We may earn a commission if you make a purchase through one of our links. Learn more

Home Improvement

Best Paint Thinner

Cleaning up after a paint job always requires some sort of solvent. For latex paints, this solvent is water; but for many paint products like oil-based paint and varnish, some other solvent is needed. Unfortunately, these other solvents aren’t as benign as water. For this reason, the EPA has been creating regulations that pressure paint manufacturers to reduce the VOCs in their paints.

By definition Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic liquids that evaporate. The word “organic” refers to chemicals that contain a carbon atom in their molecular makeup. The word “volatile” doesn’t mean that it is flammable, like many people think, but rather that it evaporates. This includes almost all liquids.

Water gets a pass, because the water molecule H2O doesn’t contain carbon; only hydrogen and oxygen. However, pretty much everything else that it used as a solvent for paints qualifies as being VOCs. This is especially true of any oil-based products that are used as paint thinners.

While manufacturers are gradually moving away from oil-based paint products, in order to satisfy FDA regulations, there are still some around. For these products, finding an appropriate solvent for cleanup and thinning of the paint is important. This need to meet FDA regulations draws a line which clearly divides all paint thinners and products. On one side of the line are the more traditional thinners, which have VOCs and on the other side of the line are newer chemical thinners which are either low VOC or don’t contain any VOCs. Some of these newer products actually work incredibly well, especially when you consider that oil and water don’t mix.

In this list, we’ll cover both categories of paint thinners. Keep in mind that paint formulations vary widely, so the results you get from a particular paint thinner may be different than those that I have received. A lot depends upon the particular chemical composition of the paint product you are trying to thin. In all cases, I still have to say that the old-fashioned products work better, even though they are not as good for the environment.

Before trying to pick out a paint thinner, be sure that you know what type of paint material you are expecting to use it with. This is important, as different thinners work with different paints. For example, mineral spirits is excellent for use with standard oil-based paints, but won’t do a thing for cleaning up lacquer; nor does lacquer thinner work well for cleanup of most oil-based paints.

Sunnyside Mineral Spirits Paint Thinner

It’s hard to beat good old mineral spirits as a paint thinner. Mineral spirits have replaced turpentine as the “standard” paint thinner for oil-based paints. While it is more volatile and flammable, it does a better cleaning job and is considerably less costly. The other thing is that it produces much lower odor than turpentine does. Some mineral spirits paint thinners are labeled as “low odor paint thinner.” This is really no different than other mineral spirits, but is low odor as compared to other non-mineral spirits options. For cost and ease of use, mineral spirits takes the prize.

Kleen-Strip VOC Compliant Mineral Spirits

Kleen-Strip has revisited mineral spirits and produced a VOC compliant version. This paint thinner retains all of the benefits of any other mineral spirits paint thinner, but will still meet the most restrictive VOC regulations in the country, those of Southern California. They accomplished this by creating a more highly purified version than what is normally considered acceptable. However, this does have a price, as the price listed here is per quart, whereas the price for the normal mineral spirits is for a gallon.

BioShield Citrus Thinner

In seeking to find alternative means of thinning paints, which are not harmful to the environment, a wide number of options have been tried. This paint thinner is based upon citrus oil, which has been used successfully in a wide range of cleaners and degreasers. In fact, this paint thinner can also be used as a degreaser for tools and car parts. The citrus oil cuts through grease amazingly well, is water soluble and has a pleasant odor, making it much nicer to work with than other options. The only drawback is the price. This is a .75 liter container, at a much higher price than the gallon of mineral spirits; so don’t waste it.

Klean-Strip Green Lacquer Thinner

I’ll have to say that I was extremely skeptical the first time I bought this product. When I poured it out of the container to clean the first brush, I was sure that they salesman had taken me to the cleaners. However, it worked… and when all is said and done, that’s what matters. While I can’t say that it is as easy to work with as mineral spirits, I can say that it got my brushes clean and that’s what I needed it to do. This is a low VOC product, which contains no hazardous air pollutants (per the EPA’s definition) and no ozone-depleating chemicals either. It is made of 65 percent renewable materials, reducing your carbon footprint every time you use it. Don’t be thrown off by other people’s reviews of this excellent product; they’re comparing it to mineral spirits, instead of rating it based upon its own performance. Don’t try using it to thin paint though, as it doesn’t work well for that; just for cleanup.

Sunnyside Corporation 730G1, Environmentally Friendly Paint Thinner

This product from Sunnyside is similar to the Kleen-Strip “green” product. Like it, it is a “green” product, created to reduce pollutants and impact on the environment. It is also a milky white product, which must be shaken before using. Be sure you shake it well, as it tends to separate while sitting. You can’t use it for thinning paint, but only for cleanup. As a water-based, low VOC product, it does well for cleaning up brushes and other tools. Once again, if you compare it to mineral spirits, you won’t be happy; but if you look at it for what it is, it does the job it is intended to do.

Rich the Tool Man

Before embarking on the current stage of my life, I spent 15 years as a Manufacturing Engineer in both the medical equipment field (medical electronics) and automotive engineering (city transit buses). After that, I owned a small construction company, mostly doing residential remodeling and commercial tenant finishes. I am no longer in either of these fields, but still get my hands plenty dirty as a consummate do-it-yourselfer; working on everything from remodeling my own home to rebuilding my car’s engines. My hobby (when I can find the time) is woodworking; making everything from toilet paper holders, to shelves, to music stands for my own home. My wife long ago gave up the idea that a two car garage is for parking two cars; it is my workshop.

While I cannot claim to having worked professionally with all types of tools, I have worked professionally with some. This comes from my previous careers, where I had to specify, buy and at times live with those decisions. Additionally, I would have to say that my engineering background has given me a thorough understanding of the construction of such tools. So, while I may not have used a particular type of tool personally, I have the knowledge to cut through all the advertising hype and statistics; in order to get at the truth of how well a tool will operate and last.

In my current career as a writer, I've written over 90 books. This includes my own titles and those I've written on contract. I've also written a complete website on how to build your own home.

Go to top