What Is Paint Thinner, and How Is It Used?

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Paint thinner is a widely-used term for a solution that can be used to dilute oil-based paints. Paint thinner can also be used as a dissolving agent, removing paint from some surfaces. It can even be used to create certain finishes on your paintings and to clean your brushes after you finish painting.

There are several different types of paint thinners available on the market today.

Here’s what I teach my students about the various types of paint thinners, how it is used, and the alternatives to paint thinners you can try.

What Is In Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is a solvent that can be used to dilute oil paints. There are several different types available, and each is made from a variety of compounds.

As I mentioned in the introduction, there are a few different uses for paint thinner. For this post, I will be discussing how artists use this solvent.

Some paint thinners only contain a single chemical, such as turpentine, naphtha, or acetone. Others may contain many substances.

Unfortunately, there are no actual lists available that will tell you all of the ingredients that go into any type of paint thinner. The term “paint thinner” is used to encompass a whole range of liquids that can be used as paint thinner.

Types of Paint Thinner

As I mentioned earlier, several different liquids are known as paint thinners. There is no one specific product used for this purpose.

Many different types of solvents can be used as paint thinners. Here are some of the most commonly used choices:

#1. Acetone

Acetone is a liquid that is used to thin paint. It is also a common ingredient in many types of nail polish remover.

This is a great paint thinner, and it can even be used to remove ink stains and glue from fabrics, as long as you are careful not to leave it sitting too long and end up causing the fabric to fade.

#2. Isopropyl Alcohol

Some people say that isopropyl alcohol is a good paint thinner, but I don’t tend to agree. Yes, it is great for thinning paint, but it can cause paint to harden too quickly once it is applied to a canvas and you will get brush marks on the surface of your painting.

Of course, if you want your paint to dry faster and you do want those brush marks, you may want to try using isopropyl alcohol as a paint thinner.

#3. Mineral Spirits

Many artists like to use mineral spirits as a paint thinner. Mineral spirits are also referred to as white spirit, and it is best for household and artistic purposes.

You can use mineral spirits to clean oil brushes and even remove paint from surfaces if you happen to make a mess while painting.

#4. Turpentine

Another solvent often used by artists is turpentine. This solution can be used for thinning paints, making paints dry faster, and even a varnish.

How To Use Paint Thinner

The types of paint thinner I have mentioned in this post can be used for a variety of purposes. Most commonly, it is used to dilute paint so it spreads onto the canvas easier. It can also be used to clean painting supplies, such as brushes and palettes.

You can also use paint thinner to clean up paint spills, remove underlying paint from some surfaces, and even create interesting finishes.

#1. Dilute Paint With Paint Thinner

If you need to dilute your paint, you can use paint thinner. You don’t need to use much to achieve the desired consistency.

I recommend starting by adding a few drops of paint thinner. If the paint still isn’t thin enough you can add more. If you add too much paint thinner, you can’t go back. If you are using turpentine, you can use a bit more than you would if you were using other solvents.

Not only will paint thinner make it easier to spread paint onto a canvas, but it will also help to increase the amount of paint on your palette.

Check my guides on thinning oil based paint and thinning acrylic paint for more tips.

#2. Using Paint Thinner To Clean Painting Materials

Artists who work with paint use paint thinner to clean their painting materials. It can be used to clean oil paint and acrylic paint from brushes, palettes, and other materials so they are ready to use again for your next painting session.

To clean your materials, put a little bit of paint thinner into a container. If you are cleaning brushes, dip the bristles into the paint thinner, making sure that the entire surface of the bristle end is covered with it.

Allow the brushes or other tools to sit in the container for five minutes or so. Then, you can wipe away any excess paint with a dry cloth.

Finally, wash the brushes with warm, soapy water and rinse with clear water so they are ready to use again.

#3. Using Paint Thinner to Create Finishes

When you are creating a painting, you are likely looking for certain tones, textures, and appearances in the paint. Using a paint thinner can help you to create the finish you wish to achieve easily.

When you use paint thinner, you can play around with the tone of the paint. Spreading the paint will also become much easier.

It is important to use the right ratio when mixing paint thinner into paint. Generally, most artists use a 4:1 ratio of paint to thinner. But, this will all depend on the type you are using.

Once you have thinned out your paint, test it to make sure the paint has the tone, thickness, and viscosity you are trying to achieve. Always be sure to add just a little bit of paint thinner at a time, and add more if it is needed.

Does Paint Thinner Remove Paint?

Yes, paint thinner is designed to dissolve and break down oil-based paints, making it effective for cleaning brushes, tools, and surfaces covered in oil paints. You can use paint thinner to remove paint spills, drips, or overspray of oil-based paint from various surfaces. However, this solvent might not be effective against water-based paints or other types of coatings, so it’s crucial to know the nature of the paint before attempting removal.


Most artists I know do tend to go through a lot of paint thinner. They use it to thin their paints, change the texture and drying time, etc. They also use it to clean their materials when they are finished with a painting session.

I suggest trying each of the most common paint thinners to find one that works best for your needs. If you prefer something more natural, try one of the choices I mentioned.

You can check my guides on using paint thinner in your painting class and paint thinner disposal for more tips.

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