Years ago, before commercial paints were sold everywhere, people mixed their own paint out of milk and a few other ingredients found around most homes. These paints didn’t have any chemicals (VOCs) to off-gas, so they were much safer to be around than even most modern “green” paints. The thing about milk paint is that it’s translucent, and yields a sort of mottled, streaky surface that looks antique or old-fashioned, so it’s not as versatile as modern paints. But it’s a beautiful finish, and you can use it on walls or furniture.
You can also buy milk paint commercially, or just the pigments you’ll need to make your own at home.
Making milk paint
- 1 quart skim milk
- 1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons dry color pigment
You can buy pigment powder at art stores, or online (see my link above).
Let the milk sit out until it’s room temperature. Stir in the vinegar or lemon juice – curdling will begin immediately. Leave the mixture to sit at room temperature overnight or up to two days.
Line a sieve with cheesecloth and pour the mixture through it to remove the curds (solid chunks) from the whey (liquid part). Add in the dry pigment powder slowly, stirring until the color is evenly dispersed (it’s a good idea to wear a mask during this part, just because the powder is so fine you could easily inhale some). Only mix as much as you can use within a few hours of mixing. This paint will thicken and become unusable after that. This recipe yields enough paint to cover a large piece of furniture. Double it (or more) for larger projects, such as the walls of a room.
Milk paint has a sour smell while you’re applying it, but it disappears once it’s dry. You can comfortably be in a room that was painted just a few hours ago and not be bothered by the smell.
- If the first coat isn’t as opaque as you’d like, add more coats. Milk paint will never look as opaque as commercial paints, but you can get a bold finish and strong color with multiple coats.
- To make the finish shinier on wood furniture, add a coat of tung oil. It sinks into the wood and nourishes it, which helps preserve the finish longer.