What is Milk Paint?

Milk Paint is an ancient organic paint made using basic, natural ingredients; milk protein (casein), lime, clay, and earth pigments such as ochre, umber, iron oxide, lampblack, etc. It makes the most colour-durable finish available, and is environmentally friendly, non-toxic, low odour and food safe, containing no chemicals, preservatives, fungicides, hydrocarbons or any other petroleum derivatives. Home-made Milk Paint has been around for centuries and is probably the earliest form of paint available. It was heavily used by settlers in North America, and has come to epitomise the character and style of Early American and Colonial architecture and interiors.

Old Fashioned Milk Paint was the first commercially produced milk paint using the traditional milk paint recipes, over 45 years ago. It arrives in powder form to be mixed with water, so it can be made in small or large batches. The milk component means that it cannot be preserved more than about 24 hours once mixed with water, which is why it comes as a powder (so beware of those liquid products claiming to be milk paint – if it’s not a powder, it’s not milk paint!) But in powder form stored in an airtight container, it lasts indefinitely, meaning you can use it as required for each project. 

The deep, rich colours of Milk Paint authentically reflect colours found on existing antique colonial furniture and buildings.  Modern paints cannot compare with the colours and the texture of the finish for achieving the "old" or "country look" of Colonial or Shaker furniture and interiors.  There are over 60 colours across our ranges, but many more can be easily achieved, by mixing the powders together or lightening with Snow White.

Long beloved of artists, craftsmen and designers for historic restoration and reproduction, nowadays Milk Paint is also used to achieve the rich colours and flat, chalky or chippy finish desired in furniture makeover or upcycling projects. 

Like the paints used hundreds of years ago, the colours in our Milk Paint will not fade. Very fast drying, Milk Paint can be used as a one-coat colour wash or to achieve a solid, matt finish; each additional coat will add depth, but will not change the colour achieved from the first coat. Milk Paint will produce an antique, uneven chalky surface when first applied ~ this will even out somewhat is it dried, but can be smoothed out with fine-grade sandpaper or wire wool to achieve deep, solid finish. Milk Paint has become increasingly popular in recent years among wood-turners and artists, as well as those who enjoy making or restoring furniture.  An obvious choice in creating authentic vintage colours, it does a great job in making new look old, using various distressing techniques; on new, bare would it gives a flat, matt finish which can be rubbed back and further aged with waxes or oils as desired, or left as a solid colour which is suprisingly contemporary in the right setting. However, many people love its unpredictable nature when painted over old paint or varnish, which, unless strengthened with our 'Extra Bond',  often gives a lovely aged, 'chippy' look as the paint dries and flakes. The resulting 'distressed' finish can then be preserved under a wax, varnish or oil finish.
Milk Paint is environmentally safe and non-toxic. There is a slight milky odour when it is applied, but it is completely odourless when dry. The paint is safe for children's furniture and toys, is food safe and can also be used for interiors of homes of people who are allergic to modern paints.

In 1974, Charles Thibeau, a furniture maker in Groton, Massachusetts, had his “Eureka” moment while trying to replicate an authentic finish for his Colonial furniture reproductions. He was not trying to revolutionize the paint world, but his discovery changed the concept of what modern paint is and can be. He introduced a whole new generation to a time-tested, back-to-basics formulation in the process. Thibeau had been involved in Boston's first Earth Day in 1970. His dedication to the environment insured that his milk paint formula kept true to the natural recipes of Colonial America.
Milk paint, an ancient form of paint, is famous for being one of the world’s most durable paints. Milk protein (casein) and crushed limestone form a tough-as-nails coating that hardens over time like concrete, making it nearly impossible to remove. In early America, people made their own homemade versions of this paint with locally found materials including clay, chalk and pigments dug from the earth. Milk paint eventually fell out of favour with the invention of the paint can and modern, latex paint.
Like the milk paint used in days of old, Thibeau’s Old Fashioned Milk Paint will not rub or wash off, and it adheres like no other paint ever devised to bare wood, plaster and other porous surfaces. The deep, rich colours match the classic chalky, velvety, mottled look characteristic of the original milk paint used on walls and furniture in colonial America. In addition, the paint contains none of the harmful ingredients normally associated with modern paint. It can be used safely on children's toys, hospital walls, by pregnant women and many people suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity. It is 100% biodegradable, contains zero VOC’s, and was actually the first paint to be awarded the USDA’s Biobased label. Thibeau developed his formula in a powder form, allowing the user to simply mix water to the powder just before use - as easy as making chocolate milk. The powder formula eliminated the need to add chemical preservatives, and created a more efficient way to ship paint, as opposed to costly, heavy, liquid paint cans.
In the mid 1970’s, Yankee Magazine produced a series of books called “The Forgotten Arts”. They included Charles Thibeau in a chapter on making paint from scratch. When the book came out, Thibeau’s phone rang off the hook with people wanting some of this long forgotten paint. Over the past 40 years, Old Fashioned Milk Paint has gained such popularity it is used by thousands of people throughout the United States and all over the world, from England to Australia. Over the years, others have come out with their own versions of powdered milk paint, but none have ever come quite close to matching the original.
In 2008 The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company introduced a second milk paint formula, called SafePaint,  now called Farmhouse Finishes. While originally developed as wall paint, it will adhere to almost anything, including metal. Both formulas are best used as interior paints.
In the past few years there has been a resurgence in painted furniture. The soft, chalky look is all the craze, as is the “shabby chic” look of restored wooden furniture. The upcycled furniture trend is seen in many homes of modern do-it-yourself enthusiasts. And the most stylish, safest way of achieving these looks is with milk paint. See A BRIEF HISTORY OF MILK PAINT for more information.
1.The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company has been faithfully producing a genuine Milk Paint as close as possible to the old primitive, home-made paint made on the back porch with skim milk or buttermilk, crushed limestone and pigments found around clay pits, or chimney soot and mineral colors crushed and powdered. This original paint goes back about 6000 and more years as evidence by early cave paintings.
2. This original paint varied quite a bit in color, texture and permanence as no recipe was widely disseminated world wide. Slight variations in the results were quite usual, as evidenced by artifacts found with (a) a fairly heavy film thickness in spite of great age, or, (b) just a thin stain of earth pigment color that penetrated the wood pottery.
3. During our early experiments, we easily reproduced the latter (b) results although we were working to get a good film with strong adhesion as mentioned in (a) above. These experiments resulted in our being able to produce a genuine milk paint as made long ago, with one variation. We found that when using regular liquid milk, the paint would start to gel in a matter of hours. Keeping it in the refrigerator would increase the life of the liquid paint, but not for more than a few days.
4. This was all right for our own use but we were already receiving requests from some of our customers who had purchased a four-poster bed or a Windsor chair that we had made and painted, and wanted some of our unusual paint. Our main business was the making of museum replicas of the 17th & 18th century furniture, and some of the original country pieces had been milk-painted.
5. Naturally, for authenticity, we had to stick with the original ingredients. We were able to make one concession in order to ship our paint anywhere. We used all dry ingredients, still faithful to the history and "that's the end of the story".
6. Genuine milk paint is technically a calcium-caseinate. That means simply that it is made from milk protein, (also known as casein) and lime, (also known as calcium), plus the earth or mineral pigments. There are casein paints of many varieties as well as casein glues and adhesive coatings. About a hundred years ago in Germany a casein paint was made using formaldehyde instead of lime. Another formula used borax instead of lime. Still another used additives like synthetic plastics such as acrylics, vinyls or acetates, and the list goes on an on. Many of these formulations are good paints, as are oil and latex. But they are NOT milk paints.
Since 1974.  Often Copied, Never Equalled