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What Is Chalky Paint? Everything You Need to Know About This Trendy, Matte Paint

what is chalk paint dresser

Ashley Montgomery Design

Chalky paint is an easy-to-apply mineral-based paint low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) with a soft matte finish. It's not the same thing as chalkboard paint—which allows you to use chalk on whatever you've painted—rather, it gives items a chalk-like effect. It can be applied to nearly any surface, but it's especially popular to use on furniture, thanks to its easy color and application. Let's learn more about chalky paint, how it sets itself apart, and how to use it.

What Is Chalky Paint

Chalky paint is a decorative paint known for its matte, chalky appearance. It is perfect for giving pieces a shabby chic aesthetic, as it dries down to have a distressed look.

Designer and entrepreneur Annie Sloan invented chalk paint and coined the term in 1990. Though Sloan’s company owns the registered trademark to the name "Chalk Paint," many paint companies have developed their own proprietary versions, selling it under their own brand names that signify a chalky finish.

what is chalk paint nightstand

Ashley Montgomery Design

What is the Difference Between Chalky Paint and Regular Paint?

Chalky paint sets itself apart in its matte finish and lack of prep work needed before painting. Chalky paint's soft, chalky appearance (hence its name!) comes from the plaster of Paris or calcium carbonate it's made up of. When painted on, chalky paint gives items a clean, vintage look, rather than the glossy look of regular paint.

And unlike regular paint, chalky paint is formulated so that it needs no prep work! No sanding or priming is required before you start painting—all you need is a clean surface! Chalky paint adheres well to many surfaces, and it's a great choice for painting items that are too fragile to be sanded and stripped (like some vintage furniture).

annie sloan chalk paint
Annie Sloan Greek Blue Chalk Paint $34.95

Is Chalky Paint the Same as Milk Paint?

Chalky paint and milk paint provide similar finishes, but they're not the same thing. Though both paints are mineral and water-based, milk paint goes a step further in its formulation by using milk proteins. The addition of milk proteins makes milk paint the more 'natural' choice for some, and its make up gives it a slight sheen.

However, milk paint doesn't ship ready-to-use and must be mixed (with a power tool for best results) upon arrival. Milk paint also has a shelf-life of only a few days to a few weeks.

what is chalk paint armoire

Ashley Webb Interiors

What Do You Use Chalky Paint For?

The easy-to-apply nature of chalky paint means it can be used on just about anything. Walls, floors, metal and kitchen cabinets are all fair game. However, chalky paint is most commonly used on furniture, as it's an easy way to give old furniture new life without having to sand around tricky corners or apply primer or stain.

Chalky paint can give furniture that vintage-y soft look, or it can be sanded down to create a 'chippy' look where the finish is flaked and distressed. The unsanded look is a great way to get a classic and subtle pop of color, whereas the chippy look is a fun way to bring in some shabby farmhouse chic style.

Do I Need to Sand Before Using Chalky Paint?

Heads-up: generally, you don't need to sand before using chalky paint. This is all thanks to the porousness of chalky paint, which is higher than that of regular latex or acrylic paint. Its high porosity allows it to 'stick' to lots of different surfaces, with the paint acting almost like a type of glue.

However, you may need to sand if the item you're painting is in poor condition or has a high-sheen finish. If your furniture is filled with lots of scratches and nicks, and you're applying chalky paint as a way to get a smoother finish, you'll probably need to sand down the scratches before you start painting for the best results. Similarly, if a part of your piece is covered in a high-sheen finish or lacquer, you may need to sand some so that the surface is porous enough for the chalky paint.

what is chalk paint dresser

Ashley Montgomery Design

How Do I Use Chalky Paint?

Ready to get chalky painting? Here's an overview on how you'll use chalky paint. But remember to follow the manufacturer's instructions too.

Using milk paint? You'll follow similar instructions, but you'll need to mix your paint before beginning. To ensure your paint doesn't clump, use a power drill with a paint mixer attachment for a thoroughly-mixed paint.

  1. Remove any hardware from your furniture.
  2. Wipe down your items with a gentle cleaner and a damp cloth. Make sure any gunk or dust has been removed.
  3. Stir your chalky paint to redistribute its minerals and coloring.
  4. Start painting! As you paint, move your brush every which way to avoid brush stroke marks once it dries.
  5. Wait for the first coat to be dry to the touch. Depending on humidity and temperature, this can take 1-3 hours.
  6. Apply the second coat in the same manner as the first, and let the furniture fully dry.
  7. If you want to add a wax (for extra sheen) or a sealant (for protection against stains), add it now. Otherwise, you're all done!