Chalk Paint Vs. Milk Paint

Have you tried to use chalk paint or milk paint? I’m a regular chalk painter (see this chest and this buffet), but I wondered what the difference is. Wonder no more. I’ve tested both on one piece of furniture as a bit of an experiment to see which I prefer.

I’m going to share the results with you and give you some insights as to why you should choose chalk paint or milk paint for your project.

chalk Paint tips for beginners

First, this post is not sponsored by a paint company or paint brand. All the opinions are my own based on my projects. These paints are expensive, but I’m going to share the brands I prefer and it’s not always the priciest. I’m going to compare the paints based on a bunch of factors including sheen, thickness, ease of application, surface preparation, smell and more. If you don’t want to read all about it, scroll to the bottom for a handy comparison table that summarizes everything.

Ranking Factors for chalk paint vs milk paint

Sheen – Chalk paint has a VERY dull, flat or matte finish (you choose the adjective). Before you seal it, chalk paint has an almost “chalky” feeling to it. After you seal the chalk paint with wax or a top coat, you can achieve a shinier finish, but it doesn’t ever look glossy. Milk paint is also has a very flat or matte finish. It can be shinier if you finish it with a poly sealer.

Thickness – One reason I was attracted to chalk paint is that it’s very thick and really covers, sometimes with just one coat. Milk paint has a much thinner texture and can even be used like a whitewash (if you’re using white). More than one coat is required.

Ease of Application – Milk paint goes on quickly and easily because the consistency of the paint is much thinner. Milk paint can be applied with a brush or a roller (or even a sprayer). Most milk paint requires mixing because it comes in powder form. Chalk paint, unless you make it yourself, is premixed. Chalk paint can also be applied with a brush or a roller; however, since it is VERY thick you might need to add a bit of water for a roller application, which is easy to do.

Preparation – You are not required to sand a surface before you use chalk paint. The surface you are painting should be clean, dry, and not greasy. Chalk paint is very thick and it can stick to pretty slippery surfaces, even furniture with a shiny finish. Milk paint can also be applied without sanding, but if you are applying it to a shiny piece of furniture you EITHER need to add a bonding agent OR you need to do some light sanding.

Smell – These days MOST paints are low VOC (which means low odor). Oil paint is an exception, but chalk paint is an acrylic/water-based paint with very low odor. Milk paint is also water based with no odor.

Cost – If you buy the original Annie Sloan chalk paint a liter (which is 1.8 quarts) is approximately $38 in 2021. Annie Sloan is the original creator of chalk paint, and consequently the priciest. The more mainstream brands like Rustoleum are less expensive. Milk paint is similar in price if you buy it already mixed. If you buy the powder and mix it yourself it is much less expensive, around $18.

Sealing Required for Chalk Paint? – Sealing chalk paint is one of the most important steps. The wax changes the color, especially if you use a tinted wax. For example, charcoal chalk paint looks almost like a chalkboard until you seal it with dark wax which makes it black. Wax can take several days to cure so that it’s not tacky or soft feeling. You can also seal chalk paint with polyurethane if you want a tougher finish for high traffic places or places that get wet (like floors and kitchen cabinets). If you leave chalk paint unsealed, it will show scratches and wear much more quickly.

chalk paint wax

Sealing Required for Milk Paint? Sealing is also required for milk paint if it is used on high-traffic pieces, like kitchen cabinets. It’s not as necessary on something like a dresser, but similar to chalk paint the piece is more likely to show signs of wear. You can seal milk paint with natural wax, hemp oil or polyacrylic. Both hemp oil and wax have a softer finish. Poly is better for areas that get wet because it blocks water.

Works Best On This Surface – Chalk paint can be used on almost any surface. I’ve used it on wood, metal candle holders, glass and even tile. Chalk paint can have an “antique” finish or it can have a smooth finish. It depends on how you apply it. Milk paint is primarily used on wood surfaces. It doesn’t work as well on slippery surfaces unless they are sanded.

What’s the best brand of Chalk Paint to Use? – This is one thing bloggers out there don’t tell you because sometimes a brand is paying them to write the post. In a sponsored post, obviously, they aren’t going to talk about other brands. I’ve used many brands of different paints. For chalk paint, I didn’t notice any difference between the less expensive brands like Rustoleum and the more expensive brands like Annie Sloan. I would definitely go with whatever brand is the cheapest.

What’s the best brand of Milk Paint to Use? If you don’t mind mixing it yourself, Miss Mustard Seed is great. If you want to get a mixed version, I like Rustoleum.

Summary Comparison

Which do I prefer, chalk paint or milk paint? Unfortunately, the answer is that it depends on what I’m painting. For cabinets I would use milk paint. For surfaces that I don’t want to prep (like curvy metal) or if I’m painting over a color, I prefer chalk paint.

Summary Table Chalk PaintMilk Paint
Sheenflat/matte finishflat matte finish
Best forCan be used on wood, metal, glass, tiledesigned for wood surfaces
Costrange from $16 for Rustoleum quart to $38 for Annie Sloan liter (1.8x a quart) in 2021Range from $18 for a mix yourself powder to $38
Ease of Application/PreparationVery thick and takes longer to apply, but can be done in one coat. No sanding required.Thinner so it goes on more quickly. Doesn’t stick to shiny surfaces without sanding/bonding.
Smellno smell/low
no smell/low VOC
SealingSealing is required if used in high traffic places, it changes the color. Use wax or poly.Sealing is preferable for high traffic areas or places that get wet. Use wax, hemp oil or poly.

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  1. This post came at the perfect time! First, let me say that black chest looks AMAZING! Did you spray that finish? The finish on it looks absolutely perfect!!! The armoire in our bathroom looked like it would be perfect…UNTIL the wallpaper went in. It is going to have to be painted. That armoire had originally been black and yes, I had sanded it and painted it with General Finishes Milk Paint, which I really liked working with, but after reading this, I think I am going to try a chalk paint on it so I don’t need to go through the sanding process once again. Now, I just need to find the right color! Great article!

  2. First of all, that chest is amazing! I have used chalk paint several times but have never used milk paint. I’ve always wondered what the difference is. Thank you so much for the comparisons, Andrea. I also didn’t know you could use chalk paint on metal. I always love it when I learn something.

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