Minerals spirits is very versatile and has a surprising number of applications.
The most common use for mineral spirits is as an oil-based paint thinner. It effectively thins varnishes and paints and is very common for thinning paint to use in a sprayer. People who find its odor offensive can use an odorless variety of mineral spirits. It is a solvent commonly found in aerosols, varnishes, asphalt products, paints, and wood preservatives.
House painters are not the only ones who use mineral spirits, though. Artists who work with oil paint commonly make their art with stand oil combined with mineral spirits. Screen printing services use mineral spirits to clean the leftover ink from their screens so that they can reuse them for the next project.
Mineral spirits is also a multipurpose cleaner. It is highly effective at cleaning paint brushes and painting tools, provided that you take care not to let the paint dry before cleaning. People also use mineral spirits to clean a variety of messes that other cleaners struggle with, like the sticky residue left behind from price tag and scuff marks on the floor. It can leave behind an oily residue, however.
Woodworkers of all kinds also have important uses for mineral spirits. When restoring wood furniture or wood flooring, you can use mineral spirits to clean the waxy, grimy buildup which tends to accumulate. As with most cleaning products, professionals recommend you test the mineral spirits on an inconspicuous corner to see how the solvent will react with the surface.
The type of mineral spirits called Stoddard solvent also played a large role in the dry cleaning industry. From the late 1920s to the 1950s, Stoddard solvent was the primary solvent used for dry cleaning. Since that time, the industry has developed less aromatic petroleum solvents and other alternatives that are now more common.
As a nonpolar solvent, mineral spirits is also quite effective at degreasing tools. This is one of the primary uses of mineral spirits in industry, for example. Mineral spirits can quickly clean the greasy residue which accumulates on tools. Mineral spirits plays a similar role in manufacturing, where the solvent is used to clean a variety of surfaces. Homeowners use mineral spirits to clean tools and auto parts, typically by using a rag soaked in the solvent.
Why do people choose mineral spirits over other available paint thinners and degreasers? One primary benefit of mineral spirits is its versatility. It is effective in a variety of situations, and homeowners and business owners alike find it useful to keep around. Compared to other similar solvents, it is also relatively safe. While it is flammable, its low vapor pressure makes it less of a fire hazard. Mineral spirits has a less pungent odor than acetone, especially odorless mineral spirits. Finally, mineral spirits is quite affordable, even in quantity.
You need to dispose of mineral spirits carefully. Do not pour it down the drain, as it can contaminate groundwater. Contact your local solid waste department for information about a facility that can collect mineral spirits. Follow standard guidance for storing and disposing of any rags soaked in mineral spirits. As with other oily rags, there is the potential for spontaneous combustion, so store them in a metal container with a lid, disposing the full container at a local hazardous waste disposal center.
Mineral spirits can be recycled. Instead of throwing out mineral spirits after a single use, you can recycle it with very little fuss. Let the used mineral spirits stand overnight in a container to allow any sludge and paint solids to settle to the bottom. Then, pour off the mineral spirits into a clean container. Safely dispose of the remaining sludge as you would regular mineral spirits.