Red Barns and Milk Paint

It is a symbol of Americana: the red barn.





But have you ever wondered why barns are red in color? Why aren’t they yellow? Why aren’t they orange? Well it all comes down to (1) farmers wanting to protect and preserve the wood they used to build the barns and (2) necessity. They had to use what they had on hand. And it was milk paint! That’s right! It was a composition of skim milk and lime and a protective coating of linseed oil.
There are some theories out there that farmers used the blood of animals to color their paint. There are other stories that they added rust (ferrous oxide) to the paint to prevent mildew and fungus from growing. There are even stories that Catholics painted their barns red and Lutherans painted their barns white!

But no matter what the stories are, the bottom line is the red paint used on the early barns contained milk and lime, two of the ingredients found in Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint! So not only did the Egyptians use milk paint in the caves, but it’s also been tried and tested by our most recognizable American symbol!

The Ironstone Nest Barn 4



  1. Lori Merrill says:

    Very nice! I did not know the reason barns were painted red. Thank you Laura! Hope to meet you in Franklin at the show in October.

  2. Fun post! My grandparents were farmers and every time I see a red barn I think of them. Love that it all started with milk paint — out of necessity they were being environmentally friendly.

  3. The beautiful red barns – one of the beautiful things I remember about America!

  4. Very interesting – I love old barns and never knew why they were painted the color they are.

  5. 4th photo is really cute! awesome post and blog. Eliza :)

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