How to Thin Oil Paint Without Turpentine: Best 18 Alternatives Reviewed

Are you an artist looking for safer methods to thin oil paint without relying on turpentine? In this post, “How to Thin Oil Paint Without Turpentine: Best 18 Alternatives Reviewed”, I provide practical solutions that prioritize your health and well-being over anything else. Turpentine can be toxic. You do not want to have making art make you unwell.

Join me as we explore a range of 18 alternative solvents carefully chosen for their effectiveness and safety. From eco-friendly options to non-toxic alternatives, I will guide you towards enhancing your artistic process without compromising your health.

Learn valuable tips and techniques along the way. Say goodbye to traditional methods and embrace a safer and more sustainable approach to thinning oil paint.

TL;DR Summary: Thinning oil paint without turpentine is possible by using alternative solvents and mediums. Some recommended options for how to thin oil paint without turpentine include Linseed oil, Sansodor as a paint thinner or any Gamblin oil medium. Turpentine can be toxic and harmful to your health.

By exploring 18 alternative solvents, such as odorless mineral spirits, spike lavender oil, or safflower oil, you can safely thin your oil paint. Additionally, mediums like stand oil, Liquin, or linseed oil can improve the flow and consistency of your paint.

Remember to follow instructions, work in a well-ventilated area, and gradually add thinner to achieve the desired consistency. Thinning oil paint requires experimentation to find the best method for your art.

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Why Thin Oil Paint?

If you’re new to oil painting, you might be wondering why you would want to thin your oil paint. Well, there might be quite a few reasons why you would want to do this:

To create a more fluid consistency: Thinning your oil paint can help you achieve a more fluid consistency that is easier to work with. This can be useful if you are working on a larger canvas or if you want to create smooth, flowing brushstrokes. I always find tube oil paints are way too thick. I also had to thin down my paints a lot as I didn’t have much money to keep buying oil paint so I had to make each tube last. Perhaps you’re in the same boat.

To create glazes: Thinning your oil paint can also be useful if you want to create glazes. A glaze is a thin layer of paint that is applied over a dry layer of paint. This can create a luminous effect that is difficult to achieve with thicker layers of paint.

To create underpaintings: Thinning your oil paint is also useful if you want to create underpaintings. An underpainting is a thin layer of paint that is applied to a canvas before the final layers of paint are added. This can help you establish the composition and values of your painting before you start adding color. In the case of underpainting, I tend to mix more thinner/medium than paint so that it’s more like a wash.

Now that you know why you want to thin your oil paint, let’s take a look at how you can do it without using turpentine.

Turpentine and Its Risks

When it comes to thinning oil paint, turpentine is a commonly used solvent. You need to be careful when using turpentine as it can be toxic and pose health hazards. Turpentine vapor can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract, especially in poorly ventilated areas. In addition, it is flammable and can be a fire hazard.

Turpentine Substitute Options

Fortunately, there are alternative options to turpentine that are less toxic and safer to use. Here are a few household substitutes for turpentine:

Odorless Mineral Spirit (OMS): This is a petroleum-based solvent that is less toxic than turpentine and has a lower odor. It is a good substitute for turpentine and can be used in the same way.

Oil of Spike Lavender: This is a natural solvent that is made from the steam distillation of lavender flowers. It has a pleasant smell and is less toxic than turpentine. This oil can be used to thin oil paint and clean brushes.

Citrus Solvent: This is a natural solvent that is made from the natural chemicals in peels of citrus fruits. It is less toxic than turpentine and while some say it has a pleasant smell I find the smell overpowering and it gives me a headache. 

Cirtrus solvent can be used to thin oil paint and clean brushes.

Cold Press Linseed Oil: This is a natural oil that can be used to thin oil paint. It is less toxic than turpentine and has a slower drying time, which can be useful for certain painting techniques.

While turpentine is a commonly used solvent for thinning oil paint, it is important to be aware of its risks and use it in a well-ventilated area. There are alternative options available that are less toxic and safer to use, such as odorless mineral spirits, oil of spike lavender, citrus solvent, and cold press linseed oil.

Let’s go into these in a bit more detail.

Thinning with Mediums

When it comes to thinning oil paint without turpentine, mediums can be a great alternative. They are specifically designed to mix with oil paints and can help to improve the flow and consistency of your paint.

Stand Oil

Stand oil is a popular medium that can be used to thin oil paints. It is a thick, honey-like substance that is made by heating linseed oil to a high temperature. Stand oil can be mixed with oil paints to increase their flow and transparency.

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Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is a common medium that is often used to thin oil paints. Linseed oil is a natural oil made from flax seeds and can be mixed with oil paints to increase their flow and transparency. However, it is important to note that linseed oil can yellow over time, so it is not recommended for use in light-colored paintings.

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Maroger Medium

Maroger medium is a unique varnish/oil medium that was developed by the painter Jacques Maroger. It is made by mixing lead white pigment with linseed oil and other ingredients. Maroger medium can be used to thin oil paints and can help to improve their flow and drying time.

Mediums can be a great alternative to turpentine when it comes to thinning oil paints. Stand oil, Liquin, linseed oil, and Maroger medium are all reasonable options that can help to improve the flow and consistency of your oil paint. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the back of the product carefully and use them in a well-ventilated area.

Alternatives to Turpentine

If you’re looking for a natural alternative to turpentine, there are several options available.

Synthetic Alternatives to Turpentine

Here are two of the most popular alternatives that I highly recommend.

Sansodor

Sansodor is a low-odor solvent that is similar to turpentine in its effectiveness at thinning oil paint. It is also less toxic and has a milder odor than turpentine. It can be more expensive than other solvents, but I think Sansodor is worth the added expense.

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Liquin

Liquin is another popular medium that can be used to thin oil paints. It is a synthetic resin that dries quickly and can be mixed with oil paints to increase their flow and gloss. However, be careful when using Liquin as it can be toxic and needs to be used in a well-ventilated area.

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Natural Alternatives to Turpentine

Safflower Oil

Safflower oil is a non-toxic oil that can be used to thin oil paint. Safflower is a good option for artists who are sensitive to the fumes from traditional solvents. Safflower oil is also a good option for artists who are looking for a slower-drying medium.

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Walnut Oil

Walnut oil is another non-toxic oil that can be used to thin oil paint. Walnut oil is a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that dries more quickly than safflower oil. Walnut oil is also a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that will not yellow over time.

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Citrus Solvent

Citrus solvent is a natural solvent that is made from the peel of citrus fruits. Cirtus solvent is a good option for artists who are looking for a natural alternative to traditional solvents. Citrus solvent is also a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that will not harm the environment.

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Lavender Spike Oil

Lavender spike oil is a good option for artists who are looking for a natural alternative to turpentine. It is a non-toxic oil that has a pleasant smell. Lavender spike oil is also a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that dries more quickly than safflower oil.

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Poppyseed Oil

Poppyseed oil (poppy oil) is a non-toxic oil that can also be used to thin oil paint. Poppy oil is a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that dries more quickly than safflower oil. Poppyseed oil is also a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that will not yellow over time.

Water Soluble Oils

Water soluble oils are a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that can be thinned with water. They are a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that is easy to clean up. Water soluble oils are also a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that dries more quickly than safflower oil.

Pine Tree Resin

Pine tree resin is a natural resin that can be used to thin oil paint. Pine tree resin is a good option for artists who are looking for a natural alternative to traditional solvents. Pine tree resin is also a good option for artists who are looking for a medium that will not harm the environment. I also found this to smell quite strong.

Odorless Mineral Spirits

Odorless mineral spirits are a popular alternative to turpentine because they are less toxic and have a milder odor. They are also effective at thinning and cleaning oil paint. However, be careful not to use too much, as it can affect the drying time of the paint.

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Real Milk Paint

Milk paint (basically Casein paint) is a great choice because it doesn’t contain smelly or harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and although it may have a mild milky scent while wet, it becomes odorless once it dries.

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There are many natural alternatives to turpentine that artists can use to thin their oil paints. Be careful when using any of these alternatives, as they may have different properties than traditional solvents. It is key to experiment and find the medium that works best for you and your art.

Other Less Desirable Thinner Options

When it comes to thinning oil paint without turpentine, there are several other solvent options available that I would not really recommend but have listed in case you get desperate or want to try something different.

Petroleum Oil (Gasoline)

Using gasoline as a paint thinner may seem tempting, but it’s not a good idea, especially if the reason you’re here is that you want something safe. 

Gasoline is highly flammable and will easily catch fire. Breathing it in is also very dangerous and can harm our health. Not only that, using gasoline in this way can have negative effects on the environment. That’s why it’s important to look for safer alternatives when we want to make our paint thinner. So scrap this idea!

Naphtha

Naphtha is a fast-drying solvent that is often used as a thinner for oil paint. Naphtha is effective at removing grease and oil stains, making it a good option for cleaning brushes and other tools. However, it is highly flammable and volatile and should be used with extreme caution. I would stay away from this one.

Acetone

Acetone is a very powerful solvent that is usually used in the manufacturing industry. It is also effective at thinning oil paint, but it should be used sparingly, as it can dissolve some plastics and synthetic fibers. I would stay away from this. Even the nail polish remover variety should not be used on oil paints.

When using any of these solvents, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use them in a well-ventilated area. It is also key to be careful not to use too much solvent, as it can affect the drying time and consistency of the paint.

When using any of these thinners and mediums, just be aware that if you start getting the ratio of thinner to paint to favor the thinners, that it might affect the longevity of the oil paint, its opaqueness and color vibrancy.

Tips for Thinning Oil Paint

When it comes to thinning oil-based paint, there are a plenty of tips and tricks you can use to achieve the desired consistency and flow. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

The Lean Rule

The “lean rule” is a helpful guideline to follow when thinning oil paint. The rule states that you should always start with a “lean” mixture of paint and gradually add more oil or medium to achieve the desired consistency. This helps to prevent over-thinning and ensures that your paint has the right balance of pigment and binder.

Viscosity and Flow

The viscosity of your paint refers to its thickness or “stickiness.” If your paint is too thick, it may be difficult to apply smoothly. On the other hand, if your paint is too thin, it may be prone to drips and runs. To achieve the right viscosity, you can add a small amount of oil or medium to your paint and mix it thoroughly. This will help to improve the flow and make your paint easier to work with.

Drying Time

Thinning your paint can also affect its drying time. If you thin your paint too much, it may take longer to dry and be more prone to smudging or smearing. To avoid this, be careful not to over-thin your paint and allow it plenty of time to dry between layers.

Clean Brushes

Finally, it’s important to keep your brushes clean when working with thinned oil paint. Thin paint can be more difficult to clean off brushes, so be sure to rinse them thoroughly with a solvent like mineral spirits or turpentine. You can also use a brush cleaner to help remove any stubborn paint residue.

How much thinner should be used to thin oil paint?

The amount of thinner to be used for thinning oil paint can vary depending on personal preference and the desired consistency. 

As a general guideline, a starting point is to use a ratio of about 1 part thinner to 2 parts paint. 

As always, it’s recommended to start with a small amount of thinner and gradually add more as needed until the desired thickness and flow are achieved. 

Remember to mix thoroughly and test the thinned paint on a sample surface to ensure it meets your requirements before applying it to your artwork.

By following these tips, you can achieve the right consistency and flow for your oil paint without relying on turpentine. Remember to start with a lean mixture, adjust the viscosity as needed, allow plenty of drying time, and keep your brushes clean for best results.

How to Thin Oil Paint Without Turpentine – Wrap Up!

This post How to Thin Oil Paint Without Turpentine has clearly shown that there are at least 18 ways to thin oil paint without using turpentine. Some are good and a few can be bad. You can use solvents like mineral spirits or odorless mineral spirits, which are less toxic than turpentine. You can also use vegetable oil or other oils like linseed oil or poppyseed oil to thin the paint. Vinegar can also be used to thin oil paint, but it is important to use straight vinegar to avoid any pigment contamination. I suggest sticking to the traditional Linseed oils, the newer Sansodor thinner or Gamblin mediums for oil paints as I use these.

When thinning oil paint, it is important to be careful and use the right amount of thinner or medium. Too much thinner can cause the paint to become too runny and lose its texture, while too little can make it difficult to work with. It is also important to mix the thinner or medium thoroughly with the paint to ensure an even consistency.

When using solvents like mineral spirits, it is important to work in a well-ventilated area and avoid inhaling the fumes. It is also important to dispose of any used solvents properly. When using oils like linseed oil or poppyseed oil, it is important to use them sparingly as they can yellow over time and affect the color of the paint.

Overall, when it comes to thinning oil paint without turpentine, there are several options available. It is important to experiment with different methods and find what works best for your painting style. With a little practice and patience, you can achieve the perfect consistency for your oil paints without the use of turpentine.

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