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Is Turpentine Toxic?

Oil painting uses a lot of different chemicals to get the right consistency, and to clean the brushes after. Most of these chemicals are known for being toxic, while others aren’t. Some of the most popular chemicals used with oil paints are turpentine and mineral spirits.

So, is turpentine toxic? Turpentine is one of the chemicals that is considered to be highly toxic and dangerous. The fumes can make you sick, and if you are exposed to too many fumes, you might experience nerve and brain damage. If swallowed, turpentine can be poisonous.

When you are using paint thinner, it is incredibly important to use it in a well-ventilated area with the proper protection. It is recommended to wear gloves, eye protection, and a mask to protect yourself the best you can from the dangers of turpentine. 

How Harmful is Turpentine?

If not used properly, turpentine can be incredibly harmful. If it gets in your mouth, you will experience different side effects like coughing, headache, bleeding lungs, kidney damage, vomiting, brain damage, a coma, or even death. 

When you get turpentine on your skin, the reaction will depend on the person. In some cases, you might just experience some redness and discomfort in the area. Some might break out in a rash, experience burning, or an allergic reaction. With extreme exposure, you might experience kidney or nerve damage.

I like to use Winsor & Newton Turpentine for my oil paintings. You can also find some odorless paint thinners that aren’t as harsh as the more toxic ones.

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If you breathe in the fumes of turpentine, the biggest side effect you might experience is lung and throat discomfort. In those with already compromised respiratory systems, such as with asthma, it can also cause spasms in the airway, causing breathing issues.

You will want to protect yourself as much as possible when you are using turpentine. Cover your skin, protect your eyes, nose, and mouth, and always use it outside or in a well-ventilated area.

Some of the most common side effects of turpentine include increased heart rate, confusion, nausea, dizziness, and headaches. It is also possible that you will experience shortness of breath or fluid in your lungs after excessive exposure. 

It is possible that you will experience mild symptoms or extreme symptoms. This will depend on your exposure to the turpentine and how your body reacts to it. Since everyone is different, everyone will experience symptoms differently. It is best to take precautions and wear protective gear to prevent any negative reactions.

Is Turpentine Safe to Paint with?

Turpentine is safe to paint with as long as you take the proper precautions. Using turpentine inside is highly advised against due to its toxic nature. If you must paint with turpentine inside, you need to make sure the room has all the windows and doors open, and you should be taking every step to protect yourself.

If you are just going to be painting with turpentine once, you aren’t likely to experience any side effects aside from a headache and some irritation, but long and consistent exposure will be dangerous. 

Abstract Painting

Using turpentine as a thinner for oil paint is really easy, but precautions always need to be put in place first. You will need a paint tray to mix the paint and turpentine in addition to all of your protection and painting supplies.

Pour some of the paint into the paint tray. If you want a thicker paint, you will need a 2:1 paint ratio. If you pour two cups of paint into the paint tray, add one cup of turpentine. Stir the paint and turpentine together to check the consistency.

If you want a thinner paint, you will reverse the ratio. If you add one cup of paint, you will add two cups of turpentine. Stir to check the consistency and see if it is thin enough. You can add more if you need it.

Next, you will want to check the consistency on the paper. Test out a small amount of paint before you use it for the entire painting. This will let you know how the consistency is working with the surface that you are painting on.

If you don’t like how the consistency looks, you can add more paint or more thinner until you reach the consistency you are hoping for. It can be hard to get it right on the first try, so be patient and keep trying until you get there.

Which is Better: Turpentine or Mineral Spirits?

Many people think that turpentine and mineral spirits are the same thing, but they aren’t. Mineral spirits are a very refined form of petroleum. Turpentine is distilled from trees that are usually pine trees. 

There are several differences that need to be kept in mind when determine whether mineral spirits is better than turpentine or vice versa. For example, mineral spirits will have a very low odor while turpentine has a very strong odor.

Since mineral spirits are oil-based, they will likely leave behind an oily residue that can impact your painting. Turpentine will not have this residue because it is not oil-based. Turpentine also has the ability to dry faster and is more environmentally friendly.

The choice between these two products are completely up to you. They are completely interchangeable with each other because they do just about the same thing. However, mineral spirits are considered to be less toxic than turpentine. If you are looking for a less toxic option, you will want mineral spirits.

For mineral spirits, I like to use Gamblin Odorless Mineral Spirits. It’s a great brand, and it’s odorless, so that’s a plus!

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Is Turpentine the Same as Paint Thinner?

While turpentine is a type of thinner, it isn’t the exact same as thinner. The main difference between the two products is that a thinner is mostly just used to thin the consistency of oil paint while turpentine is used as a thinner and a solvent.

Turpentine can also be used to make oil paint dry faster, which isn’t a characteristic of other paint thinners. It is able to accelerate the speed of drying by allowing oxidization to occur from the bottom layer to the top instead of the other way around.

Turpentine is also more powerful than other paint thinners. It is so strong that is has the ability to soften layers of paint that are older than six months. Due to this power, turpentine is also more toxic than other types of paint thinners. Most artists will prefer turpentine to other paint thinners because it is cheaper to buy.

If you want something that’s less toxic than turpentine, I highly recommend Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner.

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Final Thoughts

While using oil paints, you are going to come across some chemicals that are toxic to use and others that are much better. Turpentine is one of the most popular chemicals used with oil paints, but it is also considered one of the most toxic. Turpentine needs to be used carefully and safely to prevent any negative side effects. 

If you inhale turpentine, you will likely experience a headache and lung irritation. If you accidentally get it in your mouth, the side effects can be more severe. You should always protect yourself properly by covering your skin, eyes, mouth, and nose. Wear gloves and a mask while working in a well-ventilated area. 

It is also important to remember that turpentine is not the same as mineral spirits or paint thinners. While used for similar purposes, they are slightly different. They can all be used in place of each other, so it is completely up to your personal preference which you choose.

Make sure to follow all my tips and recommended products to ensure your oil paint or turpentine project turns out great! Also, don’t forget to check out my other articles for all your painting Q&A’s. Happy painting! 

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