Different Types of Paint Thinners (Which One Do You Need?)

Paint thinner is an important item to have when painting any item especially if you are working with thick or oil-based finishes. This is because the thinning compound will help make the paint lighter and easier to apply.

You can also use it to remove stains and spills and to clean painting equipment. Different types of paint thinners can be used to thin, dilute, or clean paints. They are categorized based on the ingredient they use and the type of paint that they can thin. 

Types Of Paint Thinners

Paint Thinner

The term “paint thinner” is usually used to refer to thinning compounds that are used to thin, dilute, or clean oil-based paints.

These solvents are usually gotten from petroleum distillation, natural resins, and synthetic or natural oils. This is why the solvent is common for thinning oil-based finishes.

Though they can also be used to thin water-based finishes, you should only use water-based paint thinners to thin them.

Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer thinner, also known as cellulose thinner, is a thinning compound mainly designed to thin lacquer and other sealants or top coats like varnish. It is gotten from a combination of different solvents including acetone, xylene, toluene, butyl acetate, and other chemicals.

This thinning compound is more ideal for thinning or diluting paints rather than removing them from brushes or rollers. This is because the lacquer thinner is strong, and in some cases, can damage flexible or sensitive materials like wool.

However, lacquer thinner can help to remove lacquer residue, oils, and grease from painting equipment and hard surfaces like concrete or masonry.


Naphtha is another quality thinner. It is ideal for thinning oil-based finishes and sealants including enamel, varnish, and wood stains. This is because naphtha is gotten from petroleum distillation and synthetic resins. As such, the thinning compound isn’t great for thinning water-based paints.

Though there are naphtha thinners, the solvent is also included in the formula of other thinners, such as lacquer thinner. Naphtha has a very fast dry time because it evaporates quickly from the coating. So, it is less likely to ruin the paint or separate the particles.

Note: You should only use it if you are experienced with thinning compounds and always put on protective gear before using it.


Xylene is a thinner mainly produced by Ultimax. But, it is hardly used as a sole thinner. Xylene is usually an ingredient in other thinners. However, xylene is still potent and strong enough to thin sealants like varnish and other wood stains. 

White Spirits

White spirits is a paint thinner primarily used for clean-up tasks. It isn’t strong enough to thin oil-based paints but it can thin water-based paints, such as latex. 

However, white spirit is a stable solvent which means that it can be mixed with other thinners, such as mineral spirits, to thin oil-based paints or sealants. 

Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is a thinner primarily used to thin water-based paints and shellac stains. You can also use it to clean painting equipment before and after using them. It is safe to use and is considered one of the safest thinners.

However, it isn’t strong enough to thin or dilute oil-based paints.

Related Read: Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner?

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits is one of the best thinners in the market. It can be used with oil-based paints, clear coats, and sealants. Mineral spirit is gotten from petroleum distillation and spiced up with a few extra chemicals. Its formula is similar to turpentine.

However, you can’t use it to thin water-based paints.

Related Read: Can Mineral Spirits Remove Paint?


You can use water to dilute water-based paints. However, you can’t use it to dilute oil-based paints or sealants as it will ruin the clarity and viscosity of the finish. It will also make it impossible for them to stick well or dry evenly.

What Is The Strongest Paint Thinner?

The strongest paint thinner is lacquer thinner. Lacquer thinner is made of several solvents including traditional thinners and chemicals. The reason it is so strong is that it is used to thin lacquer and other sealants like varnish.

Sealants are the toughest types to dilute. This is because sealants are made of thick and strong chemicals and oils. This makes it difficult to thin them. However, lacquer thinner is strong and able to thin sealants including oil-based sealants.

Lacquer thinner can also be used to remove paint residue from different surfaces. 

However, lacquer thinner isn’t always the strongest. For instance, while diluting water-based paints, lacquer thinner is useless as it can’t dilute it. For water-based paints and sealants, the strongest thinner is water.

Other worthy mentions in this list include mineral spirits, turpentine, and naphtha.

Why Should You Use It?

You should use thinners to dilute paints and make their flow lighter. 

You can also use it to:

  1. Viscosity – Paint viscosity refers to how thick the paint flow is. It’s usually harder to apply paints with a thick flow, especially if you want to spray them. This is because the flow is harder to control. But, a thinner will reduce the thickness or viscosity of the paint so that it is easier to apply.
  2. Painting Equipment – You can use a thinning compound to clean painting equipment and remove the residue of them.
  3. Smooth Finish – Thinners also help to achieve a smooth and fine finish since you can apply thin coats.
  4. Clean Work Area – You can use it to remove paint spills on different surfaces. Since the coating is still wet, the thinner can remove it easily.

How To Choose it?

The following tips should be considered while picking a paint thinner:

The Base or Formula

The most important thing to consider before picking a thinner is its formula. The formula will determine if you can use it for the paint or not.

For water-based paint, always pick a thinner made from water or just use water. For oil-based paints, always use a thinner gotten from resins, oils, or petroleum distillation.

The Rate of Evaporation

Thinners tend to evaporate quickly due to their chemical formula. For instance, thinners gotten from alcohol tend to air dry super fast. This can make it difficult for the paint to dry properly. If the thinning compound evaporates too quickly, the coating will not dry evenly.

So always go for a thinner that doesn’t dry too fast.


Can You Thin Paint Too Much?

Yes, you can thin paint too much. If you thin water-based paint too much, the coating will crack and peel off later. When dry, the water-based coating forms a crystalline lattice that gives it strength. If you over-thin it, the layer won’t form because the coating won’t have enough binder. 

What Happens if You Use The Wrong Type?

If you use the wrong type of paint thinner you can ruin the finish. If you use water to thin oil-based paint, the coating will become blurry. The wrong thinner will cause the separation of the binders.

Can You Apply Paint Without Thinning It?

You can apply paint without thinning if you need thick layers. Thick layers offer better protection and durability, but they take longer to dry.

Final Words

In summary, you can use paint thinners to dilute paint before applying it. However, you must always use the right type or you can ruin the finish. 

Also, always measure the right amount of it so you don’t over-thin the coating. A good ratio to go by is 4:1 (4 parts of paint to 1 part of thinner).

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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