How to Distress General Finishes Milk Paints

persian blue distressed milk paint general finishes

A standard application of milk paint looks great, but what if you want to get more creative? In this post, I’m going to cover two types of distressing you can use to achieve creative, interesting results with your General Finishes (GF) Milk paints (for more info on how to apply GF milk paints and how they differ from traditional milk paints, check out my previous post).

distressed dresser milk paint general finishes

Distressing Technique #1

Milk Paint Over Milk Paint

  1. Apply two coats of your base color (the color you want to be seen only where the top color has been sanded off on the finished product). Be sure to let each coat dry 2-4 hours and then buff it with a 220 sanding pad or 400-grit sanding paper. Don’t forget to remove the dust every time you use your sanding paper or pad!
  2. In order to seal and protect the first paint color, use one layer of topcoat (such as GF High Performance top coat). Let it dry 2-4 hours before moving on to the next step.
  3. Apply the first coat of your second paint color using the same method as in step 1 (2-4 hours of drying time then buff with sanding pad or paper), and then apply a second coat.
  4. Now it’s time for the fun part: creating that beautiful distressed look you’re after. Try to do this step within 2-3 hours of applying your final coat of paint–the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to sand. Using 150 grit sandpaper (180 will also work), sand through the top color to reveal the color underneath. To keep it natural-looking, focus your sanding especially on the edges of the piece you’re working with. Keep going until you’re satisfied with the look!
  5. After wiping off all the dust, finish up your project with 2 coats of topcoat.

Note: If you want to see this process in action, take a look at General Finishes video on how to distress milk paint! It covers both milk paint over milk paint and milk paint over wood stain.

persian blue milk paint general finishes distressed

Distressing Technique #2

Milk Paint Over Wood Stain

  1. First, apply one coat of water-based wood stain using a foam brush, bristle brush, or pad applicator. Apply it quickly and use a fairly heavy layer of stain, then wipe off the excess as evenly as possible with a shop towel or paper towel. Let it dry for 2-4 hours, but do not sand (you could reveal the bare wood underneath).
  2. Next, apply 2-4 coats of topcoat over the stained wood (this is to help prevent you from accidentally sanding all the way down to bare wood during the final sanding step). Let each coat dry for 2-4 hours, and buff (220 sanding pad or 400-grit sanding paper) between each layer. Again, don’t forget to remove the dust between layers!
  3. Apply 2 coats of your milk paint (letting them dry 2-4 hours and buffing like before).
  4. Use 150 or 180-grit sandpaper to lightly sand through the milk paint and reveal the stain underneath, especially on edges and corners. If you accidentally burn all the way through to the bare wood, just add a little extra stain to cover it up before moving on to the final step.
  5. Finally, wipe off all the dust and add two coats of topcoat to finish!


If you need some inspiration for what colors to use, take a look this super helpful chart of distressing ideas (under the “distressing ideas” tab on the page), and be sure to look at our selection of GF milk paints here! If you need even more ideas, check out their Design Center page or Pinterest board (below) for even more great inspiration.