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Looking for a gentle alternative to chemical-based interior paint? Stir up this simple, four-ingredient recipe.

homemade paintMilk paint transformed this old cassette cabinet into a charming powder room organizer for storing towels, tissues, and toiletries. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

Cavemen did it. The early Egyptians did it. American Colonists did it. And even today, many people are rediscovering the art of making interior paint for the home.

In an age of store-bought paints with high performance finishes, you may ask yourself, why make paint? For me, it's the natural, handcrafted look -- along with the satisfaction of being self-reliant. For others, it may be because homemade paint is the greenest and least toxic alternative possible to traditional paint. Homemade paints aren't based upon petrochemicals and they're far less toxic than commercial paints -- even the many zero-VOC paints now emerging on the market.

homemade paintThe ingredients for homemade paints vary. This recipe consists of lime, water, pigment, and milk. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

The easiest to make and least expensive homemade paints consist of milk, lime, and pigment. For additional body a filler, such as chalk powder or plaster can be added. My preferred recipe is simplicity itself:

-- Hydrated lime (available at most home and garden supply stores)
-- Water
-- Pigment (powder or liquid)
-- Whole milk (at room temperature)

homemade paintMix lime with water using a putty knife or plastic spatula. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

1. Fill a container with one to two cups of hydrated lime. Gradually add water and stir until you have a thick paste.

2. In a separate container, do the same with the pigment powder. For a small batch like this, 2 to 4 tablespoons of pigment is typically sufficient.

3. Gradually add milk to the lime paste until you achieve the consistency of sour cream. Then add the pigment paste and mix thoroughly.

Safety tip: Despite the relative low toxicity of the ingredients, wear vinyl gloves and a dust mask when working with lime and pigment.

homemade paintGradually stir milk into the lime paste until you achieve a consistency of loose sour cream. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

You can buy pigmentsat many hardware and artist supply stores. Avoid using pigments made from toxic compounds, otherwise you'll defeat the purpose of making your own paint. Some common toxins used in pigments include cadmium, lead, mercury, and cobalt. Here's a good online source for non-toxic pigments. You will have to experiment with pigments to achieve the color you want. Be sure to buy plenty of white pigment, as you'll be using a lot of it. It comes in two forms: titanium dioxide and zinc. The former is a bit more opaque.

You can make many of your own colorants using natural ingredients but the process is a lot more time-consuming than making paint alone. Also, the colors produced through home-brewed dyes are more subtle than store-bought pigments. If you do want to make homemade pigment, try these methods:

-- Add water to steel wool for a red rust coloring.
-- Try simmering everything from berries and vegetables to bark and leaves to create the dyes. Blackberries, for example, make a strong dye.
-- Brew coffee or many tea to create neutral tones.
-- Boil peach or crab apple leaves for greens.
-- Use store-bought juice concentrates, such as blueberry and cranberry, to create pleasing tints.

homemade paintUse a natural bristle brush to apply the milk paint, and allow it to dry for a few hours before recoating. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

-- Milk paint is not as scrubbable as its commercial cousins. In areas subject to spills, apply a protective coat of shellac or oil finish. If you choose the latter, stay green with a plant oil-based finish.

-- The shelf life for milk paint is short. Store unused paint in the refrigerator. It can be used until the milk sours. Brushes clean easily with soap and water.

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