Turpentine vs Paint Thinner: Which is Safer to Use?

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If you are looking for the safest solution for cleaning oil painting materials, turpentine is the best option. This doesn’t mean that paint thinners are not going to do the job just as well, only that turpentine is the least hazardous.

That’s one of the differences when it comes to turpentine vs paint thinner.

There are good and bad points about both paint thinners and turpentine. The best advice I can offer is for you to try a variety of paint thinners and turpentine to learn which is going to best suit your needs.

In this post, we are going to take a look at paint thinner and turpentine to see what the differences are, and which is safest to use. Keep reading to learn more.

Paint Thinner vs Turpentine Comparison

Is turpentine the same as paint thinner?

No, turpentine and paint thinner are not the same, although both are solvents used in painting. Here are the differences:

FactorsTurpentinePaint Thinner
Made fromResin of pine treespetroleum-derived solvent
PriceThe least expensive optionMore expensive than turpentine, especially when purchased at specialty stores
AvailabilityCan be found at most hardware stores and department storesCan be found at most hardware stores, department stores, and art supply stores
SafetyTurpentine is made with natural ingredientsPaint thinner is made with chemicals and can be hazardous to the environment
Cleaning agentCan be used as a cleaning agentCan be used as a cleaning agent
Thin paintWorks well for thinning oil-based paintsWorks well for thinning oil-based paints
DisposalMust be disposed of properlyMust be disposed of properly, and taken to a hazardous waste depot

What is Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is just as the name describes it: a substance used to thin paint and reduce its viscosity. It can also be used as a cleaning agent.

Paint thinner is used for many reasons. First and foremost, it thins paint, making it easier to apply. It can also extend the life of paint.

If you are using an airbrush, paint thinner is great because it thins the paint enough to be able to be used in this manner.

Paint thinner is also a great cleaning agent. It can be used to clean paint spills and stains, and you can use it to clean your paintbrushes. It can even be used for degreasing surfaces!

Most types of paint thinners are made with petroleum. Other types are made with an alcohol base that can be used to thin paint, including acetone, naphtha, and xylene.

While paint thinner is great for doing the jobs it is meant to do, it can also be hazardous. It is extremely flammable, and it is poisonous. It can cause skin damage and pose a serious threat if you get it in your eyes.

Pros and Cons of Paint Thinner


  • Paint thinner is stronger than mineral spirits
  • Paint thinner has a decent rate of evaporation
  • Paint thinner is milder than lacquer thinners
  • It can be used on wood, metal, and concrete
  • It can be used to clean paintbrushes and other art supplies
  • It is available in hardware stores, department stores, and art supply stores


  • Paint thinner shouldn’t be used on rubber or plastic, as it will cause both to warp
  • It is more expensive than turpentine and mineral spirits
  • Paint thinner is highly toxic and dangerous to the environment, so proper disposing of used paint thinner is required.

What is Turpentine?

Turpentine is made from pine tree resin, and is also referred to as turps or turpentine oil. The resin is often referred to as rosin, which is distilled with steam. This process turns the rosin into turpentine.

Like paint thinners, turpentine can be used for cleaning paintbrushes and other art materials. It can be used to thin paint so it spreads across the painting surface easily, and even enough to make the paint easy to use with an airbrush.

In many cases, turpentine is used as a solvent in other types of paint thinner, as well as in varnishes. It even has medicinal uses (it is an ingredient in Vicks VapoRub), and is often used in cosmetology.

Turpentine is distilled to be used as a flavor enhancer for foods and drinks, and it is even used in some soaps and cosmetics.

Pros and Cons of Turpentine


  • Turpentine makes oil-based paint easier to apply
  • It is a terrific cleaning agent and can remove paint from most surfaces
  • When alcohol is added, turpentine can be used to clean and restore paintings
  • Turpentine is a great stain remover and can clean toilets, sinks, and ceramic bathtubs
  • Turpentine is less toxic than paint thinners, making it safer to use
  • It can be used as furniture polish when combined with beeswax, soap flakes, and lavender
  • Turpentine is more environmentally friendly as it does not contain any petroleum distillates


  • Can be hazardous to your health if you are exposed to it for long periods, causing headaches, dizziness, and vomiting
  • Turpentine can cause eye irritation
  • If inhaled or swallowed, turpentine can cause bladder and kidney irritation
  • Turpentine is poisonous, and can cause death if consumed

Paint Thinner and Turpentine: What Are the Differences?

There are several differences between paint thinner and turpentine, even though they are often used for the same purposes. For instance, paint thinner is a liquid that is used to thin the consistency of paints and other liquids, whereas turpentine is a volatile oil that is often used as a paint solvent.

Paint thinner is made from petroleum, while turpentine is a more natural product that is made from the resin of pine trees. This is not to say that turpentine is completely natural, as it does go through some synthetic processes.

But, the main ingredients, including pine tree resin and beeswax, are much better for the environment than many of the ingredients found in paint thinners. Even though it has many natural ingredients, it still has a much stronger odor than paint thinners.

When it comes to price, you can expect to spend more on turpentine than you would on other types of paint thinners. But, since it makes paint dry quicker, it is often the first choice for many artists.

Safety Precautions to Consider

As I mentioned, turpentine is safer to use than paint thinner, but both can cause harmful side effects. You must take all of the necessary precautions when handling paint thinner or turpentine.

Make sure that you are always wearing gloves, protective eyewear, and face masks when working with either of these substances. You should also always be working in a well-ventilated area.

Always keep in mind that paint thinner is highly flammable. It should be properly stored, and you should always have a fire extinguisher nearby while working with it.

You will also need to consider the environment when working with paint thinner. It should never be poured down the drain, or into the ground, as it can contaminate groundwater and waterways.

Never completely fill a container with paint thinner, because you need to leave room for the vapors, as they expand. If there isn’t enough room for this expansion of vapors, it could lead to spontaneous combustion.


If you want to thin your oil-based paints, paint thinner and turpentine are both effective. You can even use both together, as long as the ratio is 3:1 (three parts paint thinner, one part turpentine). Never use paint thinner or turpentine to thin shellac, lacquers, or latex paint.

If you don’t mind the odor and the added expense that comes with turpentine, it is the best option for cleaning brushes and thinning your oil-based paints. As I mentioned earlier, it can even make your paint dry faster.

Overall, I suggest using turpentine for artistic purposes, and as a cleaning solution. It may cost a bit more, but it is the safest option.

Check my guide on Mineral Spirits vs Turpentine for more tips.

*image by AngelaAllen/depositphotos