Mineral Spirits vs Acetone

image of paintbrushes sitting in mineral spirits

Solvents and thinners are vital requirements for painting. Acetone and mineral spirits are two of the most common ones used. They are similar, but there are different uses where each one is best.

Confusing the matter is that many of the solvents go by similar names, but have different ingredients. And, some solvents have vastly different branded names but are, mostly, the same product.

Are Mineral Spirits and Acetone the Same Thing?

While they are both solvents that are used as paint thinners, they are not the same thing.  Mineral spirits are petroleum-based and are a common solvent for painting. 

 Acetone is also known as propanone and is an organic (carbon-containing) molecule made from combining benzene and propylene  . After several intermediary steps, acetone is the remaining molecule. It is commonly used to remove fingernail polish and as a paint remover.

Oil-based paints require solvents. From cleaning brushes to thinning paint, you’ll be forced to decide between a few different solvents.

Paint Stripper
image of gel paint stripper
  • Paint Stripper
  • Gel Stripper
  • Softens and Peels Paints
  • Covers 100 Sq Ft.
Mineral Spirits
image of mineral spirits paint thinner
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Odorless
  • Thins oil-based paint
  • Non-flammable

In This Article I’ll Discuss:

Acetone or Mineral Spirits for Thinning Paint?

Mineral spirits are better for thinning paint. It’s is similar to paint in its composition and mixes well with oil-based paints. It does well for thinning the material.

Acetone is more of a paint stripping material that will change the nature of paint. This makes it excellent for removing paint, but less ideal for thinning.

Acetone or Mineral Spirits for Paint Removal?

Mineral spirits are incredibly affordable and work well for preparing a surface for painting. Acetone is a more aggressive paint thinner, thanks to its benzene origins. If you have old, dried-on paint that you are attempting to remove, acetone has the added advantage of being able to destroy the paint’s adhesion.

Acetone is one of the only solvents that can remove dried paint.

Should You Use Acetone or Mineral Spirits for Thinning Rustoleum?

Rustoleum is a brand name that is well known for preventing rust, by proactively applying it to exposed metal, you can keep metal products from rusting.

If you plan on spraying Rustoleum, it is recommended to thin it with acetone. If you are applying it with a brush, it will not need to be thinned, but it is still handy to have acetone on hand for cleaning up any runs or over application.

Is Acetone or Mineral Spirits better for cleaning?

Both of these make an excellent solvent for paint prep and cleaning a surface before painting. Acetone tends to be more aggressive and can remove old, dried paint.

Mineral spirits are generally more affordable and are readily available. Another good choice for gentle cleaning is denatured alcohol. Naphtha is another solvent that is a good step between mineral spirits and the more aggressive acetone.

When you are done painting, many folks use mineral spirits or lacquer thinner to clean up their paintbrushes and equipment.

Should You Use Acetone Or Goof Off?

Goof Off is a handy product that is sold for the removal of paint and other sticky substances such as sticker residue. Their paint remover can be used to remove finishes and is generally high in acetone. Some of their older formulations used to employ Xylenes instead of acetone, but as paint has improved, the Goof Off brans has switched to the more aggressive acetone solvent.

What is Acetone?

Acetone is a colorless and flammable liquid. Also known as propanone, it is commonly used in the manufacturing of plastics and as an industrial solvent.

Acetone has the unique advantage of being mixable with water. This makes it an excellent and unique choice as a cleaning agent.

You’ll commonly find acetone on the bathroom shelf as a nail polish remover. It works well for removing nail polish as well as ink. Walking through the mall, you can smell the nail polish long before you reach it.

Acetone has the risk of being highly flammable. Do not smoke when using acetone, and be sure your hands are thoroughly cleaned before you light a cigarette.

The fact that there is a benzene ring of carbon atoms ion acetone makes this an organic molecule. According to the scientific classification, acetone is classified as a ketone in a carbonyl group.

Acetone is clear, aromatic (strong smelling), and boils at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use it to thin polyester resins and dissolve two-part epoxies, fiberglass resin, or superglue. It is even used as an element in food additives to trigger certain metabolic processes, such as the liver breaking down fat.

What are Mineral Spirits?

Mineral spirit is a by-product of the petroleum distillation process. It is referred to as the “white spirit” of this process due to the lightweight nature of the solvent.

As a hydrocarbon, it does have similarities to acetone.

Mineral spirits gained popularity as a replacement for turpentine. Turpentine is made from tree sap, and mineral spirits were more effective and readily available, lending to their selection as a turpentine substitute.

There is a wide array of uses for mineral spirits from cleaning metal shavings and oils in a manufacturing environment, to removing rust from old metal with steel wool and degreasing and cleaning machinery.

Advantages of Acetone

Acetone has the advantage of being one of the few solvents that can remove dried paint.

It is good for degreasing equipment and for cleaning surfaces before painting.

As a solvent, it helps to break down paint and grease from the surface of plastic, glass, and wood. When dealing with stubborn grease or old paint, you can let it sit for a few moments as it can dissolve the gunk and becomes a more effective degreaser.

Disadvantages of Acetone

Acetone has the disadvantage of being harmful to the skin, to the lungs, eyes, and general health. One should wear gloves when using acetone.

Advantages of Mineral Spirits

There is less odor to it than there is to acetone due to a lower amount of VOCs or volatile organic compounds, making it better for users who are bothered by the strong smells of acetone. And, while it is still not recommended for contact with the skin, it is less likely to burn the skin or harm it if accidentally exposed.

Chronic inhalation exposure to mineral spirits is known to cause damage to the brain tissue and nervous system. Odorless mineral spirits are extremely popular for classroom use when doing art instruction of oil paints.

It is also not as good for stripping dried paint but serves an important role in paint thinning.

Is has a higher flashpoint than acetone as well, which makes it less flammable.

What Are Lacquer Thinners?

Lacquer thinners are similar to the other solvents. It is good for degreasing and cleaning. There is more customization to their formulations, which means that one lacquer thinner might be good for thinning paint while another one is better suited for cleaning or paint removal.

Lacquer thinners often contain acetone and are highly-flammable.

With all of these products, it would be wise to wear a respirator, but few painters ever do.

Conclusion

Acetone is one of the more aggressive types of solvents and is great for stripping paint. Mineral spirits are gentler and good for thinning paint and day-to-day use.

Knowing the difference can allow you to choose the gentler mineral spirits when cleaning a surface that you don’t want to be damaged, and the more aggressive acetone for when you need to remove old paint.