Paint Thinner Usage & Guide

Paint thinner, mainly mineral spirits, is used to thin and remove wet, fresh, or uncured oil-based paint. Using paint thinner for water-based house paint cleanup is a long-time misconception and misuse.

Most water-based paints are cleaned with soap, water, and a little elbow grease. However, a few remaining old-school painters will misspeak or attempt to use thinner to remove water-based paint.

While saturating acrylic house paint with the natural oils from thinners will cause a loss of adhesion, the purpose of paint thinner is solely for cleaning, removing, and thinning oil-based paints.

First Time User Tips

When using paint thinners for interior or exterior house painting, consider the environmental impact. Do not pour petroleum-based liquids into your drain or outdoor water system. Paint thinner is also a flammable solution. Referring to the can’s label is essential to understanding its overall usage. 


If you are unfamiliar with using thinners, the first tip is that it only takes a small amount to clean or thin paint. If you are a first-time user, using less and adding more as needed is the best way to gauge how much is required. 

Preventing Direct Contact With Skin

Skin is the largest organ and is highly absorbent. Any liquid that makes contact with your skin goes directly into your bloodstream. Always wear gloves, long sleeves, and a face covering when using oil-based products.

Outside of being harmful under direct contact, the VOCs and vapor are just as dangerous. Painters and DYIers must take exposure to odor and vapor seriously. Paint thinner is hazardous, poisonous, and has a high odor.

Using a natural, skin-safe citrus hand cleaner is the best way to remove grease and oils from your hands. 


Odorless Paint Thinner

There are incremental gains when using odorless paint thinner. And while it’s not entirely odor-free, it is drastically more manageable indoors than traditional thinners. 

However, odorless paint thinner is a milk-like substance that does not break down oil-based paint as rapidly. Odorless thinners are helpful in cleaning surfaces; however, they don’t do as thorough of a job when quickly cleaning paint sprayers and tools.

Paint Thinner for Cleaning Brushes

Oil-based paint is more challenging to apply, and there are fewer ways to clean or remove it from your paintbrush. Thinner eases the pain of cleaning oil paints for metal and other applications. However, if you are an inexperienced painter or DIY’er, you are likely unfamiliar with various types of paint thinners and how to use them.

Some painters would rather throw away a paintbrush than clean it. Not only is throwing away tools costly, but throwing away contaminated tools after every use is also bad for the environment.

Tip: Paint thinner is the best way to remove oil-based paint from your brush. The paint is easiest to remove if you let the brush soap overnight.   

What’s Needed to Clean Tools:

  • Empty 1 Gallon Paint Bucket (metal bucket only)
  • Wire Brush
  • Waterproof Gloves
  • Leakproof Drop Cloth or Heavy Plastic
  • Paint Thinner/ Mineral Spirits

Thinner for Paint Removal and Cleaning

Paint solvents offer the best chance of cleaning and removing oil-based paint from unwanted surfaces if you have a drip or spill. Paint thinner can only be used on hard surfaces such as hardwoods, tile, brick, cement, glass, and metal. 

Excess paint solvents should not be left on surfaces for extended periods of time. After using paint thinner, the areas should also be cleaned and degreased with detergent.

Thinners and solvents have several outdoor cleaning uses. However, paint thinner leaves wet, oil-like stains on concrete, brick, and stone. The stain that thinner leaves is far less obvious than a paint drip and will dissipate over time. The stain appears as a wet spot that never seems to dry but naturally dissipates in 6-18 weeks under exposure to sunlight, similar to grease stains in clothing.

The most challenging surface to remove oil paint is carpet. Petroleum-based cleaners can disfigure, burnish, and cause permanent damage to indoor carpeting.


The Least and Most Effective Uses of Paint Thinner

Paint thinner will not remove old dried paint. The most effective way to remove dried acrylic house paint is with a paint removal solution like Goof Off.

Thinner is Most Effective When:

  • Removing oil-based paint that is wet or has not completely cured.
  • Loosening Small Paint Drips
  • Make Oil-based Paint Easier to Apply
  • Cleaning Tools

Lease Effective When:

  • Cleaning Water-based Paint
  • Removing Cured Oil Paint (stripper needed)
  • Removing Paint on Large Areas
  • Paint Removal on Soft Surfaces

Brands and Places to Purchase

Places to Buy Paint Thinner

  • Home Depot
  • Lowe’s
  • Hardware Store
  • Paint Store/ Supplier

Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are clear liquids distilled from petroleum. They are commonly used to clean and thin oil paints, stains, and vanishes. 

Store-bought dedicated “Paint Thinner” includes a mixture of solvents mainly comprised of altered mineral spirits. Additional solvents used in various types of paint thinners include:

  • Acetone
  • Naphtha
  • Turpentine
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone
  • Dimethylformamide
  • Toluene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Butanol

The Best Thinner Based on Paint Types

Oil-based paint thinners include natural, petroleum, and alcohol-based. Water-based paint thinners include water, glycol, and soaps. The best paint additive for water-based paints is Floetrol. 

Thinners and Cleaners Based on Paint Type

Thinning Water-Based Acrylic Paint

Water acts as a solvent for any water-based paint. Therefore, water-based acrylic paint can be thinned by adding small amounts of water or dedicated paint extenders. However, too much water will dilute the paint, alter its color, and decrease its coverage. 

Adding large quantities of water, solvents, or extenders to exterior paint reduces adhesion and other properties vital to its performance. Thinning exterior paint should be avoided unless you are whitewashing brick or other masonry surfaces.

Proper Use of Paint Extenders

It’s best to add a small amount of dedicated paint extender to house paint when you need the paint to be easier to brush for detailed work around doors, windows, and other trim work. 

Tips: Don’t add extenders to the entire bucket or can. Only add extenders incrementally to the paint that you are working with.

Paint Extenders Benefits for Interior Painting

Adding extenders to interior paint will help the paint dry slowly. Increasing the open time means the paint stays wet longer, which increases the paint’s ability to lay flat, reducing brush strokes and roller marks, also known as stipples.

Managing or monitoring what and how much is added is hard unless you do the project yourself. Unethical painters may add more than is needed to reduce paint consumption.

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