Chalk Paint or Milk Paint; Which is Better for Painting Furniture

I remember the first time I purchased chalk paint. I was in a little boutique about 30 miles north of where I lived. I kept staring at all the furniture painted with this new “chalk paint” style and I had to try it. My thoughts were “wow, am I really going to pay Forty dollars for a quart of paint?”  And what would I paint? All I knew was that I loved this style and I had to try it. This was the beginning of my furniture painting journey. Fast forward a few years (ok maybe like 10) and I’m going to share all about Chalk paint vs. milk paint and which is better for painting furniture.

Chalk Paint or Milk Paint; Which is Better for Painting Furniture

Let me share one more thing about my trip to that little boutique.  While I was perusing the isles of painted furniture, I found a really neat vintage chair.  The owner had apparently repainted it with white chalk paint and recovered it with a scripted fabric.

chalk painted chair

I loved the vintage style and farmhouse look of it. The ironic thing was that the chair was $42, and the chalk paint that I was about to buy was $40.

Disclosure; this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not affect the price you pay. This disclosure statement refers to the rest of the Amazon links in this post.

The owner then asked if I wanted to take her class on “how to chalk paint” for $50. I decided I would buy the chair and the chalk paint and study how she applied to chalk paint to the chair. Was this cheating? Maybe? But I had a limited amount to spend and I wanted that chair šŸ™‚

So I purchased my chair and a can of chalk paint and on I went to start my furniture painting journey!

A few years passed and I started hearing about a similar product called milk paint. I knew both paints were made of different ingredients, but both were still primarily used to paint furniture. 

Chalk Paint or Milk Paint; Which is Better for Painting Furniture?

Milk Painted TV Stand before and after

Above is a before and after picture from my milk painted tv stand project.

Before I give you my opinion, I want to share some facts about chalk paint vs. milk paint and their differences.

What is Chalk Paint and why do you use it?

  • One of chalk paints biggest draws is that it does not require a primer because it will stick to almost any wood finish. In the furniture refinishing business this was huge. You could paint over polyurethane, wax, even glue and it would stick! Gone were the days of stripping and sanding and preparing wood for paint
  • Chalk paint distresses easily with a little sand paper. It comes off in a fine powder, which also makes it very forgiving.
  • Chalk paint is {mostly} made of latex paint, calcium carbonate and water. The calcium is what makes gives it the chalky finish.
  • Because chalk paint “dusts” off easily, I always recommend adding a top coat of wax or varnish.  Speaking from experience, the paint does not hold up well to without a top coat.
  • You can make your own chalk paint, but most people buy it already mixed in a quart size can.
  • You can mix chalk paint colors easily. The paint can also be diluted for a smoother finish or for use in a paint sprayer.
  • A little chalk paint goes a long way. I was fearful when I purchased the $40 quart size can that I was wasting my money, but I covered about three full pieces of furniture with it!
  • For those of you who like the convenience of a spray paint, you can find chalky spray paint in any big name store.

What is Milk Paint and why do you use it?

  • Unlike Chalk paint, milk paint has been around for years. The ingredients are natural and eco friendly.
  • You will find a lot of milk paint products in the powdered form. All it requires is to be mixed with water.
  • The main ingredients for milk paint are quark (Quark is a type of fresh dairy product made by warming soured milk) and lime. The downside to these ingredients is the smell!
  • The powdered form of milk paint will require the addition of a bonding agent if you don’t want the “chippy” look.
  • Speaking of adding a bonding agent, this is the bonus for vintage lovers like myself. If you want the aged chippy wood look, all you have to do is apply milk paint without the boding agent and you will find that the paint will chip naturally over a period of just a few hours.
  • The downside to the powdered form of milk paint is that it can be rather tricky to mix the perfect consistency.  Most new furniture painters would rather buy milk paint in a ready to go can. There are a few brands that come already mixed like General Finishes milk paint.  unfortunately, with the “ready made” milk paint cans the bonding agent is already mixed in.
  • In my opinion, milk paint with the bonding agent does not always require a top coat. If the piece of furniture I’m working on doesn’t get a lot of wear and tear, I rarely use a top coat.
  • I have found that milk paint does show brush strokes much easier than chalk paint. It does not “self level” as well as chalk paint.

Disclosure: this is my opinion and some of you might disagree. I’ve tried to lay out all the facts first and then form my opinion to give you guys a good knowledge base about chalk paint vs milk paint.

Which one do I prefer? Chalk paint or Milk paint?

I love the smooth finish of milk paint and the fact that I can create that chippy look by forgoing the bonding agent. I even used milk paint to paint my laminate cabinets. 

On the downside, milk paint does show brush strokes easier than chalk paint and does not bond as well (in my opinion).

Back to the question, which paint do I prefer? It depends on what I’m painting.

I do prefer applying chalk paint to a furniture piece that has many layers of old paint or varnish.

In my opinion I think chalk paint is the best paint for furniture because it covers previous paint and sealer without lots of prep work. It also gives a better coverage and more “even toned” look.

The only downside is that it will require a good chalk paint wax or top coat for a lot of use.

chalk painted kitchen table

The kitchen table above is my chalk painted dining room table that I’m still super pleased with.

Milk paint is my go-to paint for that chippy look. Otherwise, I prefer using chalk paint because of its better coverage and ability to hide most brush strokes.

milk painted chippy paint technique

A close look at the chippy paint technique that I applied to this vintage fireplace mantel with milk paint.

I hope my thoughts about chalk paint vs. milk paint help you figure out what paint to use to repurpose or up cycle something of your own!

Feel free to drop a note below if you have any comments or questions about a project or furniture piece.

If you enjoyed this post and want to save it for later I would love for you to pin it to Pinterest.


55 thoughts on “Chalk Paint or Milk Paint; Which is Better for Painting Furniture

  1. Thanks for answering so many questions I already had about milk paint. I have used chalk paint for years but have yet to find something I wanted to try milk paint with. Now I will be on the lookout for something new. Visiting from Over the Moon party.

  2. this was very interesting. I have painted a few pieces of furniture, but always prime and use regular paint. I have been wondering about chalk and milk paint and now I know about them. I am thinking the chalk paint would be my choice.

    1. I tried milk paint on my old stereo record player.. but Iā€™m going to try chalk paint next time

  3. Very interesting. I don’t paint a lot, but if I did I think I would tend towards chalk paint, just because I don’t have the patience for sanding…
    Thank you for sharing at The Really Crafty Link Party this week. Pinned!

  4. Thanks for this very informative post about the differences between milk and chalk paint. I knew they were different, but wasn’t sure how they were different. Back in the 90’s, I used milk paint to get that chalky vintage look on a sofa table I had bought. However, I wasn’t very pleased with the coverage. As you indicated, it was streaky, and even with waxing, I felt the finish wasn’t stable. Recently, I tried chalk paint for the first time and I really loved it –no prep, even coverage, and after waxing it seems like it will hold up well. I have come to the conclusion that chalk paint is probably a better product for less experienced painters, as it is more forgiving.

  5. I have never seen or heard of milk paint before but love the sound of it! I have used chalk paint loads and love that it will stick to anything so projects are quick and easier. Thanks for sharing. Iā€™m going to go and look up milk paint now! #thatfridaylinky

  6. Sadly, my experiences painting furniture with chalk paint were a bust. I got great results for small projects, but the one piece of furniture I tried peeled like nobody’s business. We’re talking large strips across the entire top. And that was after deglossing twice and applying a topcoat. Definitely frustrating. Oh well, I’m not much of a furniture painter anyway! šŸ˜€ Thanks for sharing your experiences with both. I look forward to giving milk paint a try sometime too. And thanks for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!

    1. oh wow, I’m so sorry you had a bad experience with chalk paint. May I ask what type of paint you used? I’ve tried the chalk paint from walmart and it was pretty sorry. But the Annie Sloan chalk paint works wonders.

  7. Thanks! I make my own chalk paint but have never bought any so I have nothing to compare it to. Have you ever made it? Also, I have a small dresser I am rehabbing into a bathroom vanity. I was thinking about doing a dry brush effect. Do you have a recommendation for a type of paint I should use? @cottage market

    1. Hi Terri,
      I have never made chalk paint. As silly as it sounds I’m always afraid it won’t ever turn out near as great as something store bought. As far as the dry brush effect, I’ve used multiple paints for that and I can’t say that I like one more than the other. I would make sure to use a chip brush….I’ve found that the type of brush you use might matter just as much or more than the paint. You probably already know that though. I’m a fan of chalk paint for any sort of dry brush effect, but it might be because I prefer chalk paint period. šŸ™‚

  8. This was such a helpful post – I’ve been puzzling over the difference between these two paints for awhile. Thanks so much for sharing with Party in Your PJs!

  9. Lindsey, thanks so much for linking to Friday Frenzy! I am a huge DIYer too! I loved your explanation of Chalk vs. Milk Paint! P~

  10. Have you found any top coats for chalk paint that are low/no VOC and nontoxic (and don’t cause the yellowing issue)? I know a lot of people use poly, but I hate the idea of anything that toxic off-gassing where I prep food (I chalk painted a ceramic tile backsplash). The few nontoxic options I have found specifically call out not being able to bond to chalk paint.

  11. The one lovely thing you forgot to mention is the feel of a waxed piece of chalk painted furniture! It feels velvety. I adore Annie’s paint! I read years ago that you can’t remove milk easily, once painted. That you have to use ammonia to remove it. Our early American ancestors made this paint and it is still hanging on to many pieces. I have yet to use it. I think the best site is Miss Mustard Seed, she has how to info for this.
    Thanjs for your info, loved it.

  12. I just found your post about milk and chalk paint. I haven’t used chalk paint personally, but did make a china hutch that I covered in General Finishes milk paint. I used a color called Basil – very light green and covered that in Tung oil. I made it out of clear pine and added distressing to it before painting it. I also accidentally dropped the top half off my bench which added unexpected results. It has held up very well for 10 years, not a mark on it even after vacuuming and kids toys banging into it. I would suggest painting everything you can in the horizontal position to allow paint to lay as flat as possible and use the best brush you can. I wish I had some gray primer available at the time to eliminate any bleeding of the white primer.

    1. Good tip about painting everything horizontal! That’s awesome that your piece of furniture has held up so well. I painted our kitchen island with milk paint and it has held up like a champ! Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  13. Can you apply milk paint (with bonding agent) over chalk paint. I don’t like the shade of chalk paint and want to use milk paint over it.

  14. I like your article. I have spent many years upcycling furniture in the past. One thing that I have taken into account, is off-gassing from latex paint (as long as 10 years). There are zero VOC versions, but even those still have chemicals that you breathe in when you paint (none are truly zero VOC, just below a certain established limit). I think as upcyclers many of us get into this with the thought that this is more planet-friendly. This is true. In addition, it’s affordable and looks great. I just can’t help thinking though about the overall impact of our purchasing choices to support cleaner options for our homes and for the planet.

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