If you want to add a farmhouse vibe to new or existing furnishings or bring a vintage feel to older pieces that need a fresh coat of paint, you may be experiencing a mental milk paint vs chalk paint battle as you weigh your options. The truth is, both milk paint and chalk paint offer a great alternative to regular paints. But since they imbue a similar distressed look, most people don’t even know there’s a difference or what sets them apart from each other. So, to set the record straight, here’s what you need to know about milk paint, chalk paint and the differences between the two — and why milk paint is almost certainly the better option for your projects.

The Origins of Milk Paint and Chalk Paint

When human beings first began experimenting with cave art and adding color to their artifacts thousands of years ago, they did so with a type of milk paint — one of the first paints humans ever created. Today, paint products like those made by The Real Milk Paint Co. use a combination of casein (a protein found in milk), limestone and natural plant fillers with pigments. This combination of ingredients makes an eco-friendly option for restoration and home decorating projects.

Unlike milk paints, chalk paints are a relatively new medium. Developed by Annie Sloan in the late 20th century, chalk paints have a matte finish designed to replicate the look of chalk due to the calcium carbonate content in the formulation. Although Chalk Paint refers to a specific proprietary blend created by Sloan, other companies produce mixtures they call chalk paint due to use of chalk or plaster of paris in their formulations.

Suitable Uses for Milk Paint and Chalk Paint

Both chalk paint and milk paint work on a similar array of surfaces, though they typically have different applications. For instance, chalk paint is generally used for coating furniture projects, such as handmade chairs or upcycled sideboards. Milk paints such as Real Milk Paint, however, look great not only on furniture like chalk paint but also walls, flooring, cabinetry, doors and wooden instruments. With that in mind, suitable materials for coverage by both milk paints and chalk paints include:

  • Wood
  • Metal (rusty metal works especially well)
  • Plastic with Ultra Bond additive
  • Glass with Ultra Bond additive
  • Drywall and plaster
  • Brick and concrete

Comparing Preparation Methods

For all their similarities in suitable surfaces, milk paint and chalk paint have very different modes of preparation. Chalk paints come already mixed, so you only have to shake them up a bit before use to remix the formulation. But milk paints generally come in a powdered format, so you have to mix them with water before you can apply them to your project.

Additionally, you have to wait for milk paints to settle a bit before use unless you pair them with our Anti Foaming Agent. Be aware that unused portions of milk paints made with milk protein that you mix may spoil after a few days. Real Milk Paint from The Real Milk Paint Co., however, boasts an exclusive formulation that remains stable for up to two weeks after mixing.

Applying Chalk and Milk Paints

One of the greatest things about chalk paints and milk paints alike is that neither of them requires priming or sanding before application. This can cut hours off your projects when compared with the work that goes into use of regular paints, even if you choose to slightly sand surfaces before applying Real Milk Paint to improve tooth for better adhesion. You can apply both with brushes, rollers or sprayers, and both offer quick, easy coverage to further speed up project completion times.

Since milk paints are quite forgiving and mix and match well with chalk and other milk paints alike, use of media such as Real Milk Paint gives you freedom to create custom palettes to personalize your home decor. Even though you don’t have to sand surfaces before using other paint, sanding painted layers before applying another layer ensures excellent adhesion and can help you achieve a weathered look that flatters farmhouse and shabby chic furnishings. Overall, milk paint is easy to use for a variety of different faux painting techniques so you can achieve the finished look that matches your decor. 

Finished Appearance of Chalk and Milk Paints

When it comes to your final results, chalk and milk paints again have lots of similarities and differences. For example, projects covered with chalk paints retain a matte chalk finish that doesn’t show brushstrokes, whereas milk paint also imbues a matte finish yet works well for creating brushstroke effects. Likewise, with some sanding and burnishing, you can manually create different distressed and crackled effects by using chalk paint; however, milk paints naturally distress over time without assistance while providing just as consistent a finish as chalk paints.

Environmental Impacts of Chalk and Milk Paints

When deciding whether to use chalk or milk paints, keep in mind both are more environmentally friendly than most paints and offer safe use indoors and out. Both have water-based formulations, with nontoxic ingredients. Milk paint formulations typically use simple ingredients, including lime, milk protein and pigments. Likewise, most brands of chalk paints contain calcium carbonate, acrylic binders and pigment, though some use harsher ingredients in their proprietary formulations.

Both chalk and milk paints have only a faint odor, so neither medium overwhelms you while you work. Additionally, milk paints such as Real Milk Paint contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Chalk paints, however, typically contain a low amount of VOCs. Though most chalk paint proves environmentally friendly, on the whole, due to VOC content and the potential for harsh ingredients, milk paints offer a more eco-friendly choice for those wanting a completely green painting option.

Chalk and Milk Paint Durability

In the durability department, milk paints beat chalk paints hands down. Even without finishing waxes, creams or glazes, milk paints such as Real Milk Paint are incredibly hard wearing and retain color for years down the road. When you do use finishing products on items you coat with Real Milk Paint, you can extend durability even further. But to attain any sort of resilience with chalk paints, you need to apply several coats of wax — sometimes even up to four!

The Final Word

At the end of the day, both chalk and milk paints provide elegant solutions for decorative needs, though milk paints work on a wider range of items than their chalk counterparts. And though chalk paints don’t require the preparation times of milk paints, they do require more work during the finishing process to achieve a look that lasts. In terms of how they look, both work well when you want rustic results, though milk paints retain brushstrokes for more flexibility in creative effects. Environmentally friendly ingredients make both paints safe to use indoors, but low amounts of VOCs in chalk paint formulations make milk paints the green option. With all these factors in mind, it’s safe to say that milk paints like Real Milk Paint often prove the best choice for most decorative and restoration projects.