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 paint or oil-based paint. This is because the thinning compound will help make the paint lighter and easier to apply.

Paint thinners are used to get rid of paint stains, spills, and to clean painting equipment after painting. Different types of paint thinners can be used to thin, dilute, or clean paints.

Paint thinners are categorized based on the ingredient in the paint thinner and the type of paint that they can thin. Let’s check out some popular paint thinners as well as when to use them.

Types Of Paint Thinners

Here are the top choices 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 paints.

Though paint thinners can also be used to thin water-based paint, you should only use water-based paint thinners to thin chalk, latex, acrylic, or other types of water-based paints.

Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer thinner also known as cellulose thinner is a paint thinning compound mainly designed to thin lacquer and other sealants or top coats like varnish.

Lacquer thinner is gotten from a combination of different solvents including acetone, xylene, toluene, butyl acetate, and other paint chemicals.

The thinning compound is more ideal for thinning or diluting paints rather than removing paint from paint brushes or rollers.

This is because the lacquer thinner is very 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 paint thinner. However, the thinner is ideal for thinning oil-based paints 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 paint thinners, the solvent is also included in the formula of other thinners such as lacquer thinner and paint thinners. Naphtha has a very fast dry time because it evaporates quickly from the paint coating. So, naphtha is less likely to ruin the paint or separate paint particles.

You should only use naphtha if you are experienced with the thinning compound and always put on protective gear before using the paint thinner.


Xylene is a paint thinner mainly produced by Ultrimax. But, xylene is hardly used as a sole paint thinner. Xylene is usually an ingredient in other paint thinners like lacquer thinner.

However, xylene is still potent and strong enough to thin sealants like varnish and other wood stains. Xylene can also be used to get rid of paint stains and paint residue from paint equipment after painting.

White Spirits

White spirits is a paint thinner primarily used for clean-up tasks. The thinner is not strong enough to thin oil-based paints but it’s good enough to thin water-based and latex paints.

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

Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is a paint thinner primarily used to thin water-based paints and shellac stains. You can also use denatured alcohol to clean and disinfect painting equipment before and after painting.

The thinner is safe to use and is considered one of the safest paint thinners out there. The only flaw of this paint thinner is that it’s not great for thinning oil-based paints.

Related Read: Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinner?

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirit is the king of paint thinners. The thinning compound 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. The formula of mineral spirits is very similar to turpentine.

Like all other paint thinners gotten from petroleum distillates, mineral spirits shouldn’t be used to thin water-based paints. Mineral spirit is only good for oil-based paints and wood stains.

Related Read: Can Mineral Spirits Remove Paint?


Water is also used commonly as a paint thinner. However, water is used only to thin latex paints, chalk, acrylic, and other water-based paints.

You should never use water to thin an oil-based paint or sealant. This will ruin the clarity and viscosity of the oil-based paint. It will also make it impossible for the oil-based paint or sealant to stick well or dry evenly.

What Is The Strongest Paint Thinner?

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

When it comes to thinning paints, sealants are the toughest types of paint to thin. This is because sealants like lacquer are made of thick and strong chemicals and oils. This makes it difficult to thin the sealants. Lacquer thinner however is very strong and able to thin sealants including oil-based sealants.

Asides from thinning lacquer, lacquer thinner can also be used to remove paint residue from different surfaces. Lacquer thinner will even dissolve solidified oil-based paint.

However, lacquer thinner isn’t always the strongest paint thinner. For instance, while dealing with water-based paints, lacquer thinner is useless. If you thin water-based paint with lacquer, the paint will be ruined. For water-based paints and sealants, the strongest paint thinner is water.

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

Why Should You Use Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is important because the solvent helps to make painting easier. With paint thinner, applying or spraying paint is way easier since the paint will have a lighter flow after being thinned. Paint thinner is also important for the following reasons:

Helps To Reduce Paint Viscosity

Paint viscosity refers to how thick the paint is. For thick paints like oil-based paints, it’s usually difficult to apply them and more difficult to spray evenly.

This is because the paint is too thick and difficult to control. But paint thinner helps to reduce the thickness or viscosity of the paint so that it is easier to apply.

Helps To Clean Painting Equipment

After painting with your paintbrush, roller, or paint sprayer, you are bound to have paint residue on the painting equipment. The paint might have also hardened due to exposure to air.

This can make cleaning paint equipment difficult but not with a paint thinner. Paint thinners help to dissolve the stuck paint so it’s harder to clean.

Helps To Achieve Smooth Results

Paint thinners also help to achieve smooth and fine paint results since you can apply thin coats.

Makes Painting Quicker

Paint thinners also make your paint job quicker. For instance, you can easily spray on the paint after thinning rather than drawing brush strokes repeatedly.

Guarantees A Clean Work Area

Painting and spills go hand in hand. While you paint, you are bound to spill some of the paint on the floor, walls, or other objects.

You can easily use paint thinner to clean these objects. However, be careful while doing this as some paint thinners can corrode or damage sensitive materials.

Choosing a Paint Thinner

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

The Base or Formula

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

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

The Rate of Evaporation

Paint thinners tend to evaporate quickly due to the chemical make-up of the thinning medium. For instance, paint thinners gotten from alcohol tend to air dry super quickly.

This can make it difficult for the paint to dry properly. If the thinning compound evaporates too quickly, the paint will not dry evenly. So always go for paint thinner that doesn’t dry too fast.


Can You Thin Paint Too Much?

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

What Happens if You Use The Wrong Type of Paint Thinner?

If you use the wrong type of paint thinner you can ruin the paint. If you use water to thin oil-based paint, the paint will become blurry. The wrong paint thinner will cause separation of the paint binders. It can also clog your paint sprayer. 

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. Also, if you are using a paint sprayer you have to thin the paint or it can clog the sprayer nozzle. 

Final Words

Overall, paint thinners are an effective and very important painting tool. The thinning medium can help the whole painting task easier and smoother.

However, always pick the right paint thinner based on the type of paint you want to apply. For water-based paints, water is a good choice and for oil-based paints, mineral spirits are good enough.

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

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