Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner: Artists’ Thoughts

Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner

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Which is better for your health when painting, mineral spirits vs paint thinner?

Solvents are notorious for causing potential health issues when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Not only can they cause dizziness, headache, nausea, and vomiting. But they’re also classified as hazardous material that requires special disposal for the sake of environmental protection!

If you choose a well-ventilated area to paint, perhaps this problem isn’t all that big of a deal.

BUT, there’s also the longevity of your paintings to worry about.

Will choosing one or the other be better in the long run?

If you’re looking for answers to put your mind at ease, take a look at the comparison table below to get some quick answers. More details will also be provided in later sections!

What is the Difference Between Mineral Spirits vs. Paint Thinner?

The quick answer is that “paint thinner” is mineral spirits but in a less refined form. Because paint thinner is less refined, it has stronger fumes and is more volatile. Otherwise, mineral spirits and paint thinners can be used interchangeably:

Mineral Spirits

Paint Thinner

Uses

Used for thinning oil-based paint, cleaning painting tools, and surface cleaning.

Used for thinning oil-based paints, cleaning painting tools, and surface cleaning.

Odor

Odor-free mineral spirits have very little smell or no smell at all. But pure mineral spirits do have a strong pungent odor.

Paint thinners have stronger odors.

Toxicity

Mineral spirits are more refined and contain less toxic VOCs. Which means that it is less toxic.

Paint thinners are less refined and contain more toxic VOCs.

Level of Refinement

High to Medium

Low

Cost

$20 to $25 per gallon.

$15 to $20 per gallon.

What are Mineral Spirits?

Mineral spirits, also called ‘white spirits’ or ‘mineral turpentine’, is a petroleum-based solvent used for painting, cleaning, and degreasing. It’s clear, colorless, can be purchased odor-free, and has lower toxicity compared to other painting solvents.

How to Use Mineral Spirits for Painting?

Simply speaking, in the same way water is used to dilute water-based paints like watercolors to prepare for painting, mineral spirits are used as a painting medium to dilute oil paint.

how to use mineral spirits for paintings?

If you’re looking for more details, here’s all that you need to keep in mind:

  • Thinning Oil-Based Paints: The main use of mineral spirits is to thin oil-based paints. Put another way, mineral spirits lowers the viscosity of oil paint. The resulting ‘wet paint’ or ‘thin paint’ is easier to apply onto canvas and makes it possible to use techniques like ‘wet-on-wet’. Thin paint also rests on surfaces more stably, complying with the ‘fat-over-lean’ oil painting rule, which makes paintings more durable.
  • Cleaning Painting Tools: Mineral spirits can also be used to clean brushes and other painting tools. All you have to do is pour some mineral spirits into a container — just enough to cover the bristles of your paint brushes — then use it to soak your paint tool. Wet paint should be removed after a few minutes, and it’ll also soften up all the not-so-dried paint, allowing you to clean left-over residue more easily with soapy warm water.
  • Remove Paint Spills and Stains: In case things get messy in the studio, you can give mineral spirits a try! Just note, that it’s recommended that you wear rubber gloves to protect your skin when using mineral spirits on more stubborn spills and stains.

All in all, mineral spirits are heavily refined to thin paints very effectively. This makes its uses more varied and flexible.

Pros and Cons of Mineral Spirits

Pros

  • Effective solvent for thinning oil-based paint, allowing you to quickly paint even washes of color that can cover the entire canvas
  • Can clean brushes, stains, and spills
  • Odor-free mineral spirits available for sale
  • Less toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it far less toxic than most other paint thinners

Cons

  • Non-odor-free mineral spirits have a strong pungent odor that can cause headaches and close contact can cause skin irritation
  • Flammable and must be kept away from any heat sources of flames
  • Mineral spirits is classified as a type of hazardous waste, evaporation into the atmosphere and reckless disposal can potentially endanger the surrounding natural environment

What is Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is a general term used to describe a variety of petroleum-based solvents meant to dilute or thin paint. It comes in clear liquid form and evaporates quickly in the air.

paint thinner

Compared to the heavily refined mineral spirits, most paint thinners are more raw, making them have stronger odors and higher toxicity.

Because of this, when using paint thinners, it is highly recommended to keep the environment well-ventilated to prevent any complications in your health from arising.

How to Use Paint Thinners for Painting?

According to effect, mineral spirits and paint thinners are not much different. If there’s anything to keep in mind, it’s the fact that paint thinners are more potent than mineral spirits. As such, more safety precautions must be taken when using it.

When using paint thinner in large amounts, it’s best to wear gloves to avoid skin irritation and a face mask to avoid strong fumes. Also, for general indoor use of paint thinners, make sure to avoid open flames and keep the area well-ventilated (at the very least, there should be a window that can be left open when painting!)

how to use paint thinners for painting

Overall, because of these restrictive safety precautions, paint thinners are more suitable for heavy-duty tasks like clean-up than delicate painting tasks.

Of course, that doesn’t mean paint thinners have no place in painting. For example, one advantage that many paint thinners have over mineral spirits is that it has faster evaporation, this means that using it to thin oil-based paints can shorten drying times, which is very useful for certain glazing techniques.

Pros and Cons of Mineral Spirits

Pros

  • Paint thinners can be used to thin oil-based paint for translucent washes that can quickly and evenly cover an entire canvas
  • Effective solvent for removing lacquers and certain varnishes
  • Very effective for removing paint (e.g., can clean brushes, surfaces, etc.)
  • Paint thinner is cheaper than mineral spirits

Cons

  • Paint thinners are highly flammable
  • It contains higher amounts of VOCs, which means it has higher toxic compounds and must be used in a well-ventilated area
  • Leftover paint thinner is considered hazardous waste and requires special disposal procedures to prevent damage to the surrounding natural environment

Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner: Which is Better?

Now that we’ve finished talking about minerals spirits and paint thinners separately, it’s time to take a closer look at the two options and point out the key differences in their uses:

Painting

painting

If you’re not a complete beginner in traditional painting, you should know that it’s pretty difficult to work with paint straight out of the tube. This is especially true for oil paints, which come out as a thick paste that is very difficult to apply evenly in large areas.

In order to be able to employ the ‘fat-over-lean’ rule in oil painting where thick paint rich in oil is applied over thin layers of underpainting, you need to be able to dilute your paint accordingly.

Mineral spirits and paint thinner are used at this stage. Both are highly effective at thinning oil-based paints. Mineral spirits are even more so, as they are heavily refined.

The key difference between paint thinner and mineral spirits in their dilution of oil paints is their drying time. Paint thinner evaporates more quickly than mineral spirits.

This is a double-edged sword. It means that using paint thinner will decrease the waiting time when working between layers, but it also means you won’t have as much time to work with the paint while still wet.

Brush Cleaning

brush cleaning

In terms of brush cleaning, paint thinner and mineral spirits are, again, equally effective.

Both are great for cleaning brushes and other painting tools. All you have to do is soak the bristles or tips of said brushes and tools in mineral spirits and paint thinner for a few minutes and then agitate them to remove residues.

Whatever residues are left behind after that can be removed with just a bit of soap and water. Then all that’s left to do is leave them to dry out for the next painting session!

As for the differences between paint thinner and mineral spirits in this regard, it’s just that with mineral spirits, a little goes a long way. You can use less to get the same effects as using more paint thinner, though it’s not necessarily more cost-effective as paint thinner is generally sold half cheaper than mineral spirits.

Toxicity & Odor

In terms of differences, toxicity and odor is where we see the most between mineral spirits and paint thinner. The heavy refining that mineral spirits undergo reduces a lot of the toxic VOCs that are emitted into the air when it’s used.

toxicity & odor
(Image Source)

Note that there may be differences in mineral spirit brands in this regard! Regular mineral spirits that have a strong odor are less refined and are thus more toxic, whilst odorless mineral spirits are more refined because of the extra process of eliminating odor, which makes them less toxic.

Either way, however, paint thinners are generally less refined than regular and odorless mineral spirits. They contain more toxic VOCs and are thus not recommended for use outside of well-ventilated areas.

Cost

Speaking of extra refinement, the more refined a product is, the more expensive. So, if we’re talking about costs, the result is obvious.

Paint thinners are the cheapest, regular mineral spirits are mid-range, and odorless mineral spirits are the most expensive.

cost
(Image Source)

When to Use Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner?

When is it better to use mineral spirits? And, when is it better to use paint thinners?

Now that we’ve talked about the differences, we can give you a clear answer:

  • Diluting Paint: If you’re working with oil-based paint, either paint thinners or mineral spirits will work just as well. The only difference is in drying time. That is, it’s best to use mineral spirits if you want more time to adjust wet paint in between layers.
  • Cleaning Brushes: Again, both mineral spirits and paint thinners can be used for cleaning brushes. However, paint thinner is a better choice if you want to save up on the cost. It’s true that a little bit of mineral spirits goes a long way, but it’s still more cost-effective to use paint thinner for cleaning purposes.
  • Surface Cleaning: Many paint thinners are generally more suitable for heavy-duty work. It can’t clean up completely dried paint, but semi-fresh stains and spills can still be cleaned up pretty easily. Just remember that more safety precautions must be used when using paint thinner to remove paint in large amounts!
  • Health Safety: If you’re concerned about the effects of toxic VOCs on your health, then odorless mineral spirits are the only option when choosing between the two. Odorless mineral spirits do contain trace amounts of toxic substances, but as long as you work in well-ventilated areas, you’ll be fine.
  • Budget: If your budget is small and your needs are not too big, paint thinners are generally a solid choice. There’s nothing wrong with it if you take safety precautions. BUT, if you can free up your budget some more and are looking for a more versatile product, then mineral spirits are definitely the ones we recommend for the long run.

The Bottom Line:

As you can see, both paint thinner and mineral spirits have their own advantages and disadvantages. Which is the right one for you? Only you can decide!

Next, it’s time to take your oil painting to the next level with this new knowledge. Practice what you’ve learned whilst watching the best online oil painting classes available this year!

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