Most artists who paint use solvents to help preserve their paints, thin paints, clean up after painting, etc. Quite often they will use either turpentine or mineral spirits.
- The main difference between mineral spirits and turpentine is that mineral spirits are petroleum-based and have a milder odor, while turpentine is made from pine resin and is more volatile with a stronger smell.
- When it comes to solvency, turpentine tends to be more powerful and aggressive as a solvent compared to mineral spirits, making it more effective in dissolving oil-based paints and varnishes.
- Both mineral spirits and turpentine can be harmful if inhaled excessively or ingested, but turpentine is generally considered more toxic and can cause allergic reactions or other health issues with prolonged exposure. Always use these solvents in a well-ventilated area and minimize skin contact.
There are several reasons to use these solvents. For instance, if you are on a tight budget you can extend the shelf life of oil paint by thinning it with solvents.
Others use certain solvents to shorten the drying time of oil paints.
Both turpentine and mineral spirits will break down the oil and pigments to make the paint thinner. Solvents are often used in a first wash and underpainting.
Solvents aren’t something you should rely on heavily, but they can help when you want to thin paints, make paints dry faster, and make paints last longer.
Today we are going to take a look at the difference between turpentine and mineral spirits, their composition, their uses, drying times, and more.
Let’s get started.
Turpentine vs Mineral Spirits Comparison
|Evaporates and dries quickly
|Takes more time to dry
|No oily residue
|Oily residue that needs to be cleaned
|Less toxic than petroleum-based solvents
|Bad for the environment
|Works well with oil paints
|Works well with all paints
|Up to $80 per gallon
|Up to $80 per gallon
|Available at hardware stores and art supply stores
|Available at hardware stores and art supply stores
What Are Mineral Spirits?
Mineral spirits are a type of solvent made from petroleum. Mineral spirits are the same as white spirit and can be used for other purposes besides art, such as cleaning and degreasing.
Artists use mineral spirits as mild solvents and paint thinners. They are readily available and inexpensive.
One of the things I don’t like about using mineral spirits is the oily residue they leave on paintings. But, I do like the fact that they are unscented, as I have allergies to many products that contain scents.
When using mineral spirits for painting, it is important to get artist-grade products. Others may not be good for use with oil paint.
What Is Turpentine?
Turpentine is another solvent often used by artists that is made from distilled tree resin. In most cases, this resin comes from pine trees.
Turpentine oil can be used for household cleaning purposes, such as degreasing. It has even been used medicinally in topical treatments (it is an ingredient in Vicks VapoRub).
I tend to prefer using turpentine because it doesn’t leave that oily residue on paintings as mineral spirits do. Be sure to use artist-grade turpentine for your artwork rather than the type you would find in a hardware store.
Learn more about turpentine uses.
What Is The Difference Between Mineral Spirits and Turpentine?
Mineral spirits and turpentine are both solvents used in painting, but they differ in origin, odor, solvency, and toxicity. Mineral spirits, being petroleum-based, emit a milder odor than turpentine, which is produced from pine resin and is more volatile with a stronger scent.
In terms of solvency, turpentine is more aggressive, effectively dissolving oil-based paints and varnishes better than mineral spirits. Both can be harmful if mishandled, but turpentine poses a higher toxicity risk, potentially causing allergic reactions and other health issues with prolonged exposure, hence the need for using these solvents in well-ventilated areas and avoiding skin contact.
Mineral spirits are made with alicyclic and aliphatic petroleum compounds. Distilled cyclopropane, aliphatic, and aromatic compounds are used in the production of this solvent. Mineral spirits are ideal for stripping paint because they are very corrosive.
When it comes to using mineral spirits on paintings, be sure to use Type II mineral spirits, which have a high flash point. They don’t have as many of the aromatic solvents as other types of mineral spirits, which makes them ideal for thinning out oil paint.
Turpentine, on the other hand, is made from living trees. Most of the turpentines you buy in stores come from pine trees.
The trees used to make turpentine are usually Aleppo, longleaf, maritime, Masson’s, ponderosa, loblolly, and Sumatran pine trees. Some brands also use terebinth, balsam fir, and other types of trees to make turpentine.
How Mineral Spirits and Turpentine Are Used
You can use mineral spirits or turpentine to thin paint. The stronger of the two is the mineral spirits, which also have a more oily consistency.
While this oily consistency can be annoying, I will say that it is great for preserving the texture of paint without making it too thin.
If you are using a solvent to clean your brushes and palettes, turpentine is the better choice because it doesn’t leave any oily residue. It is important to make sure that metal items cleaned with turpentine are dried completely, otherwise, they can rust.
Mineral spirits can also be used for cleaning, but then you have to turn around and clean off the oily residue. Why bother with that additional step if you can use turpentine and avoid the problem in the first place?
One thing that mineral spirits and turpentine both have in common is that they should never be used to clean anything made of plastic. They can end up dissolving the plastic. So, if you are using a plastic palette, find another way to clean it.
Drying Times for Mineral Spirits and Turpentine
It only makes sense that turpentine will dry faster than mineral spirits because it isn’t oil-based. But, both of these solvents can be used to make oil paintings dry faster.
Your paintings should be dry to the touch within 24 hours if you use mineral spirits or turpentine.
Which is Safer to Use?
Both turpentine and mineral spirits should be used with caution. It is important to make sure you are using refined, artist-grade solvents. Those made with unrefined minerals can contain toxic compounds.
Even artist-grade products have their dangers. For instance, if any white spirit gets on your skin, it can cause some pretty serious irritation.
It is also not safe to consume these products. If one were to ingest a large dose of either turpentine or mineral spirits, or have repeated exposure to mineral spirits, side effects could include nausea, dizziness, contact dermatitis, and even problems with the central nervous system. (*) (*)
Turpentine oil can be harmful as well. You should avoid coming into physical contact, so always wear gloves while working with turpentine.
Also, turpentine can damage skin, eyes, the renal system, and the respiratory system. Some side effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, respiratory failure, and even death if it is consumed in large doses. (*) (*) (*)
You must always handle mineral spirits and turpentine with care. Wear protective gear, including gloves, masks, and safety glasses.
Keep these solvents out of reach of small children and pets.
Disposing of Turpentine and Mineral Solvents
While mineral spirits aren’t as damaging to the environment as turpentine, both can be disposed of in the same manner. You will need to look for a local site for disposing of hazardous chemicals.
Over time, mineral spirits will evaporate, so you may not have to worry about taking them to a disposal facility. The same cannot be said for turpentine.
I often use leftover solvents to clean oil brushes. This saves me money, and it saves me several trips to the disposal facility.
As with most art supplies, whether you use turpentine or mineral spirits depends on your personal preference. Both are ideal for thinning oil paint, and they can be used to clean brushes and palettes.
No matter which you choose, be sure to follow the directions on the label, and always take all of the recommended safety precautions when using these products.
*image by AngelaAllen/depositphotos
Sari Green is a semi-professional artist and professional writer. She has been hosting paint & sip parties for the past couple of years, and truly enjoys helping other people to create their very own masterpieces. She loves to create, and you never know what she’s going to come up with next!