Turpentine vs Mineral Spirits: Picking the Solvent for You

turpentine vs mineral spirits

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Knowing the difference between turpentine vs mineral spirits is vital for a successful painting career. Choosing the wrong solvent can make your painting experience uncomfortable or even dangerous.

I have a mild chemical sensitivity to everyday cleaning supplies that sometimes give me headaches, so I’m careful about the materials I use. Even if you aren’t sensitive to strong chemicals, compatible paint thinners are key to enjoying the process.

Don’t waste money on art supplies you can’t even use. My guide will help you with what to buy and teach you skills like proper usage and disposal.

A Quick Breakdown of Turpentine and Mineral Spirits

Essential Detail


Mineral Spirits

Artist Preference


Slightly more affordable

Slightly more expensive

Artists on a budget may prefer turpentine, but chemically sensitive artists do better with mineral spirits.

Safety/Environmental Friendliness

Releases more toxic compounds and fumes

More environmentally friendly

If you want more eco-friendly supplies, stick with turpentine.

Painting Results

No residue or yellowing

More prone to yellowing and slightly oily or tacky finish

Artists planning on selling or displaying work may prefer turpentine

Drying Time

Fast drying time

Slower drying time

Artists who work fast will prefer turpentine, while artists who work slow do better with mineral spirits

Ease of Use

Stronger fumes

Milder odor

If you’re chemically sensitive, mineral spirits are more suitable


Needs professional waste disposal services

Needs professional waste disposal services

Both materials need to be handled with the same level of care and disposed of with professional help

What is Turpentine?

Turpentine (or gum turpentine) is a chemical paint thinner made from pine trees’ resin, used by oil painters to dry paintings faster or thin out their oils. While it’s a useful tool for doing delicate washes, it has a very strong odor.

what is turpentine?


  • Turpentine has a fast drying time, speeding up the oil painting process for artists on a tight deadline or who want to do quick studies.
  • This paint thinner allows for subtle washes, such as gentle lighting or mild shifts in color.
  • Many artists prefer turpentine for cleaning their brushes more thoroughly.


  • Turpentine has a stronger smell, sometimes compared to gasoline or artificial pine trees.
  • This paint thinner is extremely flammable.
  • Artists need to be careful not to get turpentine on their bare skin, which can cause rashes or allergic reactions.

What are Mineral Spirits?

If turpentine is too powerful for your liking, mineral spirits paint thinner may be the alternative for you. Also known as white spirits, this solvent is made from petroleum and has no additives.

what are mineral spirits?
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I vastly prefer thinning oil paint with mineral spirits, but let’s take a look at their properties to see if they’re well-suited to your oil painting workstation. If you use water-based paints, you don’t need solvents.


  • The biggest benefit of mineral spirits is having significantly reduced odor. Some artists find it mildly metallic or a little oily.
  • When it comes to mineral spirits vs turpentine in sustainability, the former wins out – mineral spirits dissolve naturally and release fewer toxins than turpentine.
  • Mineral spirits leave a less sticky residue behind.


  • While mineral spirits are less sticky, they have a caveat – they often leave an oily or slick sensation instead.
  • Mineral spirits slow down the drying time, which can be frustrating for artists who need to work faster.

What’s the Difference Between Turpentine, Mineral Spirits, and Paint Thinner?

A paint thinner is any liquid that thins paint, which technically includes water. Mineral spirits vs turpentine are paint thinners, but not all paint thinners are in these categories.

Paint thinner is a catch-all term that includes other paint thinners like pine resin, water, oil, or petroleum. Some artists find alternatives to be a better solvent for mineral spirits vs turpentine or turpenoid.

General Safety

Now that you know the differences between mineral spirits vs turpentine, it’s time to take a look at safety measures. Some oil paints already have toxic ingredients, so you need to be mindful when adding chemical art supplies to your studio.

general safety


Let’s take a look at how mineral spirits vs turpentine may affect breathing or aggravate allergies.

Turpentine is Irritating and Potentially Dangerous When Breathed In

Turpentine is well-known for its intense smell, but it’s more than just unpleasant. This paint thinner can harm your central nervous system and can even cause severe allergic reactions.

As someone who’s experienced a severe allergic reaction in the past to medication, it’s vital you know the warning signs so you can act swiftly. You’re likely experiencing a mild allergic reaction if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Hives
  • An itchy or sensitive rash
  • Irritated eyes

These mild allergic reactions are likely contact dermatitis, a common issue that’s generally not life-threatening. While hives can be a sign of a severe reaction, this symptom is often accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty breathing or extreme dizziness.

turpentine fume

A more severe allergic reaction to turpentine can look like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing with phlegm
  • Vomiting
  • Severe dizziness
  • Painful headache

It’s important to note that chemical sensitivity (now renamed as idiopathic environmental intolerance) is not the same thing as an allergic reaction. This phenomenon is likely related to other parts of the body and is usually not life-threatening.

You should always ventilate your studio when using any solvent so you’re breathing in less chemicals. Open several windows and consider purchasing a HEPA air filter.

Mineral Spirits are a Safer Alternative for Artists with Chemical Sensitivities

If turpentine irritates you – or you think it might – consider getting mineral spirits vs turpentine at your art supply store. These petroleum-based solvents are much milder in odor, though they’ll still have a bit of a smell.

It’s important to note the difference between blended and unblended mineral spirits. The former has barely any odor and is less sticky. The latter will sometimes be blended with turpentine, so read labels carefully.

mineral spirits

Turpenoid is a Fantastic Alternative With the Same Properties, Yet No Odor 

When it comes to the strong fumes of mineral spirits vs turpentine, you may have heard of turpenoid as the odorless version. Turpenoid is similar to mineral spirits in that it’s also petroleum-based, but functions similarly to turpentine.

It has a fast drying time and less oily residue of turpentine, but no strong smell.

You Can Use Safer Alternatives to Clean Your Equipment, Too

You might be wondering if there are any other paint thinners or other solvents you can add to your oil painting tools. A few options to clean brushes are safflower oil, linseed oil, and vegetable oil.

  • Safflower oil’s mild odor is only matched by how gently, yet effectively it cleans brush bristles covered in oil-based paints.
  • If you need an affordable and easily available option for oil-based paints, vegetable oil will reliably remove oil paint – just make sure to wash it out with soap and water once you’re done.
  • Linseed oil is a fantastic tool for painting with oils, but did you know you can use it to remove paint and clean brushes? While it does the job well, it’s on the expensive side.

Comparing the Costs of Turpentine vs Mineral Spirits

costs of turpentine vs mineral spirits

When choosing mineral spirits vs turpentine, you’ll eventually need to take budget into account. It doesn’t always pay to be economical, so I’ll break down cost and value.

The Cost of Turpentine

The cost of real turpentine will vary depending on how often you paint, the brand you purchase from, and what size you buy. The price range you should expect when browsing are:

  • 1 to 2 oz will range between $10 to $12
  • 4 oz to 8 oz will range between $15 to $30
  • 16 oz will range between $40 to $50

The shelf life of turpentine varies – if you leave it open, it may start to dry out and/or evaporate. This is also not recommended due to the fact it’s extremely flammable.

The Cost of Mineral Spirits

If you’re considering mineral spirits vs turpentine your oil paint thinners, then you’ll have a slightly higher price point. However, the cost will be worth it if it means having a healthier and more productive session.

  • 3 to 8 oz will range between $7 to $15
  • 16 oz to 32 oz will range between $25 to $35
  • A hefty 128 oz will range between $50 to $75

The Results of Turpentine vs Mineral Spirits

the results of turpentine vs mineral spirits

One of the biggest reasons why artists debate mineral spirits vs turpentine is the drying time. Below are rough estimates to expect when choosing your paint thinners – the exact amount of time will depend on your painting style and humidity levels.

Drying Time


If you’re an artist on a tight deadline or you want to slap down a quick study, you may want to use turpentine. Turpentine speeds up the famously slow drying process of oils.

Very thin layers of oil paint using turpentine can dry within minutes. Thicker layers may still need a few hours or a few days, depending on humidity or paint quality.

If you want to see a comparison of different solvents’ drying times, I recommend this breakdown by Mr. Otter Art Studio.

Mineral Spirits

Are you a painter who likes to work slowly and deliberately? You may be more interested in mineral spirits vs turpentine, a popular option for classic oil painting techniques like wet on wet.

Mineral spirits take a little longer to dry, which you’ll also need to experiment with. Remember: thin paint dries faster.



Turpentine has a simple result when it becomes dried paint – no yellowing whatsoever. This feature is vital if you plan on passing your work down the generations, selling your art, or just want to keep your painting for a long time.

However, this may not be a problem for fast studies or experimental pieces.

Mineral Spirits

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While mineral spirits yellow more than turpentine, there are ways around this. If you haven’t used artist-grade paints yet, give them a try – their increased pigment count slows down the yellowing process.

Mineral spirits vs turpentine also do better with higher-quality paints since their pigment sticks more strongly. Since this solvent thins the paint, cheap and thin oil-based paints dissolve faster.



Some artists prefer turpentine over other paint thinners because they don’t have an oily residue left over. If you plan on selling your work or transporting it frequently, the smooth surface of turpentine is a godsend.

Remember: oil paints get the same benefit with the odorless turpentine alternative turpenoid.

turpentine texture

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits vs turpentine are known for having a tacky or oily texture once they dry.

This residue may not be a problem if you plan to hang your work once you’re finished, but it could be a problem if you’re selling it.

Your future customers may be alarmed by the slick texture of mineral spirits vs turpentine or turpenoid. Likewise, you may deal with little bits and pieces sticking to the surface when trying to transport a painting.

How to Safely Dispose of Solvents

how to safely dispose of solvents
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One of the most vital parts of the mineral spirits vs turpentine discussion is proper disposal. Failing to dispose of these solvents properly could put you in danger.

Mineral Spirits Dissolve Naturally, But Proper Disposal is Recommended

Mineral spirits vs turpentine are safer since they dissolve on their own, but you still need a removal service. This breakdown by the EPA has quick resources to help you locate household waste removal services in the United States.

Turpentine Needs to be Disposed of With Professional Services

When it comes to mineral spirits vs turpentine, the latter is more damaging. You’ll also need to contact your local hazardous waste disposal or household waste removal services.

Never pour turpentine down the sink or dump it outside. This chemical is just as hazardous to animals and plants.

Both Turpentine and Mineral Spirits Need Safety Materials

You need to use safety materials such as safety glasses, rubber gloves, and a snugly fitting respirator when handling mineral spirits. While this approach may seem excessive, you do not want to accidentally splash these materials on your skin or in your mouth.

Solvents are toxic and can make you severely sick if consumed. Skin contact can also cause a very painful rash or potentially allergic reaction.

I use tight-fitting respirators when handling chemicals. I recommend reading about the difference between a mask and a respirator because the difference could save you a lot of pain.

Some artists also use a blower fan attached to a dryer vent duct to direct fumes out a window.

You Should Also Safely Dispose of Rags or Towels

Whether you get mineral spirits vs turpentine on rags or towels, you also need to safely dispose of them – they’re flammable. These materials should also be taken to a hazardous waste facility and handled with the same care as any turpentine bottle.

You can buy safety cans to keep your mineral spirits or turpentine in to prevent accidental combustion.

Be very careful not to wipe turpentine or mineral spirits on your pants or on your shirt.

Painting Should Always Be a Safe and Comfortable Process

painting should always be a safe and comfortable process

It’s fine to take some time debating whether to use mineral spirits vs turpentine. Painting should always be comfortable and safe, not making you worried you could harm yourself.

If you need more help becoming a skilled oil painter, check out Evolve Artist to pick up some practical painting fundamentals.

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