The Difference Between Milk Paint and Chalk Paint, and When to Use Each

The Difference Between Milk Paint and Chalk Paint, and When to Use Each
Photo: Manhattan001, Shutterstock

Even if you’ve never heard of milk paint or chalk paint before, you’ve definitely seen it. Except, the chalk paint we’re referring to here isn’t the dark-coloured kind that you can use to turn any surface into your very own chalkboard. That’s something else.

The milk paint and chalk paint we’re talking about are decorative finishes, more than traditional paints. Both produce that weathered, antique patina people love, but want immediately, instead of waiting decades for their furniture to age.

In fact, they’re alike in other ways, too, which only adds to the confusion. Here’s what to know about the differences between milk paint and chalk paint, and when to use each, courtesy of an article Lee Wallender wrote for The Spruce.

Milk paint vs. chalk paint

On top of the ones mentioned above, there are other similarities between milk paint and chalk paint, according to Wallender. For starters, both are water-based, easy to mix, quick-drying with a matte finish, and contain minimal amounts volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

In fact, their ingredients are nearly identical. In addition to their water base, both milk paint and chalk paint are made up of minerals, with calcium carbonate as the star of the show, along with guest appearances from other minerals, as well as pigments like ocher, umber, iron oxide, and lampblack, Wallender explains.

Ultimately, the difference between milk paint and chalk paint comes down to a single, organic ingredient: milk protein. When you buy milk paint, it won’t look like paint at first, because it comes as a dry powder with some dry pigments, and you’re the one responsible for adding the water. Chalk paint, on the other hand, is entirely inorganic, and usually comes ready-made and mixed.

When to use milk paint vs. chalk paint

For the most part, it all depends on the look you’re trying to achieve with the paint, Wallender explains. Milk paint is thinner, so in addition to mixing in pigments and acting as the paint itself, it can also serve as a wash. It also tends to have a finish that’s slightly more matte than chalk paint, if that’s something that’s important to you.

Milk paint is also kind of lumpy, which is a good thing if you’re looking to create an aged, streaky finish. And to make that IKEA chair look even older, if you sand a surface where milk paint was used, some of it will flake away, giving the furniture even more of a distressed look.

Meanwhile, chalk paint, dries with a flat…well, chalky finish. But, as Wallender points out, it can also be used to “create a modern, smooth, streak-free texture by sanding down multiple layers with fine grit sandpaper,” so may be more versatile.

Log in to comment on this story!