When and how to use Milk Paint Bonding Agent

It’s no secret. I am a fan of milk paint, for these 8 reasons. The way this old-fashioned paint bonds with wood, allows a hint of the wood grain to show through. It’s a look not achievable with standard paint. But milk paint has a bad reputation due to the chippy look that dominated 2021. Let’s answer the questions “Does milk paint always chip”, “What is milk paint bonding agent” and “When should I use milk paint, bonding agent”.

Table of Contents

Firstly, A Quick Look At Milk Paint

Milk paint is often bought in powder form, and is a low odor, non-toxic paint with no VOCs. It’s created using milk protein, casein. It’s considered an easy-to-use paint that leaves no brush strokes and adheres well. It bonds to surfaces, rather than creates a film over a surface like most paints do.

Milk paint mixed with water

What is milk paint bonding agent?

Milk paint bonding agent is a solution that you can either apply to a surface before using milk paint, or it is even added to the milk paint during the mixing phase. This solution helps the paint adhere properly and minimises any chances of the paint chipping. It essentially creates an extra bondability within the milk paint for adherence to surfaces that would otherwise repel water-based paints; such as laminate, metals, and glass. 

Milk paint bonding agent from fusion mineral paint, ultra grip

When to Use Milk Paint Bonding Agent

While Milk Paint itself is known for its bonding abilities, it can struggle when there is nothing to “Grip” too. This includes when old finishes are left in place. The sleek surface will cause issues. That’s when Milk Paint Bonding Agent steps in. Using a bonding agent will help the milk paint properly adhere to the surface for a smooth, durable finish.

You’ll want to use a bonding agent on:

  • Non-porous surfaces like metal, glass, tiles, laminate, and plastics. Milk paint doesn’t adhere well to slick surfaces. A bonding agent provides a grip for the paint to adhere to. Each bonding agent is different, so please read the version you are opting for, if it will work on the surface you wish to paint.
  • Previously finished surfaces. If you’re repainting over an existing finish, using a bonding agent will help the new milk paint coat stick. The agent blocks the old finish from interfering with adhesion.
  • Furniture with years of dirt, grime, or built-up oil. My personal recommendation is to clean your surface and sand it before reaching for any paint. I do understand that milk paint is marketed as a paint that does not require these steps, but I feel that cleaning your piece is a step that should never be skipped, no matter the paint’s capabilities.

 

So, use a milk paint bonding agent whenever you need help getting the paint to properly grip the surface underneath for best results. It’s formulated to work hand in hand with milk paint for ultimate results and to avoid chipping.

milk paint in black

So, What is the Chippy Look

close up of milk paint chipping

Back in 2021, it was all the rage to create a chippy look with milk paint. This look involved the paint literally chipping off the piece of furniture. Sometimes the look would be subtle, with the chipping occurring in small patches. Other times, the paint would chip in large patches, leaving the old finish underneath exposed. Either way, it was a strong look that caught eyes.

As 2022 rolled around, modern looks took over and the aged, vintage look with milk paint went out. Which it should never have. The chippy look is an intentional look that actually isn’t easy to reproduce. Let’s examine why.

What caused the chipping look?

This look was achieved by using milk paint without a bonding agent directly over an old glossy finish. The milk paint would have issues trying to bond to the finish and would chip. The chipping was unpredictable, as you could not guarantee where the milk paint would hold and where it would fail on a piece. 

I have personally tried to create the chippy look. My first piece I cleaned and sanded lightly. I ended up with no chipping whatsoever. For my second piece, I cleaned well but did no sanding whatsoever. I did end up with a little bit of chipping but nothing very dramatic. And my third, I cleaned and again, I achieved some chipping but nothing overly dramatic. It was an old piece, oiled for years, so I had expected something more dramatic. 

If you want to guarantee chipping, I would consider actually painting first a glossy, smooth finish on your piece to try and support the chipping to occur.

Close up of milk paint chipping

How to Use Milk Paint Bonding Agent

Each bonding agent has a slightly different process or procedure. So please read the instructions as they may differ from my recommendations. I personally have used Ultra Grip, which is the milk paint bonding agent from fusion mineral paint. 

What You'll Need

  • Paintbrush – Use a high-quality bristle brush that is for water-based paints. Synthetic bristle brushes are your best choice.
  • Clean rags – Have some lint-free cloths on hand to wipe away any drips or errors and for general clean up..
  • Stir stick – Use a paint stir stick or any other object that you can clean or throw away after to mix the bonding agent before applying.
  • Jar or Container: I save all glass jars, such as jam jars for use in mixing milk paint.
  • Personal protective equipment – Wear gloves and eye protection when working with bonding agents.
  • Your Milk Paint of Choice and Compatible Bonding Agent.
Milk paint with bonding agent ultra grip

Step by Step Application

  1. Prepare the surface – Ensure the surface is clean, dry, and free of grease, wax, or other debris that could prevent adhesion. Sand smooth surfaces lightly to create some tooth for the bonding agent.
  2. Mix Your Milk Paint – In the case of Fusion Milk Paint, mix a ratio of 1 part milk paint powder to 1 part water. Stir well. Very Well. It takes a few minutes.
  3. Stir the bonding agent – Stir the bonding agent into your milk paint. Ultra Grip should be added at a ratio of 1 to 1. Therefore, add equal parts bonding agent to the milk paint solution. Mix Well. This ensures the ingredients are fully mixed together.
  4. Apply a thin coat – Use a high-quality paint brush to apply a thin layer of your milk paint and bonding agent over the entire surface. Work in sections if needed. This first coat is the most important to ensure the solution bonds with the piece of furniture. 
  5. Let dry completely – Allow the solution to dry completely. This is usually around 1-2 hours. It takes longer for milk paint with a bonding agent to dry than milk paint alone.
  6. Lightly sand – Sand very lightly with 220 grit sandpaper to remove any dust nibs or imperfections. Be careful not to sand through the bonding agent.
  7. Apply Additional coats – Apply an additional 1 to 2 coats until you get the coverage that you are looking to achieve. If you continue to use a milk paint and bonding agent solution for the additional coats, you will get an even stronger grip on the piece of furniture. Minimising any chance of chipping. 
  8. Seal and protect – Apply a topcoat like hemp oil, furniture wax, or polyurethane after the milk paint has dried for best durability. Check out this post where I experimented with different top coats for milk paint.

 

Following these simple steps helps ensure you get great adhesion and a long-lasting milk paint finish. Check the specific bonding agent product label for any additional instructions.

Milk paint being brushed on raw pine wood

How Bonding Agent Affects Milk Paint

What is important to note, the bonding agent can affect the overall final colour of your milk paint. In my experience, when adding a bonding agent, the colour of the milk paint darkens slightly. It loses the chalky look that milk paint can have when on its own. The colour closer resembles the look of milk paint with a hemp oil finish. It creates the darker look of the sealed paint. 

The bonding agent itself is not a final top coat though and you should still seal the piece when finished. 

Experimenting with Milk Paint and Bonding Agent

Milk paint with bonding agent on raw pine wood

I completed a small test to see how the colour could be affected when using milk paint with and without the bonding agent. I also wanted to see if adding a bonding agent to milk paint would affect the unique abilities of milk paint to show the wood grain through the paint layers. 

Using a raw wood pine board, I painted half with 3 coats of Milk Paint from Fusion Mineral Paint. The other half of the board I painted in the same colour but with the addition of the Ultra Grip, the bonding agent from Fusion. 

Milk paint with and without bonding agent
(L) Milk paint without bonding agent and (R) the same colour with bonding agent. Wood grain remains more visible in the milk paint without bonding agent while the colour is darker with the bonding agent. Both examples are without hemp oil finish which will adjust the final colour.

Is Bonding Agent Always Needed?

Although a bonding agent is often recommended, with the right prep work, you could get away without using it.

When painting over wood, properly prepared surfaces may not need a bonding agent. New, untreated wood that has been sanded smooth provides enough tooth for the milk paint to adhere properly.

For previously finished wood surfaces, you can skip the bonding agent if you have sufficiently cleaned the piece of all old oil and grim and scuff sanded to degloss the whole surface. The key is having a clean, porous surface for the milk paint to grip. 

For optimum adhesion of milk paint without a bonding agent, ensure you take the time to clean thoroughly and sand sufficiently. 

Make sure to test milk paint bonding on a hidden area before committing to a large project without a bonding agent. And always check the milk paint manufacturer’s recommendations.

Popular Milk Paint Brands

types of furniture paint; Milk Paint Brands

While I mentioned here Milk paint from Fusion Mineral Paint, I have also used Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint and Old Fashioned Milk Paint. There are so many brands available today; including fan favourites, from Real Milk Paint, General Finishes Milk Paint, and Lily Moon Milk Paint. Nearly all brands carry their own bonding agent and I recommend sticking within the brand where possible. They manufacture the bonding agent to work with their milk paint for ultimate results.  

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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

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