Acetone vs Paint thinner: What’s the difference?

When it comes to solvents, there are numerous options available depending on the job at hand. All-purpose cleaners, heavy-duty degreasers, and specific product cleaners are available.

While there are many cleaners that can perform a variety of tasks, you don’t always need a specific product for the job at hand.

Obviously, you can use engineered products designed for the specific task but these products can be expensive and may not be necessary.

Most of the time, you can get the job done with more common and less expensive household products. For example, you may be able to use acetone or paint thinner in place of a more specialized solvent for glue removal or paint stripping.

Doing so can save you time and money and the hassle of having to purchase a new product. But before you go ahead and substitute one solvent for another, you should know with certainty that it will work for your specific application.

For this reason, we have put together this post discussing the differences between acetone and paint thinner, their applications, and what makes them unique.

Thus, next time you’re considering using one of these products as a solvent, you’ll know with certainty that it will work for your needs.

What is Acetone?

Acetone is a clear, colorless, highly volatile, and highly flammable liquid. It has a strong, pungent odor and high vapor pressure.

acetone bottle

It has the chemical formula CH3COCH3, and is also known as dimethylform-aldehyde, dimethylketone, ketone propane, methyl ketone, 2-propanone, and pyroaceticether.

Acetone is miscible with water and compounds like benzene, ethanol, and most oils. It has a high flammability index, making it a potential safety issue if not handled correctly.

Although acetone is marketed under various brand names, it is a pure product with no additives or other chemicals. Therefore, when you buy 100% acetone, you know exactly what you’re getting.

There are also, nail polish removers that have acetone as the active ingredient. However, these products also contain other ingredients like fragrances, oils, and lotions.

These products should not be confused with pure acetone because they may not have the same properties as pure acetone, which we will discuss further.

Uses of Acetone

Acetone has a variety of uses due to its properties. It is used as a cleaning agent, solvent, degreaser, and stripper.

It is also used in the production of plastics, fibers, and drugs. There are many other uses for acetone as well, which we will discuss further.

Home improvement

Acetone is a common solvent used for stripping paint, removing glue, and cleaning surfaces. It is also used as a thinner for polyester resins, types of vinyl, and adhesives.

When using acetone for paint stripping, always test a small area first to ensure that it does not damage the surface. In some cases, it can remove the paint but damage the surface underneath.

Acetone is also used as a degreaser, particularly for cleaning greasy surfaces or removing oil from parts. It makes an excellent degreaser because it can dissolve most oils and greases quickly.

Acetone is also used as a base for cleaning purposes in the electronic and semiconductor industries. Since it doesn’t leave any residue, it is also used as a general-purpose cleaning solvent.

Health and beauty

Acetone is found in many nail polish removers to dissolve the varnish from your nails.

nail polish with acetone and cotton

It is also used to disinfect and sterilize everyday grooming tools like tweezers, nail clippers, and scissors.

If you have ever had a professional manicure or pedicure, chances are the technician used acetone to remove your old nail polish.

Healthcare

Acetone was used in healthcare to sterilize medical equipment and surfaces. Since it has anti-bacterial properties, it was used as a disinfectant.

However, due to its flammability and associated health concerns, its use is waning. There are better alternatives available today in terms of efficacy and safety.

In the laboratory

Acetone is commonly used as a solvent for the extraction, washing, and precipitation of organic compounds. In lab settings, it is also used as a degreaser and cleaning agent.

It is also used in the preparation of metal surfaces for painting or other treatments. Since it is not corrosive, it will not damage the metal surface even if left on for extended periods of time.

Acetone is also used as a drying agent for organic solutions and in the preparation of metal powders.

Photography

Acetone is used in photography to clean film stocks and develop negatives. For this type of use, it is usually diluted with water to create a film-cleaning solution.

Grease remover

Acetone is a common ingredient in grease removers and other cleaning products. Because of its strong solvent properties, it is effective at dissolving and removing grease, oil, wax, tar, and other stubborn residues.

When used in grease-removing products, it is usually combined with other ingredients to make it more effective and less drying.

Plastics and fibers

Acetone is used in the production of plastics, fibers, and drugs. It is also used as a solvent for these materials. In the plastics industry, acetone is used as a solvent for phenol-formaldehyde resins.

In the fibers industry, it is used as a solvent for cellulose acetate and other synthetic fibers. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is used as a solvent for some drugs and as an extraction agent for others.

Printing

Acetone is also used to make printing plates and to remove ink from cartridges.

Acetone is used in the printing industry to clean screens and plates and to remove ink from fabrics.

Acetone transfers ink from printed fabrics to other surfaces, making it an important part of the textile printing process.

What is Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is a clear, colorless, highly volatile, and flammable liquid. It has a strong, pungent odor and high vapor pressure.

Paint thinner cans

Paint thinner has no specific chemical formula, but is typically a mixture of organic solvents like:

  • Mineral spirits (North America)/White spirit (the United Kingdom and Ireland)
  • Acetone
  • Turpentine
  • Naphtha
  • Toluene
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)
  • Dimethylformamide (DMF)
  • 2-Butoxyethanol, or any of the other glycol ethers

Most paint thinner is immiscible with water and many other chemicals, including benzene, ethanol, and most oils. Because paint thinner has a high flammability index, it is a potential safety issue if not handled correctly.

Although paint thinner is typically a toluene-based product, it can also be made from other chemicals like xylene or mineral spirits. Therefore, the term “paint thinner” may not describe the exact composition of the product.

Since the “paint thinner” describes an expected function of the product, it may also be used to refer to other solvents with similar properties.

For example, some cleaners and degreasers may be marketed as “paint thinners” even though they do not actually contain toluene.

But for the purpose of this article, when we talk about paint thinner, we will be referring to products that contain toluene as the primary ingredient.

Uses of Paint Thinner

Home improvement

The intended use of paint thinner is to thin oil-based paints, but it can also be used to clean paint brushes and other painting equipment. It can also be used to remove paint from surfaces.

Because paint thinner is a strong solvent, it can dissolve paint, varnish, and other finishes from surfaces. This makes paint thinner a useful tool for stripping paint and other finishes from surfaces.

Health and beauty

Paint thinner may be used to remove nail polish if acetone is not available. In either case, paint thinner or acetone should only be applied to a cotton ball or pad, and not directly to the nails.

Both paint thinner and acetone aren’t meant to get in contact with the skin since they can cause irritation.

Thus, if you do use either one of these solvents, be sure to on the exact area you’re trying to clean, and avoid contact with the rest of your skin. Also, clean the area with soap and water as soon as possible after using an either solvent.

In the laboratory

Paint thinner finds many uses in the laboratory. It is used to dissolve and remove organic compounds, as well as to clean glassware that has become stained or dirty.

What are the differences between acetone and paint thinner?

There are several key differences between acetone and paint thinner:

Composition

The main difference between acetone and paint thinner is that acetone is a ketone while paint thinner is typically an aromatic hydrocarbon. While acetone is miscible with water paint thinner is not.

Also, acetone is a naturally occurring compound, while paint thinner is man-made. A lot of reactions that take place in nature can lead to the formation of acetone, but the most common one is the decomposition of fatty acids.

On the other hand, paint thinner is made from toluene or other aromatic hydrocarbons we have listed above which is a by-product of the petroleum refining process.

Toxicity

Both acetone and paint thinner are highly flammable and have a strong odor. The vapor of both solvents can be irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat.

Furthermore, breathing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of either solvent can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

However, acetone is less toxic than paint thinner. Since it is naturally occurring, it is thought to be less harmful to the environment and to human health.

Also, both acetone and paint thinner are evaluated as not being likely to cause cancer in humans.

When using either solvent, it is important to avoid contact with the skin and to clean the area with soap and water afterward.

Flammability

Acetone and paint thinner are both highly flammable liquids with a low flash point. The flash point is the temperature at which a liquid catches fire and produces a flame.

Acetone has a flash point of -20°C (-4°F), while paint thinner has a flash point of 4°C (39°F). This means that acetone is more flammable than paint thinner.

Uses

The most common use of acetone is as a solvent. It is also used in the production of plastics, fibers, and other chemicals.

Paint thinner is mostly used as a solvent for oil-based paints, but it can also be used to clean paint brushes and other painting equipment. It can also be used to remove paint from surfaces.

Although acetone is a water-miscible solvent it can dissolve many organic compounds. Paint thinner has a bit more leverage as it can strip paint and other finishes, especially petroleum-based products.

The reason for this is that paint thinner is composed of aromatic hydrocarbons that have high solvency for petroleum-based products.

Paint thinner is mostly used as a solvent for oil-based paints, but it can also be used to clean paint brushes and other painting equipment. It can also be used to remove paint from surfaces.

But still, acetone can still do all of the stuff paint thinners do just not as good if the paint is a petroleum-based product.

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