Chalk Paint vs Milk Paint: What’s the Difference?

Sep 27, 2021 | Home Improvement Repair, Painting

When it comes to choosing the right paint, you could be forgiven for thinking that chalk paint and milk paint are very similar. They are both versatile and cover the same number of applications, and both are environmentally friendly. 

But dig a little deeper, and there are significant variations between the two paints. We explain the differences between chalk paint vs. milk paint, and list the pros and cons of each type. 

What Is Milk Paint?

Milk paint has been around for thousands of years, but it was first made popular in the USA by early North American settlers. The paint was homemade, with ingredients that were easy to source, hence the reason why it was such a favorite. 

Today the look and feel of milk paint is largely regarded as the “colonial” look. Fast forward to 1974, and Charles Thibeau of Massachusetts hit upon the idea of replicating that classic colonial style in a tin by copying the original colors used in early American colonies.  

The truth is, milk paint has been used as far back as ancient Egypt, and the recipe has changed very little since those early days.

Homemade Milk Paint Recipe

Milk paint involves letting milk reach room temperature to start the curdling process. The milk should be 100 percent full-fat because it won’t work with low-fat options. 

The key is not to warm the milk because if the temperature exceeds 115 degrees Fahrenheit, the proteins in the milk break down. The next step is to add white vinegar to the milk when it reaches room temperature. 

The next part of the process takes about two days, as the milk and vinegar react. Basically, the milk is separating, creating milk solids that sit at the top of the bowl. This is known as curdling. 

The crucial part is not to stir the milk and vinegar because that stops the solids from forming. The next step is to add your pigment of choice. 

Powdered pigment is widely available from art shops and online, and when mixed with water, forms a color that can be used like ordinary paint. Once you pour the water in, let the pigment sit in the water for 5 to 10 minutes. 

Next, mix the pigment using a spoon until it forms a paste. Add 4 ounces of hydrated lime type 5 into a bowl and pour in 1.5 cups of water. Mix it until it forms a paste. 

You should wear a face mask while doing this because if you inhale the lime powder, it could cause damage to your lungs.

All you need to do next is strain the curds through cheesecloth to separate the whey and transfer the curds, or quark as it is now called, into an empty paint can. Add in the lime and pigment, and stir. 

For the smoothest paint consistency, filter the paint through another layer of cheesecloth, and it is ready to use. 

Milk Paint Pros and Cons

As with all decorating products, there are pros and cons. Nothing is ever perfect, and milk paint is no exception. 


  • Tried and tested.
  • All-natural.
  • Environmentally friendly.
  • Water-based, so easy cleanup.
  • Minimal surface preparation.
  • Creates a distressed look.
  • Works on walls and ceilings.
  • Can be thinned to make a wash.


  • Expensive to purchase.
  • Needs to be mixed.
  • Needs to be sealed.
  • Not effective on veneers.
  • Short shelf life.

What Is Chalk Paint?

Chalk paint is a durable matte paint that dries like a chalk coating. It was created in the 1990s by Annie Sloane and has gained popularity with those looking to give their surfaces that “distressed” look. 

Chalk paint should not be confused with chalkboard paint. The latter is designed to dry like chalk paint, but you can use it as a chalkboard to write on. Chalk paint doesn’t perform that function. 

It contains a thickening agent called calcium carbonate, which gives the paint its viscosity. The thickness is one of the reasons why the paint is so popular. It typically only requires one coat to get a smooth finish. 

Homemade Chalk Paint Recipe

There are three ways to make chalk paint, each containing a specific ingredient. Let’s take a look.

Chalk Paint With Baking Soda

This is the easiest chalk paint to make. You will need half a cup of baking soda, one cup of latex paint, and some water. Mix all the ingredients in a container, ensuring that the baking soda has dissolved.

Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water as you stir to help the solution become super smooth. 

Chalk Paint With Plaster of Paris

You can pick up plaster of Paris in most hardware and DIY stores. Mix 1-part plaster of Paris with water to get the lumps out. You are looking for a pancake batter consistency.

Don’t use paint containing primer because it affects how the paint mixes and makes it difficult to paint with. The advantage of using plaster of Paris is it helps the paint dry faster, plaster of Paris is easier to get hold of than calcium carbonate, and it is more affordable. 

It’s also better for when you need to store the paint away, as it stays in liquid form for longer, unlike some formulas that harden. 

Chalk Paint With Calcium Carbonate

For this recipe, you will need a cup of latex paint, 4 tablespoons of chalk calcium carbonate, a tablespoon of talcum powder, and water. 

Add the talc and calcium carbonate to the latex paint and mix them together for three minutes using a blender or by hand. Add the water a tablespoon at a time to reach the desired consistency. 

Chalk Paint Pros and Cons

Chalk paint is really popular, but there have to be downsides as well as advantages? Let’s take a look.


  • Zero prep time, including priming.
  • Covers easily, hiding many surface blemishes.
  • Easy to apply.
  • It dries quickly.
  • It requires fewer coats for a perfect finish.
  • Environmentally friendly.
  • Easy to clean up.
  • It comes ready mixed.


  • Chalk paint is expensive, at about $35 per tin.
  • Requires wax if you want to seal the paint.
  • Not really suitable for walls.
  • No way to customize colors.

Chalk Paint vs. Milk Paint: What Are the Real Differences?

At first glance, the two paints seem very similar, but scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll see there are distinct differences. So, what are they, and why do they matter? Let’s look at chalk paint first.

Chalk paint is as valued for its texture as it is for its appearance. It dries flat, so if you have furniture with minor blemishes, it will hide a multitude of sins. It generally covers in one or two coats and dries in double-quick time.

Chalk paint also has very little odor, so it is ideal for nurseries and other indoor spaces; plus, it has a low VOC count (volatile organic compounds), making it better for the environment because it emits negligible low-level ozone during the drying process.

The main difference between chalk and milk paint is the consistency and, therefore, how it covers. Chalk is pretty straightforward to use and covers as you would expect; milk paint is a little more unpredictable. 

The main difference between the two products are the ingredients. Milk paint contains milk, and chalk paint, you guessed it, contains chalk.

The other variation is that chalk paint comes as a powder and needs to be mixed with the pigment, whereas chalk paint comes completely mixed and ready to use.

Chalk paint is inorganic, whereas milk paint contains organic matter known as quark, which is the name for the curds created during the curdling process. 

Chalk paint has no real odors after application; meanwhile, milk paint has a faint cut-grass smell that lasts for about an hour after application.

What Are They Used For?

Chalk paint is the perfect product if you have furniture like chairs, tables, and smaller dresser units. It coats well and dries completely flat, hiding blemishes and imperfections on the wooden surface. 

You can create classic looks from high-end to shabby-chic, and they are safe to use in your child’s bedroom or nursery. Chalk paint is not suitable for large-scale projects, partly because of the speed at which it dries and the prohibitive cost of the paint.

Milk paint is also great for that distressed look, but it is harder to predict how the paint behaves because of the organic material in the formula. It is the perfect paint for larger projects like big pieces of furniture and even walls and ceilings.

Milk paint is also thinner, so it can be used as a wash when thinned further. It also has a slight sheen when it dries, so it isn’t completely flat like chalk paint. 

Top Tips for Using Milk and Chalk Paint

We’ve discussed the differences between the different paint types and the various pros and cons, but what are the best hints and tips when it comes to using them?

Less Prep The Better

With any other paint, you are advised to do as much preparation as possible. You need to sand, fill in cracks, and prime the surface. With chalk and milk paint, the prep work is minimal. 

All you really need to do is make sure the surface is smooth, and the paint does the rest. 

Let’s Get Creative 

If you want a solid matte surface, that’s fine, but with chalk paint, you can get creative. Use different brush strokes to create varied effects. Here are a few examples: 


This brush stroke helps you create a fake linen effect. Use the brush in vertical strokes first and then use horizontal strokes. Be sure to work rapidly before the paint starts to dry.


Lay the chalk paint on thickly and start dabbing with the bristles to create small peaks on the surface of your furniture.


Lay the paint down in a small area and then quickly and delicately work in parallel strokes to create a super-smooth finish. 

Distressed Look

You can make your furniture look aged by painting a layer of chalk or milk paint and gently rubbing it off using fine-grade sandpaper. Something around 220-grit should give you the best results. 

You can even go for a two-color distressed appearance using a layer of different color beneath the top layer. That way, when you rub away the topcoat with the sandpaper, you get more than just bare wood, and you create a distressed look with more depth. 

Don’t Forget To Seal

Chalk paint is easy to apply and goes on smoothly, and while it is durable, it can chip and scratch. So, the best way to protect your new paintwork is to apply a top layer of wax seal. It creates a protective coating that prolongs the life of the paint.

Make a Wash

Chalk paint can be thinned to create a more translucent appearance, but milk paint is much better if you want a wash effect. Plus, it covers a larger area and can be used on walls and ceilings, unlike chalk paint. 

To create a wash, all you need to do is add cold water to the mix and stir. Once you have the consistency you want, you’re ready to go. 

Use The Dry Brush Technique

When you want to blend an upper color with a lower color, dry brushing is an excellent way to achieve this look. Dip the brush so that the paint touches the end tips of the brush. Wait before applying it to the workpiece to let the paint reach a drier consistency. 

Now work the brush over the surface using a firm hand. The paint is semi-dry, so you won’t get drips. 

Paint Like a Pro

Whether you decide to use milk or chalk paint is a personal choice, but the two products have remarkably similar qualities. However, as we have shown, there are distinct differences. 

Both are excellent for creating a shabby-chic, distressed look, and both are safe to use, so they are ideal for nurseries and other indoor spaces. 

But if you really want to have some fun, why not play around with making your own paint. You can customize the color and consistency to create a truly unique look inside your home that will have your family and friends green with envy. 


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