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Milk Paint vs Chalk Paint – What’s the Difference

When should you use milk paint vs. chalk paint? Decide which option is the best paint for your next project with this handy information. Learn the difference between chalk paint and milk paint and the pros and cons of both in this guide.

If you’re a fan of the modern farmhouse style like we are, then you’ve probably heard of the term chalk paint. In fact, we have a comprehensive overview of chalk paint and how it differs from regular paint in this guide.

DIY projects have never been easier since chalk paint came onto the scene in the late 1990s; however, milk paint, an age-old paint solution, has slowly crept back into the DIY design world. 

In many ways, milk paint and chalk paint are very similar, with only the slightest differences. Both are decorative finishes that bring new life to thrift store furniture, creating a distressed look on tables, desks, chairs, bar stools, and more. Both paints adhere well to just about any item that will take paint, even glass and metal.

This milk paint overview post contains affiliate links, but nothing that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend anyway! Read my full disclosure here.

What is Milk Paint?

Since its first use as cave paint hundreds of years ago, milk paint is still used as a similar concoction. The main ingredients include milk protein, which works well as a binder for the paint surface. It comes in powdered form which requires the dry pigments to be mixed with water. 

Because lumps can form when the water and powders are combined, power mixing is more efficient than hand mixing for this kind of paint.

Another recommendation is to strain the paint after mixing to remove the clumps. The great thing about milk paint is that you can create your own unique colors by mixing different ratios of dry pigments together.

Additionally, the paint has a tendency to separate and form lumps, so it does not have a long shelf-life when stored.

Milk paint is much thinner than chalk paint or any other paint when applied to surfaces. It can also be further thinned with more water, which is why it works so well as a paint wash.

Because of its thinner consistency, milk paint is more easily distressed than chalk paint.

If your desired look is a completely painted result, then milk paint may not be the best option for your project.

As DeDe from Designed Decor mentioned in this post about furniture paint types, milk paint isn’t recommended for laminate or shiny surfaces without using an adhesion additive (and even then it is a bit unpredictable).

Glass jars are lined up in rows, filled with colorful powdered pigments in shades of blue, orange, pink, red, brown, and yellow.
Milk paint traditionally comes in a powdered format, like these colorful pigments.

How Chalk Paint is Different from Milk Paint

Chalk paint is a much thicker paint that comes premixed – no water needed. The result is a smooth appearance with a chalkier matte-like paint sheen. Because of the thick consistency, the paint can acquire a high build so the underlying texture of the surface is no longer visible.

We love to see the evolution of different pieces when we add a coat of chalk paint. We’ve used it on many projects for our home, including bar stools, desks, vintage bread boxes, and vintage-style decor items.

With chalk paint, the paint color is not as customizable as with milk paint. Since it comes completely mixed, you are committed to the color you’ve chosen; however, you can make your own chalk paint from a regular paint color.

However, chalk paint can easily be stored for a long time and can be stirred up by hand for touch-ups. The drying time is incredibly fast and can be used on a variety of surfaces.

It does work well in creating a distressed appearance but requires a little more sanding than milk paint to achieve the desired result. Chalk paint can be used on furniture, walls, ceilings, and any surface that will take on paint.

Similarities of Milk Paint and Chalk Paint

Compared to other paint types, milk and chalk paints are more environmentally friendly than traditional latex paint. Both milk paint and chalk paint are non-toxic, water-based, mostly odorless, and with lower VOCs than other paints.

It’s easy to see how DIYers flock to both of these options for their projects. Both paint types are great for restoring old pieces of furniture and creating different looks and adding character to any piece. With a little sanding, you take can a piece from matte to distressed in minutes.

Additionally, these paints can be used on just about any surface, including walls, ceilings, metal, plastic, and even glass. Milk and chalk paints require little prep work before painting.

A person uses a small sponge brush to apply white chalk paint to a dark wood surface.

Why Use Milk Paint vs. Chalk Paint

Since there are so many nuances between chalk paint and milk paint, we’ve outlined the differences in the useful chart below.

Pros and cons of chalk paint and milk paint

Chalk PaintMilk Paint
Prep WorkLittle prep work is required. Light sanding is recommended. Priming optional.Sand with fine-grit sandpaper
CoverageGenerally requires a single coat. Will usually hide heavily grained wood patterns, other stains, or blemishes.Desired results determine the number of coats and sanding needed.
DurabilityVery durable and water-resistant with a protective topcoat.Won’t chip with a protective topcoat or wax.
Dry TimeTypically dries within hours.Dry to the touch within an hour.
SurfacesCan be applied to just about any surface including walls, furniture, metal, plastic, etc. Most commonly used on furniture.Can be applied to just about any surface including walls, furniture, metal, plastic, etc. Most commonly used on furniture.
DistressChalky, matte finish as is but versatile. Appearance is easily manipulated with additional wax or finish.Easily distressed and “flaked” with fine-grit sandpaper. 
FinishTextured finish. Brushstrokes may be visible.Slight texture with “chippy” or rustic result with a matte brushed effect.
ColorsMany color options are available, but colors are more difficult to customize.More color options and customization are available when mixing.
Clean upEasy clean up with warm water and soap because it is water-basedEasy clean up with warm water and soap because it is water-based

Milk Paint Brands

There are several different milk paint brands out there, but here are some of the most popular ones.

  • Old Fashioned Milk Paint
    • 32 Color Options
    • Comes in powder format & you mix with water
  • Amy Howard Toscana Milk Paint
    • A handful of color options available on Amazon, but more directly from her website
    • Comes in powder format & you mix with water
    • Straining is recommended to remove clumps
    • Paint binder sold separate to help increae adhesion
    • Made with milk protein (casein), limestone, clay, chalk, and pigments
  • The Real Milk Paint Co.
    • Very large selection of color options
    • Comes in powder format & you mix with water
    • Claims no primer is needed
    • Bonding agent sold separately for painting over latex paint
    • Claims that it doesn’t clump up
  • General Finishes Milk Paint
    • 33 Color Options
    • Comes in liquid format, not powder like most milk paints. Some claim that because of this, it’s not a “real” milk paint.
  • Rust-Oluem Milk Paint
    • Limited color selection, 6 options
    • Comes in liquid format, not powder. Some claim that because of this, it’s not a “real” milk paint.
    • Good for creating a brushed look with a texture to the paint with a matte sheen.

Milk Paint or Chalk Paint: Which is Best for Your Project?

Determining which is best for your project depends on the desired effect. With milk paint, the end result will be a washed look with a little texture and a “brushed” effect.

If you are going for a thicker, more paint-heavy look, then chalk paint might be a better choice.

Have you ever tried either of these paints before? Which do you like more?

Let us know in the comments below!

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