Do you know the difference between mineral spirits and paint thinner and their respective pros and cons? If not, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Many people struggle with deciding which one would be a better option for their painting project.
Here, we tackle the mineral spirits vs paint thinner opposition, discuss their similarities and differences and determine what they’re best for.
Let’s dive into details and find out which one is right for your needs!
What Are Paint Thinners?
Paint thinners are a group of substances (usually petroleum derivatives) used to remove and thin:
- Various type of paints
- Various types of varnishes
Paint thinners can be alcohol- or petroleum-based and include:
- Mineral spirits
- Denatured alcohol, etc.
What Are Mineral Spirits?
Mineral spirits, also known as white spirit, is a very refined petroleum-derived, clear, and colorless liquid that has many uses in industrial and household settings:
- For thinning paint, varnish, and lacquer
- For cleaning brushes and other painting equipment, etc.
Is Paint Thinner the Same as Mineral Spirits?
Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no.
Though mineral spirits are paint thinners by function (they thin paint successfully), they’re distinct from other paint thinners in various respects.
Due to their specific properties, which will be presented in the following sections, people usually categorize them as a separate paint and lacquer thinner group.
In this article, we’ll use the term “paint thinners” to describe all chemicals used for thinning paint other than pure mineral spirits.
Paint Thinner vs Mineral Spirits—Similarities
Mineral spirits and paint thinner have much in common:
- You can find both mineral spirits and paint thinner at most hardware and paint stores.
- They’re used to thin and remove paint (and clean brushes).
- They both evaporate quickly.
- They’re both flammable.
These chemicals also share some of the less common uses:
- Removing paint spots from windows
- Removing adhesive from surfaces
- As a hardwood floor cleaner for floors made of unfinished wood, and other unpainted surfaces with paint stains
- Cleaning dirt and grime from indoor and outdoor furniture (just make sure to test mineral spirits on a small inconspicuous area before proceeding with the thorough cleaning of, say, your favorite reading chair to avoid damage)
- Cleaning greasy kitchen cabinets
Difference Between Paint Thinner and Mineral Spirits
At first glance, mineral spirits and paint thinner may seem very similar. However, there are several key distinctions.
Let’s dive into them!
1. Chemical Composition
This is the main difference between the two.
Mineral spirits are composed of 100% petroleum distillates. They’re heavily refined and typically contain no additives. On the other hand, paint thinners typically include other solvents (e.g., xylene, acetone, etc.) besides petroleum distillates.
Because they’re heavily refined, mineral spirits tend to be more concentrated and more potent than paint thinners. In other words, it takes a smaller amount of mineral spirits than regular paint thinners for the same purpose.
Turpentine vs Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner
When it comes to removing paint, some thinners are better than others.
For example, mineral spirits may be more effective for cleaning brushes used for painting with oil-based paint since they dissolve grease and oils more effectively than paint thinners. Mineral spirits are also more effective at cleaning wet paint. However, they aren’t suitable for latex paint.
On the other hand, paint thinners work better on stains made by water-based products.
Finally, turpentine is characterized by stronger solvency and can even remove dried paint.
Mineral spirits evaporate more slowly than paint thinner, and they present a lower fire hazard (this doesn’t mean mineral spirits aren’t highly combustible, and you shouldn’t use it with caution and away from any heat source or flame-producing activity).
On the other hand, paint thinners tend to ignite more easily. However, it’s important to note that not all paint thinners are equally flammable. For example, acetone is the most flammable in the paint thinner vs mineral spirits vs acetone opposition.
4. Evaporation Rate
Mineral spirits have a higher boiling point than paint thinners (401°F vs. 350°F) and evaporate more slowly than paint thinners, making them more durable when stored.
5. Smoothness Differences
For most painters, the difference in smoothness is crucial.
Due to its slower evaporation rate, mineral spirits is more likely to level out paint on surfaces and give a somewhat smoother and more even finish than regular paint thinners.
Still, it’s important to note that some types of modern paint thinners can achieve similar results as mineral spirits.
Mineral spirits beats pure acetone and other paint thinner options when it comes to non-toxicity!
Mineral spirits are heavily refined, which is why they contain significantly lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene than regular paint thinners.
Paint thinner fumes are toxic, and inhaling them can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Prolonged exposure without protection can even lead to serious health problems (e.g., liver damage, kidney damage, and even cancer).
Though less toxic, mineral spirits’ fumes can also cause nausea, headaches, and skin irritation.
Therefore, you should use both with caution, using appropriate protective gear (e.g., eye goggles, a mask, a particulate respirator, etc.), and in a well-ventilated area.
7. Environmental Impact
An important difference between mineral spirits and paint thinner is their environmental impact.
As mentioned above, paint thinners often contain VOCs, which aren’t only harmful to humans, but to the environment as well. Since they present a fire hazard and may contaminate groundwater, it’s essential they’re disposed of appropriately.
On the other hand, though mineral spirits are less toxic (contain less VOCs than regular paint thinners), it doesn’t mean they’re super environmentally friendly and that you can simply throw them in household trash or pour them down the drain.
They, too, are flammable and can contaminate groundwater if not disposed of adequately.
Mineral spirits is a pure product that requires much processing. As a result, it tends to cost more per gallon than most paint thinners (especially if you opt for an odorless option). Still, the higher price tag is often worth it.
Mineral Spirits vs Turpentine
Turpentine, a substance made from distilled live pine tree resin, tends to be significantly more expensive than mineral spirits. This is because turpentine available in the stores is generally very high-quality and very refined.
Paint thinners tend to have a more pungent odor than mineral spirits. This is due to its high VOCs content.
Though mineral spirits contain lower amounts of VOCs and have a less potent smell, some people find their kerosene-like odor overwhelming and resort to odorless mineral spirits.
So, which one should you use—non-toxic mineral spirits that don’t leave a residue or less expensive paint thinner with stronger fumes?
In the end, it all comes down to what you need the product for and your personal preferences. Whichever you choose, read the product label carefully and follow all the safety precautions.
Have fun painting!
Is paint thinner the same as mineral spirits?
Mineral spirits is a type of paint thinner, but there are certain differences between the two.
Mineral spirits are heavily refined petroleum distillates, while other paint thinners (e.g., naphtha, acetone, etc.) are typically less refined and contain other chemicals besides petroleum.
Is turpentine the same as mineral spirits?
No. Turpentine is made from pine resin, while mineral spirits are made of petroleum distillates.
Though they have more or less the same use, they differ greatly.
Turpentine is more solvent than mineral spirits, so it’s more suitable for removing hardened paint stains. But, because of this, there’s also a higher chance of over-thinning your paint than when using mineral spirits. Finally, turpentine is also less toxic than petroleum-based solvents.
Is mineral spirits the same as paint remover?
Mineral spirits can be used as a paint remover.
It’s excellent at removing oil paint that hasn’t dried yet. However, it’s not as effective for latex paint. Do-it-yourselfers that want to work with latex paint should opt for another type of paint remover, and those that want to clean dry paint should opt for acetone or turpentine.
What can I use instead of mineral spirits?
There are many solvents you can use as an alternative for mineral spirits:
- Denatured alcohol
- Turpentine, etc.
Just bear in mind that different paint thinners may have different characteristics, so make sure you get familiar with them before you decide which one will suit your needs better.
Why is mineral spirits better than paint thinner?
If you compare mineral spirits vs paint thinner, you can notice that mineral spirits has many advantages over paint thinners:
- It’s less flammable
- It’s less toxic
- It has a milder odor
- It gives a smoother finish