before & after basicsbefore and afterpaint

before and after basics: aging furniture with milk paint

by Barb

hello friends! welcome to before and after basics where the topic for the day is milk paint! seriously, this is one of my favorite finishes to perform on furniture. i’m so excited to share with you the crazy fun of milk paint !

milk paints are completely green and free of all harmful chemicals and toxins… how great is that? my only caution as we start this project is to let all of you know that this may not be the paint for you if you are looking for perfection or light distressing. milk paint has a mind of its own and i have yet to get an identical finish on any piece. crazy things happen and you have to be willing to go with the flow. there is however, a product called tsp concentrate by bix that i would suggest you use before applying your paint- just to ensure that your surface is really clean and ready for a new finish. so let’s get started! –barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

here’s what you will need:

* piece of furniture -preferably in its wood state :)

*orbital sander

*rags, drop cloth


*milk paint

*wax {i prefer fiddes over any wax on the market}, and water based poly

*clean, empty container for mixing paints

* paint sticks for stirring { you will need to stir quite a bit!}

how to:

1. lightly sand entire piece…vacuum and clean with a damp cloth. remove all hardware and fill any holes that you will not be using.

2. if you feel the need, go ahead and apply the tsp concentrate product now if you are worried about excess flaking and then finish prepping your piece… but if you want to just see what happens {like me}, skip this step !

3. mix your milk paint according to the package directions. i have found that hot water works  best for mixing and ensures that all of the lumps are dissolved. stir well, and i mean really well, and then continue to stir every now and again as you work on your piece.

4. apply milk paint using an angled sash brush. i have found that the foam rollers work as well in this situation, but are not my favorite. i prefer the look of the brush strokes with milk paint, and sometimes the foam rollers will trap air bubbles in the surface and disrupt that awesome finish we are going for!  make sure you don’t over work the brush as it will leave unwanted lines in your finish. some lines are ok with this particular look as you will see, but as a general rule don’t work it too hard! the first coat will be very milky and see through….this is completely fine! you will apply another coat and it will cover your piece beautifully!

5. allow paint to dry completely before applying second coat. if you don’t allow it to dry completely , the wet parts will pull away as you apply the second coat, and then you have a mess! normally drying time is about an hour or two depending on where you are painting your piece.  as the paint dries you will notice that the paint will begin to flake and peel where it does not want to adhere. sometimes it is a lot, and sometimes it is not, but be ready for the paint to flake off….and don’t freak out! i have never met a flaky finish i didn’t like! if you have used the prep solution you should  have less peeling, or no peeling at all.

6. make sure that you lightly sand, by hand the entire piece to remove all flaking paint before applying the second coat. if you don’t remove all of the flaky paint it will ball up on the surface when applying the second coat and be undesirable. when applying the second coat {after sanding} you can paint right over where the paint has not adhered….it gives it the character you are looking for….and also allows you to start being creative in layering your finish for that truly authentic look.

7. allow the second coat to dry. when milk paint dries it is very flat looking and super porous, so make sure that you do not get any liquid on it prior to sealing as it will stain your painted surface. the surface will be vulnerable until you apply the wax and poly to protect it.

8. sand entire piece again. i like to use a power sander on the flat surfaces because i love the super distressed look, but you can hand sand if you like a softer approach.

9. apply your finish. i use both wax and poly on milk paint for added protection. i like to put two to three coats of water based poly and then a coat of wax to ensure safety. you can apply the poly with a foam roller or a brush. i personally find myself using a brush more often than the roller, but i have used a roller and it works fine…just make sure you watch for air bubbles and smooth them out if needed. i always apply my wax with a rag, working it in a circular motion and then buff it out with old nylon tights or hose….don’t ask….it just works! wax is normally dry and ready for buffing in an hour. if the piece will be used as a sink fixture or be exposed to moisture at all, i recommend three coats of oil based poly for protection. water based poly will not cut it here…..and i speak from experience!

10. clean up and apply your new hardware! don’t forget to add all of those special little details that make each piece unique.

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  • I’ve heard of milk paints before but never saw them applied. That’s an interesting finish. We have goats, can I add some color to their milk and paint with it? Just kidding, I’m sure there is more to it than that. I would like to try the milk pain on a couple of pieces of furniture I have though. Glad to see it done here on design sponge.

  • Great tutorial! I was wondering if this would work well on walls as well? I wouldn’t wait it to be quite as distressed looking as this piece of furniture, but to give that mottled, plaster look? (picture the walls of an Italian villa.) Thanks!

  • Barb, I love your website. I look forward to it everyday! Thanks so much for the great tutorials. I have a question about wax and poly. Do you put wax on all of your pieces? Also, when you put an oil stain over paint do you then need to apply poly after or is the stain enough to protect the surface?

  • This is the first time I hear about milk paints. It’s so interesting and the finished product looks amazing:)

    Have a great Thursday,

  • I love this! Thank you Barb! I can’t wait to try it out. Is there a brand of milk paint that you have found works the best?

  • I noticed both of your pictures had the bags of “Snow White”.
    What was the name of the red pigment that you used for this project? Thanks.

  • Milk paints may be “green” but TSP definitely isn’t. The active inrgedient is 2-Butoxyethanol which has been identified as a carcinogen for animals; studies have found that prolonged exposure can cause adrenal tumors in rats. It’s unlikely that incidental exposure while prepping furniture would cause permanent damage, but for those who are looking to reduce chemical usage in their home it’s probably not the best choice.

  • Wow! This looks great and perfect for a chair I brought home, but I have a question–is the TSP required then? And will it stop the flaking altogether, or just prevent huge strips from peeling off?

  • Can I have some info on the paper moose head? Where can I get one or do one?

  • Where can one purchase milk paint? I’ve never seen it, but I’d like to try this.

  • I am so seriously over the fake MOOSE/DEER/ANIMAL heads that are featured about five hundred times a week.

    I usually love design sponge because it is original and inspiring, but it seems like every other photo has one of these not so awesome pieces in it. Can we move on?

  • Hmmm…milk paint…interesting!

    I love distressed furniture, so I will eventually have to try this! Thanks!

  • sigh. everything you do is fabulous. and you are so generous to share with us. thank you!!! muah!

  • anita, what a hoot! i can see a new line of paints now! :)

    eva, i have never personally painted walls with milk paint, but on the website http://www.milkpaint.com it says this: “OLD FASHIONED MILK PAINT works best on porous surfaces, such as raw wood or masonry. For use on non-porous or sealed surfaces, it is necessary to mix our EXTRA-BOND into the first coat, which acts as a primer”… and it also says this: “Walls painted with our OLD FASHIONED MILK PAINT will have a soft, charming old-world streaky or mottled appearance. ” sounds like the ticket right!?

    mary, i don’t wax every piece, but i do wax all of the milk paint pieces because it works really well with the paint. when i stain i don’t put any poly over the stain personally, but use your discretion if you know your piece is going to get extra wear and tear.

    haley, i only use old fashioned milk paint and you can get it at specialty wood stores or order it online here http://www.milkpaint.com

    ashley, i don’t know how those pictures snuck in there twice, but the color for this piece is salmon.

    helen, the tsp is not required at all….and i prefer it not be used personally because i love what happens without it BUT the tsp will get your surface really clean and reduce the peeling to a minimum if at all…..or you can also use their product called EXTRA BOND which helps the paint adhere better to non porous surfaces if you are worried about too much flaking.

    daniela, the moose head resides at my studio and just happens to get photographed when i style my furniture:) he was made for me by my friend mollie greene of royal buffet. mollie makes all kinds of paper confections in her etsy shop….and she may be doing a tutorial on this type of thing very soon so stay tuned!….and on that note …

    anon, the weekly moose coverage is all me because i photograph these pieces in my studio …which is where mr moose just happens to call home….so don’t let it tarnish your opinion of originality on design sponge…pretty please ? and i’ll try really hard to not include him in the next two posts…but it will be a trial because when the moose is loose ya just gotta go with it! :)

    thank you all for the comments…i’m so glad you like this crazy process…and again for those of you who were wondering where to purchase …visit your local woodcraft or specialty wood store and also visit the website mentioned above for purchasing online.

  • brilliant…as usual! can’t wait to give this a try.

    i SO look forward to your thurs posts~ thanks barb!

  • Amazing! This is the look I really wanted when I started the piece I have been working on. But, now I know it wouldnt have been possible since it was already painted, and I primed in between coats. Live n’ learn! Thank you so much for sharing your techniques with us! I will be trying this next time!

  • Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve so admired these pieces on your website – now I can make my own! Just wondering, how much milk paint did you need to refinish this piece? I am checking out the milk paint website – yay!

  • wow, thanks for sharing this! I have nightstands that I had distressed too. You just gave me a post idea which I would’ve never thought of!

  • That drawer unit looks great. Never heard of milk paint before but gives a really nice effect. Got some old picture frames that’d look great in this stuff.

    Viva la moose head!

  • anna, the spanish glass vases have been discontinued…..i know….it is horrible! i used to carry them at the studio and they were a big, big hit…..if i ever see or her of anything like them on the market again i will be sure to have them at knack:)

  • as per usual your work is beautiful, lovely lovely colour…oh and Barb the Moose head is like your signature, as soon as I see his head I know it’s your work!

  • This is a beautiful project, but I am so with ANON. Sometimes I think if I see another fake animal head, antlers, Eames rocker, globe or stack of vintage suitcases, I might poke my eyes out. Let’s move on, people!

    That said, the milk paint finish is a neat tutorial.

  • Love this look of milk paint. OK- quick question- can you use an old blender (on 1st setting) to blend the paint? Or will this introduce bubbles to the paint? Prob a dumb question, but I couldn’t resist asking….!

  • I just bought my first package of milk paint (Confederate grey for a pine dresser) from a place in Toronto called Homestead House Paint. From what I know, they are the only manufacturer left in Canada who produces milk paint.

    RE: Blender – the lady @ Homestead lent me one of their old blenders to mix the paint.


  • This is a great how-to…so appreciated. I went to file it for future reference and I started to put it under “moose paints” HAHAHAHAHA. Too funny.

  • I have always wanted to try out milk paint on both furniture & walls. If anyone has wall pics of their home, please share!

  • Barb,

    My apologies, I did notice that it is the same moose! That makes me feel slightly better.

  • As usual, you have inspired me to try this makeover–it is beautiful & so full of character! I am going to order the paint immediately & try to duplicate your work–Thanks again. (Oh, I love the moose head, too.) Keep up the inspirational work!

  • kathleen, the wax is solvent based, but if you buy the fiddes that i suggest, it is not as harsh smelling….you still need proper ventilation….and it is so creamy and great to work with. i refuse to use any other product :) as far as tinting the wax, i have never tried tinting it myself but have used several different shades for different looks. i just settled on two that i like and have stuck with them.

    odile, there are no dumb questions my friend….and you may have stumbled on a bit of genius! i think a blender would work great, and the paint if you cleaned it up right way would all come off…..a hand mixer might be a bit messy though! :) i will try a blender next time i mix my milk paint and get back to ya!

    anon, no worries at all!…..we’re totally good….and mr moose holds no grudges either! :)

    THANK you to all of you for the sweet comments and words of encouragement! i hope you enjoy this super cool process as much as i do, and i want to see pictures of your masterpieces!! xo

  • Thank you for your tutorials. Your furniture is so beautiful. Do you have any suggested sources for knobs and hardware? (understand of course if you don’t want to give up ALL your secrets!)

  • I love the shape of this dresser. Would love to find something like it to use as a media console in our living room.

  • Can I also just say that TSP is AMAZING at removing wallpaper?

    Beautiful dresser!

  • How did you get the black color that is underneath the red? Does the wood underneath just turn black from the paint?


  • maggie, i do have knob sources that are to the trade, but i do also hit up anthropology on a regular basis to check out their selection:)

    katey, that is the natural wood showing through, and this particular piece happened to have a really dark stain underneath…..and so it worked nicely with the topcoat.

  • I have always loved milk paint, but found it to be tempermental. You really can’t rework any wet areas. Thanks for the tutorial as it taught me a few new tricks.

    There’s another milk paint tutorial on the Martha Stewart website. It has a great stain/wax sealer formula to an antique look if you are interested. It also has a brilliant plastic milk carton and old fork idea you use for mixing and holding your mixed paint while you work. I can’t remember Martha’s guest’s name, but he refinishes antique swedish grandfather clocks – hopefully that will help with your site search.

    I actually use the Howard’s Orange Oil and Beeswax product that he recommends & love it. I can’t wait to try adding stain to it. I will look for the Fiddes and try that too. So much fun!

  • Realizing I’m late to the party, I have a question about using stain and milk paint. Barb, these are great. Is it possible to apply stain (lightly) over the milk paint for a tea stain look/finish, or would you recommend something less drastic than a stain? Thanks!

  • sheila, from a personal perspective…i would only apply the stain to the milk paint after a layer of varnish or poly has been applied. milk paint is super porous and grabs liquid unevenly, and permanently!

  • I love all your pieces! They are beautiful. Where do you find the wood pieces you start with? Any tips for hunting down some gems?

  • cara, thank you so much! i find my pieces all over! goodwills, estate sales, antique shops, dealers, and people just calling me up because they know what i do! my eyes are always peeled….

    happy hunting!

  • Hi Barb,
    I think this project looks great. I would like to mention a little tip for your readers. I have been the brand of milk paint mentioned by you for several years now. I absolutely love it. It works great and you can’t beat it’s adhesion to porous materials. Now for the tip. If you would like to get a crackle look using milk paint, but do not want to use an additive or sizing, you can layer the area that you want to crack a little thicker than the rest. Next before that area dries slowly heat it up with a hair dryer. As long as you don’t do it too quickly you will get a nice random crackle, and still have adhesion. Oh, one other thing.. If you would like to purchase genuine old fashioned milk paint at a discounted price, try http://www.mistermilkpaint.com. Thanks for the inspirations.

    • michael, thank you so much for the added information! those are very fun little tidbits!

  • Hi, I was wondering when you sand your furniture down and it is a light wood color, but you want the yndercoat to be darker, can you paint a darker color and then do the milk paint? Thanks

  • Wow that was just hat I was looking for…going to do a atique wardrobe….hope it turns ou stunning!

  • I love how this piece looks. I am concerned about the polyurethene finish. I want my piece to be white and have used this finish before with a yellowing effect. How can I make sure it does not turn yellow? The can even said non-yellowing.

    • The yellowing occurs when an oil based poly is used and then the piece is exposed to prolonged sunlight.

  • omg, i just put the first coat of milk paint on and it is really flaking (I did not use the bonder). Do you sand until the flaking stops? I am afraid to put the 2nd coat on, am not sure of what the sanded areas will look like – does the paint flak off of those too?

  • Thanks so much! This is exactly the look I’m hoping to achieve, and it sounds like fun. One question – I’m going to be painting an unfinished piece of furniture from a mill store. I intend to stain first. Any additional advice? Should I poly over the stain before the milk paint or does it not make a difference? If I don’t poly it then I assume I don’t have to sand it before milk painting…or do I?

  • Thank you so much for your tutorial!! I have been tryin to read everything I can a out the stuff for the past few weeks and plan to paint a table with some today. I’m going to use the linen color from Miss Mustard Seed. I bough it locally in Baton Rouge, LA from Bayou Bungalow. http://www.thebayoubungalow.com/ Mrs. Marty is amazing if anyone lives in LA!!

  • Love the help. Will take any idea or tip because I always jump to Fast. THANKS

  • You said that you sanded down to the natural wood, but you have a dark finish underneath the milk paint. Did you paint or stain the furniture before applying the tpt and milk paint?

  • How can I prep painted or wood stained furniture before painting with milk paint?

    • I would like to know the answer to this as well. I have a little cabinet that was painted with dark brown spray paint. What do I do to prep it before I milk paint it? Thank you; not sure where the answers are to these questions above – obviously am new and so excited to start painting away!!

  • I love this explanation on milk paint. I have never used it before, and wondered what it was like. Now I feel like I want to try it out for sure!

  • Hi,

    I am about to use milk paint for the first time. I bought 2 colors so that I can rub off the top one to let the bottom one show through. My question is, how many coats do I do of each color? Do I do 2 of the bottom and 2 of the top?

  • I had a lot of trouble finding milk paint in my area.Kitchener/Waterloo) The only place that carries it is Lee Valley in Waterloo.

    • Not sure if you found the paint but the brand Miss Mustardseed Milk Paint and Homestead House are around. I’m near London and found Homestead House in Clinton. They are a Canadian company so if you do a search online you will deffinetly find some in your area.

  • BARB can I get this look from using already liquid milk paints from Michael’s? The brand is called folk art- plaid…

    • I don’t think you will find the quality is very good. For smaller pieces I think it’s ok but for anything large… Go with quality

  • I’m really impressed with your finished product. What I would worry about is painting over old finishes and how much basic prep work is required to prepare old surface so that paint will be sure to stick and not peel off later? Do you sand, then prime, or what exactly is required? Don’t most manufactured pieces of furniture have Varnish and/or some type of finish sealant that would keep the NEW paint from sticking? Thanks!