Removing Milk Paint: A Brief Tutorial

Milk paint has become a popular choice for upcycling furniture, and decorative pieces. 

However, although it looks great and is incredibly durable, its durability comes at a cost. Milk paint is very difficult to remove.

Nevertheless, with the right techniques and tools, you can remove this paint and restore the original wood surface. In this brief guide, we will explore various methods and step-by-step procedures for effectively removing milk paint.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Milk paint can be removed from furniture by applying ammonia, using milk paint remover powder, or sanding it off.

Why milk paint is so difficult to remove

Milk paint has grown in popularity in recent years due to its eco-friendliness and distinct look. However, because of its unique composition and protein-based makeup, it dries extremely tough and resilient to wear and tear. This makes it incredibly difficult to remove. 

Milk paint is made from natural ingredients including milk protein (casein), lime, pigment, and occasionally other components such as clay.

Casein, also known as milk protein, is the major binder in milk paint. It has strong adhesive characteristics that allow it to create a strong bind to whatever surface it’s applied to. 

Milk paint’s protein-based composition distinguishes it from other types of paint like latex and acrylic paints, which are made with synthetic binders. Since traditional paint strippers are primarily developed for synthetic paint binders rather than protein-based binders, paint stripper isn’t very effective on milk paint. 

Related: 5 Home Remedies to Remove Paint From Wood

How to remove milk paint

Even though removing milk paint poses a challenge, there are still some effective methods to do so. Below are three known and tested methods for removing milk paint.

Method 1: Using ammonia

Ammonia, also known chemically as ammonia hydroxide (NH3), is a common cleaning agent and household solution.

Ammonia happens to be a great DIY milk paint remover. Using ammonia to remove milk paint can be an efficient and reasonably safe solution. Unlike traditional paint strippers, ammonia can break down milk paint’s protein-based binder, making it simpler to remove off surfaces. 

Follow these steps to remove milk paint with ammonia: 

Gather the necessary supplies:

  • Ammonia: If you don’t already have it in your collection of cleaning supplies, you can purchase ammonia at most grocery stores and convenience stores. You can also find Ammonia here on Amazon
  • Water: You’ll use water to dilute the ammonia.
  • Cloth or sponge: These supplies will help you effectively apply the ammonia to the milk paint.
  • Small pail: You will need a small pail for mixing your ammonia solution 
  • Plastic scraper: Have a plastic scraper nearby to remove the milk paint
  • Respiratory mask and goggles: Breathing in ammonia can be harmful to your health. Use a respiratory mask and goggles for safety measures. 
  • Rubber gloves: Given Ammonia is a relatively strong cleaning solution, you should wear gloves to protect your hands as you use ammonia. 

1. Take the necessary safety precautions: Move your furniture to a well-ventilated ventilated. Throw on your mask, goggles, and rubber gloves to protect yourself when working with the ammonia. 

2. Dilute the ammonia: Dilute the ammonia by mixing it with water in a small pail. You may start with a 1:1 ratio (wherein equal parts ammonia and water) and add more ammonia to strengthen the solution if it proves to be too weak. 

3. Apply the ammonia: Dunk your sponge or cloth into the solution and rub it all over the milk-painted surface. Make sure the surface is sufficiently covered in the solution. Allow it to sit for a few minutes, but don’t let it entirely dry.

4. Scrape the softened paint: Once the milk paint has softened sufficiently, use a plastic scraper to scrape it off the surface carefully. Be sure not to scrape too hard as you might damage the surface under the paint. Reapply the ammonia mixture as necessary to further erode the coats of paint.

5. Repeat if needed: You may need to repeat the ammonia application and scraping process to remove all traces of milk paint, depending on the thickness, the number of paint coats, and how well it has adhered to the underlying surface. 

Method 2: Using Powdered Milk Paint Remover

Powdered milk paint removers are specially designed to remove milk paint from a variety of surfaces. These products include a blend of chemicals that soften and dissolve specifically milk paint, making it simpler to remove. Powdered Milk Paint Remover by Real Milk Paint is a great choice, and we will be using this product for our demonstration: 

Gather your supplies:

  • Heavy-duty rubber gloves: For protecting yourself from milk paint remover. 
  • Milk paint remover: Powdered Milk Paint Remover by Real Milk Paint is a great choice. 
  • Small jar or pale: For mixing the milk paint remover. 
  • Water: A component of your paint remover solution
  • Cheap paintbrush: A used paintbrush or cheap paintbrush that you don’t mind ruining will be used to apply the solution to your furniture.
  • Spray bottle: Used to ensure the milk paint remover doesn’t dry and harden
  • Steel wool pad or putty knife: Used for scraping off the old layer of milk paint.  

1. Prepare the powdered milk paint remover: Mix one part of water with two parts of milk paint remover powder in a jar. Stir vigorously until the mixture resembles pancake batter in consistency.

2. Apply the remover: Using a cheap paintbrush, apply a thick coating of the combined Milk Paint Remover on the surface using long brush strokes. Apply more layers as needed to ensure thorough coverage.

3. Let the solution sit: Allow the milk paint remover to break down layers of milk paint gradually by letting it sit for about 15 minutes. To guarantee that the Milk Paint Remover works as effectively as possible, keep the layers of the solution wet. Spray the remover with a spray bottle filled with water if it begins to dry out before the 15-minute dry time is over. 

4. Remove the milk paint: After the remover has had enough time to soften the milk paint, remove it using a scraper, scouring pad, steel wool, putty knife, or similar tool. While scraping, be careful not to harm the underlying item or surface.

Method 3: By sanding

Sanding is essentially the brute-force method for removing milk paint. You can use sandpaper to manually abrade the paint layers until they are completely removed.

Sanding can be a good option when dealing with smaller areas of milk paint. However, for large areas, chemical paint removal solutions like the two referenced in this post make more sense. Sanding is labor-intensive, and not efficient for large surfaces. Consider it a last-resort method rather than a go-to solution for large milk-painted surfaces. 

Gather your supplies:

  • Low grit sandpaper (80-100 grit): The lower the sandpaper grit, the more abrasive it is. For removing milk paint, rough sandpaper is best to efficiently cut through tough layers of milk paint 
  • Palm sander (optional): Although you can certainly sand by hand, you can speed up the process substantially using a palm sander. 
  • Respiratory mask: Using a respiratory mask is critical when sanding furniture. Without a respirator mask, you would be breathing in paint dust released from sanding, which is harmful to your health. 

Prepare the work area: Since sanding can launch paint dust into the air, it’s extra important to prepare your area to keep it clean. Use drop cloths or plastic sheets as needed to collect the paint dust that will fall around your furniture. 

Begin sanding: Rub your sandpaper in long, even strokes on a section of your milk-painted surface. Apply even pressure and continue sanding until you have removed most of the milk paint in the area you’re focusing on. From here, move on to the next section of your furniture. 

Progress to finer grits: Once you have removed most of the milk paint on your furniture, you may want to use finer grit sandpaper to remove the last remnants of milk paint. This will ensure that you eliminate the remaining dried milk paint without substantially sanding down the underlying wood surface. 

 

Sources:

http://www.palazzospinelli.org/plaster/essay/essay/CassarC2.html

https://oldfashionedmilkpaint.co.uk/pages/what-is-milk-paint

https://www.chemicalforums.com/index.php?topic=89789.0

Leave a Comment