Paint Thinner and Mineral Spirits: What’s the Difference?

paint thinner vs mineral spirit

There’s a lot of confusion around paint thinner and mineral spirits. What’s the difference?

And, more importantly, which should you be using?

Both have their pros and cons, but for the average person, mineral spirits are going to be the safer and more effective choice.

What are mineral spirits?

Mineral spirits are petroleum distillate. They act as solvent paints, paint thinners, stains, varnishes, and wood finishes. 

Refining crude oil or natural gas produces mineral spirits. This is why it is also called a “petroleum distillate.” Mineral spirits evaporate quickly and are flammable. They are also toxic if ingested.

In addition, they are also an effective cleaning agent!

Here are the properties of mineral spirits:

What are paint thinners?

Paint thinners are a mixture of solvents, including mineral spirits, that dilute the paint. Thinning paint makes it easier to apply and helps the paint dry faster.

There are a few different paint thinners, but the most common is mineral spirits. However, paint thinners can also be other solvents such as turpentine, acetone, and toluene.

Each type of thinner has its own unique properties, but all of them help improve the paint’s flow and appearance. They also make it easier to clean up any mistakes.

Turpentine and acetone are both organic chemicals that can quickly dissolve oil-based paints.

Turps’ strong solvent qualities mean it is often used to remove old paint from surfaces, while the ability of Acetone (or other solvents) will help you get rid of stubborn marks like glue stains on your sink!

Paint thinner is a less refined mineral spirit that contains other chemicals in addition to those found naturally on Earth.

This makes it smellier and more volatile than regular spirits, but also cheaper!

Is mineral spirits the same as paint thinner?


Mineral spirits and paint thinner are effective in diluting oil-based paints.

There is a significant difference, though. Mineral spirits come from minerals, particularly petroleum.

Therefore, any product labeled as “mineral spirits” must contain 100% mineral spirits and not be blended with any additives.

Paint thinners are a type of thinner that makes oil-based paint more fluid. Pure mineral spirits, blended mineral spirits, turpentine, acetone, naphtha, or any other product capable of thinning oil-based paint might be called paint thinners. 

Paint thinners most frequently refer to less purified mineral spirits with a 5% or less benzene and nonane content added for better solvency and aroma.


Blended mineral spirits, or paint thinners, smell similar to camping lantern oil or kerosene. Pure mineral spirits, which are not blended, have a much less potent smell. 

Paint thinner will have a more pungent odor than pure mineral spirits. That’s because it contains higher benzene content. However, the aroma is generally sweet, and most people do not find it unpleasant.

Most homeowners prefer to use pure mineral spirits for indoor use.

Interior use may pose a problem for paint thinner because the fumes can be more toxic than those from pure mineral spirits. 

So, if you are using paint thinner indoors, be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area.


While mineral spirits are safer than paint thinners, both can still be harmful if not used correctly. Be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area and avoid contact with skin and eyes. If swallowed, call poison control immediately.

When exposed to very high concentrations, you may experience drowsiness, dizziness, or nausea in some cases too!


In terms of disposal, these products are very similar. You never want to dump them down a drain or put them on the ground.

Both mineral spirits and acetone are toxic to humans. In addition, if you spill them, they will absorb into the earth’s surface, potentially contaminating groundwater. 

Paint thinners, such as acetone can harm plastic, so don’t pour it down the drain.

If you want to eliminate these products altogether, the best way is to bring them to a hazardous waste facility.


Mineral spirits are the most expensive type of paint thinner, but they also have a higher content. It takes more time and energy to purify them.

However, the difference in cost between paint thinners and minerals is minimal when considering the overall cost of painting a room or project.

What do you use mineral spirits for?

Mineral spirits are handy for numerous reasons, especially for homeowners or DIY professionals.

Getting wax out of your brushes

I used to wax my furniture a lot before I felt comfortable using water-based topcoats.

I still wax my furniture sometimes. Mineral spirits are great for getting the wax out of your brushes.

Never handle brushes with mineral spirits on them with your bare hands. I had a bad reaction to it once- my hands started itching, and they became irritated.

So, always wear gloves or some other protective gear when handling anything with mineral spirits.

A cost-effective way to preserve your brushes

If you are familiar with Klingon brushes, you know that they are expensive. I have saved many of my Klingon brushes that had dried latex paint on them. 

I take the brush with the dried paint and let it sit in a shallow container, up to where the dried paint was on the bristles.

For extra stubborn dried paint:

This method has worked every time for me, but it takes a little bit of patience.

Also, for those that do furniture detailing work. If any of the stain or poly gets on my detail brush bristles, you can follow this process:

Get scuff marks off of your floor

Mineral spirits are an essential tool for removing scuff marks from your floor. I often wear boots that can leave scuff marks on the surface, but this solution takes them right off! It’s also helpful when your children leave their footmarks behind.

All you have to do is pour some mineral spirits onto a cloth and wipe the scuff mark away. Be sure to test this in an inconspicuous area first, as it could potentially damage your flooring.

I have also used this method to remove pen marks from my walls.

Removing price tag debris

Mineral spirits help remove price tags that retailers leave on their products. I usually use a paper towel to apply the spirits and then use another paper towel to wipe off the debris.

I used a razor blade to remove the price tag in the past, but I found out that it could scrape the product’s surface. Mineral spirits are a product that works just like Goofoff. You can also use it to get sticky residue off the furniture from a thrift store.

Eliminating “swirl marks” or “pigtails” when sanding

Mineral spirits make it easy to sand furniture without creating swirl marks or pigtail defects.

Swirl patterns happen when you use too much pressure on your sander, and debris gets caught underneath the pad of material pressed against an object this error to occur.

When you first stain a piece of wood, the swirl marks will be invisible. But after applying one coat, they’ll show up, and it’s not fun to see them, but at least now we know what kind of finish our project is going through!

This the only way to make sure your surface is completely smooth and ready for paint or stain, it can be frustrating when you find out that there are still swirl marks. 

If this happens, apply mineral spirits after sanding until all visible imperfections dissipate, then go back over the area again.

This is just a great way to reduce your anxiety and make sure you’re ready to stain the wood.

Thinning oil-based paints

Mineral spirits are paint thinner (primarily for oil-based products). Commercial artists and homeowners find value in them!

What do you use paint thinner for?

This oil-based solvent can help thin oil-based paints and lacquers, removing grease and asphalt from the walls of a building. It can also be used to clean your painting tools and equipment.

Thinning paint viscosity

The primary purpose of paint thinner is to adjust the viscosity of the paint. So it won’t be easy to apply the color if it’s too thick.

Paint pouring close up

The paint will run and drip if it’s too thin and may not adhere to the surface well.

In some cases, you might want to use paint thinner to prevent your color from hardening when it has been left open. To do this, add a small amount of paint thinner to the paint and stir it in.

Be careful not to use paint thinner with latex paints, shellac, or lacquers, as it can damage the surface.

How much thinner do you need?

The amount of thinner you need to use will vary, depending on the paint and the desired results. However, a general rule of thumb is to use a 4:1 ratio of paint to thinner.

Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits: Which is Better?

PropertiesPaint ThinnerMineral Spirits
Solvent StrengthMore solvent and effectiveLess solvent and effective
Ability to RemoveRemoves both dried and wet paintRemoves only wet paint
OdorStrong odorLow odor
FlammabilityHighly flammableLess flammable
Compatibility with Latex PaintsCompatible with latex paintsNot compatible with latex paints
Drying TimeMay delay drying time of paintDries faster than alternative products
Health HazardsCan lead to respiratory problemsMild irritant, should be used in a well-ventilated area
VersatilityPrimarily used as a paint thinnerCan be used for various cleaning purposes
PriceRelatively inexpensiveMore expensive than alternative products
Comparison of Paint Thinners and Mineral Spirits

Paint Thinners


Turpentine, for example, is a more solvent paint thinner than mineral spirits – it’s more effective at dissolving paint.

Turpentine will remove dried paint, whereas mineral spirits remove only wet paint.


It’s essential to be aware of the dangers of using these products, as they can lead to respiratory problems.

They’re also highly flammable and should never come near open flame or any other type of fire for that matter- because paint thinner burns much faster than gasoline does!

Despite the cons, paint thinners are a necessary tool for any painter. They help improve the flow and appearance of the paint and make it easier to clean up any mistakes.

Mineral Spirits


Mineral spirits are less hazardous than other paint thinners and have a low odor. They also produce an even finish, which is better for your project’s longevity!

Paint that has been thinned with mineral spirits takes a more sophisticated tone than paint that has been thinned with an alternative solution.

Mineral spirits can do more than just thin paint! The low toxicity and purity make it an excellent tool for all sorts of cleaning jobs.

Use on any surface, from concrete floors to garden shears – you’ll be pleased with how much this versatile product is capable in such different circumstances.


Mineral spirits are a great tool for many projects, but there is one major drawback: they don’t work with latex paints.

Water in the paint reacts and causes delays in drying time – so if you want fast-drying finishes on your project make sure to note before purchasing!

Mineral spirits are an ingestible, mild irritant. To use them safely and effectively it is essential that you do so in a well-ventilated area with lots of airflows because this will prevent any negative effects on your health.

Mineral spirits are a popular choice for paint thinning despite the cons because they produce superior results.

They are less toxic and more expensive than alternative products, but they evaporate quickly and have a low odor. 

Why is mineral spirits better than paint thinner?

Mineral spirits are a safer and less aggressive option compared to paint thinner. Mineral spirits evaporate quickly with low odor, are less toxic, and are less corrosive.

Many homeowners, on the other hand, prefer mineral spirits to other paint thinners because they find them easier to use.

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