Image of Substitutes for Paint Thinner

Substitutes for Paint Thinner

Paint thinner can be a great asset when working on projects that require paint; however, in some cases, alternatives are necessary.

Whether you don’t have any access to paint thinner or simply want an alternative for safety purposes, several items in your household can help get the job done.

From liquids like acetone and alcohols to petroleum jelly and oils; substitutes for paint thinner come with pros and cons that are important to consider before use.

Read through this blog post for insight on various substitutes for paint thinner and why they are beneficial to utilize.

What Is Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is a solvent used to dilute and thin paints, varnishes, and other coatings.

It’s typically a petroleum-based liquid that breaks down the binders and pigments in paint, making it easier to apply.

But how do you thin acrylic paint? Thinning paint involves adding a paint thinner or suitable alternative to the paint to reduce its viscosity and improve its flow.

Why You Need Paint Thinner

The following reasons are why you need a paint thinner:

i. Reduce Paint Viscosity

Paint thinner is essential for reducing the viscosity of the paint. Thicker paints can be difficult to work with, leading to uneven application and brush strokes.

By adding paint thinner, the consistency of the paint becomes smoother and more fluid, making it easier to achieve a professional finish.

This is particularly useful when working with oil-based or enamel paints, which tend to have higher viscosity.

ii. Clean Brushes and Applicators

After painting, brushes, and applicators can become caked with dried paint, making them difficult to reuse. Paint thinner is an effective tool for cleaning and restoring brushes.

It helps dissolve the dried paint, making it easier to remove from bristles or surfaces.

Regularly cleaning brushes with paint thinner prolongs their lifespan and ensures optimal performance in future painting projects.

iii. Extend Paint Life

When paint sits unused for an extended period, it can thicken and become less workable.

Adding paint thinner to the paint can revive it, restoring its original consistency and extending its usable life.

This is particularly useful for expensive or specialty paints you want to stretch out over multiple projects, saving you money and reducing waste.

iv. Cleaning Spills and Splatters

Accidents happen during painting projects, and spills and splatters are common occurrences.

Paint thinner can be used to clean up these mishaps, particularly on non-porous surfaces like tile or metal.

It helps dissolve and remove dried or fresh paint, making the cleanup process much easier and preventing permanent stains or damage.

v. Degrease Surfaces

Before painting, ensure the surface is free from dirt, grime, and grease. Paint thinner is effective in degreasing surfaces, such as metal or wood, by breaking down oil-based contaminants.

By removing these substances, the paint adheres better to the surface, resulting in a smoother and more durable finish.

What Are the Best Substitutes for Paint Thinner?

Some of the best substitutes for paint thinner include regular vinegar, distilled water, mineral spirits, acetone, linseed and lemon mixture, baby oil, vegetable oil or sunflower oil, isopropyl alcohol, and DIY concoctions. These alternatives offer varying degrees of effectiveness in thinning paint, cleaning brushes and reducing environmental and health risks.

Substitutes for Paint Thinner

1. Vinegar

Vinegar, typically white vinegar, can be used as a substitute for regular paint thinner.

It effectively breaks down paint pigments and can be mixed with water in varying ratios to achieve the desired thinning consistency.

However, vinegar is more suitable for water-based paints and may not work as effectively with oil-based paints.


  • Easily accessible
  • Cost-effective
  • Suitable for water-based paints
  • Do not ruin the paint pigment
  • Excellent for reducing oil-based paint viscosity


  • Less effective if you thin oil-based paints
  • Using this method can be time intensive
  • Requires expert knowledge to mix the ratios

2. Distilled Water

Distilled water is an easily accessible and cost-effective substitute for paint thinner, especially water-based paints. It can dilute the paint, adjust its consistency, and improve flow.

However, distilled water may not be suitable for thinning oil-based paints, as they require stronger solvents to break down their binders.


  • You can easily strike a balance when mixing with paints
  • Refrain from affecting the paint quality since it lacks minerals
  • Suitable for all types of water-based paints
  • Readily available


  • It’s  challenging to get a consistent paint mixture
  • Unable to thin oil paints

3. Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are widely used to substitute paint thinner, particularly oil-based paints. They effectively thin paint, clean brushes, and remove paint stains.

Use mineral spirits in a well-ventilated area due to their strong odor and flammable nature. Proper safety precautions should be followed when using mineral spirits.

Image of mineral spirits.


  • Act faster
  • Suitable for cleaning surfaces with unwanted paints
  • Work well with all types of paints


  • Strong odor
  • Flammable

4. Acetone

Acetone is a powerful solvent commonly found in nail polish removers, and it can also be used as a substitute for paint thinner.

It works well for cleaning brushes and thinning certain types of paints, but it may only be suitable for some paint formulations.


  • Effective for cleaning brushes
  • Readily available


  • Strong odor
  • Highly flammable
  • Limited to specific paint

5. Linseed and Lemon

A mixture of linseed oil and lemon juice can be used as a natural substitute for paint thinner.

This combination effectively thins oil-based paints and can help remove paint from brushes.

However, the proportions may vary depending on the desired thinning consistency, and caution should be exercised as linseed oil can have a drying time.


  • Available within a household
  • It is a versatile thinner due to its many functions
  • Perfect paint thinner for acrylic and many other oil-based paints
  • It can also be used to clean unwanted paints from the surfaces


  • Longer drying time
  • It may alter paint properties

6. Baby Oil

Baby oil can be used as a substitute for paint thinner, though it is not always the most effective.

Baby oil has a low odor and won’t cause any irritation to the skin, making it ideal for sensitive individuals working with painting materials.

However, baby oil may not effectively thin certain types of paint and can be messy to handle.


  • Easy to find
  • Suitable for thinning oil-based paints


  • Less effective than dedicated solvents
  • It can leave a residue

7. Vegetable Oil or Sunflower

Vegetable or sunflower oil is a great substitute for paint thinner in small amounts. It works well on certain types of paint but not all.

Furthermore, since it has a strong odor and is difficult to clean up, it shouldn’t be used in larger quantities.


  • Natural substitute
  • Readily available


  • Less effective
  • It can leave a residue
  • May impact drying time

8. Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is one of the most popular alternatives to traditional paint thinner. It’s very effective at thinning paint and can be found in many households.

It has a strong odor, so it should be handled with caution. It doesn’t work well on some paints and may cause discoloration on certain surfaces.


  • Effective for cleaning brushes
  • Readily available


  • Not suitable for thinning paint
  • It may damage certain finishes

9. Concoction

Various concoctions use common household ingredients, such as mixing dish soap and water or combining rubbing alcohol with dishwashing liquid, which can be used as substitutes for paint thinner.

These mixtures are typically suitable for cleaning brushes or removing fresh paint stains, but they may need to be more effective for thinning paint.


  • Household ingredients
  • Suitable for cleaning brushes


  • Not effective for thinning paint

10. DIY Method

Follow the steps below to make homemade paint thinner: 

Step 1: Choose a Carrier Liquid

Select a suitable carrier liquid based on the type of paint you’re working with. For water-based paints, distilled water is a good option. For oil-based paints, mineral spirits or vegetable oil can be used.

Step 2: Dilute the Carrier Liquid

Mix the carrier liquid with the paint in small increments in a clean container until you achieve the desired consistency. Add the carrier liquid gradually to avoid over-thinning the paint.

Step 3: Test and Adjust

Perform a small test application to ensure the homemade paint thinner substitute works well with your specific paint. Adjust the ratio of carrier liquid to paint as needed to achieve the desired thinning effect.

Safety Precautions and Tips for Using DIY Alternative

  • Work in a well-ventilated area or open windows and doors to allow for proper airflow, reducing the concentration of fumes or vapors.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, and a mask to protect yourself from potential skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.
  • Be cautious when working with flammable substances. Keep them away from open flames, sparks, and heat sources to prevent fire hazards.
  • Store homemade paint thinner substitutes in labeled, tightly sealed containers away from children, pets, and ignition sources. Follow the specific storage recommendations for each alternative.
  • Dispose of any leftover materials or empty containers according to local regulations and guidelines to avoid environmental harm.
  • Before using a DIY paint thinner substitute on a large surface, perform a compatibility test on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t damage or negatively react with the paint or surface.
  • After using the DIY alternative, thoroughly clean brushes, tools, and the work area. Avoid pouring paint or paint thinner substitutes down the drain, as they can pollute water sources.
  •  If you use commercial additives or solvents to create a DIY paint thinner substitute, carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines for proper usage.
  • Store any unused homemade paint thinner substitutes in clearly labeled containers, indicating their contents and the date of preparation. This helps prevent confusion and accidental use of the wrong substance.
  • If you need clarification on a DIY paint thinner substitute’s safety or effectiveness, consult a professional painter or expert for guidance and recommendations tailored to your specific needs.

What NOT to Use When Thinning Paint

The following product properties are not safe for thinning paint:

Highly Flammable

When thinning paint, never use a highly flammable liquid or gas as a thinner. This could be incredibly dangerous if the fumes are ignited near a flame or spark.

In addition, the high volatility of these substances can cause them to evaporate quickly and reduce their efficacy for thinning purposes.

Related Read: Is Acrylic Paint Flammable

High Alcohol Content

Paint thinners containing a high alcohol content should also be avoided. Not only can these products be highly flammable, but they can also have adverse effects on the paint itself by breaking down its chemical structure. 

This could result in a weakened and less durable paint layer prone to cracking or discoloration. 

The vapor produced from these thinners can be toxic and hazardous to breathe in. Only use paint thinners with a low or medium alcohol content when thinning paint. 

Other items include solvents with strong caustic properties, such as bleach or ammonia, as well as any petroleum-based products. 

Factors to Consider when Choosing a Paint Thinner Alternative

When selecting a substitute for paint thinner, here are some important factors to consider. These include: 


Consider the cost of the substitute for paint thinner. Some alternatives may be more affordable, depending on the availability and quantity required. 

Assess your budget and choose a substitute that fits within your financial means.

If you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider using readily and accessible product within your home, such as vinegar or rubbing alcohol.

Type of paint you’re using

Different paints have varying chemical compositions and require specific thinning agents.

Determine whether you’re working with water-based or oil-based paint, as this will influence the compatibility of the substitute. 

Ensure the chosen substitute is suitable for the type of paint you’re using to achieve the desired results.

Remember, not all alternatives work well with oil and water-based paint and, therefore may require specific thinners, otherwise, you risk altering the paint properties. 

The project you’re working on

If your project involves intricate details or requires precise control over paint viscosity, you may need a substitute that offers more consistent and controllable thinning properties. 

For larger projects, ease of use and coverage are vital factors. Similarly, if you’re using a spray gun, the substitute should be compatible and provide an even paint distribution. 


Evaluate the toxicity of the substitute. Some solvents and alternatives may contain chemicals that can harm human health or the environment.

Choose substitutes with lower toxicity levels, especially if you’re working in an enclosed or poorly ventilated area. 

Oftentimes, the more powerful and effective substitutes will have higher toxicity levels and may require proper ventilation and safety precautions.

As a rule of thumb, if you can’t find the exact information about the toxicity level of a particular product,


Certain alternatives may be highly flammable and require strict safety precautions when handling.

Opt for substitutes with lower flammability risks if you’re working near open flames or in a potentially hazardous environment. 

For instance, vinegar and rubbing alcohol are safe substitutes for paint thinners in areas with higher fire risks. 

The scent

Some solvents and alternatives have strong and lingering smells that can be unpleasant.

If you are sensitive to odors or prefer a more odorless working environment, choose substitutes with reduced or no scent.

Similarly, while painting indoors, you may want to opt for scentless substitutes that won’t linger in the air or bother other family members. 

The surface you’re painting

Different surfaces may react differently to certain substitutes. For example, certain solvents can damage or discolor delicate surfaces or finishes. 

Ensure that the substitute you choose is compatible with your painting surface to avoid any adverse effects or unwanted reactions.

Your personal preferences

You know your painting needs better than anyone else. Consider your personal preferences and the type of project you’re embarking on when choosing a suitable substitute.

Choose one that meets all your criteria while still ensuring safe and effective results. 


Be cautious of your environment and look for more eco-friendly substitutes. This can include both renewable and recycled products.

Think about the impact of your choice on the environment, as some solvents may be less damaging than others. 


Some alternatives require specific containers and tightly sealed lids to reduce fumes and potential spills, while others may need temperature control to ensure they function properly when needed.

Assess your storage capabilities and choose a substitute accordingly. 

What Happens if You Don’t Use Paint Thinners

You will likely experience the following problems if you don’t use paint thinners:

Oil Drip

If you don’t use paint thinners, the oil painting will likely end up thicker than needed.

This will cause it to drip and run down your painting surface, creating an uneven finish. It could also lead to drips in areas you do not want.

Too thick

When paint is too thick, it won’t dry properly or evenly. This can lead to an uneven finish that may look bumpy and streaky.

Additionally, the paint will take longer to dry, leaving it vulnerable to dust and other particles in the air.

In other cases, you might find yourself having watery paint; what do you do? Here is a guide on how to thicken paint.

Inability to level up

Paint thinners help reduce brush strokes and give the paint a smoother finish.

Without them, the paint is more likely to be left with a lot of visible brush strokes, which can negatively affect the final look.

Poor surface adherence

Using paint thinners helps the paint adhere to the surface better and ensures it lasts longer.

Without them, you may find that your paint quickly peels, cracks, or chips away from the surface.

Unimpressive look

Without using paint thinners, the final result may be unappealing. The surface may look bumpy or streaky due to uneven drying and brush strokes caused by the thick paint.

Moreover, it won’t have as much gloss or shine because of poor adherence and a rough finish.  All in all, it will give an unsatisfactory finished look.

Read More: How to Make Acrylic Paint More Pigmented


Which solvent dissolves oil-based paints?

Mineral spirits are a commonly used solvent that dissolves oil-based paints. They are effective in breaking down the paint’s binders and pigments, making it easier to remove or thin the paint. Use mineral spirits in a well-ventilated area and follow safety precautions due to their flammable nature.

Can you use mineral spirits to thin oil paint?

Yes, mineral spirits can be used to thin oil based paint. Adding small amounts of mineral spirits to oil paint helps reduce its viscosity and improves flow, making it easier to apply. Gradually add the mineral spirits and mix thoroughly to achieve the desired consistency without compromising the paint’s integrity.

What is a good substitute for mineral spirits?

If you’re looking for a substitute for mineral spirits, odorless paint thinners or turpentine alternatives are good options. These products are specifically formulated to mimic the effects of mineral spirits but with reduced odor and environmental impact. They can be used in a similar manner for thinning oil-based paints and cleaning brushes.

Are paint thinners and solvents the same?

While the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between paint thinners and solvents. Paint thinners are primarily used to reduce the viscosity of paint, making it easier to apply. Solvents, on the other hand, are more general in nature and can be used to dissolve various substances, including paint.

Are there any risks associated with using natural paint thinner alternatives?

While natural substitutes for paint thinners can be safer and more environmentally friendly, there are still some risks to consider. For example, citrus-based solvents may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. Also, natural alternatives may not be as effective as their chemical counterparts, requiring more effort and time for desired results.

What are some substitutes for acrylic paint?

There are several eco-friendly alternatives to acrylic paint, including watercolor, oil paint, gouache, tempera, and fabric paint. Each of these options has its own unique characteristics and properties, allowing artists to explore different mediums based on their preferences and desired effects.


Our search for a paint thinner substitute is over! We have explored multiple items we probably already have in our households that can just as easily and effectively thin the paint for us.

We now know how to approach and complete the painting job without needing harsh chemicals or running out to buy something new.

We can also be comfortable knowing that these items will not damage our health through regular exposure and inhalation like paint thinner would.

Now that you know about the substitutes for paint thinner, you can decide which one will suit your needs best. I recommend trying some of these substitute concoctions right away.


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