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Paint Thinner Alternatives

Updated April 17, 2017

Paint thinner is essential to have on hand before starting your art project, to keep brushes clean, fix up spills and for thinning paint. Your choice is determined by your specific needs, budget and where you'll be working. Several alternative and low-odour paint thinners are available which will vary in price, quality, toxicity and scent.

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The easiest to use and totally non-toxic paint thinner is water. Of course, you'll need to use a water- based paint, such as tempera, acrylic, transparent watercolours or gouache. These water-based paints work satisfactorily on most surfaces and clean up easily with water. If oil paint is your artistic passion, try water-soluble oils that clean up with water.

Citrus Thinner

Citrus thinner is a non-toxic natural replacement for turpentine and white spirit. Citrus paint thinners often go under the name of "turpenoid natural." It not only cleans brushes and thins paint, but cleans many household items. The thinner has a mild and pleasant citrus odour. It's also biodegradable, so disposing of leftover thinner is safe and easy, and it's non-toxic if accidentally ingested in small amounts. Citrus cleaner can be used alone or mixed with other paint thinners.

White Spirit

White spirit are an alternative to toxic and odorous paint thinner and are less expensive than turpentine. The composition is similar to basic paint thinners, with a petroleum base, while its evaporation rate mimics turpentine. White spirit are available in either non-odour or low odour varieties. White spirit adequately thin paint, clean brushes and paint spills, and remove grease from metal parts.

Odourless Turpenoid

Though odourless turpenoid has little or no smell, it's more toxic than white spirit, but less than regular paint thinner. Odourless turpenoid has the same drying time as turpentine. It works as a paint thinner, and is compatible with all oil paints and varnishes. Use turpenoid in a well-ventilated room. A small amount of turpenoid is adequate to clean brushes and remove wet oil paint spots from clothing.


Denatured alcohol cleans paint from brushes and hard surfaces. It's highly flammable and must be used in a well-ventilated room. Denatured alcohol will dilute and dissolve shellac and aniline dyes.

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) is a powerful paint solvent, a highly caustic and flammable thinner. It's most often used to remove hardened paint from metal surfaces. Use it in a well-ventilated room and wear protective gear. Test a small area first, as MEK can cause irreparable damage.

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About the Author

Carol Stanley has been a writer and speaker for over 30 years. She has written for several Arizona publications including the "Arizona Republic." She attended the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Arizona. She authored the book "For Kids 59.99 & Over," among other publications.

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