Pouring acetone from bottle

Mineral Spirits vs. Acetone

Whether you are stocking up your workshop, painting company, or garage, mineral spirits and acetone are both very handy to have around. These common solvents are ideal for a large variety of uses. From surface preparation to thinning to cleanup, they play important roles in the process of painting. Both mineral spirits and acetone can also help clean up a variety of messes that water and soap cannot handle.

There are important differences between the two solvents, though. Acetone and mineral spirits should not be used interchangeably. Depending on the job, one might be preferable to the other — and in some contexts, one might cause some serious problems.

In this article you will learn:

Man pouring coral colored paint into pan

Are Acetone and Mineral Spirits the Same

Briefly, no. Acetone and mineral spirits are not the same, and should not be treated as if they are.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that both are used as thinners. Painters commonly use mineral spirits, for example, to thin the paint that they put into paint sprayers. Acetone, on the other hand, is used to thin lacquer. When people get used to using one as a thinner, they sometimes start using the other for the same application and are disappointed when they do not get the same results.

Similarly, both acetone and mineral spirits are useful for cleaning a variety of messes on tools, in the shop, and around your house. Even here, they are not identical, though. Both are excellent for cleaning up paint spills, for example. While acetone will aggressively strip paint from a wide variety of surfaces, though, mineral spirits is really only effective at cleaning up fresh paint. It can clean brushes and other tools after you finish a project, but once the paint dries, mineral spirits is mostly ineffective.

While the two solvents do have a similarity as thinners and cleaners, ultimately they are different solvents and need to be treated as different solutions to different problems. To get the most out of each solvent, and to make sure that you do not damage important surfaces, tools, or household items, you should learn the differences between mineral spirits and acetone so you use both properly.

The Differences Between the Two

As noted above, mineral spirits and acetone are used to thin different products. Mineral spirits thins oil-based paints while acetone thins lacquers such as nail polish.

Additionally, mineral spirits is not water-soluble and presents less of a fire hazard than acetone. Many people also find the smell of mineral spirits, especially odorless varieties, less offensive than the pungent smell of acetone. Acetone is water-soluble but both its liquid and vapors are highly flammable.

Deck paint for wooden planks

Mineral Spirits

Sometimes called white spirit, mineral turpentine, or Stoddard solvent, mineral spirits is a purified petroleum distillate made as a substitute for turpentine. Distilled from pine tree resins, turpentine was used for paint thinning and cleanup but has an unusually foul odor. Mineral spirits, on the other hand, has a relatively inoffensive scent reminiscent of kerosene and quickly became more popular than turpentine after its introduction.

Mineral spirits is an organic solvent used in a wide variety of applications. It is used as a paint thinner so often that it is sometimes sold under the generic name "paint thinner." As the go-to solvent for cleaning paint brushes and other painting equipment, mineral spirits is a painter's friend. It is also effective at removing greasy and sticky messes in a variety of contexts.

There are two types of readily-available mineral spirits. In addition to the basic and very affordable mineral spirits, there is a variety commonly known as odorless mineral spirits. This is a more purified version of mineral spirits that has had most of the aromatic hydrocarbons removed. Odorless mineral spirits and mineral spirits generally have the same properties and uses, but odorless mineral spirits is popular among artists who use oil paints as they tend to work in close proximity to the solvent. Functionally, though, mineral spirits and odorless mineral spirits perform similarly.

The primary characteristics of mineral spirits:

Mineral spirits has relatively low acute toxicity whether it is breathed in, ingested, or splashed on the skin, but it is an irritant that can cause a variety of symptoms, and care should be taken to avoid exposure.

While not quite as flammable as acetone, mineral spirits is definitely flammable. Charcoal companies soak charcoal briquettes in mineral spirits to make self-igniting charcoal.

Minerals spirits has a distinct smell similar to kerosene that many find inoffensive. Odorless varieties are also available.

As a nonpolar solvent, mineral spirits is insoluble in water.

With a lower vapor pressure than acetone, mineral spirits is less of a fire hazard. It will, however, slowly evaporate.

Mineral spirits is a clear liquid with low viscosity.

Uses, Benefits, and Proper Disposal of Mineral Spirits

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.

Orange can of paint

Acetone

Acetone is a solvent commonly used in the beauty industry and in plastics manufacturing. Also called propanone, acetone is a colorless liquid with a powerful odor. If you have spent time in a household with people who paint their nails, then you can probably recognize the smell of acetone almost immediately, as acetone is the primary ingredient in most nail polish removers.

Acetone is an organic solvent that was historically produced by fermentation until cheap chemical synthesis methods were introduced in the 1960s.

Acetone has a variety of uses in industry and in the home because it is a highly effective paint stripper and an excellent solvent of plastics. It is used as a lacquer thinner, a component in some food additives, and as a degreaser.

Homeowners will find that it can effectively clean a variety of products, provided that they are careful about what they use it for — acetone will degrade, damage, or destroy plastic products like synthetic fibers.

Some characteristics about acetone:

Acetone has low acute and chronic toxicity and is not considered a carcinogen. In fact, the human body produces it in small quantities as a byproduct of metabolism. However, people should avoid excessive exposure to its fumes.

Unlike mineral spirits, acetone is soluble in water.

Acetone has a powerful, distinctive odor that most people find pungent.

Acetone is a colorless liquid.

Acetone is volatile and is highly flammable in both liquid and vapor form. Its vapors are heavier than air and can collect in confined areas.

Uses, Benefits, and Proper Disposal of Acetone

Acetone is most famously used in the beauty industry as a nail polish remover. Some over-the-counter acne treatments use acetone, as it removes oils from human skin. Its ability to quickly break down and soften nail polish shows why it is valuable in other contexts, as well. Broadly, acetone is an effective paint stripper, even after the paint has dried.

Acetone will strip and/or dissolve other things, as well. It can remove super glue, for example, but use caution depending on what the super glue is on — acetone can easily damage varnished wood.

Acetone can be quite useful as a cleaning agent. It can clean stains from paint or varnish on clothing, provided the clothing is made of natural fabrics. Similarly, it also removes permanent marker rather easily. Once again, be careful about where you apply acetone as a cleaner. It can damage or dissolve many synthetic fibers and plastics.

Acetone is used in shops of all kinds as a lacquer thinner and degreaser. Tools and equipment used for working with lacquer, polyester resins, and fiberglass are routinely cleaned with acetone. It is frequently used to prepare wood or metal surfaces for a fresh coat of paint or varnish, partly because it does not leave an oily residue behind. Acetone can remove rosin flux after soldering, as well.

The pharmaceutical and textile industries are two of the largest consumers of acetone. As pharmaceutical companies prepare medications in pill or liquid form, acetone is used to blend the active ingredients and fillers together. Acetone helps ensure that medication is the proper strength. In the textile industry, acetone is used to clean the fibers of silk and wool of sticky elements like gums and oils.

Why do people choose acetone for certain applications? In the right contexts, it is hard to argue with the effectiveness of acetone. Despite its pungent odor, it can get the job done if you need to strip paint, thin lacquer, or degrease a surface. Acetone is also popular because the Environmental Protection Agency has not regulated its use very heavily. Other degreasers are subject to much more regulation. Furthermore, acetone is one of the most readily-available solvents — water is one of the only solvents that is more common.

As with mineral spirits, care should be taken with the disposal of acetone. Very small quantities can be disposed of easily, as when disposing of acetone used for removing nail polish. Throw it away in a lined metal garbage can and dispose with the rest of your trash. A fully-saturated rag or cotton ball should be squeezed out into a sealed container before disposal. Liquid acetone should not be poured down the sink, as it can damage PVC pipe. Instead, take it to your local hazardous waste treatment site.

Contact Brenntag for Your Mineral Spirits and Acetone Needs

Brenntag is a leading provider of chemicals and ingredient solutions with a broad product portfolio and warehouses throughout the United States and Canada.

We have extensive experience with the production and use of mineral spirits and would be happy to assist you further. If you have questions about how our mineral spirits and acetone can assist with your business context, please reach out to our team.

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