Mineral Spirits Vs. Paint Thinner: What Are The Major Differences?

Tom Gaffey
by Tom Gaffey

Many people think of paint thinner as just the chemical solution used to help wipe up paint messes and clean brushes or rollers. When you go to your hardware store and grab a bottle of paint thinner for a more specific project, however, you will notice there are all types of paint thinners with different names. You will even see mineral spirits in this category, and perhaps wonder what the difference between a mineral spirit and paint thinner is.

Mineral spirits are a type of paint thinner distilled from petroleum. Unlike other paint thinners, mineral spirits are a pure distillation with no additives, which makes this product great for thinning oil-based paint. They tend to smell much less than other paint thinners and are less toxic. They do not, however, work well with latex paint and are not as effective at removing paint once it has dried.

Understanding the difference between mineral spirits and paint thinners means you need to know what exactly mineral spirits are. Once you understand what a mineral spirit is you can get a better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. You will even find that mineral spirits can even be called a paint thinner, and often are. Still, there are key differences that set mineral spirits apart from paint thinners.

What Exactly Are Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are a distilled liquid that is derived from petroleum. Their primary use is as a solvent and paint thinner, particularly for creating smooth thin oil-based paints.

What makes mineral spirits stand out is that they typically are not filled with additives. They are also thoroughly distilled. This gives them a reputation of being more “pure”, less toxic, and not as stinky as many other paint thinners.

Are Mineral Spirits A Type Of Paint Thinner?

Yes, mineral spirits are, in fact, a type of paint thinner. Mineral spirits are essentially a paint thinner, but a highly refined version. Still, paint thinners and mineral spirits can do several of the same jobs quite well.

What you traditionally think of as a paint thinner, and mineral spirits are both highly effective at thinning out oil-based paints. Thinning paint is needed in many cases to allow for a smooth and thin layer of oil-based paint. Both mineral spirits and other paint thinners are great at this. If you are looking for the smoothest and most professional-looking results, mineral spirits are known to have the smoothest results.

Paint thinners and mineral spirits are also great at cleaning up your equipment. Paint brushes and rollers can be a real pain to clean. You can rinse them one hundred times and there can still be remnants of paint. Soaking them in mineral spirits or other paint thinners like turpentine help clean the brushes and rollers right up. If the paint has dried, however, use a paint thinner, as mineral spirits only work on wet paint.

Key Differences Between Mineral Spirits And Other Paint Thinners

While mineral spirits are technically a type of paint thinner, there are differences. Particularly, there are several factors that separate mineral spirits from most other types of paint thinners. These factors range from their purity to their practical use.


Mineral Spirits are purer than most other paint thinners. They are derived from petroleum. More so, it is made of 100% petroleum distillation, and does not feature the array of additives most other common paint thinners have. This makes it smell different, makes it less toxic, but also affects the strength.


Since mineral spirits are purer and do not contain additives like other paint thinners, this often means they are less strong and abrasive. They work great as a solvent, but when it comes to removing dried paint and doing more powerful stripping tasks, they are not as adequate.

Practical Uses

Since mineral spirits are not as strong, this means they have some different uses than other paint thinners. For one, you shouldn’t use mineral spirits with latex-based paints. They are not strong enough and compatible to be as effective as other paint thinners with this type of paint.

Pros And Cons Of Mineral Spirits

Just like with any solvent product, there are pros and cons to mineral spirits. There are certainly many reasons for you to choose a bottle of mineral spirits over other paint thinners. Before you do so, also read the cons to make sure some of the mineral spirits downsides won’t affect your particular project.

Pros Of Using Mineral Spirits

The Fumes Aren’t As Smelly

When many people think of paint thinners, one of the first (if not the first) thoughts that pops into mind is the strong and terrible smell. Paint thinners can smell quite potent and even dangerous to your health.

Thanks to the fact that mineral spirits are far more refined and distilled than other paint thinners, they have a much less potent smell, which can make them much more pleasant to work with than serpentine and other paint thinners.

They Are Generally Less Toxic

Because of mineral spirits purity and lack of additives, they also tend to be less toxic. This is helpful for your body and also the environment. Still, these are by no means safe and regular household chemicals. Mineral spirits are still potentially flammable and hazardous. Dispose of mineral spirits at your local hazardous waste facility.

Tends To Lend Smoother Results

While other paint thinners are perfectly suitable to thin your oil-based paints, mineral spirits tend to have the best results. They produce very thin and smooth paint when added to paint in order to thin it out. This lends itself to a very thin and smooth product. In turn, the results from paint thinned by mineral spirits often look more professional compared to paints thinned with other paint thinners.

Cons of Using Mineral Spirits

Not Compatible With Latex Paint

While there are some pros to the clean and distilled nature of mineral spirits, it also means they are not as harsh and tough as a solvent. They are not nearly as effective as thinning or removing latex paint. When you use latex paint, you are usually better off using other paint thinners.

Only Removes Wet Paint

Mineral spirits are great at thinning oil-based paints, and even at cleaning surfaces with oily residue and such, but they are not the go-to for paint removal. If you need dry paint removed (especially latex) from a recently painted area, like a window or floor, do not use mineral spirits.

If your paint brushes have dried with paint, use paint thinners, as mineral spirits are not abrasive enough as a cleaner to really penetrate dried paint as much as paint thinner is.


While mineral spirits are much more refined than other paint thinners, this comes at a price. Mineral spirits tend to cost at least 50% more than paint thinners. In some cases, more pure mineral spirits can be twice the price of standard paint thinner. This means that if you have a simple project where any paint thinner will do, you might be better off with the paint thinner that is half the price.

Can Irritate The Skin

It is important to remember that just because mineral spirits are a more pure and premium product does not mean they don’t have their dangerous qualities. While they are not as abrasive on some forms of paint, they can seriously irritate your skin. It is important to use protective gloves and cover your skin when using this product.

Mineral Spirits vs. Paint Thinners: Which Is Better Overall

If you are trying to decide on paint thinner and mineral spirits and want to know which one is better over all, the answer is – it depends. When you are looking to purchase a paint thinner to thin out your oil-based paint in order to yield smooth results, it is best to go with mineral spirits.

If you want a very strong product that can remove even dried paint, then you want paint thinner.

The good news is, both of these products work well for most of the things you would use paint thinner for, like thinning paint and cleaning your paint brushes. The best choice for you will depend on your budget (mineral spirits can be twice as much), and what type of paint you are dealing with.

Wrapping Up Differences Between Mineral Spirits And Paint Thinners

If you are in the market for a paint thinner, you may wonder if you should choose mineral spirits instead. Mineral spirits are, in fact, a type of paint thinner, but stand out among the other types as they are a pure distillation. This makes them less smelly, but also less effective at heavy-duty tasks like working with latex or dried paint.

If you are looking to thin oil-based paint and have some top notch and professional results, mineral spirits might be exactly what you are looking for. Just remember that due to their purity and lack of additives, they tend to cost at least 50 percent more than other paint thinners.

Tom Gaffey
Tom Gaffey

Tom Gaffey is an expert writer who currently resides in Washington D.C. Tom has a passion for real estate and home improvement writing, as well as travel and lifestyle writing. He lived the last twelve years in Hawaii where he worked closely with luxury resorts and event planners, mastering his knowledge of aesthetics and luxury products. This is where he found his passion for home improvement and a keen interest in DIY projects. Currently, Tom resides in Washington D.C, and also working on his debut fiction novel.

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