Milk Paint – Not just for antiques!

Ultralow Platform Bed in Snow White Milk Paint

Milk paint has a vibrant and exciting history stretching back as far as cave paintings and pyramids, but few people know much about it.   We’re big fans of the stuff, and have noticed a bit of popularity springing up around this great paint.  The distinctive flat sheen and dimensional surfaces give this finish a unique look, one that is traditionally associated with colonial-era American furniture.  We feel that using milk paint doesn’t have to be relegated to those who want to faithfully reproduce antique designs.  In fact, we love the warm and special look it brings to modern forms.

So what is Milk Paint?

Well it’s protein (milk) and calcium (lime). Mix the two together with water and you get a polymer.  The polymer can be tinted with pigments and will dry to a hard, protective surface.

There are a number of benefits that make this paint attractive to us as well as our customers.  One benefit of milk paint is that doesn’t off gas harmful toxins as it dries.  It’s perfectly safe for us to work around and healthy to have in your home.  In addition to it non-toxic nature, it’s extremely durable.  Milk paint bonds directly to the wood rather than sitting on the surface.  This make it far less likely to ever peel or chip.   And it just gets better with age too.  Milk painted furniture burnishes with use adding dimension and interest to the surface.  The colors are fast meaning they won’t fade over time either.

We get our milk paint from The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. in Groton, MA, just down the road from us.  They have been making milk paint there for the past 50 years.   We prefer their powdered formula and particular color palette, but there are others who make quality products as well including manufacturers who sell their product in premixed liquid forms.

If you are considering using milk paint in one of your projects, here are a few pieces of advice:  

  • Once mixed, you have a limited amount of time to use the paint before it becomes ineffective. For that reason it is best to mix up just what you need and use it all within a few days.
  • Additionally, when you mix the paint, be sure to use warm water!  Read the instructions on the packet too, but this makes it much easier.
  • Ideally use milk paint on bare wood.  The paint is its own primer.  There are bonding agents that each company sells that allow you to paint over existing finishes if need be.
  • Protect with tung oil or wax.  Direct water exposure can reactivate the lime and causes white spotting to appear.  Should this happen, it’s easy to fix by rubbing a little tung oil on the surface.

Whether you’re interested in using the paint yourself or just curious about living with it, we hope you’ve found this helpful.  In designing furniture pieces to last, we’ve definitely found that milk paint has an important role to play in our designs.  We would love to see this old world favorite embraced more in modern furniture too.

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