How to Distress Furniture with Milk Paint and Wet Rag Sanding

How to distress furniture. This uses MMS milk paint in Grain Sack as the base coat. Then distressing is done with a wet rag. It's an easy way to get a whitewashed or limed wood effect.Thanks for all the sweet comments on my balustrade coffee table! I think it’s the beginnings of a (good) addiction. 

DIY Restoration Hardware Knock Off Balustrade Coffee Table

As promised, I wanted to show you a different way of distressing furniture. It’s a technique that I’ve never heard of until I went to a painting class at the Haven Conference in August. Maybe I just live a sheltered life, but I never knew you could “sand” with a wet rag instead of sandpaper.

The paint I chose to try it with was Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in Grain Sack.

Miss Mustard Seed milk paint in Grain Sack

 The finish I ended up with using milk paint and distressing with a wet rag reminds me of whitewashed or limed wood. Since milk paint gives you that well-worn chippy look, the result is a beautiful combination of layered, crackled, and chipped paint.

The best part about this technique is that it’s easy. There’s no dust from sanding to clean up. And unlike whitewashing that requires working in sections and timing it just right, this was just a process of putting the paint on, letting it dry completely, then wiping it off till I got enough of the wood grain to shine through. 

I started with a table that had four different types of raw wood. There was aged pine, new pine, new fence boards, and painted balusters. I stained the new wood with Minwax Special Walnut. The old pine was stained with a 50/50 mix of Special Walnut and Golden Oak. This way, what shows through after distressing has similar wood tones. The stain dried overnight.

You won’t get the same results if you skip the wood stain and put the milk paint directly on raw wood. The paint will just soak into the porous wood. 

If you’re using milk paint on a previously varnished piece of furniture, you’ll need to give it a light sanding and wipe it down with TSP to keep the paint from chipping too much. 

Before picture of baluster coffee table- How to distress furniture using milk paint and a wet sanding technique

I mixed the milk paint with water according to directions and gave the table two coats of paint. I also touched up the balusters. 

Distressed coffee table using milk paint and a wet sanding technique

After the table was completely dry, I began distressing with a damp wash cloth. The mistake I made was starting on the top of the table instead of working from the bottom up. You want to avoid drips of water or your paint will come off unevenly. 

Restoration Hardware Baluster Coffee Table- weathered paint finish tutorial

The biggest drawback to wet rag sanding is it takes a little more elbow grease than using sandpaper. If I wiped down a section a few minutes before I worked on it, it made it easier to remove the paint. 

How to distress furniture by using a wet sanding technique

It  was also easier if I wiped some areas against the grain of the wood.  I love how the raised grain is highlighted on this part of the table. 

Wet rag sanding against the grain

Any areas where too much paint was wiped off or where the chipping was too pronounced got dry brushed. Wet just the tips of the bristles with paint, dab most of it off on a paper plate and lightly brush the paint on. 

MMS Milk Paint in Grain Sack- dry brushing over the chipped paint

Pickled and whitewashed look with MMS Milk Paint and wet cloth distressing 

Pickled and whitewashed paint technique with MMS Milk Paint

 The fence board slats on the bottom of the table were distressed the same way. 

How to use milk paint to get a limed paint finish

After the table had time to dry completely, I gave it two coats of clear Annie Sloan furniture wax. I sealed the balusters with polyurethane. 

Restoration Hardware knock off salvaged wood baluster coffee table.

 Distressed coffee table painted with MMS milk paint in Grain Sack and distressed with a wet rag
By the way, I bought the Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint from Kathy of Petticoat Junktion. I also bought the color Boxwood and can’t wait to try it out.  Click this link to go to her contact form to order any of the paints she stocks. 

How to distress furniture. This uses MMS milk paint in Grain Sack as the base coat. Then distressing is done with a wet rag. It's an easy way to get a whitewashed or limed wood effect.

If you like the whitewashed look, I have a tutorial on how I used that technique on our son’s planked office-in-a-closet walls

Organized-office-in-a-closet-by-Simplicity-In-The-South. (1)

Have you ever heard of distressing furniture with a wet rag, or am I the only one in the dark? 🙂
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  1. ive never heard of doing that either! i absolutely love the way this looks! heres a confession on my part…. i just finally FINALLY bought some ascp. milk paint is up next (hopefully it wont take me 3-4 years…lol!). anyway, ive been wanting to redo my kitchen table and i think this might be the perfect technique to use. you always inspire me. 🙂

    • Thanks Carla! Coincidence…I’m going to be painting my kitchen table soon too. I have oil based paint on it now and it’s not holding up like I hoped it would. I just have to do some research and see which paint and wax will work best. I’d like to use milk paint, but I know I’ll have to do some light sanding and use a bonder to keep it from chipping too much. I’m having the hardest time deciding on a color!

  2. Thank you so much for the tutorial! I’m loving this finish! Great job! 🙂

  3. Hi Tricia, I really enjoyed this post … all the painting tips and the color you choose. I have an Armoire in my Playroom that I’ve been meaning to paint. It is made out of Pine Wood and currently has a wood stain (no paint). I am wondering if I could email you a picture of if? Perhaps you could tell me if I can just go over the existing stain with the Miss Mustard Seed Paint???? Christine from Little Brags

  4. What a GORGEOUS table! I will have to keep an eye out for balusters like those! Wow!

  5. Hi again Tricia!
    Saw you posted this to Miss Mustard Seed. I had to like it…just love this finish and I can’t wait to try it out on something!


  6. I didn’t know you could do that with milk paint. That’s handy to know if I ever order some, great tip!

  7. What a cool technique and the results look great! I definitely want to try this sometime. BTW: Love your table!!

  8. Love this! You did an amazing job! Do you have a tutorial on making the table? I’m in desperate need of a new coffee table and want a DIY project. Would love to know more!

  9. Tricia, Thanks for the shout-out. I love this table and will be pinning it to my white decor pinterest board. I also love the basket and staging of the table. I find that if I do the wet distressing just after the paint is dry that it is easier. Sometimes I only wait a couple of hours after painting to wet distress. Also you might try using those wet paper shop rags out of the pop-up tube. They have a cleaning agent on them and the paint comes off easier. It is hard work getting that paint off. Have a great weekend!

    • Great tips, Kathy! I’ll definitely give them a try. Thanks so much for the surprise that came with my shipment. Can’t wait to try it and I’m really looking forward to using the Boxwood color.

  10. I love the balustrade table. Where did you find the balustrades?

  11. Tricia, did you get your milk paint at Palmetto Home and Garden? I heard they sell it and Annie Sloan. Also, have you tried the chalk paint too? I want to paint an antique table, and I’m trying to decide which of these types I want to try.

    Thanks 🙂

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  13. Thanks Tricia for sharing this post. That’s a really interesting technique that I’d never have thought of on my own. The finished look makes me feel kind of nostalgic for childhood somehow, like it’s something you’d find in an old country home. Usually I’m not so big on painting wood, but this style has a rustic charm to it.

  14. Hi Tricia! Did you use one or two coats of the min wax stain?

    • Hi, Susie. I used one coat one the reclaimed/older wood. The new wood needed 2 coats to make it look closer to the tone of the older wood.

  15. After hours of Pinterest searches, I finally found your tutorial and I’m in love! I do have a question though. The table I’m hoping to transform has a polyurethane finish. I am planning to do a light sand as you suggested. You also suggest wiping it down with TSP; what exactly is TSP? Is that a bonding agent? Thanks!!

    • Thank you, Leona! I’m so glad you found my tutorial. TSP, also known as trisodium phosphate, is a degreaser. You can use mineral spirits instead. Hope that helps!

  16. Gorgeous!!
    Would chalk paint work this way as well?

    • Thank you, Laura! Yes, you can use chalk paint instead. The result won’t be chippy like what milk paint gives you but you still get the whitewashed effect.

  17. Love this look! Your coffee table is gorgeous! Pinning for later.

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  19. Jeannie Myers says:

    Just a short tip for you. You can use the sanding sponges with water and they work great. They sand a little faster than with a rag and you get great results in less time.

  20. Wow, what a beautiful table. I love what you did with this. I am so excited to try this on a dresser.

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  29. I have candlesticks that I bought several years ago that are distressed white. I want them a distress black. Can I use this technique with them after I sand them down some?

  30. Beautiful table. acan you tell me what you used for the legs and where you got them?

  31. Tricia,
    I was refinishing an old dresser from Goodwill and was not pleased with the way the milk paint looked. I wiped some off to start over and found I really loved the look. My piece looks a little like driftwood. I was going for a beach cottage look so was perfect. You just learn to work with your particular piece of furniture. Who would want them all to turn out the same, unless you’re a furniture manufacturer. I truly love milk paint for its incredible versatility and surprises.
    The only other thing I think is that a piece needs to have a raised grain, not a smooth surface, to obtain a good look with the wet rag rub-back.

  32. Amy Greenwood says:

    I LOVE this idea! Have wanted to create the whitewashed look on some projects I’m building, but have been afraid of all the work…this seems much simpler and the outcome is terrific!!! I do have one question though: I plan on using this technique on pallet wood (which is obviously not treated/stained/etc.) I have done some light sanding on it, but not too much, as I like the more rustic, “not perfect” look. Would I need to do anything to the wood before applying the milk paint? Have you used this technique on that type of wood before?
    Any input is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!

  33. Is there a way to do this to a table that is already stained and shiny? It is a very flat surface with no wood grain popping up. I love this look!

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  35. What would you do if the table was dark like almost cherry wood? Thanks !

  36. I am thinking of using this technique on a round oak dining table. I am concerned that I can’t seal the table top after waxing. Is this true? Would love your opinion. Thank you!

  37. Jennifer Mills says:

    Hi, I’m hoping I can get some help and info. Very quick on me… just moved into a new house, had all our things in a non climate controlled storage unit for 3+ months, found out things had mold on them. Clean off my very old kitchen table but now it looks like crap. Looking into milk painting it. But wanted a recommendation about how to seal it. What to use… I’ll need to wipe it off after my 3 kids eat. Lol… just wanted to see if anyone had any thoughts or suggestions. Thanx

  38. I finally found your tutorial and I’m in love! I do have a question though. The table I’m hoping to transform has a polyurethane finish. I am planning to do a light sand as you suggested. Wholesale Snapback Hats


  1. Vijya says:


    How to Distress Furniture with Milk Paint and Wet Rag Sanding – Simplicity in the South


    How to Distress Furniture with Milk Paint and Wet Rag Sanding – Simplicity in the South

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