Friday, June 3, 2011

Environmentally Friendly Milk Paint

By Rebecca, Shelter Tools Staff

We get lots of interesting requests here in the Shelter Tools store for products, but one of the most common items asked for is milk paint. After discovering the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company at a trade show, the store can now enthusiastically answer, “Yes!” when someone comes in asking for the product. But what the heck is this stuff?

Milk paint—distinguished by its lack of sheen and flat, coarse look—has been around for a very, very long time. It was very commonly used in Colonial America and is called for in many reproduction projects. However, it actually covers the oldest known painted surfaces in the world, including some of the artifacts found in King Tut’s tomb. It is so durable and colorfast that your great, great grandchildren and their kids will be able to enjoy it too. The paint’s two main ingredients—milk and lime—were readily available during the era (many communities had local lime pits). A protein in the milk, casein, reacts with the hydrated lime to create a solution that adheres well to porous surfaces and then hardens. As an added bonus, the alkaline lime works with the acids in the milk to create a chemically neutral mixture.

Its historical lineage make milk paint perfect for an antique look, or for restoring a piece you just picked up at a yard sale. Professional craftsmen, museum curators, and preservationists all use the paint to reproduce the feel of period furniture, including Shaker style. Milk paint’s decline began with the end of the Civil War, when oil paints became increasingly popular—and easier to sell commercially because they could be sold ready-to-use in metal cans, which would cause mixed milk paint to spoil. Latex paints followed and milk paint quickly became considered obsolete. Luckily, the “green revolution” has caused a resurgence of interest in this ancient coloring.

Unlike most latex and oil paints, milk paint contains no toxins such as lead, mercury, VOCs, HAPs, mildecides or germicides. It has no toxic fumes, no scary additives, and you could actually drink the stuff if the (strange) desire ever struck you – though we would not recommend that! Its chemical composition makes it a great choice for children’s rooms and furniture, those concerned about the environment, hospitals, and people who are sensitive or allergic to regular commercial paints. Best of all, clean-up is a breeze: any leftovers from your painting project can just be washed down the drain! It comes in 20 different colors which can be mixed together, watered down, concentrated and even layered to produce completely unique effects. For example, you can paint Pitch Black over Barn Red to create a tortoiseshell look or Pitch Black over Barn Red over Lexington Green to create a beautiful antiqued look for chairs.

Shelter Tools currently has Old Fashioned Milk Paint in stock at $16.50 for 12 ounces, which makes 1 quart when mixed and covers approximately 75 square feet with 1 coat.  As with everything we offer, we would also be happy to order any additional products, colors, or sizes you may need, like Antique Crackle to produce an older look; Extra Bond, an acrylic additive for the milk paint which allows it to adhere to previously finished surfaces; or Safepaint, milk paint specifically designed for use on walls. We also have in stock all three of the suggested sealants for milk paint: polyurethane, tung oil and paste wax. Stop by our store, give us a call at (207) 442-7938, or e-mail us at to learn more and see what we have to offer.

1 comment:

  1. We're so glad that you've become one of our newest milk paint dealers! Keep up the great work at the Institute.
    Anne Thibeau, President
    Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Inc.