Learn a new skill: Make white milk paint at home

October 20 | Guest post by Diane
By: Brandon BirdCC BY 2.0

The paint we all have in our homes is often quite toxic, but you don't have to buy a petroleum based paint the next time you want to whiten up your walls or a piece of furniture — you can make your own bath of paint and have it be totally toxin free: I'm talking about milk paint. Powdered milk paint can be purchased and just mixed with water. This would be convenient but would cost about $36.00 a gallon.

Making your own milk paint is relatively easy and half the cost of buying the ready mixed. The lime powder and the pigment are available at paint stores or craft stores. The results are amazing: flat muted color that resembles old-world plaster. Many artists still use this ancient paint because of its workability and the tone of color.

So let's make it!

Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Things You'll Need

  • 1 gallon skim milk
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup hydrated lime powder, Type S — available at hardware stores
  • 1/2 cup pigment — you want zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Available online and in arts/crafts stores
  • cheesecloth
  • water
  • dust masks
  • several plastic containers in which to mix paint
  • stir stick

Instructions

  1. This recipe uses fresh milk that is curdled by the vinegar. By using the curdling method you have a stronger paint that is resistant to mold. Allow the milk to come to room temperature, but no warmer than 115 degrees. Pour the milk into a large container and add the 2 cups vinegar which starts the curdling process. Allow the mixture to sit overnight in a warm place stirring every once in awhile. The next day you'll be able to notice the milk solids separating from the liquid whey.
  2. Put the pigment powder in a plastic container and add an equal amount of water and allow the powder to soak. Begin to stir until you have worked the ingredients into a paste, set aside.
  3. Put the lime into a small container and add the 1-1/2 cups of water and stir until you have a smooth paste. Please wear a dust mask to do this step as you don't want to inhale the lime dust.
  4. Pour the bucket of curds and whey through a colander to separate. Wash the curd with water and allow to remain wet. Remove the curd from the colander and put into your paint bucket breaking up any larger pieces.
  5. Add the lime paste and stir well, then add the pigment. Again, stir well to dissolve any curd pieces.
  6. Strain the paint through a piece of cheesecloth. Your paint is ready to use!

And use these notes!

  • Have everything ready prior to mixing in the pigment as milk paint should be used when it's fresh.
  • Stir the paint frequently.
  • If you have any extra paint and want to keep it, store in the refrigerator — it will keep for several days, although milk paint is best when used fresh.
  • Since milk paint is a thin mixture, you may want to use more than one coat. After the paint is dry you can rub over it with fine steel wool or wax to give it a smooth, sealed finish.

Good luck. Share your finished works in the Offbeat Home Flickr pool!

  1. I love this! We painted our bunny's hutch with milk paint so when she inevitably found that one corner she could chew on, she wouldn't be chewing harmful toxins. We purchased ours, though. I'm excited to try mixing our own!

    0 agree
  2. Has anyone tried doing this with some kind of vegan-friendly milk? I'm an artist, and have been looking for ways of making less toxic paints, and this sounds awesome, but I can't personally justify buying the cow milk. I feel like there might be some enzyme in the dairy that makes this work, but maybe it's just the consistency. Anyway, if I don't hear back in a few days, I might try this with the pre-curdled soy milk in my fridge (oops) and report back. I'd probably add some vinegar anyway so it doesn't smell or something.

    4 agree
    • It's the milk protein casein that makes it work – I'm sure if you experimented you could find an alternative, vegan source of either casein or a substitute. I know it's not vegan either, but egg tempera could also be a paint with low toxicity depending on the pigments used.

      1 agrees
  3. I have heard, but cannot back it up, that you shouldn't use milk paint in the South because the heat and humidity will cause it to spoil despite the additives. Anyone want to debunk that myth for me?

    1 agrees
    • I know for a fact that milk-based paints can spoil when wet; one of the drama groups in my university painted a set with a spoiled batch of brown paint and the entire student center stank to high heaven for *weeks*. That said, I'd also be curious to hear how it holds up when dry in humid environments.

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  4. this is what I've been waiting for! I don't like to use oil paints at home because my studio is next to the kitchen and I worry I will get paint/mediums all over everything. gonna try this soon!

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  5. Anyone have an approx. cost per gallon for this?

    0 agree

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