4 Tested Paint Thinner Substitutes that I Teach My Students

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Did you know that you don’t necessarily need to use paint thinner to thin your paints or clean brushes and other art materials? There are many alternatives you can use that are a lot safer than the harsh, chemical products known as paint thinners.

I have played around with a few paint thinner substitutes, and I would like to talk about what I have learned here today. I will discuss the best four alternatives to paint thinner, and how to use them properly.

Continue reading to learn more about alternatives to using paint thinner.

Reasons to Avoid Using Chemical Paint Thinners

If you already know how to use paint thinner, you might realize that there are several reasons why many artists prefer using natural products rather than chemical paint thinners. For instance, in my case, I prefer natural products due to my allergies.

I have severe allergies to many scents and odors, and as we all know, many paint thinners have strong odors. I often find that I have difficulty breathing when I use turpentine or other chemicals.

Chemical paint thinners can be quite dangerous, and they should always be kept out of reach of children and pets. If paint thinner is ingested, it can cause several health issues, the least of which is an upset stomach or diarrhea. In the worst-case scenario, it could even cause seizures or death.

If paint thinner comes into contact with your skin, it could cause contact dermatitis. You could find yourself dealing with a lot of pain and itching after touching certain types of paint thinner.

Finally, chemicals such as acetone, turpentine, and naphtha are hazardous and can cause a lot of damage to the environment. If you were to improperly dispose of these paint thinners, you could end up dumping a lot of chemicals into your local water system.

These chemicals can end up in groundwater, streams, lakes, and rivers, and cause a lot of environmental damage.

What Are The Best Natural Paint Thinner Alternatives?

As long as you are working in a well-ventilated area and taking safety precautions, paint thinners are safe to use. But, if you don’t like the idea of using harmful chemicals as paint thinners, there are alternatives.

Here’s what can be used as natural paint thinner:

#1. Lemon Oil and Linseed Oil Blend

You can use a blend of lemon oil and linseed oil to thin out your oil paints. This is a safer alternative, and it works just as well as its chemical counterparts.

You can find these oils in most grocery stores, so you don’t even have to travel to a hardware store or an art supply store for this type of paint thinner. You can easily make your own paint thinner.

Mix a ratio of 4:1 lemon oil and linseed oil. Stir for five minutes and then start adding it to your paint, gradually. Mix well and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes, and then test the paint to see if you need to add more.

#2. Water

Oil and water do not mix, so never use water to dilute oil paints. You can, however, use water to dilute acrylic or latex paints.

This isn’t something that I recommend for the most part. But, if it is all that you have it will do in a pinch.

Be careful when using water to dilute paint. If you use too much, you will dilute the color too much. It is best to use small amounts of water and keep adding more if it is needed.

#3. Vinegar

Vinegar can be used as a substitute for paint thinner to dilute acrylic and oil-based paints. All you need is your palette, some white or clear vinegar, and a spoon or stirring stick. You can also use your palette knife for this purpose.

As with water, you only need a very small amount of vinegar to dilute your paints. Try using a few drops of vinegar at a time, adding more if necessary. Remember, you can’t make your paint thick again, so it is best to add too little than too much vinegar.

Allow the paint to sit for a couple of minutes after adding the vinegar. Test the paint, and if you need to thin it out more you can add more vinegar.

#4. Baby Oil

If you are working with oil paints, you may want to try using baby oil to thin the paints. It is often used by artists to create just the right colors that have just the right consistency for what they are trying to achieve.

Make sure the baby oil you use doesn’t contain any chemicals or compounds. I recommend only using natural baby oil.

Add a couple of drops of baby oil at a time to the paint. Test the paint, and if you need to add more baby oil, just add another drop or two. Keep testing and adding baby oil until the paint reaches the desired consistency.

The biggest drawback to using baby oil is that it will make oil paints even shinier than normal. It will also make the paint take even longer to dry than usual.


As you can see, it is not always necessary to use chemical products for thinning paints, cleaning painting materials, etc. There are several natural products that can be used that are much safer, especially when you use paint thinner in paint and sip classes that involve eating and drinking.

If you would rather use something natural as opposed to the chemicals that are found in commercial paint thinners, try any of the alternatives that I have mentioned in this post. They will work just as well, and you can feel safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to have any adverse health effects or cause any environmental damage.

*image by alkitanapa/depositphotos