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July 27, 2012

Milk paint experiment; it smells great and boy, does it last

I've been experimenting with making my own interior and exterior non-VOC paint this week after reading about the durability of 9,000-year-old paintings found in Asia and Egypt.  

I didn't have room for all of my findings in my weekly column (recipes included), so this is a little addendum.  

Using concrete colourant, which is available at hardware stores, I tinted my first small batches of paint.  I got some nice golds and reds (one coat).

Bird Feeder

Then I added a little titanium dioxide (available at pottery supply places for less $ than art supply places) to some of my skim milk/Borax base and got a beautiful 'pickling' stain, which I rubbed into a rustic cricket bench.  The pigment built up in the rough texture (it's a little hard to see in the photo).  This formulation would look great on an urban fence or deck.

P1310046 - Version 2

Next, I used an exterior grade formulation made from cottage cheese and lime (which I learned about here) to coat this bench top (tinted with 'medium buff' concrete colourant).  On the buttermilk-coloured legs and base I used a two-layer cross-linking alkaline/acid formulation that I learned about from this very smart person. (To get the warm colour on the legs/base, I tinted the acidic topcoat with titanium dioxide and a tiny bit of 'lemon yellow' concrete colourant.)


I literally did NO PREP on this bench - no brushing, scraping, or even wiping with a rag. Okay, I removed one old coccoon, but that's it.  The bench had been outside for about 10 years and the original 5 coats of water-based urethane had flaked into oblivion.  Note to self: never use water-based urethane for exterior applications; it can't hack the Canadian climate.

This is the bench after a borate-laced coat of casein (milk) paint, which I made from skim millk and Borax laundry additive. 


After all of the experimenting, I think the milk/Borax formulation is the easiest to work with.  It produces a clear matte finish on bare wood (bye bye forever water-based urethane) and can be tinted easily by making a paste of water and concrete colourant and then mixing it into the milk/Borax base.  


You can make the milk/Borax stuff into an opaque white by adding lime and titanium dioxide till it's nice and thick.

Of course you can order milk paint powder from either of these two places if you don't want to go the wet 'n' wild route:

The Real Milk Paint Company (U.S.)

HomeStead House Milk Paint (Canada)

I'm aiming to paint 400 feet of fence with my own homemade milk paint later this fall. Anybody want to help?






This was a really useful article -- thanks!!

I was wondering though -- you mention that the casein clear coat produces a matte finish. Do you know if there is any way of changing either the formulation or the application in order to produce a semi-gloss finish?



Hi Dixon,
The only thing I can think of that would produce a glossy finish is a hand rubbed wax finish. You can use a solvent based paste wax to get a fairly good gloss finish (hope you don't mind buffing it though - it takes a fair amount of effort). BriWax is a good brand to use for solvent based waxes - it comes in several shades so you can add an antiqued look (darker) if you want, or just a clear coat. Hope that helps.


Thanks for sharing your milk paint projects. I'm curious if you ever get around to painting your fence? I want put up a picket fence and would consider making my own paint if you got good results. Thanks!

Barbara Lee

For people wanting a more glossy finish, try adding boiled linseed oil to the last coat. If you mix up your paint and the first coat is too shiny, the second coat won't stick. So get it to the color and opacity you want before adding linseed oil to the final mix. My guess is that although this might work great on interior finishes, I'm not sure linseed oil can stand up to exterior weather.


Barbara Lee- if you are looking for a non-voc producing finish you would want to avoid using boiled linseed oil. It has a lot of chemicals added to it to make the linseed "dry". Shellac might be another alternative, but I have never used it in an exterior environment.

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