Make Your Own Chalk-Finish Paint

Photo: Tommy Yon/flickrAlthough it’s become a 21st century phenomenon among DIY decorators, bloggers, and Pinterest followers, chalk-finish paint (the popular term chalk paint is actually a registered trademark) has been around for hundreds of years. You may know it as “distemper” or “whitewash,” inexpensive paints once used to freshen up rough-surfaced farm structures like fences or dairy barns. Chalk-based paint has moved up in the world since then; it now adds striking character to dressers, tables, kitchen cabinets, and much more.

Though commercial brands often come with an uptown price tag, it’s easy to make your own chalk-finish paint. Just follow our two simple and inexpensive recipes.

What is Chalk-Finish Paint?

Chalk-finish paint is traditionally made from calcium hydroxide (slaked lime), mixed with – yes! – chalk, as well as other additives. Its natural ingredients mean that this type of paint emits low-to-no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and does not give off that familiar headache-inducing “fresh paint” smell. Because it's water-based, chalk-finish paint is not only eco-friendly, but also simple to rinse off brushes, hands, and your surroundings, making it eminently suitable for projects with kids. In fact, forgotten brushes can be cleaned up weeks after your painting session. This type of paint produces an ultra-matte, non-glossy finish.

Pros and Cons

Fans of chalk-finish paint love its casual, country chic look. They also love the fact that hiring a professional painter is optional for successful results. Chalk-finish paint covers minor imperfections and demands no stripping, sanding, priming, or other labor-intensive prep (except a good scrub where appropriate), so you can get straight to the fun part of a refinishing project – the painting itself. Fast-drying chalk-finish paint will stick to all kinds of surfaces, even brick, glass, laminate, melamine, or metal. It may be applied with your choice of brush, roller, or spray device.

However, the finish does need a post-paint waxing and buffing treatment to give it durability and stain resistance. The paint frequently requires more than one coat for satisfactory coverage. And opinions about chalk-finish paint’s distressed patina (as opposed to the smooth surface you get with plain latex) vary from “Wow!” to “You’ve gotta be kidding!”

Where to Use Chalk-Finish Paint

If you fall squarely in the “wow” camp, the sky’s the limit when it comes to experimenting with chalk-finish paint. Try it on vintage furniture found by the curb (or in the dumpster), garden seating, vases, lamp bases, walls, and floors. However, you may find that you enjoy the distinctive chalk-finish style better in more limited quantities. If so, use the paint to give personality to just one standout accent piece, such as a rocking chair, hutch, bookcase, or large picture frame.

Chalk-Finish Paint Recipe

Making your own chalk-finish paint is fun and practical if you are not able to purchase commercial chalk-finish paint near your home, you’d like to save money, or you’re just in the mood for some creative do-it-yourself-ery. There are a number of recipes you can try. They are all based on a mixture of no-gloss latex paint with supplementary ingredients to give the unique chalk-finish texture. Make sure that you look for no-VOC paint as your base.

  1. Calcium Carbonate Recipe

Blend thoroughly:

 1 quart matte latex paint in the color of your choice

1 cup food-grade calcium carbonate

1-2 tablespoons water, to thin the mixture if necessary

  1. Plaster of Paris Recipe

Mix well:

1 quart matte latex paint in the color of your choice

1 cup plaster of Paris, mixed with enough warm water to dissolve completely

Laura Firszt writes for

Updated August 9, 2018.

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