Mineral Spirits vs. Paint Thinner — Key Differences to Know

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In the realm of solvents, mineral spirits, and paint thinner stand out as commonly used options for various tasks. Understanding their differences, applications, and potential considerations is essential for effective and safe usage. 

So, let me explain the distinctions between these two solvents and explore when to choose one over the other.

What is Mineral Spirits?

Mineral spirits, also known as white spirits or mineral turpentine, is a petroleum-derived solvent commonly used in painting and woodworking. 

It serves as a versatile cleaner for removing paint, varnishes, and stains, as well as a diluent for oil-based paints and stains. 

Also,  it can remove grease and grime and be a general-purpose degreaser in various industrial and household applications. Its low odor and mild toxicity make it a preferred choice for indoor applications.

What is Paint Thinner?

paint thinner

Paint thinner, often referred to as a “solvent blend,” is a broader category that encompasses various solvents [1] used to dilute and clean up oil-based paints, varnishes, stains,  and coatings. 

It typically contains a mix of solvents like mineral spirits, acetone, and other chemicals. It’s easy to apply and clean up.

While effective, its stronger odor and higher volatility compared to mineral spirits can make it more suitable for outdoor use or well-ventilated areas.

Differences Between Mineral Spirits and Paint Thinner

When it comes to selecting the right solvent for your painting or cleaning tasks, understanding the differences between mineral spirits and paint thinner is crucial. 

These two solvents, often used interchangeably, have distinct characteristics that can impact their effectiveness and safety in various applications.

Composition and Ingredients Comparison

Mineral Spirits as a Paint Thinner

Mineral spirits, derived from petroleum, are a specific type of solvent that primarily contains hydrocarbons. On the other hand, paint thinner is a more general term encompassing a range of solvent blends. 

These blends can include not only mineral spirits but also other chemicals like acetone, toluene, and naphtha. As a result, the composition of paint thinner can vary widely, leading to differences in odor, volatility, and potential health hazards.

Odor and Volatility Comparison

One noticeable difference between the two solvents is their odor and volatility. Mineral spirits are known for their relatively low odor, making them suitable for indoor applications where ventilation might be limited. 

In contrast, paint thinner, due to its varied composition, can emit stronger and more pungent fumes. 

This characteristic makes paint thinner more suitable for outdoor use or well-ventilated areas to prevent inhalation of potentially harmful vapors.

Mineral Spirits vs. Paint Thinner’s Safety Considerations

paint thinner and mineral spirits

In terms of safety, mineral spirits are generally considered to be less toxic than many other solvents. Their mild toxicity profile contributes to their popularity for indoor tasks. 

However, Paint Thinner’s broader range of ingredients can introduce additional health and environmental risks. 

You should exercise caution when working with paint thinner, particularly in enclosed spaces, and follow proper safety guidelines, including wearing protective gear and ensuring adequate ventilation.

Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits’ Applications

Mineral spirits find their primary use as a cleaner and degreaser for surfaces and tools, as well as a diluent for oil-based paints and stains. Its versatility and relatively gentle nature make it suitable for a wide range of tasks. 

Paint Thinner, due to its stronger solvents, is often employed when more aggressive cleaning or paint thinning is required. It is particularly effective for removing thick layers of old paint or varnish.

Should You Use Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner?

yellow enamel paint

Selecting between mineral spirits and paint thinner hinges on the task’s demands and safety precautions. 

Opt for mineral spirits when indoor usage with minimal odor is crucial. Its milder nature suits surface cleaning and oil-based paint thinning. 

However, if outdoor or well-ventilated spaces are available and more potent cleaning or paint removal is needed, paint thinner might be the better choice. 

Mineral spirits

Always prioritize safety by considering the solvent’s composition, volatility, and potential health impacts, tailoring your choice to the specific requirements of the project.


Understanding the nuances between Mineral spirits and paint thinner is essential. These distinctions, spanning composition, odor, safety, and applications, guide informed choices. 

Prioritizing task demands and safety considerations ensures optimal results while mitigating potential risks in various painting and cleaning endeavors. 

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson
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