Learn how to use milk paint to refinish furniture with this easy tutorial. This amazing before and after shows just how easy and beautiful milk paint turns out.
This post is sponsored by The Real Milk Paint Company. All opinions are entirely my own.
Ever since I painted an old nightstand with chalk paint, I was hooked on using alternatives to regular latex paint.
For me, chalk paint was one of the easiest ways to transform old furniture and the results were amazing.
Since I had such a great experience with chalk paint, I had been wanting to work with milk paint.
Yes, there is a difference between the two! Milk paint comes in powder form, so you mix it with water.
Milk paint is always non-toxic, which is a huge bonus.
So, our first milk paint project was giving an old dresser a makeover.
This dresser was given to us by my aunt and uncle and it easily dated back to the 1950s.
It was my uncle’s baby dresser in his nursery, and he was happy to give it a new home.
My goal was to bring some new life into this old piece by using milk paint.
Shortening the Dresser
The dresser was really tall, and I recently realized that you can run furniture through a table saw to shorten it!
So, I gave my husband the challenge of shortening the dresser, thinking it would make for a less bulky and dated piece.
Below is the old dresser, in its original form.
My husband accepted my challenge and transformed the tall dresser into a shorter one using a jigsaw (for those details check out how to shorten a tall dresser).
I was so thrilled with how the four-drawer dresser looked and couldn’t wait to start refinishing it with milk paint.
For a sneak preview of how the dresser turned out, check out the picture below.
The milk paint completely transformed this old piece, and now I’m hooked on milk paint.
If you have an old piece of furniture that you’d like to redo, milk paint can completely make it over.
From choosing paint to putting on new hardware, all the details are in this simple tutorial.
Why Choose Milk Paint
When researching milk paints to use on furniture, I came across the Real Milk Paint Company and loved how natural the paint was.
First, their paint is entirely environmentally-friendly.
There are absolutely no VOCs in the Real Milk Paint, and it is completely non-toxic. It’s made from iron oxide pigment, milk casein, and lime.
You can literally discard the paint in your garden.
Second, the finish is really beautiful too. It’s high-quality and turns out gorgeous.
Third, I personally loved mixing my own paint. If you want to mix colors, it’s very easy and fun to do!
Milk paint is also fast-drying and easily adheres to most surfaces.
Check out more of my tips on milk painting and other tips on painting old furniture.
After reading all the benefits of the Real Milk Paint Company’s paint, I knew it was the perfect choice for my next DIY furniture transformation project.
How to Prepare Furniture for Painting
First, you want to clean your piece and remove any hardware.
Sometimes your piece of furniture might be old, and the hardware might be difficult to remove.
Ours was like this too, and we have a great tip in the below section (How to Put New Knobs on a Dresser).
Do I have to sand my furniture when I use milk paint?
With milk paint, you need to be able to get the milk paint to stick to the surface of the furniture. So, you have two choices:
- You can either sand down your piece OR
- You can use a bonding agent in your milk paint.
If you use a bonding agent in your milk paint, you eliminate the need to sand.
If you don’t use a bonding agent, then you need to give it a light sanding.
So, it’s your choice.
If you do sand, always wear a high-quality dusk mask.
For this old dresser, we did a little bit of both to prepare the furniture for milk paint.
We sanded down the top of the dresser to give it a fresh start, but we mixed the bonding agent in the paint for the rest of the dresser.
Bonding Agent Note
You only need to mix in the bonding agent with the first coat.
So, if you make another batch of paint for subsequent milk paint coats, you don’t need a bonding agent.
The Real Milk Paint Company has a product called Ultra Bond, which is really simple to just add to your mixed paint.
Then, you don’t have to sand your piece, which does save a lot of time.
What materials do I need for milk painting furniture?
The following list of materials is what we used to transform this old dresser.
I highly recommend getting a new high-quality bristle brush when working with milk paint, but more on that later.
- French Gray milk paint
- Lakeview Blue milk paint
- Ultra Bond – This is the bonding agent which eliminates the need to sand your furniture.
- Finishing Cream
- Bristle paint brushes – This is a great brush set for milk painting.
- Measuring cup – I grabbed an old 1/4 cup from the kitchen.
- Cup for water – Plastic solo cups work well.
- Plastic spoons – These are helpful for dipping into the finishing cream and milk paint powder.
- New hardware – This is your preference but updating old hardware is such a great upgrade! And, I’m loving these half moon drawer pulls.
How to Mix Milk Paint
Milk paint comes in powder form. Don’t let this scare you though because mixing the milk paint couldn’t be easier!
You definitely don’t need to be an artist or a cook to be able to mix and measure your milk paint.
It’s a one-to-one ratio, so the measuring is simple.
And then you just shake, shake, shake.
How I Mixed the Paint Color for this Dresser
I was mixing the Real Milk Paint Company’s French Gray with just a little bit of their Lakeview Blue.
However, I LOVED the French Gray so much that I added very little of the Lakeview Blue in.
To start, I grabbed a quarter cup from the kitchen and a few plastic spoons. I also filled a red solo cup with water.
Out in the garage, I scooped out a quarter cup of the French Gray and dumped it in the paint can.
Then I scooped one spoonful of Lakeview Blue and added it in.
Then, I filled the quarter cup again with water and dumped this into the can.
I also added one spoonful of water (to balance out the blue) and added that to the mix too.
Milk Paint Mixing Tip
If you are going to mix colors, make sure to write down exactly what you mixed so that you can create the same color again.
I closed the paint can and started shaking it up. You’ll hear the marble that comes with the can bouncing around.
This helps to mix the paint up.
After giving it a really good shake, let it sit for 20 minutes. After that, if any clumps come to the surface, simply shake it up again.
That’s it! Easy, right?!
Testing Your Color
As tempted as you will be to start painting, it’s best to test your color first. You want to make sure the color dries the way you like it.
So, pick a small little area and give the color a little while to dry to make sure you like it.
The French Gray and Lakeview Blue mix that I conjured up was more powder blue than charcoal blue.
So, I decided that when I made another batch, I would use a smaller amount of Lakeview Blue.
This was one of my favorite parts of painting with milk paint – you make your own color!
Of course, there are base colors to start with, and then you can add other colors to achieve the look you want.
With regular latex paint, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a can of paint back because it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
With milk paint, you eliminate all that by making your own color.
How to Use Milk Paint on a Dresser
Okay, I simply cannot stress this enough, but you need to use a really, really good paintbrush with milk paint.
You might not want to go digging in your bucket of brushes and instead just buy a couple of really nice ones.
You’ll thank yourself later when you love your refinished piece.
If you use a poor paintbrush, you’ll end up with lots of streaks and uneven surfaces.
But a smooth bristle brush will give your surface a really nice look.
How do you paint furniture with milk paint?
So, back to painting. Now that your paint is mixed and you’re happy with the color, it’s time to get started.
I would choose a small area to start in so that you get used to the milk paint on a smaller surface.
Rather than jumping right into the top of the dresser, I started on a drawer.
Starting on a drawer gave me a smaller area to work on so that I could perfect my milk painting technique.
As you’re painting, keep your water cup near your paint can, because depending on how thick your mix is or what coat of paint you are working on, you might need to add some water.
Tricks to Painting with Milk Paint
Milk paint has a different consistency than regular paint and a different consistency than chalk paint. It’s not as smooth as either of those.
It can be watery, thick, or can even clump together.
The trick is you want to give your furniture light coats.
Don’t clump on thick layers of paint because milk paint doesn’t work this way. Paint will start to build up in places and start to crack. Light coats are key.
The milk paint might look streaky because you’ll see the wood coming through, but that’s okay. Another coat or two of milk paint will even it out.
Another tip is that milk paint usually dries the way you are painting it on.
So, you want to make sure you are running your brush from one end of the piece to the other, so you don’t have brush strokes on your piece.
If you’re seeing brush strokes when you paint, you will see these when it dries.
So you definitely want to fix those brushstrokes while you’re painting.
If you’re painting and the milk paint seems too thick and it isn’t spreading well, then dip the very, very edges of your brush into your water cup.
A little water goes a long way. Then attempt to spread the paint.
You also might do this with a second or third coat to help the paint spread better.
Now, if your paint becomes bubbly, you have too much water. Keep going over the bubbles with the brush, until they are completely gone.
Getting into a Rhythm
I think the best tip I could give you is to just work with the paint, and the more you work with it, the more you’ll find a good consistency and technique for you.
As you start painting, you’ll start to get into a rhythm and notice what works well for you.
How to Use Milk Paint on Furniture Video
In the below video, I show you my process for painting with milk paint, using a drawer as a test piece.
What do I paint first?
If you’re wondering what process I used to paint the old dresser, here is exactly what I did.
First, I did a test spot and let it dry. You can use a hairdryer to speed this up. Make sure you are happy with the color before you continue.
After painting a test spot with milk paint, I went on to paint a drawer that wasn’t too prominent. This enabled me to get comfortable with the paint before attempting a more seen surface like the top.
I was happy with that, so I continued painting the rest of the drawers.
Top of the Dresser
After the drawers, I was comfortable with my consistency and I moved on to painting the top of the dresser.
It took me a little while to paint the top of the dresser with milk paint.
I started in small areas like I mentioned above and continued to keep smoothing out the milk paint.
Rounded Dresser Top
I didn’t do the rounded sides of the top quite yet because the milk paint dried so fast – that I was spending all the time getting the top to look perfect.
After I was pleased with the top, I moved on to the front of the dresser and the rounded sides.
For the rounded sides, I wanted to paint these with precision.
I needed to be careful not to get any paint on the dresser top – since I had already painted that and it had dried.
For the rounded sides of the dresser top, I used a small brush from my craft room.
Pictured below is the whole dresser after one coat of milk paint.
Small Color Change
It was a little bluer than I wanted.
So the next coat I mixed up, I used just a half spoonful of Lakeview Blue.
For the third coat of milk paint, I used all French Gray.
The picture below is after the first coat – so the dresser was looking quite blue.
I continued on to paint two really good coats of milk paint on the entire dresser, and then a third light topcoat.
Letting the Milk Paint Dry
Milk paint dries super fast, so you can knock out a milk painting project in a short amount of time.
Paint a coat, head inside for a snack, and by the time you’re done that snack, you can probably do another coat.
That’s why milk painting is a great naptime project for mamas!
How to Apply Finish to Milk Paint
You’ll definitely want to apply a finish on milk paint to protect the paint you put on. Otherwise, dirt or water can disrupt its surface.
Applying the finish to the milk paint dresser couldn’t have been easier.
Once the milk paint furniture is dry, you can apply your finish.
We used the low sheen finishing cream from The Real Milk Paint Company.
I simply scooped a dollop out with a spoon and then used an old sock to rub it all over the dresser.
You use enough of it to cover your area. It was super easy.
The finishing cream is non-toxic – and doesn’t have any kind of smell. Only one coat was necessary too!
Milk Paint Finishing Tip
Some of the milk paint pigment might rub off on your cloth. This is normal.
If your piece of furniture is more than one color then you might want to use a separate cloth for each milk-painted color you are applying the finish to.
How to Put New Knobs on the Dresser
Part of the upgrade that we were giving the dresser was new hardware.
I loveee adding new hardware to old pieces because it is an instant upgrade. It is such an easy way to update an old piece of furniture, as it can change the whole look (and time period) of the piece.
Prior to painting, when I removed the original hardware, I had a little trouble removing a few of the old knobs.
Some of the screw heads started to strip with my screwdriver because of the age, so I used my impact driver to easily remove them with no damage.
In putting the new knobs on the dresser, I decided to use round knobs on the top small drawers and half moon shell knobs on the rest of the drawers.
This made the two smaller drawers the easiest to upgrade as it was just a matter of swapping the old knobs with the new ones.
Additional Drawer Holes
The larger drawers needed some additional holes drilled to accommodate the half moon shell drawer pulls. I used a ruler to line up the existing holes.
My husband helped me out with this since my kids’ naptimes had ended.
He drilled new holes parallel to the ruler, offset by 2.5″ from the old holes (the spacing required for the new handles).
Excited to see the refinished dresser with the new hardware, I laughed when I saw that my husband installed all the half moon drawer pulls upside down haha! (see below).
He thought the half moon shell pulls were like little bowls 🙂
After having a quick chuckle, I easily flipped the half moon drawer pulls.
It was just a quick fix to flip them, and voila! The refinished dresser was done.
I finished the piece just as the sun was setting and was anxious to move it inside. It didn’t need to be aired out at all because it had no smell whatsoever.
Moving the Dresser In
Once inside, I quickly adorned it with some of my favorite decor, including the below picture of my late grandmother.
So fitting too because she was a DIYer back before the term ever existed. A flea market fanatic decades before all of the network shows.
Boy, she would have loved to have known about milk paint.
Overall, I was so thrilled with how the refinished dresser looked in our home. It was truly quite a makeover.
I had plans to move this dresser upstairs and use it for extra clothing storage. However, I loved the way it looked downstairs.
It’s currently in a corner of my living room, holding gifts and gift wrap, and I couldn’t love it more.
Benefits of Milk Paint
If you are looking to transform an old piece of furniture or if you are just looking for a non-toxic, child-friendly, pet-friendly safe paint, definitely check out The Real Milk Paint Company. You’ll absolutely love it.
Milk paint offers tons of colors (and you can mix even more yourself).
The paint is easy to mix and work with.
You’ll love how fast it dries, how easily it adheres to surfaces, and the beautiful finish it gives.
Your painting projects and possibilities are endless, and most importantly, the paint is safe. What’s better than that?!
Furniture redos are simple to do. With just paint, sometimes a light sanding, and new knobs, you can completely change an old item.
If you are checking out old pieces of furniture, check out yard sales, flea markets, Craig’s List, thrift stores, and of course, the curb 🙂
Yet, make sure that the furniture you choose to flip is a solid wood surface. You’ll be able to do more with it if it is a quality wood piece.
Also, make sure your piece is sturdy and doesn’t wobble. There’s nothing like getting home with a new chair or dresser only to find out it wobbles.
I hope this milk paint tutorial helps you with your furniture flip.
More Posts You’ll Love
- Milk paint is absolutely gorgeous on raw wood! We used white milk paint on our mudroom makeover, and it couldn’t be more beautiful.
- This tutorial gives you all the tips on how to use milk paint on raw wood. It’s even easier than using it over wooden or painted surfaces.
- If you are looking for a simple DIY project, make your own hook rack. It’s super easy and you’ll get more storage.