oil painting spirits

There are a few oil painting spirits that have similar names. It can be quite confusing to know which ones to use when so we have written up a simple breakdown to clarify the basics. Please note that special care must always be taken when using these products, as they are all toxic. To ensure a safe environment, one should always:

  • Work in a well-ventilated room
  • Keep products away from children
  • Avoid contact with the skin and avoid inhalation
  • Store products with lids tightly closed in a cool area away from direct sunlight

Lastly, make sure to never throw any of these substances down the drain – rather keep used solvents in a jar, let the paint settle at the bottom and recycle the solvent by pouring out the clear layer at the top to use again.

Genuine turpentine also known as distilled turpentine/gum spirits/spirit of turpentine/oil of turpentine

It is a traditional solvent used for oil painting and is made from the resin of pine trees through a process of distillation. It is good to use for cleaning brushes and can be used as a solvent to thin oil- and alkyd-based paints or to create painting mediums. It has a strong odor (stronger than mineral spirits or odourless mineral spirits) and a fast evaporation rate. It is reactive to light and oxygen and so must be stored properly to avoid thickening.

Mineral turpentine also known as white spirits/mineral spirits/artist’s white spirits

It is made from petroleum, and is very different on a chemical level to turpentine that is made from pine trees. It can be used to clean brushes and thin oil- or alkyd-based paints. Mineral turpentine comes in varying grades/qualities. When using it in oil painting as a medium, one should use artist’s grade (often labeled Artist’s White Spirits) as it is much purer than the cheaper hardware store sort (which is often labeled Mineral Turpentine or Mineral Spirits). It evaporates more slowly than turpentine and is less toxic.

Odourless mineral spirits also known as OMS

Very similar to mineral turpentine as it is derived from petroleum, but has gone through a chemical process to eliminate the strong odor. It is important to note that the toxic fumes have not been removed from the product, it is just not as smelly.

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