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Chalk Paint vs. Milk Paint: How to Decide Which is Best for Your Project.

Have you ever wanted to start a DIY project, but been uncertain about what paint to use? You’ve heard chalk paint is great, but you’ve also heard milk paint is good too. and you aren’t sure which to choose. We’ll break down the differences, and similarities, between the two for you here so you can make the best decision for your next project.

Chalk paint vs. milk paint isn’t quite the debate it may seem to be. Although the two types of paint have their differences, they are both the best options to create a dated, shabby chic look in your home. Understanding a bit more about the two paints, their value, and how to use them will help you to decide which would suit you and your painting project best.

two people who cant decide what to do.

What is chalk paint?

When you hear the words ‘chalk’ and ‘paint’ in the same sentence, you will undoubtedly think about chalkboards or blackboards and the paint that creates them. That paint is chalkboard paint, which is not the same as the specific paint described as chalk paint.

Chalk paint is a fairly thick paint that has a matte finish vs. the glossy finish if traditional paints. It looks like the surface that has been painted has been covered in chalk. It is a fairly durable paint, but does last longer when it is sealed.

How is it used?

Chalk paint was first developed in 1990 by Annie Sloan as a type of universal paint that can be applied easily and which will last for a long time. It can be used on any surface, literally. Now, many other paint companies carry their own lines of chalky paint.

The most popular use for chalk paint is to transform furniture. Without any special attention, or finish, it gives the furniture a matte look, but it can also be sealed or treated to produce different impressions. 

Chalk paint has, to a large extent, changed the face of painting furniture (pun intended!).

can of Annie Sloane chalk paint

What is milk paint?

Milk paint is a paint that is primarily environmentally friendly, being made of only natural ingredients such as clay, milk protein, lime and pigment. The name comes from the fact that it actually contains casein, which is found in milk. Because it is made from all-natural ingredients, milk paint is non-toxic.

The base of milk paint is water, which means that cleaning up the brushes is relatively easy and will not harm the environment.

Milk paint is not a new discovery — it has a long history, dating back to Ancient Egypt. When paint began to be developed on a large, industrialized scale, milk paint lost its appeal. More recently, though, it has become more popular, especially in a more environmentally aware world.

How is it used?

Milk paint is a versatile and useful paint, which produces a velvety, matte look. It can have a slightly mottled appearance, depending on how the paint has been mixed. This type of paint can become worn-looking over time, if it is left unsealed.

Milk paint can be distressed quite easily and is a popular paint used with furniture, especially if the aim is to create a shabby chic look.

casein picture

Comparing chalk paint and milk paint

The best way to understand how chalk paint vs milk paint is to compare different aspects about them, which will paint a clearer picture for you (pun intended!).


Chalk pain has a relatively thick consistency. You can thin it a bit with water, but its characteristic ‘look’ is very viscous and substantial.

Milk paint generally has what appears to be a fairly thick consistency, but it is thinner than chalk paint. The consistency of the paint is not always consistent, because you mix it from a powder. It is best to follow the instructions on the container to use the correct quantities of water in relation to the amount of powder. You can adapt this slightly, depending on the consistency you are looking for.


Milk paint comes as a powder and has to be mixed with water, which makes it both convenient to transport, but also a bit finicky to achieve the correct color balance and consistency. What is valuable about mixing milk paint from a powder is that you can change the liquidity of the paint, making it thinner or thicker to suit your needs.

Chalk paint is available as premixed paint in tins. It is water-based, so it could be thinned out a bit if you wanted to experiment, but it is popular because it is a thick paint that has a soft, chalky look.


Milk paint is non-toxic, which means that it is safe to use practically everywhere, including in a baby’s room and even on an infant’s crib. It is popular because it produces an antique look, without any special finish or attention.

Some brands of chalk paint are non-toxic, but some are not. This means you will need to be careful where you use the paint, if there are children in your home.

When you buy a pre-mixed paint like chalk paint, you can only buy it in set amounts. If you only require a small amount, you will either waste or have to keep the rest of the paint.

Because milk paint is only available in powder form, it means you can easily mix up only what you need. For a small project, which means no waste and is also essential, because milk paint does not last.

Because it is made from natural ingredients, milk paint will generally run a bit higher than chalk paint in terms of cost. The prices of milk paint greatly fluctuate, depending on the manufacturer, and whether you are buying true milk paint, or a slightly synthetic version of milk paint. Be sure to do your research to find the best brand to fit your need and budget.

Chalk paint will typically run anywhere from $20-30 per gallon, depending on the brand. You can also buy chalk paint powder which can be used to give any latex paint a chalky look.


The casein in milk paint only lasts a few days once it has been mixed with water. This means that the paint cannot be stored longer than a few days once mixed. Once it has been applied, though, the casein dries out and is impermeable to water. It is a very durable cover over a surface.

When it is in liquid form, chalk paint lasts for a while, and has a long shelf life. Once it is painted onto a surface, it is very durable and can last for years when sealed properly. It is quite a soft paint, though, so it can be chipped or scratched quite easily and may need to be touched up or even redone after a while.

chalk painted bed frame


When chalk paint is dry, it has a chalk-like look and a slightly soft texture, although the overall feel is mostly smooth. To produce a completely smooth texture of chalk paint, you will need to seal the paint with wax, or a liquid sealant.

The texture of dry milk paint is smooth, with a bit of an aged look. It can scratch, so it too is often finished with wax, which adds to the smoothness of the look and feel.


Neither milk paint nor chalk paint has a strong smell, even when wet. Chalk paint may have a slightly stronger smell, though, similar to traditional paints.

Ease of Application

Both chalk paint and milk paint can literally be applied to any surface: wood, flooring, laminated wood, metal, glass, and even fabric.

Any paint, such as milk paint, that is based on casein can be applied easily and has a smooth, thin but rich appearance. This means that milk paint generally produces this result. However, because the consistency may vary slightly, depending on how much water you use and how successfully you get rid of the lumps of powder that may form in the paint, the final look may not be completely smooth and consistent.

Chalk paint is a thick, soft paint that is very easily applied to any surface. It inevitably produces a thick, even look, though it has a reputation for streaking depending on the application style and brush used.

Drying time

One coat of milk paint will be touch dry within about an hour, but it is better to wait between 3 and 4 hours before painting on a second coat. For each coat, make sure that it is completely dry before painting again.

Chalk paint becomes touch dry within an hour or two, but it is preferable to wait up to 24 hours between coats. This means it will take longer to complete a larger project with chalk paint than it will milk paint.


Chalk paint was developed to be generally useful, and made to be an easy paint to work with. It is possible, though, that there may be a spot (or two) on a surface that you have missed, which may interfere with the way the paint sticks to the surface. Or the surface you are painting is in an area that tends to be humid, or quite hot. To make sure the paint will stick to the surface well, you can use a primer before painting the surface with chalk paint.

Milk paint contains casein, which occurs naturally in milk and is also used in some glues, which means that it adds to the adhesiveness. This means that milk paint will adhere effectively to any surface with minimal prep-work ahead of time. To improve adherence, you can mix a bonding agent with the paint. Make sure, though, that you use a naturally derived agent.


Milk paint is completely non-toxic, as all the ingredients are natural and not harmful to people or animals. There have, in recent years, been slightly synthesized versions of milk paint produced. These paints come in liquid form and lack the casein found in traditional milk paint.

Chalk paint can either be toxic or non-toxic, depending on the brand, so this is something to bear in mind when buying the paint. If using a toxin-free brand is important to you, be sure to do your research before making your purchase.

painted porch swing


Because milk paint is environmentally based, small amounts and what is left on the brushes when you clean them can be disposed of by being poured into the ground, or even down the drain.

Most chalk paint is non-toxic and is water-based, so you can clean the brushes and even pour small amounts down the drain. However, if you need to dispose of a bit of actual paint, it is best to keep it in a sealed tin and even throw the whole tin away. It may even be advisable to take the old paint you want to dispose to a paint shop and to ask them to dispose of it.


Both milk paint and chalk paint can be used to produce an antique or shabby-chic look. This is achieved by distressing the finished paint. The easiest way to distress paint is to sand some areas with quite coarse sandpaper. You can also chip the paint off in some parts of the surface.

Milk paint does distress more easily than chalk paint does.

Chalk paint can be left without any form of finish, which means it will retain the matte look, with a sense of the softness of chalk. However, chalk paint does tend to be quite soft, which means that it can be chipped or scratched. To keep the paint in its best condition, it should be sealed, either by using wax, which is specifically used on chalk paint, or a liquid sealant. Both of these finishes will protect the paint and make sure that it lasts.

Milk paint is generally a strong paint and does not really need to be finished off or sealed in any way. However, if it is painted on a porous surface, then it can be sealed with wax. This will also keep some dirt off the paint. It can also help it to be more water-resistant. There are a few waxes that can be used, but make sure they are made with natural ingredients.

Preparation of surface

Chalk paint was developed to adhere to any surface, so it is only necessary to prepare the surfaces by washing them with soap and warm water. If the surface has any permanent stains or patches that will cause a problem with adherence, then you can sand those areas lightly.

Milk paint adheres more easily to porous surfaces, such as unfinished wood and rusty metal. If you use these types of surfaces, then the only preparation you will need to do is to make sure they are clean from dust, grime, and any oil. If the surface is non-porous, then you will need to do a bit more preparation. The first step is, of course, to make sure the surface is clean. Then sand the surface with fine sandpaper, to introduce a slight roughness to the surface, to which the paint can adhere.

shabby chic blue dresser


Milk paint is an ancient product with hundreds of years behind it, while chalk paint is a more recent paint with an excellent track record behind it. Both are popular, because they produce a naturally cottagey, dated look, but can also be distressed to enhance the shabby chic feel.

From their history to the same type of look, chalk paint and milk paint have similarities and differences that are important to understand when it comes to choosing which paint is most suited to your particular use.

We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with these two paints. share with us in the comments what you like most about them.