What Is Paint Thinner?

Updated November 21, 2016

Paint thinner is a product that you use to remove paint that is oil-based. If you have oil-based paint on your hands, soap and water is not effective. You have to scrub your

hands with paint thinner to get rid of it. Paint thinner is also used to thin paint, making it easier to work with. There is more than one type of paint thinner.


Toulene is the basic chemical of paint thinner that is extracted from the tolu tree as well as crude oil. Toulene is in rubber, fingernail polish and adhesives. If you use toluene, be aware that exposure to toluene even at low levels can make you feel dizzy, weak and even confused. Too much toluene exposure can result in death.


Turpentine is a paint thinner that you may be familiar with. Turpentine is made from the resin and oil of conifer trees. It is very flammable, so you must keep it away from combustibles and anything that is an oxidising agent. When you use turpentine, wear gloves and eyewear to protect yourself from exposure. Contact with turpentine can cause skin and eye irritation as well as damage to your respiratory and nervous systems. Long-term exposure can result in kidney failure. This is a powerful solvent.

Denatured Alcohol, Linseed Oil, Mineral Oil

If you are working with shellac, denatured alcohol is a good thinner to use, although it isn't effective on other types of coatings. However, it is dangerous because it is poisonous. You can put boiled linseed oil into your oil-based paint to speed up drying and prevent cracking and shrinking when applied to wood. It also puts some moisture into the wood. If you are trying to thin varnish, enamel or oleoresinous paint, mineral oil is a good solvent to use.


Acetone, which is found in inks and nail polish remover, is a paint thinner. It is clear, colourless liquid. If it is ingested or inhaled it can cause respiratory problems.


All solvents are flammable. Acetone is especially flammable.

Paint thinner can make you sick. In fact, when paint thinner is inhaled or ingested it can result in paint thinner poisoning. Paint thinner is toxic because it is a hydrocarbon.

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About the Author

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.