How to Make Milk Paint

Glass bowl of milk paint mix next to milk carton and painted on white shelf

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 day, 1 hr
  • Yield: 1 quart of milk paint
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

Learn how to make milk paint and you can enjoy a wonderful, matte-like decorative finish that's similar to chalk paint. Like chalk paint, milk paint is a thinner paint that has a slightly streaky look to it. It's excellent when used to add distress to an item because the paint chips off easily when sanded. Milk paint creates a distressed, antiqued look and can be used to paint just about anything. You can paint something small like a mason jar, work your way up to a dresser, and even use it on an accent wall.

An important thing to note is that freshly made milk paint does need to sit overnight before you can use it. The magic of milk paint happens overnight, while the milk and lemon curdle. Separating these curds from the liquid (also called whey) is how you get milk paint.

There are a few substitutions that you can make for this DIY milk paint recipe. Lime juice or vinegar can be used as substitutes for lemon juice. You want to curdle the milk, and these substitutions get the job done just as well as lemon juice. Dry paint pigment can also be substituted with a few drops of acrylic paint in the desired color.

Tip

Dry color pigment is used to create one's own paints. The dry color pigment is combined with a binder (in this case milk) to make paint. You can find dry color pigment online or at an art supply store.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 2 large bowls
  • Spoon
  • Sieve
  • Cheesecloth
  • Dust mask
  • Tablespoon

Materials

  • 1 quart skim milk
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons dry color pigment
  • Borax, optional

Instructions

Materials and tools to make milk paint

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  1. Combine the Milk and Lemon

    In a large bowl, combine 1 quart skim milk along with the juice of 1 lemon, reserving the seeds. Stir to mix. As the milk and lemon combine, you'll already start to see it curdle.

    Tip

    No lemon? No problem! Instead, you can use the juice of 1 lime or 1/4 cup vinegar.

    Squeezed lemon juice poured into glass bowl of milk next to milk carton and lemon peels

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Allow Mixture to Sit

    Allow the skim milk and lemon mixture to sit undisturbed overnight at room temperature. Cover if you're concerned about insects or other debris falling into the bowl.

    Glass bowl with lemon and milk mixture covered overnight with plastic wrapping

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Get Ready to Strain

    Take a clean bowl and sit your sieve inside of it. Inside your sieve, place a folded cheesecloth.

    Separate clean glass bowl with sieve inserted and covered with cheesecloth

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Strain the Milk

    Pour the milk and lemon juice mixture on top of the cheesecloth. The curds will stay on top of the cheesecloth and the whey will strain into the bowl. You may need to squeeze the cheesecloth to get all the liquid to the bottom. Discard the curds.

    Glass bowl with milk and lemon strained into separate bowl with sieve and cheesecloth

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Add the Dry Color Pigment

    After putting on your mask, add 4 tablespoons of dry color pigment to the milk. Stir well to combine, being sure to dissolve all of the pigment. You can add additional pigment if you'd like the paint to be more opaque.

    Instead of using a dry color pigment, you can also use acrylic paint. Add it one drop at a time and stir in until you've achieved your desired color.

    Warning

    You'll need to wear a mask when working with dry color pigment. A dust mask or respirator should be worn at all times. You may also wish to wear gloves and protective eyewear.

    Pink pigment added to glass bowl with strained milk and lemon mix

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Add Borax If Necessary

    If you find that your milk paint is too clumpy to work with, add a sprinkle of Borax and stir it into the mixture. It should help smooth things out.

    Borax added to pigment and milk mix to minimize clumps in glass bowl

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  7. Paint With the Milk Paint

    After you've prepared your wood for painting, you're ready to use your milk paint. Brush it on with a paintbrush, foam brush, or roller. You can use it just like you would regular store-bought paint. Keep in mind that this type of paint is thinner and streakier than traditional paint. This is what makes the distressed finishes so charming.

    Tip

    Milk paint smells like what it is, curdled milk. It may smell like this for a day or two, but eventually the smell will fade.

    Paint brush spreading pink milk paint on white shelf

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

You can apply 1 to 3 coats of milk paint, letting each coat dry in between. Your final piece needs to be dried overnight so it dries completely. You can apply an oil or varnish if you'd like. Any paint bumps that form can be brushed off with a dry cloth after they're dry.

Tip

Milk paint will spoil quickly, so make sure to apply it within a few hours of mixing in your dry color pigment.