Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits: Pros, Cons, Cost, and More

Conroy Baltimore
Written by Conroy Baltimore
Updated January 31, 2022
Man washing brush blue paint
Photo: Miljan Živković / Getty Images


  • Paint thinner and mineral spirits have similar functions.

  • Paint thinner is a less expensive but more volatile solvent.

  • Mineral spirits can be more expensive but less harmful.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Should you choose paint thinner or a mineral spirit? That’s a question that most DIYers find themselves grappling with when it’s time to start repainting. You may have found the right color, but you’ll also need to have the right consistency.

That’s where these two solvents come in. They’re often used for thinning oil-based paints and help clean your painting equipment after a long day’s work. But how do they differ, and which one should you choose for your next project?

Paint thinner is a less-refined mineral spirit that contains many other kinds of solvents. That’s why it has a much stronger unpleasant smell, making it essential to use it in a well-ventilated area. Mineral spirits are 100% petroleum distillates without additives or a strong odor, but it’s typically more expensive than paint thinner.

Paint Thinner Pros and Cons

Paint thinner gets used to thin paints and clean paintbrushes. Unlike water-based paints—which you can clean up without doing much work–if you spill oil-based paint, you’ll need solvents to clean up your spill.

It’s also an effective cleaner for various stains and can be used on multiple surfaces. For example, if you needed to remove sticky residue from hardwood floors, paint thinner would get the job done. 

With a bit of paint thinner, you’ll remove the stickiness, so it no longer feels like you’re sticking to the floor with each step you take. However, it can be abrasive if too much is used, so less is more.


  • Affordable

  • Has a more robust solvency

  • Great for removing dried paint


  • Must use in a well-ventilated area because of strong odor

  • Can be highly flammable

  • If too much gets used while cleaning, it can damage surfaces

Mineral Spirit Pros and Cons

Many people believe that mineral spirits and paint thinners are the same. Well, the short answer is no, they aren’t the same. But they do share some similarities.

Mineral spirits are a type of paint thinner made from refined petroleum distillates. Its primary purpose is for thinning oil paint. However, you can also use it for cleaning stains and varnishes.


  • Weaker odor than other products

  • Slower evaporation rate

  • Creates a smoother finish

  • Effective with oil-based products


  • Costs more than standard solvents

  • Can be toxic

  • Can be more expensive than other paint thinners

Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits

Pour clear liquid with gloves

The information above may help you formulate an idea of the product you want to use for your next house painting project. But don’t hop in your car and drive to the hardware store just yet (if you’re in it already, wait a minute). There are still some facts you should know about each of these products.


The first time you open any solvent, you’ll get hit with a strong smell that may or may not throw you off balance. If you’ve experienced this phenomenon before, then you should know that it’s unpleasant.

You can’t avoid the odor when you open a can of paint thinner or mineral spirits because of their volatile organic compounds (VOC). 

These are gasses released from products such as:

  • Paints

  • Varnishes

  • Housecleaners

However, since mineral spirits have lower VOC content, they won’t smell strongly as paint thinners, making them easier to work with. Regardless of the product you choose, wear a respirator mask and work in a well-ventilated area. If you don’t, inhaling those fumes for an extended period could cause respiratory issues.

Least offensive odor: tie 


Both paint thinners and mineral spirits are toxic. But since mineral spirits go through a thorough refining process, it helps reduce the harmful VOCs in their contents.

Some paint thinners go through a minimal refinery process, which can be dangerous to those using this solvent. Why? When paint thinners aren’t refined as meticulously, they keep their toxic VOCs, making them challenging to use.

However, odorless mineral spirits are also available to homeowners, removing all toxic compounds entirely. So if you have a family or pets, you can work away diligently, knowing that everyone will be safe from harmful pollutants.

Lowest toxicity: mineral spirits


Before completing any project, you should have some idea of your budget. Paint thinners are often less expensive than mineral spirits; part of the reason is that they don’t have as many advantages.

On average, you’ll pay about between $10 to $15 per gallon of mineral spirits, depending on if it’s odor-free or not. Paint thinners, on the other hand, will cost around $8.

Now, your eyes might have widened at the cost differential, and sometimes it can be better to go with a reduced option. But it all depends on if indoor air quality is a top priority in your home.

Most affordable: paint thinners


Painting can be a messy job, no matter how careful you are. A slight flick of your brush in the wrong direction can create extra work for you to do. As we’ve mentioned before, mineral spirits have proven to be more versatile than paint thinners when it comes to cleaning.

You can use mineral spirits on concrete, wood, or metal surfaces. A paint thinner can do the trick for these finishes as well, but its high VOC content and strong fumes make it harder to use.

Most versatile: mineral spirits 


It can be challenging to get a smooth level surface on whatever you’re painting if it thins too quickly when using oil paint. That may be why some DIYers prefer to use mineral spirits in these cases.

Due to its refinery process, it has a slower evaporation rate than other paint thinners, making it easier to get the coat you want as you paint. But remember, when using these solvents for cleaning your brushes, the paint still needs to be wet since it won’t be as effective if it dries.

Most effective: mineral spirits 

When Should I Not Use Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner?

Although you can use mineral spirits and paint thinner for multiple purposes, there are also some instances when you shouldn’t use these products. Doing so will give you extra work, and that’s fun for no one.

That’s why you’ll need to take some precautions before getting started on your project. 

Here are some examples of when you shouldn’t use mineral spirits or paint thinner:

  • If the paint has already cured, neither of these solvents can act as a paint stripper.

  • Using these products to clean marks on any asphalt surface is unwise. They will soften the material.

  • Avoid using mineral spirits and paint thinner when cleaning latex paint or brushes.

  • These products are highly flammable but should not be used with charcoal or wood to start a fire.

Hire a Professional if You’re Unsure About the Next Steps

Painting can be a simple DIY project for anyone looking to get started on their home’s interior. However, the different types of paints and solvents could leave you feeling overwhelmed. 

In that case, search for professional painters in your area to address any issues or concerns you may have about painting the interior of your home.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.