Are you a milk paint beginner? Or maybe you just want to brush up (pardon the pun) your milk paint skills. If so, this post is for you. Be sure to read to the end because Reclaiming Beautiful is sponsoring a giveaway of some Real Milk Paint products (disclaimer: you must be local and able to pick up the prize in person at their shop to be eligible to win)!
I’ve been painting with milk paint for several years ever since I discovered it for the first time at a booth at Oronoco Gold Rush where Jody from Farmhouse Inspired was selling samples of Miss Mustard Seed milk paint. Shortly after that, Lori from The Round Barn Potting Co asked me to attend the Miss Mustard Seed retailer training with her at The Ironstone Nest in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The rest is history. I believe I’ve painted well over 100 pieces of furniture in milk paint. I have to confess that I did not fall in love with milk paint on the first try. I thought it was putzy to mix, expensive, tricky to apply and the results were unpredictable (just being honest here people). However, I kept on with it and after my 2nd or 3rd piece in milk paint I fell in love with it. It’s now my favorite paint to work with. Bottom line, in my opinion there is no other type of paint on the market that will give you the same authentically chippy, ‘been sitting in grandma’s attic for 80 years’, aged look that you can get with milk paint.
There is a second, and possibly more important, reason why I decided using milk paint was worth the extra expense. It is made from 100% organic material, it’s safe for the environment, and also protects you and your family from harmful fumes. Remember those ‘over 100 pieces’ I’ve painted in milk paint? I wouldn’t want to be using a product that releases potentially harmful gases or dust particles with that kind of frequency, would you?
So I was excited when Reclaiming Beautiful started carrying a line of milk paint from The Real Milk Paint Co. (hereafter to be called RMP). They asked me to give this brand a try and let them know how I thought it compared with Miss Mustard Seed milk paint (spoiler alert: I think it is just as fabulous). I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a ‘tutorial blog post’ for you guys about how to use milk paint.
I picked a gorgeous rich blue green color called Dragonfly to use on a pretty little vintage serpentine dresser. Here is how it turned out.
But let’s go back and start at the beginning, shall we?
Although the RMP comes in a can that looks similar to those that contain pre-mixed paint, inside the can is a pouch of powder and a marble.
The manufacturer recommends mixing the paint in the can, but I didn’t go that route. You want to mix only as much paint as you think you’ll need. In my case that was going to be about half of the contents of the pouch. I wanted to keep my can clean and dry and use it to store the leftover dry powder for next time. So I chose to mix my paint in a canning jar instead.
I put equal parts water and powder (a good rule of thumb) into my jar, dropped in the marble and started shaking. I’d never used a marble before and I gotta say it was pretty fantastic. Whoever came up with that idea was kinda brilliant. After mixing just a bit, I open the jar and added a drop of RMP’s anti-foaming agent, put the lid back on and kept shaking for about a minute.
You can certainly get by without the anti-foaming agent in which case you just want to let your paint rest longer after mixing, or mix by spoon instead of shaking. I found that the anti-foaming agent also made my paint a little creamier and smoother to apply though, so I’ll definitely continue using that product.
One tip I learned in my Miss Mustard Seed training that has served me well is to mix my paint first, then let it rest while I prep my piece to be painted. This gives the natural pigments in the paint a chance to fully dissolve. So while my mixed paint was resting, I prepped my dresser by removing the knobs from the drawers, sanding the dresser lightly and then wiping it down with TSP Substitute (which will help remove any oily residue from the surface). One thing I’ve learned over time with milk paint is that any prep you do will impact your resulting finish. Lots of heavy sanding will result in less paint chipping. Do you want a super chippy finish? If so, don’t sand too much. Do you prefer less chipping? Then sand a little bit more.
Let’s talk briefly about chipping and why it happens with milk paint. Most other types of paint are designed to sit on the surface of the piece you’re painting. Milk paint is designed to be absorbed into a porous surface, sort of like a wood stain. If you use milk paint on raw wood it will absorb into the wood with no chipping and be permanent. This is why our forebears used it on their houses, it was the original ‘low maintenance siding’! However, if you use milk paint over a pre-existing finish then the more impervious the finish, the more it will ‘resist’ the paint resulting in chipping. Any oils on the surface of the piece will also resist the paint. Personally I love the chippy look, but not necessarily the super duper chippy look. So I tend to sand my pieces just a little before painting, especially if they have a very shiny poly finish. All of this being said, sometimes a chippy finish can be elusive and unpredictable.
OK, so my dresser is prepped, my paint is mixed and it’s time to paint. Milk paint is thinner and a little runnier than other paints, especially chalk paint which tends to be pretty thick. Don’t panic if your first coat doesn’t cover well and looks kind of awful. You’ll see as you start the second coat that it improves greatly at that point. I almost always do two coats of paint when using colors other than white. With white I often need three coats.
Another important tip is to keep mixing your paint as you work with it. The pigments will settle, so be sure to give your paint a little stir every few minutes while painting to keep your color even.
One of the beauties of milk paint is that it dries very quickly. I usually start with the drawer fronts first, then the body of the dresser. By the time I’m done with the first coat the drawer fronts are dry and I can start right in on the second coat. In fact, I was painting my dresser outside in low humidity with a slight breeze and the drawers were drying really quickly.
That first drawer at the top was more than halfway dry by the time I got the 3rd drawer painted.
Once your piece is fully painted and dry, the next step is to lightly sand your whole piece with a fine grit sandpaper. I want to emphasize the word lightly. You don’t need to use much pressure or go over each area any more than once or twice. This will smooth out any grittiness in your paint, distress the edges and loosen any chipping paint. Once sanded, I also like to vacuum my pieces to remove any last flaking paint.
As I’ve mentioned, milk paint can be unpredictable when it comes to the chippy factor. If you start sanding your piece and you find that almost all of the paint is chipping off, again, don’t panic. At this point you can always sand the entire piece more thoroughly and then go back and add another coat or two of paint. The additional sanding you do to remove the chipping will also help create a more porous surface for the paint to stick to on round two. On the opposite side of this equation, if your piece isn’t chipping at all there is a trick you can try that might work. Use masking tape to pull off some of the paint. Simply press your tape onto the dry paint and then pull it away (much like you would if you were trying to de-lint your favorite black sweater with masking tape). Keep in mind that these strategies need to be employed before adding a top coat.
Fortunately with my Dragonfly dresser I got just the perfect amount of chipping without having to resort to using any special tricks. Sometimes it just works.
The last step is to apply the top coat of your choice, should you choose to use a top coat. I used to think that a top coat was absolutely required over milk paint, but I have since learned that it’s not. A top coat will protect your piece from water marks, and some top coats will make a piece more ‘washable.’ But keep in mind that top coats will also change the color of your paint (darkening it to varying degrees) and also change the sheen. Lately I have been leaving more and more of my milk painted pieces raw. I recently painted this bench for myself and left it raw.
I’ll give it some time to see how it wears, but if your initial goal was to get a chippy, vintage finish that looks as though it has been there for 100 years, then a little more wear isn’t going to be a bad thing, right? You’ll have a very flat look with almost no sheen without a top coat.
That being said, no one wants water rings on the top of a table or dresser, so in those cases you definitely want to use a topcoat for protection from water.
Here are your options for top coating your milk paint going from least protective to most protective.
Hemp oil. Hemp oil is the least protective of the top coats. It will also darken up the color of your paint the most. It dries to a fairly matte finish. It’s easy to apply with a rag or a brush. Be sure to not over-apply because excess oil will become tacky after 12 hours if left on the surface of your piece. Just brush on and wipe off excess with a clean, dry cloth. Hemp oil is all natural and has a mild weedy sort of smell. It’s perfectly safe on food prep surfaces, so you can use it to liven up an old cutting board for example. Hemp oil should be reapplied once a year or so. I have an oak buffet that I painted in milk paint and top coated with hemp oil about 3 years ago. I had never reapplied hemp oil. A while back I noticed that I’d left a water ring on the top. Yikes! It was such an easy fix though. I simply lightly sanded the top of the piece and re-applied hemp oil and the ring was gone. So no worries.
Furniture wax. Wax is more protective than hemp oil. It will darken up your paint color some, but not as much as hemp oil. It can be buffed to add more sheen. It takes a little more elbow grease to apply wax as opposed to hemp oil. You can apply with a rag or with a wax brush and then buff with a clean, dry cloth. I waxed this dresser with Miss Mustard Seed furniture wax. The RMP Co sells a product they call Low Sheen Finishing Cream to be used in place of wax. I haven’t tried this one yet, but both of the Reclaiming Beautiful shop owners say they love it.
As I mentioned, the wax will change the color and sheen of your paint. This drawer is in the process of being waxed.
You can see how much it darkens the color, but it will lighten back up a bit as the wax ‘dries’. Wax should also be reapplied periodically, especially if you like that subtle sheen it adds to your piece.
Water based sealer. A water based sealer can be applied over milk paint for a more protective finish. It can also be employed to ‘seal’ really chippy paint. Sealers can be brushed on, and some can also be applied with a rag.
All of these top coat options can be found at Reclaiming Beautiful.
If you are new to milk paint, I definitely recommend starting with a small project to get a feel for the product. Or better yet, take a class. Reclaiming Beautiful will be offering an intermediate painting class that will focus on milk paint, Beauty School 201, soon. If you’re interested in a class, be sure to mention it in a comment here.
And before I let you go, let’s not forget the give-away (remember, you must be able to pick your prize up in person in Stillwater, MN)! For a chance to win 1 pint of paint (color of your choosing from those available in store), the anti-foaming agent and some Low Sheen finishing cream …
all you have to do to be eligible is sign up to follow the Reclaiming Beautiful blog via email. This is very easy to do if you are viewing the blog on your computer, simply click on the “Follow” button at the top of the right hand column just under where it says “Follow Blog via Email” and fill in the necessary info. Be sure to include a valid email address so that we can notify you if you win. What happens after you sign up? You will get an email notification every time there is a new blog post. Currently we are posting only once or twice per month, so your email in-box will definitely not be inundated with junk mail.
Once you’ve ‘followed’, then simply leave a comment mentioning that you did so on this post. Or if you already follow us via email, leave a comment that says that.
Don’t know how to leave a comment? Just click the ‘dialog balloon’ to the right of the blog post title. Scroll back up to the title, see it there? There is probably a number in it unless you are the very first person to comment. Just click that and type in your comment and fill out the required info.
One name will be drawn from the comments left by email followers by midnight (US central time) on August 31 and that lucky winner can pick up their prize at Reclaiming Beautiful during regular business hours. The winner will be contacted via email and announced here on the blog.
Best of luck!
And even if you don’t win, I hope you’ll consider giving milk paint a try on your next painting project!