Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits:
Which One Should You Use?

50 years ago, using oil-based paint for home painting was the norm. Oil-based paints weren’t environment-friendly, but not all people realize that. Until several years ago, more and more people became more environmentally-aware which led various companies to come up with eco-friendly products. Hence, the birth of latex paint. 


Oil-based paint is still being used by some professional painters in TN. Although, most paint jobs already use latex paint. Varnishes and stains are also oil-based, and cannot thin them using plain water. Instead, you will need some kind of paint thinner for oil-based paint, varnishes, and stains.


Currently, there are two popular solvents for oil-based paint and varnishes: mineral spirits and paint thinner. What are the differences between the two? The more important question is which of these two should you use as a paint solvent? Here are some important things you need to know. 



What are mineral spirits and paint thinners for? 

Mineral spirits and paint thinners are one of the painters’ most important arsenal. They use these to thin oil-based paint while insoluble form. You also use these to clean your paintbrush so that the paint won’t harden later on. 


Paint thinners are also used to remove films on wooden surfaces and car parts that have accumulated oil. Homeowners can also use these to get rid of scuff marks from their flooring as well as easy removal of adhesives. 



What are mineral spirits? 

For starters, mineral spirits are derived from 100 percent petroleum distillates and without any additives. Its name describes the product’s composition – that is, petroleum. Mineral spirits are often interchanged with paint thinner, but they are two different things.


Mineral spirits are also said to be less smelly than paint thinners. On the contrary, the former may be more expensive by as much as 50 percent than the latter. Some mineral spirits with benzene can make you feel drowsy. When working with mineral spirits, make sure to work in a well-ventilated room or area. 



What is paint thinner? 

On the other hand, paint thinner is a general term for a product and what it does (i.e. thins the paint). Paint thinners are usually based on mineral spirits and mixed with additives such as benzene. Like mineral spirits, paint thinner is also derived from minerals and is different from turpentine which is made from pine trees. 


Paint thinner “thins” paint because the paint is viscous or thick. Any product referred to as paint thinner can also refer to other products such as pure or blended mineral spirits or even turpentine.


Most paint thinners also have this distinct odor similar to that of kerosene or lantern oil due to the benzene content. Be careful when working on paint thinners as prolonged exposure to it can cause adverse effects on health. 



A word of caution 

You don’t use paint thinner or mineral spirits on a cured paint. Never use them to remove paint from a concrete surface or any non-wooden surface. You should not also use thinner to clean latex paint from surfaces or your paintbrush. Using this to start the fire on wood or charcoal is also a no-no. 


It is up to you to choose between mineral spirits or paint thinner for your paint project. However, you would also have to consider your budget and purpose. The odor is also a major factor, so you should think about that as well. 

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