure there is one that will help you enormously.

      Regards and good luck!!



      • THANK YOU Christine! That was so helpful! Luckily it's only an RV, so not many cabinets, but the table is hideous. My one issue with her is she doesn't have the color I want,just a slightly off-white. I wonder why she doesn't sell all her colors in the US? Maybe I can blend her lightest shade with white. PS: I notice there are a LOT of Chrises of various spellings around here! Kinda funny.

  • Hi! I came upon your blog and I'm so glad I did. I've been back and forth on if and how I would want to change my honey maple cabinets. I've found the pic of exactly what I'd want were I to go lighter! There is a pic at the beginning of this blog that shows kitchen cabinets that were professionally done. Can you please provide the link to the site that has this? I also signed up for your newsletter in case the info is there. I'm new to all this and although I've visited an AS store locally, I've never attempted anything yet. I'm looking to start with a pair of candlestick holders and a small mirror, just to test. BTW, I had a Navy wife who lived behind me and she refinished furniture as her own personal love while making $. She swore by General Finishes but this was all she used because of durability as she sanded and waxed everything. Do you have any experience with using AS or milk paint and sealing with GF? Thanks in advance for your help!

  • Hi Christine,

    I am doing a hockey chair for my great nephew in black with the seat covered in his team material. It is black background with red & green.

    What I take from reading everything is if I want it to look smooth with no distressing I should use Chalk paint?

    Also is it alright to use polyurethane instead of wax?

    Thanks Kim

    • Hi Kim
      What a lovely thing you are doing for your great nephew. Yes to both your questions.

      Chalk paint gives a very smooth finish. The first coat always looks all wrong... but by the second/third it looks amazing. And no prepping! It might need a light sanding between coats, but not always.

      You can definitely use polyurethane instead of wax, which is probably more hard wearing for your great nephew.

      All the best! Sounds great.