If you’re starting a DIY project, it’s likely you’ll have to use mineral spirits at some point.
Mineral spirits is used for a variety of reasons, including on wooden surfaces, to remove stubborn stains and paint, to clean brushes and more.
In this post, I’ll explore what mineral spirits is, how mineral spirits work, how to use mineral spirits on wood, and much more. Let’s dig in!
In This Article:
Can You Use Mineral Spirits on Wood?
Yes! Mineral spirits can be used on wood for a variety of reasons that I’ll explore below.
Whether you’re looking to remove stains or prepare a piece of wood for staining, using mineral spirits on wood can be extremely beneficial.
What is Mineral Spirits?
Mineral spirits is an organic, petroleum-based solvent that’s used across various industries and residential settings.
Developed by W. J. Stoddard and Lloyd Jackson in 1928, this solvent was mainly used by the dry cleaning industry at first, but eventually its benefits became useful in a variety of other industries as well.
For example, mineral spirits became a popular alternative to turpentine, in large part because it’s a mild, low-volatility petroleum distillate.
Mineral spirits goes by many names, including “mineral turpentine”, “solvent naphtha”, “petroleum spirits”, “Stoddard solvent”, and “paint thinner”—and “white spirits” outside the U.S. and Canada, even though it’s a clear liquid.
There are three types of mineral spirits.
Type I contains virtually no surfer, while Type II has virtually no aromatic hydrocarbons. Type III has more hydrogen.
Each type of mineral spirits has specific uses.
For example, Type II is the odorless mineral spirits that’s used as paint thinner, and it’s also the type of mineral spirits that’s a main ingredient in asphalt.
Mineral spirits are also broken down into three classes:
• Class I: high flashpoint, low volatility
• Class II: moderate flashpoint, moderate volatility
• Class III: low flashpoint, high volatility
According to OSHA, even though mineral spirits is a relatively safe alternative to dangerous solvents and cleaning products, it can irritate the skin and eyes. And if burned, mineral spirits can harm an individual’s respiratory system and even impair brain function.
Since working with mineral spirits can be dangerous, you should know how to properly use mineral spirits before you start working with it. Also, you should have necessary safety gear, including gloves, a smock, and a respirator.
Reasons to Use Mineral Spirits on Wood
Mineral spirits is a versatile liquid that has many uses, and this is the main reason why it’s become an essential liquid for people across industries. Below are some of the common reasons to use mineral spirits.
To Shine Dull and Old Wood
Over time, wood will lose its natural sheen and become dull.
When this happens, using mineral spirits on wood can make the wood shiny once again.
But how is this possible?
When applied to a wood surface, mineral spirits eliminates built-up grime, wax, resin, oil, polish, and other elements that may have been on the wood for a long time. But applying mineral spirits will not strip the wood of its finish which means the wood will still have some protection against water and other elements.
Alternatively, you could restore the wood’s natural sheen with other cleaning products, but this will require much more time and effort.
To Clean Wood
Mineral spirits can often be used as a cleaning agent, and it’s particularly useful when applied to outdoor wood furniture and structures that over time become stained or discolored because of built-up dirt, sap, or pollen.
If you’ve tried to clean your deck with other cleaning products—and even pressure-washing hasn’t worked—it’s time to break out the mineral spirits.
It’s best to clean the structure as soon as possible, as prolonged exposure to the damaging elements mentioned above can slowly but significantly compromise the structures integrity.
Mineral spirits will either remove the damaging elements altogether or loosen them to the point where pressure-washing can remove them.
Once you use mineral spirits on wood, let it soak for a few minutes before wiping it away with a clean rag.
In the home, mineral spirits can be used to remove oil-based paints and stains from wood. Specifically, mineral spirits can be used to remove stains from wooden cabinets, countertops, and other wooden fixtures that kitchens often include.
To Remove Oils
It’s been mentioned already that mineral spirits is good at removing oil, and for this reason, it’s often applied to purpleheart and rosewood, two woods that are extremely oily.
If you don’t apply mineral spirits to oily wood before working with it, you could have a tough time, and it may even damage your power tools.
Once you start wiping oily wood down with mineral spirits, you’ll be amazed at how much oil is removed. Don’t worry, as wiping down wood in this way will not affect the wood’s structural integrity.
To Reveal Woodgrain
Mineral spirits is also used to reveal a wood grain.
Sometimes, a piece of wood will have a natural wood grain that’s only observable after mineral spirits has been applied. In other words, without the mineral spirits, the wood could show a different, surface-level grain.
This is an important point to keep in mind when working with wood, as if you base your project on the surface-level grain and ignore the wood’s deeper, natural grain, it’s likely you won’t achieve the results you desire from either staining or paining.
Therefore, mineral spirits should be used before you start working with the wood, as this way you’ll know exactly what kind of woodgrain you’re working with. It doesn’t raise the grain and its effects are only temporary. Base your designs off the woodgrain that’s revealed following application of mineral spirits.
Check out the video below to learn more about using mineral spirits to show wood grain.
To Prepare Wood for Staining
Before you paint or stain wood, you need to prepare it.
And as you might expect, mineral spirits is a vital part of the wood preparation process. Mineral spirits can be applied after sanding, or you can just use mineral spirits as a form of wet sanding.
Using mineral spirits will get rid of minor scuffs and impurities, and it’ll also remove the sawdust that’s left behind following sanding.
You don’t need to apply too much pressure when cleaning with mineral spirits; just gently wipe down the wooden surface with a clean rag, as this will be enough to remove any leftover resin, sawdust, finish, or oil. If you’re gentle, you won’t leave marks on the wood, and this is something you should definitely keep in mind if you’re working with softwood.
How to Use Mineral Spirits on Wood (Step by Step)
Since mineral spirits has three main uses, it’s appropriate to discuss each use in more detail below.
How to Use Mineral Spirits as a Cleaner Step by Step
- To use mineral spirits as a cleaner, grab a clean rag and pour some mineral spirits on it.
- Now apply the mineral spirits to the surface using the rag; rub in both clockwise and counterclockwise motions.
- If necessary, let the rag sit on the wood surface for a minute in areas with significant build-up.
- You may need to apply more pressure when rubbing on areas where there’s built-up material, but don’t apply so much that it wears the wood’s natural finish.
Note: Don’t pour mineral spirits directly on the wood’s surface, as this may cause more wear at the site where the liquid was concentrated.
How Do Use Mineral Spirits as a Paint Thinner Step by Step
- To start, grab your paint can, a larger empty paint can, and your can of mineral spirits.
- Now dump the paint into the empty paint can.
- Next, add 4 ounces of mineral spirits for every gallon of paint in the can.
Note: Mineral spirits should only be applied to oil-based paint—never water-based or latex paint. This is because water-based and latex paints are thin already.
How to Use Mineral Spirits to Reveal Woodgrain Step by Step
The process used to reveal wood grain with mineral spirits is virtually the same process you must follow to clean wood with mineral spirits. The only difference really is the goal you’re using mineral spirits to achieve.
- Grab a clean rag and apply some mineral spirits to it.
- Now rub the rag on the surface of the wood gently to brighten the wood’s natural wood grain.
- When applying mineral spirits, you can rub with even less force, as your goal isn’t to remove things on the surface.
Note: Usually wood has already been cleaned before mineral spirits is used to identify the woodgrain, so you shouldn’t have to worry about particles distorting the wood when you apply the mineral spirits to get a better look at it.
Can You Use Mineral Spirits to Remove Stain?
Mineral spirits is often used to remove wood stains, and it’s extremely effective at doing so.
How does this happen?
After mineral spirits is applied to a wood stain, the bond between the stain and the wood will begin to break down.
As always, you shouldn’t apply mineral spirits directly to wood; instead, dab a clean cloth with it first and then wipe down the wood. Not only will mineral spirits remove the wood stain, it’ll also remove any impurities and particles that were trapped on or under the stain.
Mineral Spirits Alternatives
Mineral spirits is mainly used as a cleaning product or paint thinner, and in both capacities it’s considered safe. But there are alternatives that can achieve what mineral spirits achieves when applied, and some of them are even safer.
Acetone is a solvent like mineral spirits, and it can be used for cleaning, degreasing, and removing adhesives just like mineral spirits. You’ve probably heard of acetone before because it’s the main ingredient in nail polish.
Unlike mineral spirits, acetone can be applied to metal, plastic, and glass (in addition to wood).
Mineral spirits, on the other hand, will damage some plastics. And because acetone doesn’t contain a high amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC), you don’t have to worry about fumes when working with this solvent.
You can also check out this guide to understand the differences between mineral spirits and denatured alcohol.
When it comes to thinning paint, turpentine is the main alternative to mineral spirits.
Turpentine predates mineral spirits, and when applied to oil paint it thins this liquid and makes it easier to use. You can also use turpentine to clean paint brushes and other painting equipment.
One important thing to know about turpentine is that it’s more toxic than mineral spirits and acetone, producing harsh fumes which you’ll need a respirator to avoid. You should also use gloves and a smock when working with turpentine, and only work with turpentine in a well-ventilated area, i.e. outside or in an open garage.
Soap & Water
Simple soap and water can do the job that mineral spirits does, but you’ll need to use a lot more elbow grease if you’re cleaning with basic soap and water.
It’s best to use an oil-removing soap, like dish detergent, when you have to clean stains that mineral spirits too can clean. If you use an eco-friendly soap, this is by far the most green way to clean surfaces.
How to Stay Safe When Using Mineral Spirits
Safety is definitely something that should be front of mind when you’re using mineral spirits to clean, thin paint, etc.
Although mineral spirits is safer than other solvents, it can still irritate the skin, release toxic vapors, and ignite at a relatively low temperature.
Since it’s an irritant, you should immediately wash your hands if they come into contact with mineral spirits. And definitely avoid touching your face or rubbing your eyes if mineral spirits has come in contact with your hands, as it can significantly irritate and even damage your eyes and facial skin.
While mineral spirits doesn’t emit vapors, if mineral spirits is burned, the smoke can be particularly harmful to the respiratory system. Even if you’re working with zero-fumes mineral spirits, the work area should still be well-ventilated and you should still have on some kind of respirator.
Additionally, since mineral spirits can be highly flammable, you shouldn’t work with this around flames or in a hot area. And if you keep the rags you’ve used to apply mineral spirits, don’t use them to clean a hot surface, as doing so could cause them to combust. The mineral spirits most individuals use can ignite at just 105°F, so it’s best avoid storing mineral spirits in a garage during summertime.
What to Avoid When Using Mineral Spirits
Mineral spirits may be a versatile solvent that’s used for a variety of purposes, but you shouldn’t use mineral spirits to:
- Strip dry paint
- Clean an asphalt driveway
- Thin latex or water-based paint
In the case of dry paint, you can’t use mineral spirits because it’d have virtually no effect, as paint can only be removed mechanically or by hand. And when you apply mineral spirits to a driveway, doing so can soften/weaken the asphalt.
Additionally, if you apply mineral spirits to water-based or latex paint, doing so will separate the pigments from the solvent.
Moreover, using mineral spirits to clean brushes and equipment that’s come in contact with either kind of paint would just push the paint further into the bristles/surfaces, making it even more difficult to clean.
Important: Never use mineral spirits in lieu of lighter fluid or other fire-starters, as breathing in mineral spirits smoke can be harmful in numerous ways.
Does Mineral Spirits Darken Wood?
Mineral spirits will temporarily discolor wood once it’s been applied, which is often a desired result. However, mineral spirits doesn’t actually darken wood, rather it brightens it to reveal the grain and other natural features.
Usually the materials that are added to wood’s surface—polyurethane, stain, paint, etc.—make it darker. So when mineral spirits is applied to remove these materials, a lighter finish is a logical result.
Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry about mineral spirits damaging wood after it’s been applied, as it’s a surface-level cleaner that’ll only wear wood’s natural finish if applied with significant pressure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use Mineral Spirits on Raw Wood?
Yes! Mineral spirits can be used on raw, unfinished wood to clean the surface and get rid of any grime or residues that are currently on it.
How Long Should You Let Mineral Spirits Dry Before Staining?
It’s vital to have a dry surface before staining. After you apply mineral spirits, you should wait between 15 and 20 minutes before staining the surface of your wood. If the wood is still wet, you’ll need to wait before staining. Sometimes it can help to wipe the area with a dry cloth to speed up the drying process.
Final Thoughts on Mineral Spirits on Wood
Mineral spirits can be extremely handy to have around your woodshop.
It can be used to clean wood, prep it for staining, and a variety of other reasons to help you complete any job.
Just dab a clean cloth and wipe the wood’s surface to give it a clean finish.