Today I wanted to share some tips and tricks on how to use milk paint for your furniture revamps.
Last week, I mentioned that I had the amazing opportunity while attending the Haven Conference in Atlanta to take an advanced painting class with two of the best decorative furniture painters out there; Marian Parsons (aka “Miss Mustard Seed“) and Shaunna West (from the blog Perfectly Imperfect):
Shaunna West (left), me and Marian Parsons (aka Miss Mustard Seed) (right)
If you happen to follow along with me on my DIY Paint Treatment Board on Pinterest, you’ve probably noticed that many of the paint treatments/techniques that I have pinned are either from Marian or Shaunna. These two ladies seriously know everything there is to know about paint treatments and they’re especially masters when it comes to layering and working with each paint product to create amazing finishes for furniture transformations.
I learned so much with these ladies that it’s really hard for me to recap everything in one post. So I thought today I would focus on one thing- what is milk paint and how to use it for furniture finishes. I will work in some of Marian and Shaunna’s other amazing paint tips and techniques on later posts. So much great stuff coming!!
More than any paint technique or product, I have been really looking forward to learning more about Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint. I have been hearing a lot about it lately but know very little about it and have never experimented with it before. How awesome that my introduction to it was straight from Miss Mustard Seed herself! For those of you who don’t know, Marian created her own line of milk paint called Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint and she is known for her amazing milk paint finishes:
So let me just start with the basics and show you first what the finish looks like on a few of Miss Mustard Seed’s own pieces that she finished using her milk paint products in various colors that she offers:
Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in “Shutter Gray“:
Miss Mustard Seed paint in “Flow Blue“:
Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in “Artissimo“:
I think a lot of people think that milk paint and chalk paint are the same thing but they are two very different types of paint with completely different finishes. Of course, you can distress milk paint and make it look like a chalky/shabby type finish but now that I have worked with both paints, I can see the significant differences between the two types of paint. I never realized that I could create a more modern finish with milk paint like a weathered or Restoration Hardware look.
When you paint milk paint to raw wood (no primer needed), to me, the only way I can describe it is that it looks more ink or wood stain. Here are some of my paint samples that I painted in our class to show you what I mean:
I used Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in “Typewriter”. Notice how semi-watery and highly pigmented the paint is:
Look at how intense and vibrant that color is!
Below you can see how “typewriter” dried (in about 15 minutes) and how it has a very stain look when it dries. Actually, if you’ve ever color washed with paint (added water to paint), it has that same feel except the milk paint has an extremely amazing and vibrant pigmentation, if that makes sense. It looks absolutely nothing like chalk paint or any kind of paint for that matter when it dries. It’s very unique.
The top color of milk paint that I painted over the dried Typewriter it is called “Grain Sack”:
When you’re painting with milk paint, it feels like a thinned out paint and you do not need as much paint. The best part of all, there are no brush strokes visible (music to my ears)! Ok, so get this.., when milk paint dries, you can wet a cloth and rub to lightly remove a little paint and distress the finish (not when it’s wet but dry! how cool is that!)
Here is “Grain Sack” painted over dried “Typewriter”:
after it dried, all I had to do was use a slightly damp cloth and just gently wipe to lift a little of the top grain sack and lightly distress:
You have far more control by being able to lightly wipe with water then having to distress with steel wool or sand paper with other paints such as chalk paint. You can’t use this wet wipe technique with any other type paints after they have dried. Because of this, the distressing is more controlled and it’s more subtle and blended. With sand paper or steel wool, you not only lift the top areas of the top coat but you also quickly get down to the wood. With this technique, the distressing can be more subtle and you are more in control of the finish:
Can you believe that?
I loved the finish above but I wanted to experiment some more so I dipped my rag back into the “Typewriter” black milk paint and just swiped on around my piece and this is the finish that I ended up with. I think it’s a beautiful weathered or driftwood look:
Can’t you just see this finish on a dresser or table? So imagine this finish with other color combinations. I was blown away with the amount of control that I had (yikes, how many times have I said that now?). I didn’t have to distress by sanding and I think that the finish looks more natural than trying to achieve this look with layering and sanding. The paint isn’t thick like other paints and doesn’t sit on top of the wood in layers but rather it penetrates the wood. Also, while it may look a little chalky in the image, it is not. It really looks far more natural and sort of dyed more than anything.
So with milk paint, you need to protect or seal your finish by buffing with wax. Miss Mustard Seed also offers a wax as well but she said any kind of wax would work too. She also offers tinted waxes that can add an antique look or a dark look as well, so you can distress and protect with one wax.
Ironically, Miss Mustard Seed shared an image on her blog of the similar driftwood finish that I did where she is showing the look of this finish with her antiquing wax (on the left side) and her white wax (on the right side):
By the way, milk paint comes in powder form and you mix it with water to create the milk paint. Marian said that you add just enough water that it should be somewhere in between normal paint thickness and pure liquid (I would say the consistency of puree). Because it’s paint, you tend to want to add a small amount of water and keep it thick but Marian said that it needs to be a lot thinner but not too watery. Also, it needs to be stirred for at least 3 minutes or more:
One last thing… There are also all kinds of tricks to getting crackled or unqiue patchy chippy looks with milk paint by using resistance such as vaseline or hemp oil. Marian goes into details of using resistance or “trickery” in this great post here.
I love this stuff and can’t wait to order it in all of the colors and experiment more but this time on some old pieces of furniture. After my lessons, I think milk paint is the perfect place to start if you’ve always wanted to paint furniture but not sure where to get started. You have so much control with this paint and technique! This is easier to work with than anything I have ever tried and think of it like a super highly pigmented stain.
I would love to know if you have ever worked with milk paint before. What are your thoughts about the finish? For more details and tutorials for working with milk paint, Miss Mustard Seed’s blog is full of all kinds of information, inspiration and tricks.
Thanks for hanging out with me today!
Thanks for your thoughts on this. I have to admit a few weeks ago I tried MMS’s milk paint and was not so sure about it. I did not really feel as if I was getting the right consistency, so my furniture find has been sitting there waiting for me to figure something out with it. Maybe I’ll give it another go.
Yes Megan, Marian really spent a lot of time talking about how important it is to stir the paint for a long time (more than 3 minutes). She showed us the ideal consistency and it was watery but not too watery if that makes sense. The only way I can describe it is like pancake batter for thin pancakes (lol). Yes, keep playing with it and try layering and then wiping after it dries.
Thanks girl for stopping by and I hope all is well!
I love MMS paints and wax. I own all the colors and use it often. It is my favorite paint to use and I love how it just turns out how it wants, not always how I plan. Great post and thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing Cyndy. I have yet to experiment with milk paint or chalk paint. I love all of the finishes you showed. I cannot believe the variety that can be achieved with it. I will have to look into it more. I have always been nervous about painting furniture, even though I love the look.
Thanks Elizabeth! I really think this is a great way to start learning painting techniques because it has more control than any other paint product. I can’t wait to experiment with more finishes using milk paint.
Thanks for stopping by girl!
I love this explanation on milk paint. I have never used it before, and wondered what it was like. Now I feel like I want to try it out for sure!
Thanks Erin! I’m so glad that you want to try the milk paint. I think you will be very pleased with it!
Melissa prince says
I love the look! I’m a little concerned about maintaining the finish. Do you need to continually apply the wax or is it a one time job? Is polyurethane ever used for pieces in high use areas?
From my understanding, once you rub and buff in the wax, it is permanently protected. The wax hardens like a shell. I think if you’re going to do a table top, you could go over it with a matte polyurethane for extra measure.
Thanks for stopping by!
Yes, recently finished an old chest that I really didn’t know what to do with. My son tweaked it a bit with his woodworking skills, and it now houses a TV and has storage underneath. What a fabulous way to save an oak chest that no longer had a look that fit into our decor. I wanted the chippy, old, rustic look and with the milk paint I got it. I was a little hesitant at first because I had never worked with anything like it before, but after a few color changes (I never can make up my mind!) it is perfect! I’m glad I made the changes as they now show through in different areas and you can see different shades here and there adding to that old rustic look I desired. They really are kind of fun to play with!!
I bet it’s beautiful and yes, it really is amazing what can be done with the paint. I had no idea until I got to spend a little time playing with the paints. Good to hear that you were very happy with the results.
I really like your sample. It turned out exactly like driftwood! You talk about doing this on bare wood. How would you prep an old piece that was either previously painted or stained? How would the color turn out then?
Miss Mustard Seed says that you do not need to do any prep work to old pieces for the milk paint. No sanding or priming needed. Isn’t that awesome! Here is a link to a tutorial video from Miss Mustard Seed showing how she mixes and paints without prepping:http://www.missmustardseedsmilkpaint.com/tutorial/
Thanks for stopping by Pam!
We were at the same table in that class! Haha. It was so cool hearing tips from a person who actually developed the paint. That said, I’m still intimidated by it, haha.
I love love love MMS Paints!! That’s about all I use anymore. I’ve used every color except the 3 new ones that just came out and I hope to have them next week. Very awesome paint. From what I’ve seen reading all these great blogs is you either love it or hate it.
Thanks so much for the info on using milk paint. One question: did you use the Stick With Me liquid additive when doing the sample above? I would like to paint an old table top and then wipe off some of the paint to get back down to the stain on the table in some areas but not necessarily have it chip off? I am looking for a more subtle effect so I am worried about whether it will get too chippy if I don’t use the additive.
Hi Cyndy, I like the look of this technique. I am making an A frame shelf cabinet for my daughter and think this would be just the look she wants. Would this paint technique be sufficiently robust for this, or will it just wear off? It seems so easy to rub it off. I am not familiar with this waxing to which you refer. How do I do that, and what wax do I use? Cheers,
This comment comes way after your original post, but I have a question and am hoping you will see it and can help! If I want to use milk paint on an old french door, do I need to sand it first? I’ve seen conflicting answers. I know your samples were done on raw wood, but this door would obviously already have a stain and probably varnish on it. Thanks!
Hi Charla! Yes, if you suspect varnish or shellac was used as a top coat, I would for sure sand. My rule of thumb is if I do not know for certain that a piece of furniture has a heavy duty oil-based top coat like varnish, I always lightly sand just to be safe. No worries though, you do not need to do heavy duty sanding but I recommend going over it with a find grit sanding sponge to simply remove that gloss of top coat. I hope that helps Charla! Always better to be safe than sorry. Thanks for your note!
I have a dark stained (walnut) China cabinet and a maroon latex painted hutch. I am redoing our kitchen in a forest green accents and sunny yellow walls. I want to choose a color for both of these that will work and look like they fit and while they don’t need to match I’m unsure how to work with the 2 colors im starting with and get them where I want – somewhere in the same color family. Thinking of green – but will the maroon show thru and make it look muddy?
Also I do stenciling on barnwood slate – can this paint be used in this application or would the slate be too porous?
Cyndy, thanks for this post as I have been researching ways to refinish my dining room table. Would you recommend this type of paint on a dining table due to the heavy use? Would the wax protect similar to polyurethane ? How many coats would be recommended for wax or how would you suggest it be finished?
Thanks in advance
Karen E. Concannon says
I have a question about milk painting technique. I absolutely love the whitewash or driftwood effect you create here with the damp cloth. I much prefer this to a chippy finish. The piece I want to paint has been previously varnished, meaning I would be happier by adding bonding agent to the paint. My question is: will the bonding agent prevent the wet cloth from creating this effect? Will I be better off sanding away the old varnish and using the milk paint without the bonding agent? Thanks for your insight!
So glad I found this site. I am about to purchase a new, 6′, distressed dining farm table. These tables are available with finishing but he wants $3oo to finish the table which I feel is way too much to pay. I want to do it myself. I hope I can find the information I need to complete my project here.
Gemma Hoskins says
Hi. Am moving into a beach place with ugly brown maple cabinets. Am going to use seagull grey by General Finishes. I have read that I should put three topcoats of varnish on it. You recommend wax. Can you help? Also have a very shiny wood table that I want to paint. Should I use a Deglosser first?
Hi Gemma! For kitchen cabinets, I do also recommend multiple sealing top coats in a matte finish for extra durability. I would shy away from wax for cabinetry because you’ll want those cabinet finishes to hold up long-term and while wax is great, for heavy traffic cabinets, I think you’ll need a little more. Yes on the deglosser for a shiny table and I also recommend using a sanding sponge in the finest grit just to help take the shine off before you paint. You do not need to heavy duty sand, just lightly sand around the piece to help de-gloss as well. Good luck and I hope this helps 🙂
Traci farr says
What’s a good deglosser?
Also try TSP and the liquid sander paste works awesome. Both are found in the paint section of any hardware store. Be sure to read cautions about safety, these are some pretty serious chemicals. I often use just steel wool rubbing with the grain in a rougher grit, then a smoother one for thorough deglossing. I just feel lke it gets in the lttle gooves better. Btw, i have used milk paint that cracked and peeled insanely too much, so i repainted it, and when it started cracking in the bare spots, i quickly went over it with a primer,/finish called “peelstop”. I believe zinzer makes it. It dries clear, and i wanted the chippy but not the flakey, peely, kind that were i areas that wouldnt get much wear and i giant patches. I should have used a bonding agent. I know better, but never had such a reaction to a finish. anyways i just baby sat it until i liked t the amount of chippy and immediately painted peelstop over it. It stopped the progression of chipping. This is the only technique i know of that allowed me to control the sometimes uncontrollable milk paint. Lol which is why i love it. Its as unpredictable as i am and sometimes its just magical how things turn out. But you gotta have some courage and throw caution to the wind. And acceptance is a good skill for milk paint sometimes.
Traci farr says
Hi!!! I loved this post and can’t wait to start! I have a brown dresser that is old and a cherry bedroom set that I’d like to do this on. Do you think that will turn out well? I’ll do typewriter and grain sack on all four pieces and I’m going to use the antique wax on the old brown dresser and white wax on the cherry bedroom suite. Do you think that it’ll turn out?
Kim Siebert says
If your furniture has a top coat “sealer” still on, should you first sand it off to get better adhesion? I am doing a changing table/dresser for my niece and any help would be greatly appreciated.
Question,,, how does it work on previously painted cabinets or furniture?
If you lightly sand and prime, it should work well. In fact, in some cases (especially furniture), if you use a liquid deglosser, you really shouldn’t need primer. However, I would test a small area if you can. Hope that helps.
I paint and recycle old furniture and sale in a booth. Once I started using GF milk paint I have had so many people compliment myvwork. I was still distressing with sandpaper and it would leave streaks and I would have to repaint. So glad to know I can use a wet cloth. Have a dresser sitting in front of me now. Ready to get started. This one will be painted with Mill Stone. One of my favorites. Did a nightstand recently using cobalt and driftwood gray. Turned out beautiful!!! Sold real quick. thanks for giving tips for using GF paint.
Can this be done on old wood that was previously stained?
Can this slightly wet rag technique be used with any brand of milk paint?
I am using a premixed mill paint by Folkart to paint letters for my dining room and wanted to make sure before I attempt it.
Your piece came out great!
Yes you can! I would just test on a piece of wood first to get your technique down. 🙂
Hi!Thank you so much for this post.I’ve refurbished a lot furniture pieces but never used milk paint.I can’t wait to finish my newest project (vintage cedar wood chest) using milk paint.
I do have a question for future reference…can I layered milk paint over a chalk paint?Or over a regular paint?
Jane Shields says
I have an oak stained and varnish armoire that I want to milk paint a flax color. Can I just go right over the varnish or do I need to do something to it first?
Also, should you wax over milkpaint? Any help you could give me would be very much appreciated. Thank you.
I would lightly sand the piece with a very fine grit sanding sponge to take the edge/gloss off of the finish first. You don’t have to sand down to the wood but I would sand the edge off and wipe the dust thoroughly and then paint. You don’t necessarily have to prime with milk paint but in cases where I am painting something with that thick old heavy varnish, I do one coat of stain blocking primer and very lightly sand the primer when it’s dry to even out brush mark ridges. I just always want to make sure that the paint will adhere properly and I don’t like to take chances that a previous stain or something will bleed through, which is why I use stain blocking primer. So I just go ahead and do one coat of primer first. I hope that helps!
ANNE CATALDO says
VERY VERY NICE, BUT WILL IT HOLD UP, AND WHERE DO YOU BUY MILK PAINT…I AM AN ARTIST AND HAVE NEVER HEARD OF IT, IS IT NEW…GREAT WORK.!!!!!!!
Susan McMillian says
Can this be used on finished would without the need of sanding first?