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Milk Paint vs. Mineral Paint: So… what’s the difference?

Probably the most common question I get is “What is the difference between Mineral Paint and Milk Paint?” And, honestly, it was less frequently asked before Fusion introduced their own ‘Milk Paint by Fusion’ line. Having two types of paint under the same “brand umbrella” seemed to blur the lines a bit for those that were unaware of the differences. But fear not, I am going to walk you through the differences and explain each one individually.

The good folks at Fusion have created a handy infographic (down below) that will quickly explain the differences by one.

Formula

Mineral Paint is a ready-made paint in a jar that requires little more than a quick shake to use it. True milk paint in general (and Fusion’s is no different) is a powder that is mixed with water to create your paint. Typically the ratio is one part paint to one part water (or 1:1) and results in a paint that is the consistency of, you guessed it, milk! A little thicker than water but a little thinner than cream. This can vary with color and desired effect. Lighter colors sometimes require less water to make them thick enough to cover well. While mixing paint requires a tiny bit of time and effort, there are some distinct advantages.

  • Milk paint can be mixed thinner (up to 3:1 water:paint powder) to make the equivalent of a stain in any color your choose. This is especially helpful when a whitewash effect is wanted over raw wood.
  • Milk paint can also be mixed thicker, to the point that it creates a paste for adding texture to your project. The texture can be manipulated with tools or pushed through cheesecloth or a similar item to achieve a pattern of sorts.
  • It is VERY easy to mix colors with milk paint. You can mix it after the water has been added and stirred, but the best way is to mix the powders together so you can keep track of EXACTLY how much of each color you used so you can easily recreate your recipe. A digital kitchen scale capable of milligrams is helpful here.

I said earlier the “true” milk paint is a powder. This is because there are companies that have been marketing canned “milk paint” for many years now. It is not a “true” milk paint because milk paint does not have a long shelf life. Milk paint is made with casein (milk protein) so it tends to go bad once it is mixed. The time varies with the paint and even the color, but I have had mixed milk paint in a sealed container last over two weeks. Typically, I would say that 24-48 hours is your best bet for using it before it begins to go bad.

Prep Work

Both Milk Paint and Mineral Paint require just a bit of prep work if you want the most durable finish you can have. And when I say “prep work” I am referring to prepping the surface to be painted. No matte what paint you use, the quality of your finish is directly related to the quality of your surface. A little prep goes a long way, especially with durability.

Both milk paint and mineral paint need to bond with the surface to form a durable finish. Certain surfaces with a slick or glossy coating can be challenging to get proper adhesion because the paint simply has nothing to grab onto. Paint needs a little “tooth” to adhere properly. Mineral paint is a little better in this instance, as it will bond with more surfaces than milk paint, but slick surfaces must be prepped for the best results.

Both paints use the same product to help with adhesion, Fusion Ultra Grip, although it is used differently depending on the paint you choose.

When using mineral paint, Ultra Grip is applied to the surface BEFORE painting. A thin coat with a roller or brush is all that is necessary to help the paint to adhere to the surface. It will dry clear, so if you are planning to distress your piece you will not see it.

For milk paint, Ultra Grip (also referred to as bonding agent) is mixed WITH the paint at an equal ratio to the paint powder and water (in other words 1:1:1). This creates a paint that is more prone to adhering to difficult surfaces. Also, bonding agent should be used in all paint layers for the best results.

And regarding the above mentioned ratios, it does not matter what measuring device you use. It can be a teaspoon, a cup, or a random scoop. The point is that it is measured by volume, not weight. We are making paint, not bread.

Top Coat

According to the chart below, mineral paint does not need a top coat and milk paint does. This is true in MOST instances, but not all. When milk paint is applied to a porous surface (raw wood, terra cotta, concrete, etc.) it will generally bond to that surface well enough to render a top coat optional. Unfortunately, we don’t often paint raw wood when we are redoing furniture, so a top coat helps to protect your milk paint once it dries.

Finish

Both paints have a similar finish, but milk paint is a wee-bit chalkier. It also reveals a slight amount of color variation because of how the paint powder mixes into the water. This is my favorite part about milk paint!

Water Resistance

Water resistance is mostly referring to how water affects the paint finish itself. Mineral paint dries very hard with an acrylic “shell” that provides a certain amount of water resistance. I would NOT recommend leaving a glass of iced tea on your mineral-painted surface, but if it gets wet and wiped up in a reasonable amount of time no harm done.

Milk paint, on the other hand, is a bit on the water-soluble side in that water can interrupt its adhesion to the surface. This is why a topcoat is more or less necessary. An acrylic top coat like Fusion Tough Coat Matte or Fusion Tough Coat Gloss is best in this situation as waxes do not have permanent water resistance. Water will certainly bead up on a waxed surface, but left for any period of time it will soar through and leave a mark on your paint.

How to Store

A long shelf life is common to both paints in their original form. Mineral paint in a tightly sealed container can be stored for YEARS (7 years according to Fusion) and milk paint can be stored in its dry form indefinitely. But as I stated earlier, once milk paint is mixed with water its shelf life drops to somewhere between 24 hours and 2 weeks depending on several factors.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Both paints can definitely be used outdoors. The difference is determined by the finish used on top of the paint. Because mineral paint itself is water resistant, it can be used outdoors with minimal issue. Use of an exterior water-based topcoat will extend its life even more. Milk Paint, on the other hand, requires a topcoat to be waterproof. And the best topcoat in this situation is an oil-based topcoat. Generally, the most widely accepted oil-based topcoat is 100% tung oil. The only disadvantage to tung oil is that it is slightly amber in color, so using it over a bright white or certain other colors will produce a color slightly off from the original, usually a bit darker and a tad bit more yellow.

Dry, Recoat, and Cure Time

This one is confusing for a LOT of people. Three different terms with three different meanings. Lets go through them one by one. This is a long and important explanation, so bear with me here.

  1. Dry Time – Dry time is how long it takes paint to be dry to the touch. This is somewhat misleading because with a thicker layer of paint the surface may be dry (because it is exposed to air and paint dries top down) but it may still be wet closer to the surface. This is PRECISELY why it is not a good idea to “back-brush” or “back-roll” over an area that you painted even a couple of minutes ago. Your brush or roller can literally move the top layer of semi-dry paint around on the wet layer below. You will also increase your brush or roller strokes because once the paint starts to dry it can no longer self-level and your brush strokes will be more prominent.
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  3. Recoat Time – This is the amount of time the paint needs to be recoated. This is to prevent what I just discussed above about moving the dry layer around on the wet layer, but more importantly about not allowing moisture to become trapped under your paint. If your first coat is only partially dry, a second coat on top of it will dry faster than the first coat (because it is closer to the air above) and seal in the moisture of the first coat. This will cause your paint to not adhere properly because the trapped moisture will prevent it from sticking properly. I can also cause other horrors like bleed and other color inconsistencies. This step is important! Give your paint time to dry before recoating.
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  5. Cure Time – Paint not only dries, it cures. Curing is the amount of time it takes paint to harden to its maximum hardness. Because milk paint by itself does not contain any synthetic resins like acrylic or polyurethane (and is typically thinner than mineral paint), its dries and cures in a very short time and thus can be recoated in as little as 20-30 minutes. Mineral Paint, however, gets harder over time as the acrylic resin cures. This is why it is best to not use your piece of furniture for up to one month if it will receive a heavy amount of use or abuse, like a dining room table top or kitchen cabinets. Now, obviously, most of us cannot avoid using our cabinets for 30 days, so a bit of caution for the first month will help keep your fresh paint looking its best.

This subject gets a little sticky when using bonding agent in your milk paint. Because bonding agent is the made from the same acrylic resin that is used to make (acrylic) mineral paint, it follows the same guidelines for dry, recoat and cure times.

Brush Strokes

Brush strokes. Ugh. Nobody likes brush strokes. Problem is, no matter what paint you use, if you use a brush you will likely see brush strokes, EXCEPT milk paint! Because milk paint is typically mixed thinner than mineral paint (or latex paint, etc.) brush strokes will self level themselves better than other paints. Even rollers leave roller texture. While Fusion Mineral Paint does have an excellent way of minimizing brush and roller texture, nothing beats milk paint. Even when mixed with bonding agent!

Color Options

This one is more of a comparison between their own two paint lines. Fusion currently offers 53 colors of Mineral Paint and 25 colors of Milk Paint. Now, taking into consideration that we carry THREE brands of milk paint that are all made by the same factory (Milk Paint by Fusion, Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint and Homestead House Milk Paint all made at the Homestead House Paint Co. factory) and have the same mixing and use instructions, this means that we have a total of 96 colors of milk paint available. Yes, some of the colors overlap a bit. And some of the colors are the same colors as the Mineral Paint line, which gives additional options for layering multiple shades of the same color, but more on that in another post!

Look Options

Here is where milk paint really shines. Both paints can be used for clean, modern looks. Both paints can be used for a vintage, distressed look. But milk paint can give you things that mineral paint cannot, like a chippy finish or a weathered rough finish (this can be achieved with mineral paint by using Fusion’s Fresco). And with a little practice, milk paint can be blended into a cohesive yet multi colored finish that is difficult to achieve with ANY other paint.

Summary

So, the infographic below is the short version of what I have been discussing in this post. I hope that I have given you some insight as to the real differences between these two paints, and more generally milk paint vs. ready-made paints of any kind, including chalky paints and latex paints because most of the same principles apply.

I hope this post was informative and I welcome you to our new site! This is just the first of what I plan to be many informative articles about milk paint, mineral paint, chalk-based paint, and furniture paint in general. I look forward to growing our content catalog with relevant and educational posts and even possibly a video or two.

Stay safe and keep wearing your mask!
Mike @ Vintique

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