Old Fashioned Paint Recipes


Few modern paints created with synthetic materials can truly claim to be VOC-free. Old-fashioned paint formulas created with natural pigments and binders are surprisingly durable and attractive. These non-toxic paint alternatives are especially good choices when a resident has asthma, chronic disease, or severe allergies; in areas where children and pets will spend a lot of time; and when the most ecologically conscious product is desired. Old-fashioned paints can be divided into a few main subgroups.


Whitewash is a combination of water, lime, and salt. Although it gets its name from the natural white color of the lime, whitewash can actually be tinted different colors by adding minerals. Yellow ochre produces a creamy yellow, iron oxide creates a dull red, and lampblack a soft gray. Don’t expect opaque coverage with whitewash. It acts more like a stain, lightening and brightening wood without obscuring its grain. Whitewashed objects take on an old-fashioned, weathered charm. Whitewashing provides a small degree of protection against bacterial and fungal growth.

Whitewash recipe:

  • 12 cups lime
  • 4 cups salt
  • 2 gallons water


Combine lime and salt. Add mixture to warm water, stirring constantly. Mixture will be thin. Allow to rest overnight, stir again, and use.

To improve durability, you can mix in:

  • 2 tablespoons powdered alum OR
  • 1/2 cup hide glue flakes OR
  • 1/2 gallon skim milk


Whitewash is applied with a broad, flat brush and applied liberally. Don’t worry if it’s not thick like paint- it isn’t supposed to be. The covered area will get lighter as the whitewash dries. Whitewash cleans up easily with water.

Milk Paint

Milk paint is dead flat, quite durable and can be vibrantly colored. Its finished appearance is comparable to many modern flat paints. This is, by far, the most commonly used all-natural paint today. The wet paint has a similar texture to latex formulas and is easy to work with.

Milk paint recipes range from extremely simple to relatively complicated. Lime makes a more stable paint, Plaster of Paris helps create a more durable finish, and quarking (described in recipe 4) results in a stronger, more durable paint that is resistant to mildew.

Milk Paint Recipe #1:

  • 10 cups nonfat dry milk
  • 10 cups warm water
  • Vegetable dye, food coloring, or powdered pigment


Thoroughly combine milk and water. Continue stirring till all the milk powder is completely absorbed. Add colorant, a little at a time, until the appropriate hue is achieved. If you think you may have to mix a second batch, measure out your colorant and take notes; just keep in mind that you still might not achieve consistent results.

Milk Paint Recipe #2:

  • 12 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup lime
  • Vegetable dye, food coloring, or powdered pigment


Thoroughly combine milk and lime. Add coloring to achieve desired shade.

Milk Paint Recipe #3

  • 1-1/2 cups skim milk
  • 3 tablespoons lime
  • 2-1/4 cups plaster of paris
  • Vegetable dye, food coloring, or powdered pigment


Thoroughly mix milk and lime. Add plaster of paris and stir to combine. Add pigment to reach desired color.

Milk Paint Recipe #4

  • 1 gallon skim milk
  • 2 cups white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup hydrated lime
  • 1-3/4 cup dry pigment powder
  • 1-3/4 cup + 1-1/2 cup water


Combine milk and vinegar. Allow to rest until the milk solids separate from the watery whey. A warm room will help things along, but keep the mixture under 115 degrees F to preserve the casein (milk protein).

Meanwhile, combine pigment and 1-3/4 cups water and stir thoroughly to combine.

Place lime in a separate container and slowly add 1-1/2 cups water to form a smooth paste. Be careful! Don’t inhale the dust or get it on your eyes or skin- it’s very irritating.

Line a colander with cheesecloth and use it to strain the milk mixture. Discard the whey and rinse the remaining curds with clear water. Allow to drain, then transfer the remaining material, called “quark,” into a large, clean container.

Stir the lime paste into the quark. The curds should dissolve easily. The base is ready when the mixture looks and feels like heavy cream. At this point you can add the moistened pigment until you create a pleasing color.

Strain milk paint before using (sometimes lumps of quark or lime remain), and use while still fresh.

If you like the idea of milk paint, but not all the work, Old Fashioned Milk Paint is a New England manufacturer that carries 20 different colors. The product is shipped as a dry powder and needs to be mixed with water before painting.

Flour Paint

Paints created with wheat flour are thick and can be difficult to spread. They work well for creating unusual textures, and faux finishes. This type of paint is versatile; it can be used for both interior and exterior applications.

Flour Paint
(Recipe from Mother Earth News)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 5-1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup screened clay filler
  • 1/2 cup additional powder filler, such as chalk or mica
  • Wet or dry pigment


Combine flour with 2 cups water, whisking to eliminate all lumps.

Meanwhile, bring 1-1/2 cups water to a rolling boil. Stir in flour mixture and reduce heat. Cook, stirring continuously, until a thick paste forms.

Add remaining water, a little at a time, until the paste has a smooth, uniform texture.

In a separate container, thoroughly combine fillers. Add filler to flour mixture until the paint reaches the desired consistency.

Add pigment, a little at a time, to reach a pleasing color.

No matter which natural paint alternative you choose, it’s a good idea to seal it with a wax or oil sealer when you’re done painting. Whitewash can flake or rub off; milk paint is susceptible to water stains; and flour paints can develop mildew if exposed to too much moisture.

9 Responses

  1. Would like to make a white wash or white paint for outside use. These wooden stakes will be driven into the ground and we would like to make them to look good, prior to insertion. Can anyone help with a recipe?

    1. You have a few possibilities; 1) Exterior white wash stain- Cabots as well as other manufactures make an exterior wood stain that will give you look your after, 2) Use an exterior white oil base paint thinned to give the same white wash look, 3) Mix hydrated lime with water, 20% lime to 80% water ratio, add some cheap glue to help bind and make it a bit more water proof.

  2. VOC levels in an oil, polyurethane, waterbased polyurethane or acrylic clear coats/sealers are WAY higher than what’s in a low VOC paint. Low VOC clear coats are around 275 grams per liter, where the paints are 50 g/l.

    And surprisingly, even paste finishing waxes can have VOC’s. According to Low’s website, the VOC on Minwax’s paste finishing wax is 550. They are more work to apply too since you have to buff them in.

  3. Hi. Might I ask a question? If I were making Milk Paint Recipe #4 (above) but I wanted to use quark that I bought that was ready-made, how much would I use in the recipe proportions above? I want to make the mix, but I have ready-bought quark. Thank you.

    1. You would need to break down the formula into 1/4’s. Not easy to do with the volumes used. Might be best to convert to metric, milliliters for the smaller volumes and grams for the pigment for better accuracy.

  4. Thanks Karl. So you mean that:
    1 gallon skim milk
    2 cups white vinegar or lemon juice

    … should equate to 1/4 gallon of quark? Is there a formula for 1 gallon of milk, once it has had the lemon juice/vinegar added, how much actual quark it turns into? Thanks…

    1. It is difficult to break this recipe down into quarts. For a quart mix;

      • The liquids would be 1 quart of skim milk, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 cup of water (maybe a bit more).
      • The lime would be 2-1/2 tablespoons and the pigment approx. 2/3 cup or to whatever looks good. The solids should to be converted into weight instead of of liquid measurements for accuracy.

      This is the best I can do. Simply multiply x 3 for 3 quarts. I hope I understand your question correctly.

  5. It might help to know that one gallon of 2% fat milk combined with 2 cups of white vinegar – at room temp or higher (but less than ~ 100F) for 6 hrs to 12 hrs will yield about 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups of quark. Warning: When adding the vinegar, stir for 5 – 10 seconds to mix the two. Over-stirring will damage the quark.

  6. If you are making white wash for fig or citrus trees (I live in the San Diego desert) you can add (all slaked) a white pigment called titanium dioxide to make the paint more reflective, tech grade boric acid and diatomaceous earth to deter boring insects.

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