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Turpentine vs. Mineral Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to Solvents

When it comes to solvents, two names often rise to the top: Turpentine and Mineral Spirits. But what are they, and how do they differ? Whether you’re an artist, a DIY enthusiast, or preparing for a post-apocalyptic future, understanding these solvents can be incredibly useful. Let’s dive in!

Turpentine vs. Mineral Spirits

Origins: From Pine Trees to Petroleum

  • Turpentine: This aromatic solvent hails from the resin of pine trees. Through a process of distillation, we obtain a liquid rich in terpenes, especially alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. These give turpentine its signature piney scent.
  • Mineral Spirits: On the other side, we have a clear liquid derived from petroleum. Comprising a mix of aliphatic and alicyclic C7 to C12 hydrocarbons, mineral spirits are versatile and less pungent than their pine-derived counterpart.

Uses Through the Ages

Turpentine’s history is rich and varied. Ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans used it for medicinal purposes and as a solvent. Fast forward to today, and it’s a favorite among artists, especially in oil painting. Mineral spirits, meanwhile, have become the go-to for many due to their milder odor and cost-effectiveness.

Survival Option: Apocalypse-Ready Applications

Imagine a world where traditional systems collapse. In such scenarios, both turpentine and mineral spirits shine:

  1. Fire and Light: Both can start fires and fuel lamps.
  2. Maintenance: Clean tools, preserve materials, and waterproof essentials.
  3. Trade: In a barter-centric world, these solvents could be as good as gold.
  4. Medicinal Uses: With caution, turpentine has historical medicinal applications.

Shelf Life

The shelf life of both turpentine and mineral spirits depends on storage conditions, but generally, they are quite stable and can be stored for extended periods if kept in proper conditions.


  • Shelf Life: Turpentine can last for several years if stored correctly. However, over time, especially if exposed to air, it can oxidize and lose its solvency power. This oxidation can also lead to a thicker consistency and a stronger, more acrid smell.
  • Storage Tips: To maximize its shelf life, turpentine should be stored in a tightly sealed container to prevent evaporation and oxidation. It should also be kept away from heat sources, direct sunlight, and open flames, as it is flammable.

Mineral Spirits:

  • Shelf Life: Mineral spirits are quite stable and, like turpentine, can last for several years when stored properly. They are less prone to oxidation than turpentine but can still evaporate if the container isn’t sealed tightly.
  • Storage Tips: Store mineral spirits in a well-sealed container, away from heat, direct sunlight, and open flames. As with turpentine, it’s essential to keep the container tightly closed to prevent evaporation and contamination.

Chemistry 101: Breaking Down the Components

At their core, these solvents are chemically distinct:

  • Turpentine: Dominated by terpenes, especially alpha-pinene and beta-pinene.
  • Mineral Spirits: A cocktail of hydrocarbons, including octane, nonane, and decane. Further refining can lead to “low odor” versions, reducing aromatic content.

Safety First

  • Storage: Keep them in sealed containers, away from flames. Their fumes can be harmful.
  • Usage: Always opt for well-ventilated areas and minimize skin contact. If considering medicinal applications, proceed with extreme caution.

Further Examination

  1. Origin:
    • Turpentine: Derived from the resin of pine trees through distillation.
    • Mineral Spirits: A petroleum-derived solvent.
  2. Odor:
    • Turpentine: Has a strong, pungent, and characteristic piney odor.
    • Mineral Spirits: Has a milder odor, with “odorless” versions available that have almost no smell.
  3. Evaporation Rate:
    • Turpentine: Tends to evaporate faster.
    • Mineral Spirits: Evaporates more slowly compared to turpentine.
  4. Cost:
    • Turpentine: Generally more expensive.
    • Mineral Spirits: Typically less expensive.
  5. Toxicity:
    • Turpentine: Can be more irritating to the skin and respiratory system. Prolonged exposure or ingestion can be harmful.
    • Mineral Spirits: While still toxic if ingested or inhaled in large amounts, they are generally considered less toxic than turpentine.
  6. Use in Art:
    • Turpentine: Traditionally used in oil painting as a medium and solvent. Some artists believe it imparts a unique quality to paints.
    • Mineral Spirits: Used as a solvent in oil painting, especially by artists who prefer a milder odor or are in enclosed spaces.
  7. Cleaning:
    • Turpentine: Effective in cleaning brushes and equipment used with oil-based paints.
    • Mineral Spirits: Also effective for cleaning, often preferred due to milder odor and lower cost.
  8. Compatibility with Resins:
    • Turpentine: Compatible with natural resins, often used in the production of certain varnishes and mediums.
    • Mineral Spirits: Not typically used with natural resins in the same way turpentine is.
  9. Environmental Impact:
    • Turpentine: Being a natural product, it might seem more environmentally friendly, but the distillation process and the potential for deforestation can have environmental impacts.
    • Mineral Spirits: Derived from petroleum, which carries its own set of environmental concerns.
  10. Flammability:
  • Turpentine: Highly flammable.
  • Mineral Spirits: Also flammable, but generally with a higher flash point than turpentine.

Generally Unconventional Uses

Both turpentine and mineral spirits have been used in a variety of unconventional ways over the years, some of which are rooted in historical or traditional practices. Here are some of the less common uses for these solvents:


  1. Medicinal Purposes: Historically, turpentine was used as a remedy for various ailments. It was sometimes ingested (though this is strongly discouraged today due to potential toxicity) as a treatment for intestinal parasites. It was also applied topically for muscle pain and arthritis.
  2. Natural Remedy for Animal Ailments: Some farmers have used turpentine as a home remedy for livestock issues, such as external parasites.
  3. Flavoring Agent: In very small amounts, turpentine has been used as a flavoring agent in foods, especially in some traditional recipes. However, this is rare and can be risky.
  4. Pest Repellent: Turpentine can repel certain pests, and some people have used it as a deterrent for animals like squirrels or as a repellent for insects.

Mineral Spirits:

  1. Skin Cleanser: Some mechanics and painters have used mineral spirits to clean grease and paint off their hands. However, frequent or prolonged skin exposure can be harmful and is not recommended.
  2. Deodorizer: Mineral spirits can absorb and neutralize some odors. For instance, it’s been used to remove the smell of skunk spray.
  3. Shoe Cleaner: Some people use mineral spirits to clean the soles of their shoes, especially to remove sticky residues.
  4. Lubricant: While not its primary purpose, mineral spirits can act as a temporary lubricant for certain applications.
  5. Removing Labels and Stickers: Mineral spirits can dissolve the adhesive behind labels and stickers, making them easier to peel off.
  6. Waterproofing: Some have used mineral spirits in mixtures to create sealants for waterproofing materials.

Turpentine and mineral spirits, each with its unique history, composition, and uses, are invaluable tools in various scenarios. Whether you’re crafting a masterpiece, cleaning tools, or prepping for unforeseen futures, understanding these solvents is a step in the right direction.