What is Turpentine, and How Is It Used?

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Turpentine is a solvent that is made through the distillation of pine tree resin. It is often used as a paint thinner, and to clean paint brushes.

Turpentine has been around for many centuries. Artists have been using it since the 15th century, and it was very popular during the Renaissance era. Today artists still use turpentine, although there are other products available that will work just as well.

Turpentine can quicken the drying time for oil paints, and it can be used to thin out paints to get a better consistency. It can even be used for glazing and creating fluid brushstrokes.

If you are a painter and you use oil paints, it is likely that turpentine is one of the most essential tools in your arsenal. It can even be used to clean your oil brushes and other materials.

For the sake of this post, I will be referring to distilled turpentine, but I will simply be saying, “turpentine”.

Let’s get started.

How is Turpentine Made?

Turpentine is made from the resin of certain types of pine trees. The process of making turpentine involves distilling the resin, which is also known as gum turpentine, into a volatile, pungent oil.

turpentine resin from pine tree

According to the dictionary, turpentine is “a volatile pungent oil distilled from gum turpentine or pine wood, used in mixing paints and varnishes and in liniment”. It can also be made from many other types of trees that yield turpentine or other resin that is similar.

Turpentine offers many benefits to artists. Not only can it be used to change the viscosity of your paint, but it can also be used to clean your materials and even as a glaze.

What is Turpentine Used For?

These days, many artists use turpentine as a solvent and painting medium. They use turpentine oil to thin oil paints before applying them to paper or canvas.

In fact, some oil paints are so thick that it is necessary to use turpentine or another paint thinner before painting.

Turpentine dries quickly, making it ideal to use as a base layer for your artwork when you want it to dry quickly. You can even use turpentine to make your own oil paint, and this isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think!

When it comes to oil painting, turpentine is one of the most commonly-used mediums to use. It is inexpensive (when compared to other mediums), and it can be used to keep your painting stable.

One thing to keep in mind is that turpentine can cause paint to discolor and dry out. I do not recommend using it as a DIY solvent.

In addition to turpentine, you will also need to use another medium to thin your paint, such as linseed oil. This will help the paint to dry even faster. You can also use linseed stand oil, walnut oil, or safflower oil.

The easiest way to thin your oil paint is to use turpentine or mineral spirits. It can also be used to thicken your paint.

Check my guide to learn the differences between turpentine and mineral spirits.

Do You Need to Use Turpentine With Oil Paints?

While it can help you to create the best viscosity for your oil paint, it is not necessary to use turpentine with oil paints. But, you will need to use some sort of medium or oil.

You must be careful when using turpentine as a medium. It, along with other paint thinners, can cause paint to crack easily.

If you are new to the world of oil painting, I suggest using a thin layer of paint. That way your paint will not be too thick or too thin. Painting in thin layers will allow you to achieve bolder colors.

Try using a 2:1 ratio of oil paint to turpentine. Let it sit on the palette for an hour or so before using the paint.

Why Is Turpentine Mixed With Oil Paint?

Since turpentine oil has fast-drying characteristics, it can easily be used as a thinner for oil paints. It will allow you to have a much smoother paint application, and it will help the paint to dry faster.

When using turpentine as a medium, I generally mix turpentine with linseed oil. Every artist has different painting needs, so you will likely need to play around with the ratio until you get exactly what you want.

As a general rule of thumb, I would say to use one part linseed oil and two parts turpentine. This is going to give you nice, smooth brush control.

Be sure to thoroughly mix the oil and turpentine well with a mixing tool, such as your palette knife. It may take a while to mix turpentine and linseed oil, but it will be well worth the effort.

It isn’t always necessary to add linseed oil to turpentine. You can use the turpentine straight out of the bottle, especially if you are painting in layers.

Be Cautious When Using Turpentine Oil

It is important to practice caution when using turpentine. This is considered a hazardous household chemical and must be treated as such.

Turpentine is highly flammable. Even the fumes from turpentine can ignite, so it is important that you store it properly.

Make sure any unused turpentine is stored in a sealed container that is not near a direct source of heat. It should also be kept out of reach of children and pets, which I will stress once again.

Never mix turpentine with other solvents. This can lead to a very hazardous mixture that could be quite dangerous.

Consider the ratio when you are mixing turpentine with oil paint. Too much will cause the paint to dry too quickly, and it will be hard to apply to the canvas. Too little turpentine can make your paint brittle.

Is Turpentine Harmful to Humans?

Turpentine is considered to be toxic, especially if it is inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. This toxicity comes from the hydrocarbons that are used to dissolve fats. If you ingest turpentine, it can affect your lungs, heart, and central nervous system.

Ingesting turpentine can cause many health issues, ranging from an upset stomach to diarrhea to seizures and even death. If you happen to get it on your skin, be sure to wash it off right away. Turpentine can cause rashes and other skin problems.

Disposing of Turpentine

It is important that you properly dispose of unused or leftover turpentine. Never pour it down the drain or flush it in the toilet.

Turpentine is a hazardous chemical, and if you dispose of it by putting it in the drain or the toilet, it will end up getting into the local water supply. It could also get into streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

Contact your local municipality to find out where you can safely dispose of turpentine. Most areas have household hazardous waste collection centers, and it is here where you need to bring your turpentine to dispose of it.


As long as you follow all of the recommended safety precautions, turpentine is safe to use for thinning paint and for cleaning art materials.

Make sure that you always work in a well-ventilated area when using turpentine. Also, always wear gloves while handling turpentine to prevent it from coming into contact with your skin.

There are alternatives to turpentine, but if you are on a budget, this is likely going to be your best option. Just be careful about using it and you should have no problems.

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*image by AngelaAllen&homydesign/depositphotos