View Full Version : turpentine vs petroleum distillates

07-10-2007, 02:46 PM
Hello all..Ive read somewhere that only turpentine should be used to prepare a medium..but almost all the comercial mediums are made with petroleum distillates, paint thinners and such. Also that no paint thinner should be used in the painting process including the underpainting. How true is all of this? What you guys think, and what(turpentine or petroleum distillates) do you prefer to use? thanks!

07-10-2007, 03:49 PM
I think the only time you absolutely have to use turpentine is when you are thinning a medium that has varnish in it. Otherwise mineral spirits (paint thinners) are fine and I believe a bit less toxic.

07-10-2007, 04:31 PM
If you do some experiments I think you will find that you prefer mediums made with real turps to those made with mineral spirits. In my studio, turpentine is for painting, mineral spirits is for cleaning.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

07-10-2007, 05:33 PM
I agree with DanielO. I have heard numerous fine oil paint makers ( Blockx, Michael Harding, Vasari, etc.)insist on the superiority of turpentine over mineral spirits as an additive to their paints. They claim turpentine somehow catalyzes or facilitates the chemical reactions that are involved in the drying of oil paints to a strong film. Additionally, certain resins are not soluble in mineral spirits in case you should use them or mediums containing them.

Sir Paul
07-10-2007, 05:57 PM
Not that I use much turpentine.. (a tad for underpainting, a tad for extra while-painting cleaning, a tad for stand-oil mixes..) But I don't even use the petroleum-stuff for cleaning anymore.. Turpentine is even better & stronger then them at that job. I pretty much ignore the 'Turpenoid' stuff now.

07-11-2007, 11:18 AM
Turps is a far more powerful solvent than MS. If there is any concern about lifting or dissolving previous layers, then MS would be favored in mediums. But as has been mentioned, certain hard resins, such as copal, will not mix into MS and need turps.

IMO turps is very useful, but highly over-rated. For most mixing, thinning and clean-up, MS will be fine.

I tend now toward MS in most mediums that exclude hard resins or turp-based varnishes. I use a small amount of turps to aid in mixing oils and balsams into the wax medium I make (prior to heating and melting the ingredients together).

I don't consider turps to be inherently "more dangerous" or toxic than MS. From what I've read, odorless MS is the most "toxic" of the solvents. None of these solvents are particularly troublesome in moderately well ventilated rooms. Just because you can smell the solvent, doesn't mean it is hurting you.

Brian Firth
07-11-2007, 01:30 PM
Like noted above, turpentine is only necessary for thinning mediums that contain natural resins, such as Damar and Mastic. Otherwise Odorless Mineral Spirits (Turpenoid, Gamsol, etc.) is perfectly useable and cheaper. I use alkyds and stand oil so I never need or use turpentine. It is also safe to use OMS to thin your paint, even in underpainting. Just don't overthin your paint or you could have problems with adhesion. A good rule is to never add more than 20% of anything to your paint. And you still need to follow fat over lean, thick over thin painting rules.

Odorless MS is NOT the most toxic of solvents. The PEL level is the indicator of toxicity, with the lower the number being worse. PEL of turpentine is 100, where odorless mineral spirits is 200. Also turpentine can be absorbed through the skin into the blood stream, whereas OMS cannot. Here is a good comparison chart that explains and rates the toxic nature of solvents:


Bud Ralls
07-11-2007, 02:52 PM
Well for me i use only Pure Gum Spirits of turpentine, have been for over 50yrs now, a gallon will last forever and i like the smell, as with anything use common sense.....Bud

07-11-2007, 09:17 PM
I just want to point out that Turpenoid is not turpentine, nor is it odorless. Use the real stuff...either one.

Just the opinion of one old fool,

07-11-2007, 09:39 PM
Hi fellow oil painters. I'm making query in this thread in the hopes to shed some light on my fear of using Turpentine and Oderless Mineral Spirits(OMS). About two years ago I completed my 1st oil painting a small 8x10 over several days and left it out to dry, but being new and diving into the oil painting each night I then left the paint rags, cups of turpentine & OMS and freshly cleaned brushes ALL out in the open and went to bed. I painted in a small 600 sq ft apartment. I'm hoping that my fears are unfounded but want to ask those that use such more than the one time I did. Given the above scenario, am I lucky to be alive from the toxicity levels and has anyone ever heard of shortness of breath or other toxic like symptoms from doing such?

Just for some closure on my story, the 4th day i got out of the shower and noted the fumes all over the apartment and almost passed out from shortness of breathe. I went to a Doctor and was pronounced to have a serious cold, but my shortness of breathe never left and I am a smoker and I still fear using Turpentine and OMS even though I now have a larger place in which to shut off those fumes. Now adays I use only turponoid natural in my paints and for clean up and wonder about doing that, though I did an acid test and could not get a teaspoon of Turponoid to ignite when soaked into a 3 inch square of paper napkin I tore off, not even the soaked paper towel would ignite.

I still dont know how toxic other mediums are in comparision to what I used that 1st time.(Ohh I'm just seeing that reference to a toxicity chart now).

I thank you all in advance with my question(the one at the end of the 1st paragraph).

07-12-2007, 01:00 AM
Garland -- I am going to assume you are not joking with us.
I doubt you suffered any damage from exposure to the smell of turps. You are doing certain lung damage by smoking, which must be considered far more toxic -- and we know it takes 30 to 50 years of commited smoking to prove its toxicity! :) I hardly think tobacco smoking truly rates as "toxic".
I would say "toxic" means "contributes to certain death" and I don't see any of these solvents doing so.

07-12-2007, 07:00 PM
Hi Jim,

I agree smoking is toxic and my query is most serious, as far as the smoking I was being upfront to create an accurate picture, but those 'turp' and 'oms' fumes really scared me enough to consider my mortality and I switched to Turponoid natural. Well I almost passed out(shortness of breathe) that one morning just getting out of the shower was when I noted how strong the fumes were and have wondered ever since.

I want to hear my fears are unfounded from those fumes as I've still got 'turp' and 'oms' sealed in bottles on a high shelf. I think I'sm starting to hear the bad cold was more the culprite and not so much the fumes. Do you agree?

07-12-2007, 10:29 PM
I'm sure some are more sensitive to the fumes of various thinners than others.
I don't have anything for thinning or cleaning brushes other than pure gum turpenine in my studio, never noticed the slightest irritation from it.
Oil paint as it comes out of the tube is really all that is required anyway, keeps the surface quality consistent throughout the painting, and is much more stable than added mediums. Depends on your chosen method I suppose.

Jim Updegraff
07-12-2007, 10:40 PM
I could be in real trouble here using terps and linseed oil as a painting medium, mineral spirits as a brush cleaner and smoking like a steel plant stack. On a brighter note, I did murder a ground hog yesterday single shot at about 30 yards while painting, cleaning and smoking.

07-13-2007, 01:24 AM
Unless you have a particular sensitivity to the odor, I wouldn't worry about it. You probably had the cold to deal with. You would have to saturate several large towels AND scrub the floor of a large room to get enough fumes to disturb your eyes or nasal passages if all else is normal. I think spray paint is quite a bit worse, with it's airborne particulate matter.
I've done oil priming on several very large canvases at a time, and the turps evaporation was pretty intense in a 3-car garage, but not dangerous.
Turps doesn't really bother me, coming from the Pacific Northwest and all its fir, pine and spruce trees.

07-13-2007, 01:54 PM
In my part Ive been using turpentine quite the most. About its toxicity it exists but it might be a little bit exaggerated sometimes. For example, one time accidentally some two drops of turpentine went straight to my eye..I was so worried about this..knowing how strong the solvent is. four to five days later I went to the eye doctor and found nothing on my eye except that it was a little red. Anyways its always good to be extra careful when using it..I surely dont want to use turpentine as an eye dropper next time!!

07-13-2007, 09:46 PM
Oh wow ...THANK-YOU, Thank-you for this.

07-14-2007, 03:10 PM
I've read somewhere that only turpentine should be used to prepare a medium... but almost all the commercial mediums are made with petroleum distillates, paint thinners and such. Also that no paint thinner should be used in the painting process including the underpainting. How true is all of this? What you guys think, and what (turpentine or petroleum distillates) do you prefer to use?
Many questions about the use of gum spirits of turpentine versus mineral spirits (or white spirits as it is called in Europe) in painting have been answered in a previous thread, which I advise you to read:
Gum Turpentine (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=397769&highlight=Turpentine)

There is much misinformation published on the use of solvents in painting, but the thread cited above should help answer most of your questions. Solvents can be used sparingly in oil painting, whether in the underpainting or upper layers, while being careful not to use an excessive amount and effectively underbinding the paint.

Most artists' mediums today are prepared using mineral spirits alone or in combination with other solvents for the simple reason that it is less expensive than gum spirits of turpentine and some types of mineral spirits are less volatile and have less odor than turpentine. Gum spirits of turpentine has greater solvency power with natural resins and hence are preferred for mediums and varnishes containing natural resins. However, oil paint can be thinned with mineral spirits and its various forms, such as odorless mineral spirits (OMS) without any problem.

In regards to the issue of toxicity of solvents, you should carefully read the labels on the product for warnings and precautions that should be taken while using these products. In addition, you may have an allergic reaction to these materials, which you should discuss with your doctor. Both turpentine and mineral spirits can be safely used when adequate ventilation and proper waste disposal is observed.

07-24-2007, 09:16 PM

"Turpentine is an organic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_compound) solvent, and thus poses many of the same hazards as do other such substances. Being "natural" does not make it less harmful than artificial solvents. Its vapor can burn the skin and eyes, damage the lungs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lungs) and respiratory system, as well as the central nervous system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_nervous_system) when inhaled, and cause renal failure (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renal_failure) when ingested, among other things. It is highly flammable."

The longer you live, the longer you can paint.:rolleyes:

Sir Paul
07-24-2007, 09:26 PM
Tell it to Chagall & Picasso.
I think the answer is simple (and I'll say it SLOOOooooow.. with 'Big Mouthy' movements if that'll help..) .."Don't Bathe in it. Don't inhale it. Don't set it on fire. Don't dip your weinie in it. Don't mistake it for your cologne bottle (most ladies won't likely dig it), & Paint in a nicely ventilated area. and you'll likely be.. ok."

"Unless you're hit by a bus while taking a casual stroll...."