Milk Paint is a truly natural paint. One of only two paints that are 100% natural. It is a true zero-VOC and toxin-free paint that is biodegradable.
It’s almost always safe for those with extreme chemical sensitivities, even when wet. It’s safe for kids and babies, and can even be safely used on toys. I have a separate post for paints for toys though. This article looks at my testing of Milk Paint on walls.
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Where Can You Use Milk Paint?
If your walls are raw plaster or gypsum drywall, Milk Paint will stick to these surfaces, no special prep is needed.
But don’t use it over a joint compound that has latex in it, it doesn’t apply as well to that.
It works well over raw wood and masonry. It bonds with masonry walls so well that it would be tough to remove.
The original formula should be used on raw wood and masonry. It’s a beautiful finish on wood and would be great for unsealed shiplap walls.
Previously painted surfaces might need to be washed with TSP to strip the paint a bit and you also might need a bond coat (which is a concentrated acrylic). Especially if you’re painting with the original formula.
The SafePaint wall formula can go over regular primers and some regular paints. This is the Milk Paint I tested out above on a 2 x 2 piece of drywall. It does not need a bond coat over unprimed drywall or most primers and paints.
It’s only if you want to apply it to other difficult to paint surfaces, like metal, that you would need the bond coat.
It could be used on kitchen cabinets if you are willing to make some sacrifices, but you need a durable topcoat over it. Tung oil is very durable for a natural finish. I like two coats, with possibly a shellac on top.
It does not go over Chalked Paint (Rustoleum Brand), I tried and failed.
Milk Paint Formulas
True milk paint should always come in powder form if you want it to be pure, totally natural, and free of synthetic or toxic additives.
The ingredients are: milk protein (casein), limestone, clay, chalk, and natural pigments.
The original formula: Milk Paint comes in a number of colors that are really pretty but you can also mix the colors, dilute them with white, or mix them from scratch with Real Milk Paint’s base + pigments.
SafePaint formula: SafePaint comes in 33 colors. They also come in powder form so you can mix colors together to get custom color variations.
Results on Drywall
If you want to apply Milk Paint to drywall, definitely go with the SafePaint formula. That is the only one that has any chance of going on evenly in my experiments with the paints. That is what I used in the above mustard color paint picture.
I put it on unprimed drywall and you can see the overlap mark when the edge didn’t stay wet. I couldn’t get it perfectly even on raw drywall. The company claims you can put it on primed drywall, or already painted drywall in most cases, so you might want to test out both options (with and without a primer). Practice your technique to see if you can get it even or if you can paint it in a pattern that you like.
Below is what happened when I tried the regular original formula on raw drywall board! Unless you like the watercolor look, I would say this was a fail.
Applying Milk Paint
You mix the powder 1:1 with water.
For smaller projects use the original formula with the specialty brushes (they are rounded).
For a wall, it’s easier to use a roller with either formula in my opinion, but especially if you are using SafePaint and want a uniform finish. You should use a 1/4 inch foam roller from Amazon.
SafePaint was somewhat durable without a topcoat, you could put a wet hand on the wall for example without damaging it. But if you want either formula to hold up to stains and grease you need to use a topcoat.
Topcoats for Milk Paint
Depending on where you are applying Milk Paint and how durable you need it to be, you can choose from a number of topcoats including:
Natural oils: hemp oil, walnut oil (with wax), and, the most durable of the oils, tung oil. The oils tint the color – they darken it making it look richer, less pastel, not matte, and add a slight yellow (which you would only see on whites). Make sure the oil is compatible with the paint color.
Tung oil has the strongest odor of the three oils, while hemp and walnut are both quite mild.
I did not have good luck with polyurethane or other acrylic coatings over Milk Paint in my small trials that you can see below.
Painting Over Milk Paint
If you are worried about painting over Milk Paint in a rental or if you just want to change it, that is no problem with pure Milk Paint. Any paint can go over Milk Paint if you didn’t add a topcoat, or if you used a water-based topcoat you also likely won’t have trouble painting over it.
If you used an oil like hemp oil then you either can go over it with an oil-based paint (try a natural solvent-free one like the ones here), or a transitional primer made to transition from oil to water.
If you used a wax as the topcoat then it’s a little more tricky. You need to remove the wax with TSP.
What I Like About Milk Paint (Pros)
- The purest and safest paint out there. 100% natural and safe.
- Actually zero-VOC.
- Safe even when wet for the chemically sensitive. Almost everyone could apply this themselves.
- You don’t need a primer on most porous surfaces. (The original formula does best on porous surfaces, with SafePaint it can actually be better over a primer).
- You can choose from a variety of topcoats.
- You could probably get away with SafePaint on the walls without a topcoat as long as it’s not in a kitchen or bathroom. It held up just fine to a wet hand placed on the wall.
- Easy to source the original formula from Amazon or from Real Milk Paint, and SafePaint for the walls from MilkPaint.com.
What I Don’t Like About Milk Paint (Cons)
- If you are applying this to already painted walls you can check to see if SafePaint adheres, if not I personally don’t see the benefit in using Milk Paint. If you have to add chemical binders like the ones used in regular zero-VOC paints then just go with a regular paint.
- In many situations, you do need a top coat which is an extra step.
- If you need this to be super durable you need to go with a tung oil or durable water-based topcoat. Those products have some odor and take time to cure and offgas.
Milk Paint in Liquid Form
I generally would not go with a Milk Paint in liquid form since it then needs a variety of preservatives and biocides. So it wouldn’t remain in this 100% natural “pure” category.
You might still prefer liquid Milk Paint options for the look of it or it just may suit your sensitivities better than the options that are below (mineral paint, clay paint, chalk paint). If so, that is perfectly reasonable.
In order for something to qualify as a liquid Milk Paint, it needs to be made with a casein binder.
Ana Sova is a milk paint in liquid form. They say it’s made with casein (milk protein) as the binder (which does make it a milk paint officially), titanium dioxide, cellulose, emulsifiers, fungicide, bactericide, mildew retardant, and preservatives. They claim that is it 96% “food ingredients”, though they do not declare the full list of ingredients.
I ordered a sample of Ana Sova in 2022 but it did not show up. When I emailed them about it, they said they are reformulating the paint. Generally, that is because a product was not performing as desired or expected. They said they would then send out a free sample but I have not received one.
General Finishes Water-Based Milk Paint is an acrylic paint that is not 0-VOC. They claim a “milk paint look”, but there is no indication that this is made with casein as one of the binders. It’s clearly listed as an acrylic binder paint. VOCs are listed as <40 grams per liter (not what I would consider low). For a list of 0-VOC water-based acrylic paints, see my post on this topic.
Rustoleum Milk Paint is also a water-based acrylic paint with a “milk paint look”. It does not list casein as a binder (just acrylic). VOCs are listed at <110g/l.
Would you like to compare Milk Paint to other less toxic (more natural) paints?
- My post on mineral paint reviews silicate paint and compares it to milk paint (and other types).
- My post on clay paint reviews paints that are high in clay content (but are not 100% natural) and compares them to milk paint.
- My post on chalk paint reviews paints that are high in chalk content and low in synthetic binders, and compares them to milk paint.
- My post on non-toxic paint looks at 0-VOC acrylic brands, 0-VOC non-acrylic latex brands, and natural oil-based paint brands.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.