How to Use Paint Thinner

How to use paint thinner shouldn’t be confusing or scare you away from refinishing your favorite piece of furniture.   

What about those kitchen cabinets?  Using thinner to remove old stained paint will leave a better result than trying to sand it all down. 

So let’s strip! 

How to Use Paint Thinner
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How To Use Paint Thinner 

Remember: Thinners should not be used with latex paints, shellac or lacquers. 

There are several ways to remove paint from a surface such as wood including heat guns, citrus based paint removers, and wire brushes.

Here, we will talk about using paint thinner to remove paint from wood.  It’s easier than you think.    

Safety First Everyone! 

Wear protective gear, safety glasses and a mask when handling chemicals of any kind. 

Make sure you’re working in a well ventilated area with some air flow.  If you’re working inside,  use fans that vent to the outside and pull fresh air in and open the windows. 

Don’t get it on your skin, and remember it’s flammable

Store your unused chemicals away from heat sources, in a container that is 3/4 full.   Solvents and chemicals give off vapors that need room to expand when stored.

Dispose of your unused paint thinners according to your local laws and never pour them down any drains.

How To Use Paint Thinner on Wood: Steps to Removing Paint 

Whether you are removing paint from wood furniture, wood trim or just want to know how to remove dry paint, here are the steps you need to use paint thinner to remove paint.

Always read and follow the manufacturers recommended amount to be used on your projects.

Supply List for Removing Paint
Your Preferred Paint Thinner/Solvent
Safety Glasses, Mask, Gloves
Junk Paint Brush/Applicator
Old Cloth, Rag, Towel
Paint Stir Stick
Paint Scraper
  1. Buy a paint thinner that suits the paint you are removing 
  2. Scrape off as much paint as you can first 
  3. Apply to the wood with a junk paintbrush and wait until it bubbles up 
  4. Scrape it off with a paint scraper 
  5. Any remaining paint should be scrubbed off with steel wool dipped in thinner or chemical stripper 
  6. Wipe surface with a cloth covered in mineral spirits or thinner 

What is Paint Thinner?

What is paint thinner used for?  Thinner is a solvent used to thin oil based paints and primers.  It is also used to clean up afterwards. It can also be used to degrease car and bike parts.   

Thinner takes a thick paint and makes it more watery so that it can be sprayed through a paint sprayer tip. 

When people talk about thinner, they are usually referring to mineral spirits.  Each brand of thinner has a different combination of chemicals, and one of those is mineral spirits.   

Some work better than others.  You can even buy odorless thinners.   

Water based paints like latex are thinned with water. We wrote a detailed post on how to thin latex paint for a sprayer here.

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What can I use as Paint Thinner?

Straight up mineral spirits can be used as paint thinner.  They have less odor than traditional thinners and are a bit better at removing and thinning paint.    

If you can’t find mineral spirits in your area, check out these alternatives you can use to get your projects done. 

Thinners are typically cheaper to purchase because they are not a refined as mineral spirits and contain other types of solvents, depending on the brand.   

Each brand has different ratios of solvents and may work differently, smell worse, and be more volatile.   

They would work great to clean large areas or for cleaning your tools.   

Pure acetone can also be safely used.

Turpentine can also be used as a thinner.  Check the label of the paint you plan on thinning to make sure which product the manufacturers says works best to thin their paints. 

What Can I Use as Paint Thinner?
Paint Thinner
Mineral Spirits
Water (only for latex and water based paints!)

paint clean up

Professional Tips

Thinner can remove oil-based paint from brushes and other equipment but only while the paint it still wet.

According to, make sure the paint you are thinning is not cold but at room temperature.   Paint will be thicker if it’s cold and you will use too much thinning agent.

Acetone is often the only solvent that is strong enough to dissolve paint after it has dried.

How to Use Paint Thinner to Clean Brushes

You will need to use thinner to clean your wet paint brushes if you’ve painted with oil based paints.

The good news is you don’t need to know how to use thinner on brushes for latex paint. Latex paint can be removed using warm soapy water!  Easy clean up! 

There are ways to clean your brushes without chemicals that we outline in our latest post here. You will need the following supplies to clean your brushes:

  • thinner made for oil paints and brushes
  • glass or metal container
  • clean rag x 2
  • Small brush to brush out the bristles

Steps to Cleaning Your Brushes 

To clean your brushes with paint thinner, pour a small amount into a container and swirl your brush around in it. Repeat this process until the brush is clean, then rinse it with water and soap to remove any remaining paint thinner residue.

#1.  Get a clean metal or glass container and put some thinner in, enough to cover all the brush bristles

#2.  Dab and swish the paint brush into the container

#3.  Take out your brush and wipe it a few times with a clean rag

#4.  Repeat steps #1 and #2 a few times until your brush is clean

#5.  Wash out your brush with soap and water to remove the thinner

#6.  Brush out your bristles with a tiny brush to separate them 

Paint Thinner for Latex Paint?

Using thinners with latex and varnish is a no no.  Latex is water based and so you use water to thin latex paint before spraying. 

Paint Thinners for Oil Paints and Primer 

Thinners are used only to thin oil based products. Why is thinner added to paint?

If you want to spray paint, oil based paint and primers are too thick and will need to be thinned down.  We discuss how the pros thin down oil paint to get the best results in our post here.   

How Much Paint Thinner Should I Use to Thin Paint?

Measuring paint viscosity is an essential step in ensuring a successful and efficient spray gun application. To measure viscosity, you need a viscosity cup. A viscosity cup is a small metal or plastic cup with a small hole in the bottom.

Here are the steps to measure paint viscosity for a spray gun:

  • Prepare the paint: Stir the paint thoroughly to ensure it is well-mixed. If the paint is too thick, add some solvent or thinner according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Do not add too much solvent or thinner, as this can affect the quality and performance of the paint.
  • Pour the paint into the viscosity cup: Fill the viscosity cup with the paint, making sure it’s completely full.
  • Measure the viscosity: Hold the viscosity cup level and allow the paint to flow out through the small hole. Use a stopwatch to time how long it takes for the paint to flow out of the cup. The viscosity is determined by the time it takes for the paint to flow out of the cup, which is measured in seconds.
  • Adjust the spray gun: Once you know the viscosity of the paint, you can adjust the spray gun accordingly. If the paint is too thick, you may need to increase the pressure or use a larger tip size. If the paint is too thin, you may need to decrease the pressure or use a smaller tip size.
  • Repeat the process: It’s important to measure the viscosity of the paint periodically, especially if you are using a large quantity of paint or if the temperature or humidity changes. This will help ensure that the paint is always at the optimal viscosity for the spray gun.

Using Paint Thinner and Viscosity Video Walk Through

Check out this video here to watch how to measure paint viscosity while you’re using paint thinner.

How to Dispose of Paint Thinner

You’ll want to dispose of paint thinner and your old thinner soaked rags at your local hazardous waste facility.  Follow the regulations in your area. Don’t pour paint thinner down the drain or throw it in the trash. Take it to a hazardous waste disposal facility and follow the guidelines set by your local government.

Old containers of paint thinner that are empty can go in normal household garbage.


How to use paint thinner doesn’t have to be a mystery.  paint thinner can be a useful tool when used correctly, but it’s important to take the necessary precautions to ensure safety.

Remember to prepare your workspace, identify the type of paint, thin paint carefully, remove paint safely, clean your brushes properly, and dispose of the paint thinner responsibly. By following these tips, you can use paint thinner effectively and safely.


How do you mix paint and thinner?

Mix 1 part turpentine or mineral spirits for every 3 parts paint and stir. If the paint needs more thinning, add a bit more thinner and stir thoroughly until it’s the desired consistency/viscosity.

Why is thinner added to paint?

Paint is sometimes too thick to spray it through the nozzle/tip of a paint sprayer. It needs to be thinned so that the paint is more watery and easier to spray.