If you’ve ever tried cleaning the surface of your woods, or getting rid of chipped oil-based paints, then chances are you’ve come across mineral spirits. But how to use mineral spirits on wood?
So, our woodworkers created this guide to help you familiarize yourself with mineral spirits and their function and what other alternatives you can opt for.
What is Mineral Spirits?
While water is coined the universal solvent, it can’t dissolve absolutely everything, not oil. This is what mineral spirits are for.
Mineral spirit is the only solvent that can dissolve oil. Apart from oil, it’s also a good cleaner for sticky saps, adhesive from stickers, and oil-based wood finishes.
Mineral spirits, also called “Stoddard solvent,” was also used in dry cleaning in the past. However, due to their flammable characteristic, safer alternatives are invented now.
It’s a solvent that can categorize as a general cleaning aid and a staple at woodworking shops or barns as well.
Woodworkers always maintain a stock of mineral spirit, especially when they are finishing projects, as this is the safest solvent to use in removing sticky debris and chipped oil-based paints on wood surfaces.
On the other hand, it can also identify as an auto degreaser, and while it can be used in the kitchen as well, the pungent odor is a dealbreaker.
There are three classes of mineral spirits mainly:
Is it Advisable to Use Mineral Spirits on Wood?
While mineral spirits are harmful to humans and can cause skin irritation, it’s still advisable to use this solution on wood projects with wood stain.
Mineral spirits work best with wood as they can clean residue, build-up, and grime. It can cut through wax and old polish to reveal the wood’s original finish.
Why Use Mineral Spirits on Wood?
With the availability of numerous wood finish alternatives that no longer require dilution, there are now safer and more convenient methods to restore and clean wood finishes.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that mineral spirits remain a reliable and effective option for use on wood.
If your usual cleaning products aren’t useful, nor does pressure washing, try to pour mineral spirits instead. Doubling as a cleaning agent, mineral spirits are useful in removing sap, pollens, or build-up on outdoor wood furniture.
It’s a must to clean your wood right away to avoid dirt from penetrating or compromising your wood’s integrity.
Preparation of Wood for Staining
Another use of mineral spirits is to prepare wood for staining. Unfinished wood or bare wooden surfaces are often dusty due to sanding, and mineral spirits can remove impurities like these.
It mixes well with wet sanding too, and when applying, gently keep the motion. This method avoids leaving marks on the wood.
Mineral spirits are also effective in removing oil on the entire surface of finished wood, which is why it’s a common substance used in cleaning rosewood and purpleheart.
These two wood types are known to be excessively oily woods, are tough to work with, and can even damage your power tools.
Some woods reveal their true wood grain after it’s been wiped off mineral spirits. Some wood pieces have natural wood grains that show after the surface level grain has been applied with mineral spirits.
Often a wood stain will only highlight the lines from wood, but mineral spirits on wood can reveal interesting wood grain features.
Utilizing Mineral Spirits on Wood in 7 Steps
To apply mineral spirits directly, you’ll need to follow some steps. If you don’t want to damage the wood surface, here’s how you can use mineral spirits on wood properly.
Supplies You’ll Need
Step 1: Obtain Everything You Need
Get all the supplies that you will need, such as safety equipment, face masks, goggles, and old rags for the mineral spirits you will use. You can also opt for odorless mineral spirits if you want to get rid of the pungent odor.
Step 2: Moisten Your Rag with Mineral Spirits
Lightly wet the top of your rag with mineral spirits. Make sure that it’s not soaked well but damp enough.
Step 3: Test on Scrap Wood First
Before applying mineral spirit all over your wood, it’s best to try it out on scrap wood that’s the same as the one on the project you’re working on. This helps you get an idea how what the wood will look like.
Step 4: Apply the Mineral Spirit by Wiping on the Wood
If you’re okay with how the scrap wood turned out, it’s time to use mineral spirits all over your furniture now. Use a clean, lint-free cloth, and dampen it with mineral spirits.
When the cloth is saturated enough, wipe the wood, and don’t miss any spot to make sure it’s even.
Step 5: Allow the Rag Sit on the Surface
Let the damp rag sit on top of the wood to help remove stubborn spots. You can also squeeze the rag to extract more spirits.
Step 6: Clean the Area and Let the Wood Dry Completely
Use a soft dry cloth to wipe the excess dirt from the area. For woods that need carving, stay with the motion of the grain, and avoid a scrubbing motion. Let the wood completely dry before applying any form of stain.
Step 7: Repeat As Needed
Add more mineral spirits as necessary, and continue the same process over and over until you’ve reached your desired clean and shine.
Interesting Read: Do Mineral Spirits Evaporate?
Using Mineral Spirits as a Cleaner/Stain Remover
Step 1: Pour the Mineral Spirit into a Container and Dampen a Rag
If the mineral spirit has a small opening, transfer it to a container so you can easily dampen your rag on the solution.
Step 2: Test the Stain and Place the Rag Over the Sticky Spot
Place the damp rag on the spots that need cleaning, and let it sit for a minute to maximize efficiency.
Step 3: Wipe Away the Sap, Grime, or Adhesive
After dumping the rag on the hard sap, it will be easier to wipe the grime and adhesive.
How to Utilize Mineral Spirits as a Paint Thinner
Mineral spirits are multi-purpose and can also be used as paint thinners. Grab the paint can and a larger container. Dump 4 ounces of spirit for every gallon of paint and stir the make-shift paint thinner thoroughly.
Keep in mind that using mineral spirits instead of paint thinners only applies to oil-based wood stains.
How to Utilize Mineral Spirits to Display Woodgrain
Another functional purpose of mineral spirits is to reveal a wood grain. To do so, use mineral spirits, and apply the same process when cleaning it.
Just make sure to apply gently and evenly so the surface will brighten evenly and there will be no awkward spots that are lighter or darker than the rest. Mineral spirits extract a wood’s natural grain color.
How To Utilize Mineral Spirits to Strip Paint
To break paint coatings and remove paint from the wood, you can also use a mineral spirit solution.
After dumping your soft cloth with mineral spirits, make sure to scrub the painted surface right away, to make this strategy work. If you let the spirit dry, it won’t be an effective solution to remove the paint.
How to Renew Wood Finish With Mineral Spirits
Another use of mineral spirits is to revive old finishes that have gone grimy and dirty. Oil-based finishes often get grimy over time, and applying mineral spirits can buff away the dirt.
Rub in circular motions against the wood, and then wipe with a clean dry cloth.
Other Uses For Mineral Spirits
Highlighting Wood Flaws
Weird dark lines often show up, especially if you didn’t have the time to check that all of the marks from the milling process have been sanded. One trick that you can do to fix mishaps like these is by applying mineral spirits.
Rub a dampened mineral spirit on your wood to mimic the stain or finish effect, and highlight the imperfections.
Cleaning Up Disasters
Often when applying stain, we forget to wipe it off the wood, and this happens especially to beginners. Don’t worry, because this mistake can be alleviated quickly when you use mineral spirits.
Excess wood stains can end up with a sticky mess on your finished product, and a quick solution is applying mineral spirit.
Use a scotch-brite pad and pour a gentle amount of mineral spirit directly onto the wood. Scrub thoroughly until the stain dissolves and the excess mineral spirits have been removed completely from the wood’s surface.
Making a Tack Cloth
There are multiple things you can use mineral spirits for, such as tack cloth. To make tack cloths, pour 1 tablespoon of turpentine onto your cotton rag.
Depending on the cloth’s absorption quality, add until the rag is wet enough but not dripping. Apply a little amount of varnish and rub until the varnish is equally distributed onto the cloth.
Cleaning Stain From Skin
When buying mineral spirits, it’s always recommended that you pay proper attention to the ingredient and component list, such as its flash point.
You can’t use the remaining mineral spirits from your woodshop to clean the stain from your skin, but there’s a low-flashpoint kind of spirit that can be used to treat wood stains from your skin.
Can Mineral Spirits Darken Wood?
Mineral spirits leave a gentle amount of darkened color on the wood during the application, but it dries off as soon as the wood dries, which means generally, you can’t use a mineral spirit to darken the wood itself.
Mineral spirits can renew dull wood finishes, but it’s not a long-term solution for darkening a wood’s surface.
Can Mineral Spirits Damage Wood?
Mineral spirits are considered a strong compound as they can clean stubborn stains right away, but pouring mineral spirits even on the entire surface won’t cause any wood damage.
Mineral spirits raise the grain from your wooden surface, especially if you’re applying it on extremely oily wood. However, it doesn’t wreck your wood surface in any way.
How to Clean Wood Before Staining
Wood cleaning is crucial before applying any amount of stain. To clean wood before staining, pour mineral spirits on the wood surface through a cloth, or brush so you can clean even the hard-to-reach areas.
Some wood carving is difficult to clean, so we recommend having a bristle brush or rolled cloth to clean such areas, too. Showing wood grain is easier when the surface is free of grime and patches from oil-based paints.
Applying Mineral Spirits Indirectly to Wood
While you can use mineral spirits on wood, some beginners are afraid of applying mineral stains directly to the surface, and it’s common. One way to do so is by applying it indirectly instead.
Step 1: Pour the Finish into a Separate Container
Estimate the amount of finish that you will need, and pour it onto a separate can. Dilute profoundly on a separate container and pour only enough mineral spirits that you can use and use immediately.
Step 2: Add Mineral Spirits
Add the mineral spirits to your finish gradually. Avoid mixing too much, as you need to test out the dilution of the stain first before adding again so you end up with your preferred shade. Add slowly to avoid dilution and get better control over the color you are achieving.
Step 3: Test the Stain
Before finalizing your dilution ratio, always test the stain on any wood scrap. It helps to test on a wood that looks exactly similar to the furniture you’re applying the stain to, so you get more accuracy on what stain color you are comfortable with.
Step 4: Apply the Stain
Once the wood has been thoroughly sanded, apply the diluted stain and mineral spirit mix with a paintbrush. You can also apply a wood conditioner if you prefer. Go through the direction of the wood to avoid making unnecessary wood strokes.
Alternatives to Mineral Spirits
There are actual alternatives you can use if getting a hand of a mineral spirit is difficult for you.
Acetone has always been one of the common alternatives to removing the stain, cleaning, degreasing, and even eliminating adhesives.
It’s easier to find and can be bought from any local convenience store. One advantage of using acetone is that you can apply it even on metals and plastic as well.
Mineral spirits have volatile organic compounds that will damage plastic contents, unlike acetone which is safer and has no fume.
Another alternative you can use when thinning paint is turpentine . Turpentine thins oil paint and makes it easier to apply. It’s also a good alternative for cleaning painting equipment and paint brushes.
The downside with turpentine is that it’s more toxic than acetone and mineral spirits and produces harmful fumes, which is why it’s recommended to use a smock when applying this solution.
Soap & Water
Excessive elbow grease is needed if you want to rinse off the debris from oil-painted wood with soap and water. Nevertheless, it’s doable. It’s advisable to use dish detergents as they can effectively wash away oil on surfaces.
How to Clean Paintbrushes With Mineral Spirits
Now you know how to use mineral spirits on wood surfaces, and you also need to learn the steps to clean your paintbrushes using this material. Here’s how:
Step 1: Pour Mineral Spirits into a Separate Container
Transfer the mineral spirits to a separate container, large enough to accommodate all your paintbrush materials that need to be cleaned.
Use either old Tupperware containers, which you can dispose of immediately as it’s not recommended to re-use it for food once you submerge it with components like minerals.
Step 2: Soak Your Paintbrush
Fill the container with enough solution until the brushes are all saturated, swirl gently to remove the debris from the brush, and clean the in-betweens of your bristles. Soak the brushes for a minute until all the hard paint has dissolved.
Step 3: Comb the Bristles
After the brushes have been soaked enough, remove the paintbrush from the solution and gently tap the bristles to ensure no residue is left. Comb through the bristles and let it sit on a rag. You can either use comb-like things to efficiently remove paint on the brushes.
Step 4: Soak Your Brush Back In the Mineral Spirits, then Repeat
Dip the brush back in the solution, and repeat the process until you have rid of all the dirt and the brush is clean enough as you deem.
Step 5: Rinse the Brush with Soap and Water
When the brush is clean enough of all oil-based debris from the paint, wash the paintbrush with soap and water. Dish soap is best preferred as it removes the excess spirits so the brush will dry easily and be oil-free.
Lay a newspaper or any paper, and let the brush air dry. Remember to dispose of the used mineral spirits, as they can clog your drain. Brush the remaining solution on scrap wood or newspaper until it’s dry and can be tossed safely in the trash.
Tips to Keep in Mind When Using Mineral Spirits: Safety Precautions, Things to Avoid
Mineral spirits are a heavily wanted material in the wood space, as they can also double as a paint thinner. However, it comes with its setbacks and precautions as well. Keep in mind the following when using mineral spirits.
Mineral Spirits and Food Safety
Anything used in construction materials or woodworking isn’t safe to be deemed as food grade. It contains hazardous and strong chemicals, and even a gentle amount can cause health hassle.
However, there are liquid finishes that are deemed food-grade by the FDA, and you can immediately see them on the label.
These are reserved for wood products that come in contact with food. It’s best to ensure that after using mineral spirits on wood food-grade products, food-grade wood finishes should be applied too.
Even washing the wood thoroughly doesn’t ensure that the fumes coming out from the mineral spirits aren’t harmful anymore, so applying mineral spirits to wood that comes in contact with food is still tricky.
Disposing of Mineral Spirits
Mineral spirits are hazardous and flammable, especially those that come in liquid form. This is why our experts don’t see it ideal to just dispose of the solutions down the drain or throw them in regular garbage cans.
There are proper ways to dispose of such. However, once dried, the entire landscape changes. Dry mineral spirits are harmless, and the most advisable way to dispose of them is by allowing them to dry or to see them on a paper surface.
There are a lot of materials you can apply mineral spirits, such as scrap wood, and cardboard, so utilize the solution on these when aiming for disposal.
If your mineral spirits don’t dry, drop them at your local hazardous waste facility instead to rule out any possible problems in the future.
Can I use minerals spirits on bare wood?
Yes. Mineral spirits can be applied on bare wood and act as a cleaner of any residual grime or debris, usually left from sanding.
How long should I let mineral spirits dry before applying the stain?
It’s important to keep the surface dry before staining it, especially if you apply mineral spirits. The rule of thumb is to at least wait for the surface to dry for 15-20 minutes. Wipe the area with a dry rag to dry the surface faster.
It may be tricky to know right away how to use mineral spirits on wood, but it’s a wood-working staple that’s purposeful whether you use it as a diluting agent or in keeping wooden surfaces clean.
Practicing the safety precautions in using mineral spirits on wood will also save you from any further complications.
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