Paint Thinner vs. Turpentine – What’s the Difference?

difference thinner and turpentine

Painting projects can be a little daunting when you’re doing them on your own, particularly when you get to the paint store and realize that there is a lot more to it than buying a can of paint and a brush.

There are hundreds of colors of paint, dozens of different brands, and scores of different solvents that are supposed to make it easier for you. The whole thing can make you dizzy if you don’t have someone to break it down and simplify the process.

One specific question is about the differences between thinners and turpentine oil, are they the same or different? If they are different what are the basic differences between both the solvents?

It is very likely that you will need to use these products at some point, so it doesn’t hurt to know which makes sense for you.

The basic difference between a thinner and turpentine is that the former is a liquid mostly used for thinning the consistency of another liquid while turps is a kind of volatile essential oil (extracted from the pine trees wood by steam distillation) used as a solvent in paint and as a thinning agent for thick paints.

Turpentine vs Paint Thinner

Extracted from a resin of pine treesMade out of petroleum products
Volatile oil used as a solvent in paintA solvent used for thinning another liquid
It comes with a stronger odorComes with not so powerful smell
More eco-friendly but expensiveLess eco-friendly and comparatively cheaper
Paint dries faster with turpentine.Paints with thinner dries slower.
Thinner vs. Turpentine

What is Paint Thinner?

For starters, paint thinner (also referred to as white spirit solvents or mineral spirits) is just a sort of generic term for any product that is used to thin out the paint.

Some examples are mineral spirits and naphtha. These products can be used in many different ways, but the intended use when they are produced is as paint thinner.

You might be wondering why you wouldn’t just add some water to the paint.

Put simply; water won’t usually work. Many paints are oil-based, which obviously will not mix well with water. Even if they aren’t oil-based, paint thinners are designed to thin out the paint without diluting the ingredients as much as water.

Let’s take a brief look at each type of thinner…

Mineral Spirits-

Pure mineral spirits is made from petroleum typically used as a paint thinner, and also sometimes as a solvent. This particular product is considered to be a little milder than many other paint thinners, but you should still exercise caution when handling it.

Traditionally, mineral spirits were known as “naphtha”, but these two products are not made from the same chemicals.

Other names for mineral spirits were “mineral turpentine” and “white spirit”. Although it’s been referred to by the same names, mineral spirits are not the same as naphtha or turpentine.


Naphtha is a liquid hydrocarbon mixture that can be produced from many different chemicals. It is often made with natural gasses, petroleum distillation, or the distillation of coal tar or peat.

When it comes down to it, naphtha is another paint thinner, but it is highly flammable and tends to be a bit harsher than mineral spirits. Be careful when using it.

Both of these products emit very strong fumes and should be used in well-ventilated areas along with proper safety gear.

What is a Turpentine Oil?

You may have guessed it by this point, but turpentine (also called gum spirits, turps, or tarpin) is a complex mixture of monoterpenes that is also used as a paint thinner.

However, it is different from many of the thinners we’ve discussed so far in that it is made from natural resources like the resin of living pine trees.

It does take some synthetic processes to produce turpentine, but the base ingredient and even some of the usual additives are naturally occurring, like beeswax.

When you open a turpentine can, most of them would likely smell sweet, strong, and piney. But there can also be a formaldehyde-like scent if there are paint thinners also used inside the house.

Turpentine works as a paint thinner or solvent, just like many other products. However, it has had many other uses over its long history, including being added to gin, added to cleaning products as an antiseptic and used as lamp oil. As lamp oil, it was typically used outdoors because it had a rather powerful odor.

Turp was used as a sort of topical medicine for a long time, applied to wounds and sores to stave off infection, used to treat lice, and combined with animal fat to make a chest rub for respiratory problems.

It was also used as an ingested medicine for a long time, but this is strongly discouraged as it does far more harm than good. In fact, using turpentine as any kind of medicine is risky and unnecessary, with modern medicine so readily available.

If you aren’t a professional in a relevant field, it is highly recommended that you only use turpentine as it is recommended on the container, as it can be very hazardous if used improperly.

Kerosene as Paint Thinner

Can I Use Kerosene as a Paint Thinner?

Kerosene (also called kerosene, coal oil, furnace oil No. 1, or range oil) is a combustible substance that is mostly derived from crude petroleum. Because of its origin, kerosene has a petroleum-like odor while turps has a sweet piney odor.

Although turpentine, as well as kerosene, can be used as paint thinners for thinning paints, these products are generally labeled differently and with their true names.

The primary difference between kerosene and turpentine is lightness and less harshness. Due to being light and less harsh, kerosene is basically used for fuelling engines, stoves, and furnaces (rather than thin paint).

Deciding Based on the Cost Factor

If you want to choose between Kerosene, paint thinner, and turpentine, you may decide based on how much you actually want to spend on your project.

While kerosene and paint thinner can cost roughly $10 to $15 per gallon, turpentine can cost you anywhere from $40 to $85 per gallon. You may sometimes even need to spend more if you are considering buying the turpentine oil that’s steam-distilled type.

Other Household Alternatives to Paint Thinner

If you are wondering whether there are other substitutes that can be used instead of thinner, turpentine, and kerosene, there might be a few options.

If you are using latex or acrylic, you can simply make a homemade paint thinner with some water.

But if you primarily use oil paint or enamel, you should use other household solvents like rubbing alcohol, lemon oil mixed with linseed oil, acetone, methylated spirits, Windex, etc.

Remember, these products cannot replace thinner or turpentine and should be used in a pinch if proper paint thinner is not available. Make sure that you read the label of the product carefully and use it in an appropriate ratio.

Most of the time, it’s good to add one part of the solvent to three parts of the paint (3:1 ratio).

The best is to thin and prepare a small portion of the paint (using any of these household paint thinners) in a small bucket. Tweak the consistency by adding a bit more solvent if you think the paint is still thick. Give it a try, and then prepare more using the same recipe/ratio if all goes well.

Can You Use Gasoline to Thin Paint?

Gasoline is a type of engine fuel made from crude oil and other petroleum liquids. 

In a pinch, it can only be used to thin oil paint. However, remember that it can be highly flammable and should not be used indoors.

When thinning paint with gas, make sure that you wear a proper respirator that is rated for organic vapors. Do not take the respirator off until you have completed applying the paint.

Choosing the Best Solvent For Thinning Paints

Paint thinner, mineral spirits, acetone, and turpentine are among the most common solvents that a painter uses to make the oil paint thin. Do not use them with latex paints, shellac, or lacquers.

While choosing among all these paint-thinning solvents for your DIY home repainting project, it is good to decide how much of an odor your lungs can tolerate.

Although all produce strong odors, turpentine is known to give off the most powerful smell of all. If you are too sensitive to smell, odorless versions of mineral spirits and kerosene are also available in the market. But these can be expensive to buy.

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