Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner: Unveiling the Differences for the DIY Enthusiast

Bob Thomas


As a qualified painter and decorator, I've often been asked about the differences between mineral spirits and paint thinners.

Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

In this article, we'll explore the differences between mineral spirits and paint thinners, their uses, advantages, and potential risks.

By the end of this article, you'll have a clear understanding of which product is best for your paint-related projects.

Quick Summary

When it comes to mineral spirits vs paint thinners, the key differences lie in their composition, odor, and toxicity. Mineral spirits are less toxic and have a milder odor, making them a better choice for indoor use. On the other hand, paint thinners are more versatile but come with a stronger odor and higher toxicity. Both products are effective solvents for paint-related projects, but understanding their differences is crucial for choosing the right one for your needs.

Composition and Properties

Mineral Spirits:

  • Made from petroleum distillates
  • Less toxic and less flammable
  • Milder odor
  • Evaporates more slowly
  • Better for indoor use

Paint Thinner:

  • A blend of solvents, including mineral spirits
  • More toxic and flammable
  • Stronger odor
  • Evaporates faster
  • More versatile but not ideal for indoor use

Pro Tip: Always work in a well-ventilated area when using solvents to minimize the risk of inhaling fumes.

Uses and Applications

Mineral Spirits:

  1. Thinning oil-based paints and varnishes
  2. Cleaning brushes and equipment
  3. Removing grease and grime
  4. Degreasing automotive parts

Paint Thinner:

  1. Thinning a wider range of paint types, including lacquers and enamels
  2. Cleaning brushes and equipment
  3. Removing paint from surfaces
  4. General-purpose cleaning and degreasing

Advantages and Disadvantages

Mineral Spirits:


  • Lower toxicity
  • Milder odor
  • Safer for indoor use
  • Less damaging to paint brushes


  • Less effective on some paint types
  • May not dissolve certain substances as effectively as paint thinner

Paint Thinner:


  • More versatile
  • Effective on a wider range of paint types
  • Better at dissolving stubborn substances


  • Higher toxicity
  • Stronger odor
  • Riskier for indoor use
  • May damage paint brushes over time

Safety Considerations

When working with mineral spirits or paint thinners, always take the following precautions:

  1. Work in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Wear protective gloves and eye protection.
  3. Keep away from open flames or heat sources.
  4. Dispose of used solvents responsibly.
  5. Store solvents in a cool, dry place, away from children and pets.

Pro Tip: Invest in a high-quality respirator mask when working with solvents to protect your lungs from harmful fumes.

Personal Experiences

I recall a time when I was tasked with refinishing a client's antique wooden furniture.

I opted for mineral spirits to thin the oil-based varnish and clean my brushes afterward.

The milder odor and lower toxicity of mineral spirits made the entire process much more pleasant, allowing me to work efficiently without feeling overwhelmed by fumes.

The end result was a beautifully restored piece that the client was thrilled with.

On another occasion, I needed to remove stubborn paint from a metal surface before repainting it.

In this case, paint thinner was the ideal choice, as it effectively dissolved the old paint and allowed me to clean the surface with ease.

However, I made sure to work outdoors and wear the appropriate protective gear to minimize the risks associated with using a more toxic solvent.

Frequently Asked Questions Section (FAQs)

Q. What are mineral spirits and paint thinner?

  A: Mineral spirits and paint thinner are solvents used to thin oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains.

They are also commonly used to clean brushes and other painting tools. Mineral spirits are a petroleum-based solvent, while paint thinner is a blend of various solvents, including mineral spirits.

Q. Are mineral spirits and paint thinner the same thing?

  A: While both are solvents and can serve similar purposes, they are not the same.

Mineral spirits are milder and less toxic compared to paint thinner.

Paint thinner is a more aggressive solvent and is generally more effective at dissolving stubborn or dried paint.

Q. When should I use mineral spirits?

  A: Use mineral spirits when you need a milder solvent for thinning oil-based paints, varnishes, or stains, and for cleaning brushes and tools.

They are also a good choice when working indoors or in areas with limited ventilation due to their lower odor and toxicity levels.

Q. When should I use paint thinner?

  A: Paint thinner is more appropriate for dissolving stubborn or dried paint and removing paint from surfaces.

It is also effective in thinning oil-based paints when a more aggressive solvent is needed.

Always ensure you work in a well-ventilated area and wear appropriate protective gear when using paint thinner.

Q. Are there any safety precautions to follow when using mineral spirits or paint thinner?

  A: Always work in a well-ventilated area when using solvents.

Wear protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, to prevent skin and eye irritation. Keep solvents away from open flames, as they are highly flammable.

Store them in a cool, dry place away from children and pets. Dispose of used solvents responsibly, following local regulations and guidelines.

Q. Can I use water to thin oil-based paint?

  A: No, water and oil do not mix. Water is only suitable for thinning water-based paints, such as latex or acrylic paints. To thin oil-based paints, you'll need to use a solvent like mineral spirits or paint thinner.

Q. How do I dispose of mineral spirits or paint thinner?

  A: Check with your local waste disposal facility for specific guidelines and regulations regarding the disposal of solvents.

Many facilities have designated drop-off locations for hazardous waste materials.

Never pour solvents down the drain, as they can contaminate water supplies and harm the environment.


When it comes to mineral spirits vs paint thinner, the best choice depends on your specific needs and the type of project you're working on.

Mineral spirits are less toxic and have a milder odor, making them a better choice for indoor use and when working with oil-based paints.

Paint thinners are more versatile and effective on a wider range of paint types, but they come with a stronger odor and higher toxicity.

By understanding the differences between these two solvents, you can make an informed decision and choose the right product for your paint-related tasks.

As a painter and decorator with years of experience, I've found that having both mineral spirits and paint thinner on hand is often the best approach, as each has its unique advantages and applications.

Suggested Products:   

Klean-Strip Odorless Mineral Spirits: A low-odor mineral spirits option that effectively thins oil-based paints and cleans brushes, with a reduced impact on indoor air quality.

Sunnyside Paint Thinner: A versatile paint thinner that can be used to thin oil-based paints and remove stubborn or dried paint from surfaces, making your painting tasks easier and more efficient.

Rust-Oleum Mineral Spirits: A widely recognized brand offering mineral spirits for thinning and cleaning purposes, ensuring smooth application of oil-based paints and easy cleanup of tools.

Crown Paint Thinner: A high-quality paint thinner for thinning oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains, enabling better flow and leveling for a professional finish.

Recochem Mineral Spirits: A reliable brand offering mineral spirits for use in various painting and staining projects, providing effective thinning and cleaning capabilities.

Jasco Fast-Drying Paint Thinner: A fast-acting paint thinner that speeds up drying time for oil-based paints and aids in cleaning brushes and other painting tools for a more efficient workflow.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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