Milk Paint Recipe

Blue spindle back dining chair

I’m a big fan of painted woodenware and have been experimenting for a while now with different recipes of homemade paint. The egg based tempera I used on my spindleback chair was lovely but takes several weeks to dry properly so I’ve been researching making milk paint. This is a soft paint that covers well and ages beautifully as the paint wears and develops a patina. Milk paint was traditionally made by souring the milk to separate out the curds which make the base for the paint however I’ve been looking for a simpler alternative which is easy to make up in small quantities. In the US powdered milk paint is available in various colours which are simply mixed up with water and this is what I want for my own work. I can then make up a dry batch with the colour I want and then mix up just the quantity needed knowing it will be the same shade each time.

The recipe I’ve been using is based on powdered milk paint which you buy in the supermarket along with bicarbonate of soda from the baking aisle. Lime is sometimes used but I prefer bicarbonate of soda as it’s safer,  easy to buy in small quantities and some pigments are not compatible with lime. You can also use borax which is available in chemists and makes a good alternative to the bicarb.

Here’s my recipe:

  • 4 parts milk powder
  • 1 part bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 part pigment
  • 6 parts cold water

Simply mix the powders together then add the water and stir well. Leave the paint to sit for 1 hour then stir again and paint. Milk paint dries quickly so don’t hang around once you’ve started using it and be careful not go back over areas as you can wipe the paint back off making a mess. Despite it being touch dry in 15mins of so, if you’re painting on extra coats make sure you let the paint dry fully, ideally overnight, as again the paint will come off if it’s not properly cured. I’ve been using earth pigments as I like the colours and using natural pigments seems to fit better with milk paint though artist’s pigments will work and have some really vibrant colours which are appealing.

milk paint coloursThe sample in the photo is a piece of dry ash painted using red ochre pigment. You can see the difference between a single layer and two coats of paint. In the top corner I’ve painted over the red with black, a traditional combination for windsor chairs.
There’s still plenty more to learn about working with milk paints so if you’ve suggestions or advice, share them in the comments.

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About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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17 Responses to Milk Paint Recipe

  1. Gary Baker says:

    hi steve, love the painted look too! Does the paint need sealing?

  2. Jules says:

    Thanks for the recipe, been wanting try this for a while but have always been put off by the need for lime and borax, i’ll have to give it a try. Where do you get pigments from?

  3. Tim says:

    Hi Steve,
    How long will a jar of paint last if refrigerated?

  4. Reblogged this on Restored to be Adored and commented:
    I have been trying this recipe for Milk Paint along side Pigment Paint recipe from Annie Sloan today. I look forward to testing the results tomorrow

  5. Angie says:

    Thanks for the recipe. I’ve been searching and am excited to try it out. I’m curious if your milk paint recipe produces chippy/flaky/crackle-y finish like the other milk paints I’ve seen blogged about? Thanks again!

    • Tammy says:

      Angie….I was wondering the same thing: does it produce the chippy look! Have you tried this recipe yet?? I do a lot of furniture makeovers using chalk paint but wanted to know if milk paint can be used on kitchen cabinets and sealed with wipe-on poly for duriabilty?? Also where do you purchase pigment??

  6. kb9jlo says:

    What pigments do you use.?

  7. I just shared your blog post to facebooks “chalk & milk paint projects” group, and thank you! I tried the powdered milk store brand with food dye As color. It would have been good to watercolor with it as was very thin coloring. I should have known to add a powdered pigment coloring. Wonder if just regular paint mixed in would work too. Experimenting is always fun

  8. Lizette Patrick says:

    I would like to know also if this recipe make the chipping effect please

  9. Debs says:

    Hi Simon, have you ever used a bonding agent in the paint that enables you to paint onto lacquered wood, if so what? Thanks

  10. Heather Brandalick says:

    What kind of milk powder are you using? Is this casein or just store bought powdered milk? Thanks

  11. Robert says:

    Thatnkd for posting the recipe. I’ve just painted some rungs using red ochre pigment. A day later, it seems to be dry, but the surface has quite a rough, grainy finish. It’s almost as if the bucarbonate of soda has recrystallised or something. Is there any way to avoid this, or is it always necessary to sand?
    Cheers

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