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Mineral Spirits vs. Paint Thinner: What’s the Difference?

thinner in clay pots_DANUN_shutterstock

Paint thinner and mineral spirits are generally interchangeable for most applications, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. Several key differences separate these two mineral-based products. These differences mean that one may be more suited to your particular application than the other, so you may find it beneficial to know what makes each of these chemicals unique. While they do serve the same function, for the most part, they still have slightly different properties. Let’s start with the low-down on mineral spirits.

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Mineral Spirits

Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are crafted from petroleum distillates and contain no additives. Because they are pure petroleum and contain no additional harsh chemicals, mineral spirits have a much less offensive odor than paint thinner. Since they are so much more refined than paint thinner, mineral spirits cost more to manufacture, often twice the price of paint thinner.

Due to the reduced smell, mineral spirits are usually the preferred choice for working indoors. They also tend to be easier on the skin since mineral oils are devoid of harsh chemical additives. That said, they’re also much pricier, so you’ll want to weigh the cost against the benefits of not having the chemical odors inside.

Pros
  • Very low odor
  • Less harsh on skin
Cons
  • More expensive
  • Not quite as strong as paint thinner

Paint Thinner

Sunnyside Paint Thinner

Paint thinner is less precise than mineral spirits since it can refer to any solution that is used to thin paint. Generally speaking, paint thinner is made primarily from mineral spirits with other additives mixed in. Cost-wise, paint thinner is considerably more affordable than mineral spirits since it’s less refined and uses less-expensive ingredients. This tends to make paint thinner the choice for most jobs like cleaning paint brushes since it won’t waste as much money.

With the additional additives included in paint thinner, it has a much harsher chemical odor than pure mineral spirits. This makes it less appealing for using indoors, even though it’s considerably more cost-effective. However, for most applications, we recommend paint thinner for the money it saves over mineral spirits. Unless odor is a major issue, the price difference makes mineral spirits harder to justify.

Pros
  • More cost-effective
  • Powerful cleaning agent
Cons
  • Strong chemical odor
  • Harsh on skin

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Similarities

Overall, paint thinner and mineral spirits are very similar compounds. Mineral spirits are just a much more refined version of paint thinner. Because of this, they have many similar uses. For instance, both of these products are excellent for thinning oil-based paints, removing adhesives, degreasing, cleaning, soaking stubborn bolts, removing waxy films, and cleaning paint brushes. For any of these uses, either mineral spirits or paint thinner will perform adequately, though paint thinner will be considerably more cost-effective.

Differences

Since these products are so similar, there are really only two main differences between them. First, the odor. Paint thinner contains additional chemicals not found in mineral spirits. These chemicals contribute to the very harsh chemical odor present in paint thinners. Because mineral spirits are 100 percent pure petroleum, they don’t exhibit such harsh odors.

The second main difference is in the price. Mineral spirits require much more processing and refining, so naturally, they are quite a bit more expensive. This makes paint thinner the obvious choice for most applications where the odor is not an issue.

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Conclusion

Although very similar, paint thinner and mineral spirits have a few key differences that are worth noting. They are both based on the same petroleum distillates, but paint thinners have additional chemical additives. These additives help keep the cost of paint thinner much lower than that of mineral spirits, but they also introduce a very harsh chemical odor that is less desirable when working inside. For indoor work conditions, mineral spirits may be preferable though they are more expensive. For all other work, the affordability of paint thinner means it’s the preferred choice where smell is not an issue.


Featured image credit: DANUN, Shutterstock

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