Paint Thinner vs Acetone: Which One is Right for Your Painting Project?

Bob Thomas


As a professional painter and decorator, I often get asked about the differences between paint thinner and acetone.

Both of these solvents are commonly used in painting projects, but they have distinct properties and uses.

In this article, we will explore the characteristics of paint thinner and acetone, their applications, and how to choose the right one for your project. Let's dive in!

Important: In this article, we use the term 'paint thinner' to refer specifically to a petroleum-based solvent that is commonly used to thin oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains. It's important to note that the term 'paint thinner' can encompass a range of solvents, including mineral spirits, turpentine, naphtha, and other products. We wanted to clarify that when we use the term 'paint thinner' in this article, we are specifically referring to the petroleum-based solvent that is commonly used for thinning oil-based paints. We hope this clarification helps to avoid any confusion.

Quick Summary

Paint thinner and acetone are both solvents used in painting projects, but they have different uses and properties. Paint thinner is primarily used for thinning oil-based paints, while acetone is a versatile solvent suitable for cleaning tools, removing paint, and dissolving various materials. Choose the right solvent for your project by considering factors like the type of paint you're using, safety precautions, and environmental impact.

Paint Thinner: Properties and Uses

Paint thinner, also known as mineral spirits or white spirit, is a petroleum-based solvent used to thin oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains.

Here are some properties and uses of paint thinner:

  • Slower evaporation rate: Paint thinner evaporates at a slower rate than acetone, allowing for longer working times.
  • Less odor: Compared to acetone, paint thinner has a less pungent odor, making it more suitable for indoor use.
  • Oil-based paint applications: Paint thinner is specifically designed for thinning oil-based paints, making it the ideal choice for projects using these types of paints.

Paint Thinner Properties and Uses


Slower evaporation

Longer working times

Less odor

Indoor use

Oil-based paint

Thinning oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains

Pro Tip: Store paint thinner in a tightly sealed container and dispose of it properly, as it can be hazardous to the environment.

Acetone: Properties and Uses

Acetone, a colorless and volatile liquid, is an organic solvent with a wide range of applications.

Here are some properties and uses of acetone:

  • Faster evaporation rate: Acetone evaporates quickly, making it ideal for cleaning and degreasing surfaces.
  • Stronger solvent: Acetone can dissolve various materials, such as plastics, resins, and adhesives, making it a versatile cleaning agent.
  • Paint removal: Acetone is effective at removing different types of paint, including latex and oil-based paints.

Acetone Properties and Uses


Faster evaporation

Quick drying time

Stronger solvent

Dissolving plastics, resins, adhesives, and more

Paint removal

Removing latex and oil-based paints

Choosing the Right Solvent: Paint Thinner vs Acetone

When deciding between paint thinner and acetone for your painting project, consider the following factors:

  1. Type of paint: If you're working with oil-based paints, paint thinner is the preferred choice. Acetone is better for cleaning and removing various types of paint.
  2. Safety precautions: Acetone is highly flammable and has a strong odor, so it's essential to use it in well-ventilated areas and away from open flames. Paint thinner is less volatile, but still requires proper handling and storage.
  3. Environmental impact: Both solvents can be harmful to the environment, so it's crucial to dispose of them properly and follow local regulations. Acetone is considered a hazardous air pollutant by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while paint thinner can contaminate soil and water if not disposed of correctly.
  1. Versatility: If you need a solvent that can handle multiple tasks, such as cleaning tools, dissolving materials, and removing paint, acetone is the more versatile option. Paint thinner, on the other hand, is best suited for thinning oil-based paints and varnishes.
  2. Cost: Paint thinner is generally less expensive than acetone. However, the cost should be weighed against the specific requirements of your project, as the more versatile acetone might save you time and effort in the long run.

Personal Experiences

Over the years, I have used both paint thinner and acetone for various painting projects.

When I was working on a large mural using oil-based paints, paint thinner was my go-to choice for thinning the paint and achieving the desired consistency.

The slower evaporation rate allowed me to work at a comfortable pace without worrying about the paint drying too quickly.

On another occasion, I was tasked with restoring a vintage bicycle that had multiple layers of old paint.

Acetone proved to be an indispensable tool for removing the paint and cleaning the various parts of the bike.

Its strong solvent properties made it easy to dissolve the old paint and adhesives, and its quick evaporation rate allowed me to move on to the next step in the restoration process without delay.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can I use paint thinner and acetone interchangeably?

  A: While paint thinner and acetone are both solvents, they have different properties and uses.

Paint thinner is primarily used to thin oil-based paints, whereas acetone is a versatile solvent that can clean tools, dissolve materials, and remove paint quickly.

They should not be used interchangeably.

Q. Are paint thinner and acetone dangerous?

  A: Both paint thinner and acetone can be harmful if not handled properly.

They can be flammable, emit strong fumes, and cause skin and eye irritation.

It's essential to use proper safety equipment, such as gloves and goggles, and work in a well-ventilated area when using these solvents.

Q. Can I use paint thinner or acetone on latex paint?

  A: Paint thinner is not suitable for latex paint, as it's designed for oil-based paints.

Acetone can remove latex paint, but it may also damage the surface underneath.

For thinning latex paint, use water or a latex-specific paint thinner.

Q. How do I dispose of paint thinner and acetone?

  A: To dispose of paint thinner and acetone, contact your local hazardous waste facility or recycling center for proper disposal guidelines.

Do not pour these solvents down the drain or throw them in the regular trash, as they can contaminate soil and water.

Q. Can I use acetone as a paint thinner for oil-based paints?

  A: Acetone is not recommended for thinning oil-based paints, as it evaporates too quickly and may cause the paint to dry too fast.

Paint thinner is the better choice for thinning oil-based paints.

Q. What can I use as an alternative to paint thinner or acetone?

  A: If you're looking for an eco-friendly alternative, you can try using low-odor mineral spirits, which have a lower volatile organic compound (VOC) content.

Another option for cleaning brushes and tools is using a citrus-based solvent, which is biodegradable and derived from natural sources.

However, these alternatives may not be as effective as paint thinner or acetone for certain tasks.


Paint thinner and acetone are both valuable solvents in the world of painting and decorating, but they serve different purposes.

Choose paint thinner if you're working with oil-based paints or need a slower evaporation rate for longer working times.

Opt for acetone if you require a versatile solvent that can clean tools, dissolve various materials, and remove paint quickly.

Always take safety precautions and dispose of these solvents responsibly to minimize their environmental impact.

By understanding the properties and uses of paint thinner and acetone, you can make an informed decision about which solvent is best suited for your specific painting project.

Suggested Products:  

  1. Klean-Strip Green Odorless Mineral Spirits: This eco-friendly alternative to traditional paint thinner is perfect for thinning oil-based paints while minimizing fumes and odors. It helps you achieve the desired paint consistency for a smooth and even application.
  2. Sunnyside Corporation Pure Odorless Paint Thinner: This high-quality paint thinner is a reliable option for thinning oil-based paints, providing a consistent blend that ensures a professional finish in your painting projects.
  3. Crown Low Odor Mineral Spirits: Ideal for cleaning brushes and tools after working with oil-based paints, Crown Low Odor Mineral Spirits is a great alternative to paint thinner or acetone, offering reduced odor and fumes without compromising on cleaning power.
  4. CitriStrip Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel: A biodegradable, citrus-based solvent that effectively removes paint and varnish, making it an environmentally friendly option for paint removal without relying on traditional solvents like paint thinner or acetone.
  5. Krud Kutter Brush-Wash Cleaner and Renewer: This water-based cleaner is perfect for removing oil-based paint from brushes and tools. It helps prolong the life of your brushes while ensuring they remain effective in providing an even and smooth paint application.
  6. Motsenbocker's Lift Off Latex Paint Remover: Specifically designed for removing latex paint, this product is an excellent alternative to acetone for latex paint removal. It's gentle on surfaces and effective in breaking down latex paint, helping you clean up and maintain your surfaces with ease.
  7. Super Remover New Generation Paint Stripper: An effective and safe alternative to traditional paint thinners and acetone, this paint stripper is formulated with reduced VOC content, making it safer for both the user and the environment. It can help you remove various types of paint, varnish, and other coatings from surfaces with minimal effort.

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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