March 9, 2023

The Pros and Cons of Using Mineral Spirits on Wood

Mineral spirit is a solvent used to clean wood in different woodworking and wood-finishing projects. Mineral spirits bring the original glow of the wood by cleaning off the grime that builds up through the years. Mineral spirits help dissolve all types of oils, especially the ones that affect your wood pieces. 

Mineral spirits dissolve the wood stain, paint, and other oil-based products. You can remove them and clean the wood without a dull look. Mineral spirits give a fresh look to any wood by eliminating dirt and residue. 

Try using mineral spirits when cleaning the wood surface by dissolving it with the existing wood finish and removing it from the surface. They also clean the wood before staining, making the surface ready to accept the stain. Mineral spirits are there to temporarily change the color of the wood to highlight flaws and finishing lines. 

The use of mineral spirits comes with multiple advantages. They work on various tasks such as restoration projects, preparing wood before staining, cleaning projects, showing wood grain, and cleaning oils from oily woods. 

Before applying mineral spirits, clean the wood surface and free it from dust and debris to accept mineral spirits. However, try to avoid a stronger solvent. Minerals and other spirits are also toxic. This article elaborates on the advantages and disadvantages of mineral spirits on wood.

What are mineral spirits? 

Definition and chemical composition of mineral spirits

Mineral spirits are chemical substance that is a liquid hydrocarbon solvent mixture of aliphatic and alicyclic petroleum-based compounds. They are an ingredient in paint and varnish products that coat metal surfaces to prevent corrosion.

Mineral spirits are made of 100-percent petroleum distillates and contain no additives. Mineral spirits is a clean, clear product for thinning oil-based paint. It is for thinning or cleaning stains, varnishes, oil stains, or spills.

The chemical composition of mineral spirits is aliphatic solvent hexane having a maximum aromatic hydrocarbon content of 0.1% by volume, a kauri-butanol value of 29, an initial boiling point of 149 °F (65 °C), a dry point of 156 °F (69 °C), and a specific mass of 0.7 g/cc.

Mineral spirits are divided into three classes. Class 1 has a high flashpoint with a low volatility rating. Class 2 has a lower flashpoint temperature and Class 3 has the highest volatility with the lowest flashpoint of the three classes.

Comparison to other solvents commonly used in woodworking

Mineral spirits and acetone can also help clean up messes that water and soap cannot handle. You cannot use Acetone and mineral spirits interchangeably. Mineral spirits thin oil-based paints, while acetone thins lacquers like nail polish.

Mineral spirits are not water-soluble and present less of a fire hazard than acetone. The smell of mineral spirits is odorless and less offensive than that of acetone. Acetone is water-soluble, but its liquid and vapors are highly flammable ( Mineral spirits are not stinky because they are more refined. It is more effective in smaller quantities than paint lacquer thinner.

Safety precautions when using mineral spirits

  • Do not use a stronger solvent, remove the finish altogether.
  • Since it is highly flammable, it should be stored and handled.
  • Before getting started, test a small spot to be sure the solvent does not damage the floor’s finish.
  • Wear gloves since mineral spirits are irritant to the skin.

Uses of mineral spirits on wood 

Removing varnish, paint, and other finishes

If you have some woodwork or furniture that looks shabby and should be refinished. Consider using mineral spirits to remove the old paint or finish before applying a new finish. No skill is required, although it is messy and time-consuming. Wear safety gear and take precautions as it might be toxic. 

Before starting, examine the existing finish to see if it has to be stripped off. Suppose it is dull, dirty, or dark with age. Revive it with mineral spirits or a rejuvenator. Mineral spirits will soften a natural varnish finish so that surface material can be wiped off. Use a sanding sponge as a rubbing tool to remove the softened varnish because it conforms to the contours of the wood and does not leave metal particles behind.

Cleaning wood before staining or painting

When working with wood, mineral spirits clean stains and finish off brushes, clean the wood before finishing, change the color of the wood to highlight flaws, and thin wood stains or finish for other purposes.

Mineral spirits clean wood before staining it, dilute the wood stain, and remove stains from skin and wooden surfaces. Mineral spirits wash out dirt and grime from wooden surfaces for finishing. Cleaning wood with mineral spirits before staining or applying a finish does not raise the grain as water does and promotes the absorption of wood stains into the pores in the wood. That is how you get a richer and better finish.

Removing grease and grime from wood surfaces

Use mineral spirits to clean wood, removing dust particles, stubborn stains, wax build-ups, grease, and paint. It is safe since it does not damage the underlying finish or varnish. However, it cannot remove water-based stains.

Mineral spirits are there to spot and remove sticky residue and lose dust after sanding. Applying mineral spirits on sanded wood will reveal little gouges or scratches from the sanding tool. To remove grease and grime, gather all the necessary supplies. These include a lint-free rag, garbage bag, face mask, gloves, and disposable Tupperware or stainless steel. Include a container of mineral spirits. Since the mineral spirits emit toxic fumes, take the sanded wood to a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors.

Pour mineral spirits into a container to measure what you need for the process. Scrub too hard, and create more gouges or scratches on the sanded wood. Use more than one lint-free rag, which is enough for large wood surfaces. Soak the rag in spirits from time to time. 

Keep switching to clean rag parts during cleaning. Avoid rubbing the debris into the wood. Use more than one rag to clean large wood surfaces like outdoor patios, porches, or wooden floors. Wait for the spirits to dry before layering some varnish or finish. It takes 15 to 20 minutes for the solvent to dry up.

Softening old paint for easy removal

Mineral spirits remove paint from surfaces. Dampen a rag with the mineral spirits and use it to rub the stain you want to get rid of. Remember that mineral spirits are for wood stains that are still wet.

Pros of using mineral spirits on wood

Effectiveness in removing finishes and cleaning wood

When working with wood, mineral spirits clean stains and finishes off brushes, and clean the wood before finishing. Mineral spirits work just like paint thinner or mineral turpentine. Prepare wood surfaces by cleaning the top layer. The liquid does not make the wood swell, thus damaging it or changing its size, but rather wipes off any stains, especially oil. It also dries quickly when rubbed over a wooden surface.

Mineral spirits help dissolve all types of oils. These affect your wood pieces, including sticky sap residue if your wood is stored outside and adhesive left from purchase stickers when you have just bought a new set of wooden planks. It also helps clean your wood pieces of dirt and debris and helps old items look almost new.

Mineral spirits are solvents that can easily cut through years of grime, polish, wax, and oil remnants. It removes this with regular cleaners, but that requires much more elbow grease than you put in if you use mineral spirits. Unlike other stronger options that can strip your wood of the finish altogether, this is not a concern with this product.

Mineral spirits help you clean stubborn stains from wood. If you have a wooden deck or a patio open to dirt, oils, and grime, the tree sap tends to stick to the wood, ruining the look of your project. Manually, you may struggle to get it off if you can affect the sap. That is where mineral spirits become relevant. 

They soften the stain, making cleaning the spot easy and restoring your wood floors. When applying mineral spirits, let a spirit-soaked rag sit on the wood stain for a few minutes before wiping it away. Mineral spirits are also an option for getting oil-based stains off of any wooden objects you may have.

Wipe your wood down with mineral spirits before you start working with it, removing a ton of the oil from the wood surface. That does not affect the inside of the wood, making your wood easier to work with. Finish the project with an evaporative finish or a sealant for long-term protection to make the carving process more manageable for you.

Low cost and easy availability

Mineral spirits are affordable and available on Amazon or Although done solvents are more affordable than mineral spirits, it comes down to quality work and effectiveness. 

It can be used to restore the natural color of the wood.

You can use mineral spirits to restore the natural color of the wood. All it does is enhance the existing color. All it does is remove stains and dirt. That way, you get a shiny surface without dirt or grease. 

Cons of using mineral spirits on wood 

Strong odor and potential health hazards

Breathing high concentrations of mineral spirits may be harmful. Mist or vapor can irritate the throat and lungs ( Breathing this material may cause central nervous system depression with symptoms including nausea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, or unconsciousness.

It causes burns in the airway or gastrointestinal tract that can lead to tissue death. That may result in infection, shock, and death, even several months after swallowing the substance. Scar tissue in the affected areas can lead to long-term problems with breathing, swallowing, and digestion. Mineral spirits poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in the spirits. 

It can damage some types of wood if not used properly

To minimize the potential for damage, dilute mineral spirits before applying them to wood. Too many mineral spirits can cause excessive damage to the wood surface. Mix 1 part mineral spirit with nine parts water.

After applying mineral spirits to a new area of wood, allow the wood to rest for at least 24 hours so that the solvent can permeate into the wood pores and finish removing any dirt or debris. If your surface was damaged by a natural disaster such as an earthquake or fire, do not clean or polish the affected areas with mineral spirits, as this could cause irreversible damage to the surface of the wood.

For mineral spirits on bare wood, wait 24 hours before applying any treatment. That will allow the wood to absorb the vapors and eliminate potential damage. Before using mineral spirits on bare wood, please read the safety instructions that come with it and follow them closely. Mineral spirits are a powerful cleaner and can be dangerous. When applied to new wood, mineral spirits can cause damage to the surface of the wood, including moisture absorption, cracking, and fading.

It can be flammable and require proper disposal.

If there are any sources of fuel nearby, remove them before attempting to clean the area. Remove anything that could cause a fire, like cigarettes or candles. Mineral spirit is a highly flammable substance. Mineral spirits will burn when exposed to sparks or open flames. They will also burn under temperatures of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 


In conclusion, mineral spirits have multiple advantages when renovating wood furniture or surfaces. It removes unwanted finishes for a fresh start. Follow the safety precautions to use the solvents without exposing yourself to harm. For safe and effective use of mineral spirits on wood, keep the container away from fuel. Do not expose the mineral spirits to heat. 


Mineral spirits are commonly used for cleaning and degreasing wood surfaces. However, before using this chemical on your wood, it’s important to understand its properties and limitations. Here are some frequently asked questions about using mineral spirits on wood:

  1. Can I use mineral spirits on finished wood?

Yes, you can use mineral spirits on finished wood for cleaning. Mineral spirits work with finishes by softening them to lose bonds with the wood surface, making cleaning and maintaining the wood’s appearance easier.

  1. How should I clean up mineral spirits after using them on wood?

After using mineral spirits, let it soak for a few minutes, and wipe it away with a clean rag. Avoid leaving any residue or puddles of mineral spirits on the wood surface, as this can damage the wood.

  1. What type of wood should I avoid using mineral spirits on?

Do not use mineral spirits on no-wax wood, as it can damage the finish and cause discolouration. Additionally, avoid using mineral spirits on unsealed, raw or unfinished wood, as it can soak into the wood grain and cause discolouration.

  1. Are there any alternatives to mineral spirits for cleaning wood?

Yes. You can use denatured alcohol, charcoal lighter fluid, or acetone as alternatives to mineral spirits for cleaning wood. However, always check the manufacturer’s instructions before using any chemicals on your wood.

  1. Is it safe to use mineral spirits indoors on wood surfaces?

Yes, using mineral spirits on wood surfaces indoors is safe, as long as you take proper precautions. Ensure adequate ventilation, avoid using mineral spirits near flames or heat sources, and wear protective gear such as gloves and eye goggles. Additionally, keep mineral spirits away from children and pets.

David D. Hughes

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