Odorless Mineral Spirits
By Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher
I've been using mineral spirits for a very long time. I use them in thinning asphalt, making a glaze, for oil based paints and varnishes, wet sanding and for cleaning
furniture as well.
While at an estate sale I found a quart of "odorless mineral spirits" and brought
it back to the shop for the guys to use. I had never seen odorless spirits and was
curious about it myself. Us old timers tend to stick with the tried and true but if this
was a better product and the odor was eliminated I figured I'd give it a try. Needless
to say, it didn't take long for the guys in the shop to say they wouldn't use it.
It didn't act like traditional mineral spirits but more like water. And like water
based finishing materials it appears to be milky until it starts to dry and then clears up.
After some investigating I learned that odorless mineral spirits are an "emulsion" of
water and petroleum distillate with the ratio somewhere between 60 and 70 percent
water. This will indeed lessen the effectiveness of the action on the thinning of other
products and maybe even harm them. Also, because of the more aggressive requirements
of air quality in some parts of the country, to make the odorless thinner more effective
acetone is added to the mix and this may be seen on the label as "extra strength or "fast"
with no explanation. As most of you know, acetone can and will damage lacquer
and shellac finishes so cleaning with odorless spirits could be a disaster. Another drawback is
odorless spirits will separate so it has to be shaken up before use. If you've already
added this to your paint or varnish it will have to be stirred because of the separation.
Regular mineral spirits on the other hand will never separate.
There are, however, some positives and negatives for both. Regular mineral spirits will never separate, have a much better and predictable solvent strength
and have an indefinite shelf life. But you do have to put up with the odor.
Odorless mineral spirits have much less solvent strength which may hinder the thinning of some paints and varnishes. They have to be stirred aggressively and in the case of the presence of water it will raise the grain. Also, if using extra strength or a fast thinner with acetone, it could damage the finish if you're using it as a cleaner.
On the plus side odorless spirits are good for cleaning brushes and have a very low odor.
Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at
. You can also visit Alan's website by
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