Turpentine vs White Spirit: Which Solvent Should I Use For Oil Painting

Oil painting is an art form that has been enjoyed by many of the world’s greatest artists for hundreds of years. Artists such as Raphael, Picasso, Van Gogh, Botticelli, and many more have all painted some of the greatest oil paintings of all time. These incredible artists have painted with oils due to how amazing the end result truly can be.  

Solvents are quite commonly used as a medium when working with oil paints. This is because they help change the properties and how the oil paint operates, thus changing what the finished painting ultimately ends up looking like.

There are different kinds of solvents that can be used when oil painting. That is why it is important to know what solvents you should use, depending on what you are aiming to achieve and based on how you hope for the painting process to go.  

The two main solvents that are used when oil painting are turpentine and white spirit. Turpentine is the more commonly used solvent but they both have their own advantages and disadvantages; so, it is important to understand the difference.  

What Is Turpentine?

Turpentine or turps as it is commonly known is made from the resin that can be obtained from trees, most commonly pine trees. Turpentine was first used for its medicinal properties as far back as the Roman Empire, the dangers to the human body weren’t known at that time.  

It is now primarily used as a solvent in painting, in the manufacturing process of making varnishes, and sometimes used as a raw material in numerous chemical industries.  

When used in oil painting it is used for what is described above; essentially, it is mixed with oil paint to change how the paint functions.  

Why Use Turpentine?  

Turpentine has many advantages that come with its use when painting with oil paints, so when you are deciding what solvent to use when oil painting, it is important to know what they are.  

The main advantage is that turpentine has an incredibly quick drying time, and for many people, this provides a significant benefit. Since oil paints dry due to oxidisation (which is the paint mixing with the air) turpentine helps with this process.  

Due to this great drying time, it makes it much easier to continue working on the painting without having to wait too long for a layer to dry; this is most noticeable when working with many layers.  

Turpentine is also great for cleaning. Cleaning is definitely one of the worst parts of painting! This solvent takes away a lot of the hassle surrounding the cleaning process, especially if the brush bristles have become terribly hard.  

Tips For Using Turpentine 

  • When you use turpentine, make sure that the room you operate in is well ventilated. If you are able to paint outside then it is recommended that you do so. 
  • Turpentine is also incredibly flammable, to the point where even if you don’t dispose of cloth or piece of fabric that has been used with turpentine that too can be dangerous or if it isn’t stored properly; it can be incredibly dangerous to just have laying around. 
  • It is also recommended that you if you have sensitive skin (and even if you don’t) you should wear protective gloves such as nitrile gloves 
  • Turps is incredibly easy to use – just mix it with the paint straight from the tube. Over time, you will be able to determine the exact volume you should use depending on what outcome you are looking for.
  • When you are working with new materials, it is best to be curious and try new things, to see what results work for you and what don’t. 
  • Make sure not to use standard household turpentine though – what you will be looking for is pure turpentine or artist turpentine.  

What Is White Spirit?  

White spirit is commonly referred to as a turpentine substitute. It is also regularly known as a petroleum spirit as well as a mineral spirit.  

White spirit is most commonly used in the paint industry as a solvent. It is also incredibly common for it to be used in lacquers and varnishes.  

It is also great for its cleaning uses, so it is often used to clean things such as paintbrushes and auto parts. It can also be used as a fire starter when barbecuing.

Why Use White Spirit?  

White spirit is typically more useful than standard paint thinner; this is usually because it is more potent. It is mainly used for cleaning, as it is great for cleaning brushes and palettes after a painting session.  

Tips For Using White Spirit 

  • When talking about white spirit in conjunction with oil paints, it is an artist-grade white spirit that is used. You should never use standard household white spirit as it may ruin your painting. You need to make sure to use artist white spirit that does not contain sulphur residue.  
  • Just like turpentine, white spirit should be used in well-ventilated rooms, or if you can use it outdoors where possible.
  • If you are able to, you should use a refined white spirit as they typically emit a lower amount of odour.  
  • Ideally, protective nitrile gloves should be used to help protect your skin when handling it.  

So, what solvent should you use for oil paint? 

Honestly, it really does depend on how you feel using each of them. Try them both out and see what works for you and what doesn’t; just make sure when using a chemical solvent that you do follow safety precautions. They both have their benefits though, so weigh the pros and cons of each carefully before deciding on which to use.

But if you are looking for non-toxic options, then why not check out this article:

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