Types of paint thinners

Written by c.k. adams | 13/05/2017
Types of paint thinners
Only use enough paint thinner for the job to avoid storing highly flammable products. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

For oil-based paints, paint thinners act as a solvent. Various types of paint thinners exist, including methyl ethyl ketone, dimethylformamide and naphtha. However, common types of paint thinners are turpentine and acetone. If you want to work with paint thinner, consider also buying gloves, face mask and eyewear to prevent any agitation or damage from inhaling fumes.


Quality turpentine comes from pine trees, but other paint thinners derive turpentine from crude oil. When using turpentine to thin paint, you wear protective clothing like goggles and gloves to prevent irritation to eyes and skin. Turpentine is highly flammable; so when you store the paint thinner containers, they need to be away from electrical sockets, oxidising agents and combustibles.


Acetone appears in many household items, such as nail polish remover. Acetone is a clear, colourless liquid that you also find in automative lacquer and inks. Although breathing acetone in high concentration leads to respiratory irritation, acetone has a low toxicity level. Both humans and animals produce acetone through natural processes.


Crude oil and tolu trees produce a paint thinner called toluene. Also a clear, colourless liquid, toluene is present in fingernail polish, rubber and adhesives. Toluene also has a benzene-like odour. As a paint thinner, toluene easily dissolves paints, rubber, printing ink, disinfectants, adhesives and leather tanners. Along with turpentine and acetone, toluene is a common paint thinner that most painters use to quickly clean brushes.


As a solvent, xylene works as a substitute to toluene and thins lacquers when slower drying is necessary. Xylene comes from oil and gas developments. Xylene also works as a pesticide and cleaning agent for steel or silicon wafers and chips. Printing, rubber and leather industries use xylene as a paint thinner.

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