Nitty Gritty Furniture Design and Restoration


Milk Paint FAQ’s

What is it?

Early North American settlers painted their furniture and interiors with Milk Paint using a formula that dated back at least to Ancient Egypt.  It continued to be used through the years, typically in rural settings.  Milk Paint came into particular favour in the 1700 and 1800’s, in Europe and North America.  It was during this time that Milk Paint was in its heyday.  Up until the middle 1800's paint was not sold commercially. People made their own. One of the common recipes contained milk protein, quicklime and earth pigments. Because of the unique durability of Milk Paint, many fine examples of furniture painted with it still exist today.  They are hundreds of years old and their finish is just as true as the day the paint was applied.  In fact, through the 20th century, many “old timers” painting in England and Eastern Europe were still using Milk Paint as a primer.

The deep rich colours of our Milk Paint authentically capture those colours found on great antique furniture and buildings. Our paint is made in small batches, using earth pigments. Modern paints cannot replicate the colours nor the texture and effects of Milk Paint.  The dead flat, earthy look is quite distinctive, yet with a little elbow grease, Milk Paint can be sanded or burnished to any degree of smoothness, and richness, including grain reveal.

Is it Environmentally Friendly?

Milk Paint is biodegradable, non-toxic and odour-free when dry.  As in originally produced home-made Milk Paint, our Milk Paint is made from milk protein, lime, clay, and earth pigments such as ochre, umber, iron oxide, lamp black, etc. The lime is alkaline but becomes totally inert when mixed with the (slightly acid) milk.  There is a complex chemical reaction between the casein and lime, which as it dries turns into Calcium Casienate, a pretty tough product.  There is no lead, no chemical preservatives, and no fungicides. Milk paint contains no hydrocarbons or any other petroleum derivatives and solvents.

Our Milk Paint is environmentally safe and non-toxic when dry. You may notice a slight milky odour when it is applied, but it is completely odourless when dry. The paint is safe for use on children’s furniture and toys, and can also be used for interiors of homes, offices and public areas used by people with allergies or who are otherwise sensitive to chemically based paints.

How Does it Work and Where can I use it?

Milk paint works best on clean, porous surfaces such as unfinished wood, plaster or masonry.  It can also be applied over flat latex paint.  But if you are going to apply milk paint over other paints or most primers, the surface must have good porosity, which can be achieved by sanding thoroughly with 100-grit or 120-grit sandpaper.  When in doubt, apply milk paint over a small area.  If it beads up, more sanding is required.

As with all finishing, preparation is of prime importance.  If you want a smooth finish, you must paint on a smooth surface.  Sand thoroughly, especially end grain areas; 120-grit paper is a reasonable choice for most purposes, although you may use finer grits on more refined furniture designs.  In addition to being smooth, the surface must be clean and free from contamination.

Why should I use it?

There are three main reason why customer’s choose Milk Paint.  First is for environmental reasons, either to support the environment, or to avoid their own sensitivities to more common paint products.  The second reason is to mimic historical pieces, or to give an authentic finish.  The last reason is to create a look; one that can’t be replicated by any other product that we know of.   An example of this is using Milk Paint on a contemporary styled piece of furniture.  The multi dimensional earthy effect softens the hard edged look of most contemporary furniture.  However, if you’re looking for a quick fix paint, Milk Paint is not your answer.  It is both more labour intensive and takes more time than standard paints.

Do I need a primer?

On bare open grained woods, no, you do not.  Milk Paint is it’s own primer.  For other surfaces, you may need a primer, or you may need to add Extra-bond to the Milk Paint.

Do I really need to seal Milk Paint?

Yes! Some of the lime will leach out and water-spot if it has not been sealed, and something gets spilled on it.  It can also spot if it is wiped with water or washed. Decorative pieces, walls etc., do not have to be sealed, but functional pieces should be. A bench, chair or similar piece of furniture can be waxed or oiled, which provides a lovely soft finish and helps prevent water spotting. Table tops, and kitchen cabinetry, etc. should have a much stronger finish such as polyurethane.

Can Milk Paint be saved or stored once mixed?

We recommend mixing up only as much paint as you will need at any given time. However, if you find you've mixed up more paint than you need you can try keeping the leftover paint in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.  Add a little extra water before putty it in the fridge.  It will usually keep for a short time, especially if it is not mixed up too thick, but, due to the organic nature of the paint, it may not. You'll know if it is not usable because it will gel up, or smell of ammonia.

Can I Create Other Colours or Colour Match ?

While there are 16 standard colours, they can all be intermixed to create thousands of different colours.  Remember to mix exceptionally well when mixing colours and note both your recipe and process so you can recreate it later.  We are asked on a regular basis to mix up custom colours for clients.  While that is an expertise of ours we reserve it only for those who’ve ordered custom furniture in specific colours.  However, We have over 4,000 colour samples in our showroom if you’re looking for ideas.  You’ll also see great examples of colours going through the web-site.

How do I paint walls or plaster with Milk Paint?

We don’t recommend this, as we’ve found varying results, however, for detailed instructions on how to apply Milk Paint to walls or plaster see our instructions sheet, in the “Preparing Sealed Surfaces” section. If you are going for a thin washed look, then go right ahead!

I've seen Milk Paint in a can. How is that different from your paint?

Real, natural, Milk Paint is always made in powder form. Other companies may offer 'Milk Paint Colours' but they are usually oil or acrylic based paints.  Look closely at the label.  It probably says Milk Paint Colours or Buttermilk Paint Colours, and it is what it says: an acrylic or oil based paint using historical pigments, like those we use.

How can I remove Milk Paint?

Most modern strippers won't touch Milk Paint. We’ve used Sunlight soap flakes to soften the Milk Paint to a sticky gum consistency, but otherwise it’s lots of elbow grease and sanding.  If you don’t like or get tired of the colour you’ve applied, it’s usually much easier to overpaint Milk Paint in another colour, than strip it.  There is a Behlen Masters product, P.D.E. paint remover that seems to help in stripping, but is is very caustic, with lye as its base.

Note: Removing old Milk Paint from an authentic antique may decrease it's value!

Can I buy Milk Paint in larger sizes than 170 Grams?

Yes, we sell Milk Paint in 5 and 10 lb. bags to cabinet makers and kitchen companies across the country. The 5 lb. bag is equivalent to about twelve and a half 170 gram bags.

What does it cost? 

The 170 gram bag retails for $13.50.  The 5 lb bag is $127.50 (37% savings), and the 10 lb. bag is $252.75 (37% savings). 

How long does it last?

Milk Paint when kept sealed from humidity and light can last years.  We warrantee it for 6 months.  Mixed Paint will last only one or two days, if refrigerated.

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