Milk Paint Basics

Posted by Carolyn Moore on

This week I thought I would outline some "milk paint basics", including preparation, mixing and applying.

Sometimes people are a little put off by the idea of having to mix powder and water and worry that they will get the quantities wrong. But honestly it is so simple and forgiving, and mixing the paint takes no time at all, so I hope to show there is really nothing to fear. And the finish you get from milk paint is truly like no other paint, so it really is worth a tiny bit of mxing! Probably the easiest way to demonstrate this is visually, so we are in the process of making a series of video tutorials which we will be launching on Youtube and instagram very soon. Do follow us to get notifications. 

In the meantime, here are the basics.

Old Fashioned Milk Paint is usually mixed in equal parts paint powder to warm water, but can be made thinner for a colourwash or thicker for stencilling or art projects for example, by adjusting the amount of water added.


You should only mix up the amount of paint needed for the project, as once mixed it will only last a few days or so if covered and put in the fridge (unused paint powder lasts indefinitely in an airtight container). So it is better to mix up smaller batches and mix more as needed. 

As equal quantities of powder and water are required for normal furniture painting, the easiest way is to measure out the powder and water by volume. So whatever you are using to measure the powder into the mixing bowl or container, use the same to measure in the water. For example:

  • One 'cup' measure of water for each 'cup measure of powder. Or,
  • One scoop of water for every scoop of powder 
  • One spoonful of water for every spoonful of powder 

However, if you have a large project and know that you need to mix a full bag, here here are the suggested water quantities to begin with.

To make a pint of paint, start with 9 floz of water and a 1-Pint package of powder

To make a Quart of paint, start with 18 floz of water and a 1-Quart package of powder

To make a Gallon of paint, start with 72 floz of water and a 1-Gallon package of powder

Note: these amounts are approximate, and may vary with paint colour, but they are a good place to start. Do not add all of the recommended water until you can see the consistency being achieved. See below. 


Luke warm water is best for dissolving the powder. If you are mixing a small amount of paint, it doesn't really matter whether you start with the water or the powder. Just mix equal amounts and stir until fully dissolved. However if you are mixing an entire bag with the recommended amount of water, start off with about 1/3 of the recommended water in the container and gradually add paint powder, mixing thoroughly either by hand with a stir stick, whisk or paint mixer, until dissolved. Stir well for 2/3 minutes until all the lumps have dissolved and the paint is smooth and creamy. It may start off looking foamy and frothy, which is normal. Keep alternating powder and water in small amounts, thoroughly mixing at each step (scraping the sides and bottom of the container as you go) and not allowing the mixture to get too thick or dry, until you get the desired volume and consistency. Milk paint is thinner than other paints, and for normal use ideally you are looking for a pancake batter/melted milkshake constistancy. It should not be so thin that it doesn't cover well, or so thick that your brush is dragging/pulling and hard to paint. Bear in mind also that it thickens as it sits, so it is a good idea to let it settle for 15 minutes, then stir again to check the consistency. The paint should now be very smooth and not foamy. 

Milk paint is very forgiving, and if you do make it too thick or thin you can simply adjust by adding paint powder or water, even if you have already used some - the colour will not change. In fact it is a good idea to keep a little water handy to loosen it up if it thickens too much between coats. After a couple of uses you will find you can mix by eye. 


Following the instructions above, when painting on bare wood or any porous surface, you will get a beautiful solid finish. But milk paint is so versatile and can be used in different ways for difference effects. 

Basically, there are three options when using milk paint:

1. Firstly, if you paint it on a porous surface such as bare wood or plaster, for example if you’re making something from new but want to give it rich, heritage or colonial colours with a matt finish, then two or three coats of milk paint is the perfect choice for depth and character. Milk paint is the most durable paint you can find ~ it adheres to porous surfaces like no other, and the colour will never fade. Of course you can always ‘control’ distress it if you want (see below).

2. Secondly, if you want to achieve that same finish on a surface that has already been painted or varnished, you will need to clean and sand it to remove surface sheen (see 'Preparing a Previously Painted Piece below), and mix in some Extra Bond (using a 2:1 ratio; two parts mixed up paint to one part Extra Bond) with the first coat of milk paint to give it adherence. 

3. But, if you want chippy finish, skip the Extra Bond. On a very high shine, factory lacquered surface you will still need to sand it a bit, but on old paint or wax, you could just paint it and see what happens! It is totally unpredictable – you don’t know where it will chip and flake, but for many people that’s the joy in it. You can even leave it dusty as the dust will react with the paint and cause chipping! 


If you are looking for a traditional all-over painted finish, your paint job will only be as good as your prep. 

first of all make sure your piece is sound and in good repair. Start out by lightly sanding your piece to knock down any shine and removing/filling imperfections you don't want to show through your paint. Sanding will provide a 'key' for the paint to grab onto. 

After you have sanded, thoroughly clean your piece with a sugar soap solution to remove any grease, dirt or old furniture polish build up, before mixing in your Extra Bond. 


Apply as you would any other paint. You don't need a special brush, however synthetic is better as it will hold more and absorb less of the paint. Your first coat won't look great; it wil be streaky, but don't worry, keep going. The Magic happens after that 2nd coat! Generally we recommend 2-3 coats on raw wood, but no more than two coats on a previously finished piece as a third coat can cause more chipping (see below). you can make your first coat slightly thicker to get better coverage. Allow 30 minutes between coats, or overnight if using Extra Bond.

After the final coat, gently rub smooth with a very fine grade sanding block, which will even it out. When painted on raw wood, after this final sanding it will be smooth and velvety. 


If your piece didn't chip or you used Extra Bond but still want it 'Distressed', now's the time! If desired by rub back the edges with sandpaper or use your preferred method such as scrapers etc. 


Although the colour will never fade, it is recommended to protect milk paint from everyday oils and dirt which will easily stain it. The product you use will depend on the effect you wish to achieve and where the item is to be used. If you want protection on furniture without any sheen or colour change, use a matt acrylic varnish, which is milky at first but dries completely clear. Waxes or oils will provide a lustre or sheen, but may darken the whites and lighter colours slightly. For a more aged or'dirty' look you may wish to finish with tinted 'antiquing' waxes. We have several finishing options for you to choose from that work very well with our milk paint, including varnish, waxes, oils and coloured waxes. For kitchen cabinetry and in high moisture areas, we recommend our Hope's 100% Tung Oil, a super tough finish on new wood which gives maximum protection against water and grease marks. 

The Most important thing to remember is that milk paint is just paint! And on raw wood, it is the most beautiful, durable paint you can find, giving authentic period colour. Yes it is known for its unpredictability on non-porous surfaces, but that is half the fun! It is the only paint on the market that will naturally distress to give you that aged, chippy look. It is a very versatile paint that can be used in so many ways for a huge variety of looks. 


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