How to Chalk Paint Cabinets

What is chalk paint, how does chalk paint compare to milk paint and how do you chalk paint kitchen cabinets?

chalk paint cabinets via Annie Sloan

Choose chalk paint cabinets for an easy and stylish makeover of your kitchen. With a little effort, you can achieve dramatic results. (And, just to be clear, we’re talking about chalk paint, not chalkboard paint.)

What Is Chalk Paint?

Chalk paint is the brain-child of British crafting guru Annie Sloan. She was looking for a paint finish that required no priming or sanding, and when she couldn’t find a product that fit the bill, she created one! Professional painters still lean toward applying a primer coat, however, when working with white or off-white chalk paint. Without a primer, light colors may require several coats or may allow tannins (a plant-based chemical, also found in red wine, that can stain natural or synthetic fibers) to bleed through the paint.

In a nutshell, chalk paint employs a fine powder, often calcium carbonate or plaster of Paris, to enhance the character of the finish and create the look that so many people love.

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Commercial products to chalk paint cabinets are expensive and Annie Sloan‘s original version requires some work to track down. These considerations have led to a plethora of DIY blogs offering their own takes on the recipe using a standard flat acrylic or other types of low-gloss paint as a base. A common variation is 8 parts paint to 1 part powder and 1/2-part water. Plaster of Paris is said to create a more durable finish, but is a little more difficult to work with and may need additional thinning. See our recipe for chalk paint. Other paint companies have also joined the fray, including Valspar and Behr.

No Sanding?

Although chalk paint does perform as advertised when it comes to general sanding and adhesion to finished surfaces, undesired holes and dings will still need to be filled and sanded before painting (unless you like the character they create). If the cabinets have a finish on them, these patched places would also benefit from a spot-prime. Once that is complete, paint away. Plan on two coats of chalk paint, maybe three for full coverage over darker tones. The dry paint can be distressed or layered with additional colors for enhanced character.

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Chalk Paint Cabinets Durability Factor

One other important consideration with chalk paint is its finish. Left exposed, chalk paint flakes easily, so a wax or other topcoat is more than strongly advised. It is a necessity for applications such as kitchen cabinets. The wax topcoat creates a very hard finish and adds more character to the paint, but is a fairly finicky process that requires an expensive brush and some finesse to apply well. This leads to the obvious follow-up question: If you use chalk paint to cut down on effort in preparation, then do you really gain anything if it needs so much additional work to finish?

Chalk Paint Comparison to Milk Paint

You may wonder how chalk paint differs from milk paint. Milk paint is an ancient and natural paint preparation that uses casein protein from (cow) milk to provide the bonding mechanism for the pigment and the substrate. Both paints boast of their ability to go primer-free and both provide a chalky finish that should be waxed. One difference is milk paint only adheres well to bare wood. Refinishing projects require complete cleaning, stripping and sanding of all surfaces. More information and a recipe for milk paint is available from Real Milk Paint. In short, if refinishing is your goal and you are looking to minimize sanding and priming, chalk paint makes more sense. On the other hand, if you have unfinished new or stripped surfaces, then milk paint can easily and safely create that antiqued character you desire. Family Handyman directly compared these finishes and here’s what we learned.

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Here’s more on natural, rustic milk paint.

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