Mineral Spirits Vs Turpentine: What’s The Difference?
Both mineral spirits and turpentine are solvents. They’re commonly used as cleaning solutions to remove paint, as paint thinners, or as degreasers.
However, there are key differences between the two. These differences don’t necessarily make either the better solvent overall.
Rather, when we take a close look at mineral spirits vs turpentine, we’re trying to find the right tool for the job at hand.
Do you need an oil-based or water-based paint remover? What are your budget concerns?
What will the surface be used for after it’s cleaned?
How much of the solvent will need to be used for the task at hand?
Looking at the pros and cons of each solvent will help you decide when to use mineral spirits and when to use turpentine.
What Solvents Like Mineral Spirits and Turpentine Are Commonly Used For
Mineral spirits and turpentine are both great tools for a wide range of jobs. For example, mineral spirits can be used to remove the glue residue left by price tags.
However, there are a few key kinds of jobs that these solvents are most commonly used for.
These include thinning paint, as a solution for cleaning painting tools, cleaning wood before finishing is applied, as a cleaning solution for waxes and polishes, and as a degreaser.
While mineral spirits are great for cleaning up fresh spills of paint, turpentine can be used to remove paint spills even when they’ve begun to dry and are still tacky.
What Is Turpentine?
Turpentine is a honey-colored solvent. It is often used to thin oil-based paints or as a cleaning solution when a gentle touch is needed.
To make turpentine, the resin is distilled from living trees. Most commonly, turpentine is derived from pine trees.
Turpentine is toxic and must be used with precaution. That being said, it’s been a common cleaning solution used in homes and is often used by painters both artists and home painters.
Because there are other forms of turpentine, like crude turpentine, the solvent is sometimes referred to with more specific names like the spirit of turpentine or oil of turpentine.
However, when just called turpentine, the solvent is typically what people are referring to.
Turpentine used to be a more common home cleaning solution than it is today.
Now, people trend toward using solvents with lower price tags and fewer concerns about the toxic nature of turpentine as a general cleaning solution.
However, while it’s less popular than it was a hundred years ago, it is still a common chemical solution used by individuals and businesses today for a variety of needs.
What Are Mineral Spirits?
Mineral spirits are chemical solutions. It is clear and looks like water, which is ironic. Most solvents are water-based.
The key difference between mineral spirits and other chemical solvents is that mineral spirits are oil-based. The solution is derived from petroleum.
In fact, while most people in the United States and Canada call this chemical solution mineral spirits, it’s also known as petroleum spirits, white spirits, or turpentine substitute, and because the two are so similar, it is sometimes called mineral turpentine.
While these two solutions are fairly similar, don’t be fooled. In order to use the right tool for the job, you’ll want to know as much as you can about what makes them different, and why many people will actually keep both mineral spirits and turpentine on their shelves.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Turpentine
Turpentine is a great solvent in the right circumstances. It’s been popular for so long for a reason.
Pros of turpentine
Turpentine is a dependable paint thinner. Many thinners can react to the chemicals in paints and change the consistency in undesirable ways, but turpentine is generally easy to mix into oil-based paints and get the desired consistency.
It dries quickly. This is part of why turpentine is so popular with artists, who want one section to dry so they can move on to the next part.
Turpentine can dry in 15 minutes, though if you’re mixing it with paint or other chemicals, your drying time may vary.
As a water-based solvent, Turpentine doesn’t leave any residue behind. This is part of why it’s so popular with artistic painters, house painters, and those needing a general cleaning solution.
Cons of using turpentine
For one thing, it’s toxic. To be fair, there are other solvents that are a lot more toxic than turpentine, but it is important to note that even though it’s derived from pine trees, turpentine is still toxic.
It can be safe when used with proper precaution, but this is something to keep an eye on. As general rules, don’t get turpentine oil on your skin and don’t consume any of it.
Turpentine has a strong and unpleasant smell. This isn’t a huge concern for outdoor jobs, but as an indoor cleaning solution or paint product, the smell is a huge negative for this solvent.
Another disadvantage of turpentine, especially when compared to something like mineral spirits, is that it is less effective.
If you’re cleaning something up or thinning an oil-based paint, you’ll need to use more turpentine than you would mineral spirits.
Needing to use more turpentine than mineral spirits for the same job is a major reason that consumers began trending toward mineral spirits for jobs they used to use turpentine for.
Turpentine is more expensive than mineral spirits. While neither are outrageously expensive, mineral spirits are both cheaper, and less of the liquid is required for the same job, lessening the cost even further.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Mineral Spirits
While turpentine has a long history, it’s no surprise that mineral spirits popped onto the scene and became known as substitute turpentine.
There are a lot of advantages to this solvent, but there are some important disadvantages to be considered as well.
Pros of mineral spirits
Do you need to remove a thick layer of dried-on paint? Mineral spirits are a strong and effective solution.
This effectiveness is one of the key reasons people choose mineral spirits for cleaning jobs, whether they’re trying to remove paint or a strong adhesive.
It’s an effective paint thinner. And because it’s oil-based, it works better as a paint thinner for artists.
There are three classes, or types, of mineral spirits. Type two is often used as a varnish to prevent erosion. This helps metal surfaces last longer.
Mineral spirits are a great degreaser. Sticky adhesives or accumulations of grease on machinery can be easily removed using mineral spirits.
These are the types of cleaning jobs few other cleaning solutions can really take care of, and can take hours of fruitless efforts to try and deal with, which makes mineral spirits stand out as a general cleaning solution for these stubborn jobs.
As far as solvents go, mineral spirits are quite potent. You don’t need to use a lot of mineral spirits for any kind of job.
While you may need to go over a surface multiple times with other solvents, a small amount of mineral spirits will go a long way to get the job done quickly.
Mineral spirits are affordable. You can buy a large container of mineral spirits for a low price, especially compared to other solvents on the market.
While these are all great advantages for this solvent, there are of course downsides to using mineral spirits as well.
Like turpentine, mineral spirits don’t smell great. While turpentine has a stronger odor, the smell of mineral spirits is still a considerable downside when using this solvent.
It’s important to note that there are odorless versions of mineral spirits now available, but these odorless solvents do remove some chemicals to fix the smell, and that may imply changes to the effectiveness of the job you have at hand.
It also means that the product is likely to cost more. However, with most solvents, the odor is going to be a trade-off that you’ll need to keep in mind.
Mineral spirits are oil-based and that gives them a lot of their edge over the competition, but it is also their biggest disadvantage. This solvent leaves an oily residue on surfaces.
So while mineral spirits can be effectively used to remove a thick and dried paint, there will likely be an oily residue left on the surface afterward.
Can I Mix Mineral Spirits and Turpentine Together to Get the Best of Both Worlds?
Some people may swear that they’ve done this with good results, but this is not recommended. Instead of getting the advantages of both products, you’re more likely to mix these together and get the disadvantages of both.
This most commonly comes up with people who want to mix mineral spirits and turpentine for paint thinning.
However, mixing the oil-based and water-based products with your oil-based paint is most likely to give you the oily residue of mineral spirits, increase the toxicity of both, and make it difficult to reach an ideal consistency with your paint.
Generally speaking, you want to choose one or the other for any specific task.
The Key Takeaways
The biggest differences between mineral spirits and turpentine are the price, the oily residue left behind by mineral spirits, and how effectively they clean up harsh chemicals.
Mineral spirits can be bought in large quantities for less money than turpentine, and that’s a huge advantage.
Construction crews are likely to have large containers of mineral spirits around for this reason. It gets the job done effectively and at a price that doesn’t hurt the budget.
Mineral spirits will leave an oily residue behind on a surface. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you’re going to clean a surface specifically to ready that surface for painting, you need to know that the oily residue is going to mean that you don’t have a clean surface for paint.
When you paint over a surface cleaned with mineral spirits, you’re going to see lines left by the oily residue underneath the paint.
The surface won’t truly be clean or flat, and after all the hard work of cleaning the surface and then painting, this can be extremely frustrating.
Turpentine can be great for a gentle cleaning job, but mineral spirits will remove the things that other solvents struggle to clean.
Mineral spirits are fast and effective, which is a huge thing to keep in mind when choosing between the two.
Should I Buy Mineral Spirits or Turpentine?
Depending on the type of job you’re working on, there’s actually a great case to be made for purchasing both of these solvents to keep on your shelf.
That may sound like a suggestion that could hurt your budget, but generally, both of these solvents are fairly affordable.
It’s easy to make big messes with paint, and these tend to be messes that you want to get to cleaning up fairly quickly. Having both mineral spirits and turpentine on hand for the type of mess you’re looking at can be a great idea.
If you’re doing something like a home improvement project, you may want to use the mineral spirits as your paint thinner or solvent for cleaning up big messes.
Remember that the spirits can leave a residue. The turpentine is likely going to be what you reach for in order to clean up a mess where you don’t want a residue left behind and when you just need a gentler touch.
Fortunately, both of these solvents have a long shelf life, so even if you’re using them infrequently, you can keep both mineral spirits and turpentine around for any time you need to use them again in the future.