Paint Thinner vs Mineral Spirits (Which One is Better?)

In the painting world, there are hardly any other products as similar as mineral spirits and paint thinner. Both solvents are used to thin paints, clean stains, and wipe painting equipment. But, what’s the difference between both products?

Mineral spirit is a type of paint thinner gotten from petroleum distillation. Unlike paint thinners that contain additives and other solvents, mineral spirits are 100% petroleum distilled. That gives the solvent some features that are different from regular paint thinners.

Paint thinner refers to a broad range of solvents that are used to thin paints. The term “paint thinner” refers to the function of the solvent and not its content.

Paint thinners often include additives in the formula and can even be made from two or more solvents. Popular paint thinners include acetone, turpentine, rubbing alcohol, and even mineral spirits.

What is Mineral Spirit?

What Is Mineral Spirit?

Mineral spirit is a petroleum-distilled solvent. This means the solvent is gotten from a process of distilling crude oil through heat. Mineral spirit has no additives or extra solvent in its formula. The solvent is 100% gotten from petroleum distillation.

Since mineral spirits are gotten from only petroleum distillation and it doesn’t have any additives in its formula, it doesn’t smell as much as other paint thinning solvents. 

Mineral spirits is used for thinning oil-based paints and cleaning paint off painting equipment. After painting, you can soak the roller, paintbrush, or even spray gun in a bucket of mineral spirits to dissolve and remove paint.

However, mineral spirits have a flaw. The solvent can’t be used to thin water-based paints given the high deposits of oils in it.

What is Paint Thinner?

What Is Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is more of a term than a product. In the painting world, paint thinner refers to any liquid or solvent that can be used to make paint lighter or thinner.

Many painters even consider water as paint thinner since it’s used to thin water-based paints. But paint thinner often refers to oil and solvent-based liquids that can be used to lighten the flow of oil-based paints before applying it.

Paint thinners often have complex chemical makeup. Asides from the main ingredient of the paint thinner which could be any solvent or natural matter, the paint thinner also include additives in its formula. For instance, turpentine paint thinner is gotten from the distillation of pine tree resins but the paint thinner also includes additives like benzene.

The slightly complex chemical formula of paint thinners means that the solvent has a strong odor. Paint thinners are used for anything from thinning paints to cleaning them and even in some cases, stripping paint from surfaces.

Related Read: Different Types of Paint Thinners?

Mineral Spirits vs Paint Thinners

To compare both products, we’ll use the features of each solvent in contrast with the other. For this guide, paint thinner will refer to any other type of thinning solvent asides from mineral spirits. Now, let’s begin with the formula of each solvent.

The Formula or Make-Up

What are the ingredients used in manufacturing the solvent?

Mineral spirits have a simple makeup. The solvent is gotten from petroleum distillation and it doesn’t include any other solvent or additive.

Paint thinner on the other hand is famous for its slightly complex formula. There is hardly any type of paint thinner that is gotten from just one product. Paint thinners often include additives, solvents, and chemicals to make the solvent stronger.

The Odor

Paint thinners smell more than mineral spirits. Again, this is due to the different compounds in its formula. Paint thinners often produce unpleasant chemical-like smells when used.

Mineral spirits smells less, there are even mineral spirits advertised as “odor-free.”

The Cost

Paint thinners don’t cost as much as mineral spirits. The reason for this is the extra perks that you get from using mineral spirits.

Since mineral spirit has a low odor, it’s bound to cost more than paint thinners that are more smelly. You can get a gallon of mineral spirit for about $10. Most, if not all, paint thinners cost less than that.

Paint Thinning

Both products are largely used to thin oil-based paints but since paint thinner refers to any liquid that can be used to thin paints, water counts as a paint thinner.

This means that in the broader sense, paint thinner (or water) can be used to thin water-based paints while mineral spirits can only be used for thinning oil-based paints.

However, mineral spirits and paint thinner can both be used to dissolve and remove paint regardless of the type. So mineral spirits will remove water-based paints from your painting equipment.

The Potency or Effectiveness

Mineral spirits are usually better for thinning oil-based paints. This is because mineral spirits have a very slow rate of evaporation which means that the solvent will remain in the paint coating longer. Since the solvent doesn’t evaporate quickly, it will give the paint enough time to dry and cure properly.

Paint thinners on the other hand evaporate quickly. Acetone for instance is known to evaporate within minutes. This means that the solvent will most likely leave the paint coating before the paint gets dry. This increases the chances of the paint cracking or peeling off.

User Difficulty

It’s much easier to work with mineral spirits since the solvent isn’t as smelly as regular paint thinners. Also, since mineral spirits take longer to evaporate and dry, you can easily fix mistakes.

Paint thinners are a bit more difficult to use. 

Should You Buy Paint Thinner or Mineral Spirits?

The answer to this question depends on what you need the solvent for.

Mineral Spirits: If You Need an All-purpose Cleaning Solvent

Since mineral spirits are safer and easier to use, it’s more versatile meaning that you can use them for just about any type of clean-up task.

Mineral Spirits: For Indoor Use

If you want a solvent to be used indoors, buy mineral spirits since it doesn’t smell as much as paint thinners.

Paint Thinner: For Removing Sealants From Paintbrushes

Sealants are often harder to remove than regular paints so paint thinners are more effective for dissolving and removing the paint.

Paint Thinner: If You Are Low on Cash

Since mineral spirits cost more, a gallon of regular paint thinner will save you some cash.

Paint Thinner: For Outdoor Use

Since the solvent releases more odor than mineral spirits, you can use it for outdoor application where the fumes can be easily dispersed.

Pro-Tips While Using Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner

The following tips will prevent accidents while using both solvents.

  • Always put on breathing protection.
  • Always allow proper ventilation to prevent a build-up of chemical fumes.
  • Don’t use too much of either solvent.
  • Always use a pair of gloves while handling either solvent.
  • Don’t soak plastic items in paint thinner too long or it can cause corrosion.
  • Don’t use either solvent on bare metal to prevent etching.


Here are some common questions asked by DIYers like yourself about paint thinners and mineral spirits.

Is Paint Thinner the Same as Mineral Spirit?

No, mineral spirit is gotten from petroleum distillation while paint thinner can be gotten from any other means. Both solvents usually have varying chemical compositions.

Can You Mix Mineral Spirits and Paint Thinner?

It’s not a good idea to use both solvents together. Since they have different chemical makeup, using them together can cause a build-up of fumes in the air.

Can You Use Mineral Spirits For Water-Based Paints?

You shouldn’t thin latex paints with mineral spirits because mineral spirit is oil-based. The only type of paint thinner that you can use to thin latex paint is water.

Final Words

Overall, there aren’t many differences between mineral spirits and paint thinners. The main difference between both solvents is the makeup or ingredients used in manufacturing them. Mineral spirits are gotten from petroleum distillation which means the solvent had a simple makeup and is more user-friendly.

Paint thinners have a slightly complex makeup meaning that the paint is more likely to be toxic. However, always ensure to protect your skin, lungs, and eyes while using either mineral spirits or paint thinner.

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